News & Updates

Q&A with Jeff Aguy: GroundBreak’s Visionary Leader on Building New Financial Systems for Aspiring Entrepreneurs and Commercial Developers

by | Jul 8, 2024

Jeff Aguy joined the GroundBreak Coalition in March 2024 to help implement solutions that will unlock unprecedented capital for aspiring entrepreneurs and commercial developers. A born entrepreneur, Jeff is helping build innovative systems and teams that will enable more financing to flow toward new and growing businesses and neighborhood commercial developments in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region and beyond. We interviewed Jeff to learn more about what he sees on the horizon for GroundBreak.

Jeff Aguy

“Part of my journey has been about achieving what once seemed impossible. In GroundBreak, you have a number of leaders who have been doing the impossible all their lives, changing huge systems together.  I believe GroundBreak can achieve its ambitious goals with the collective efforts of our team and partners. I am excited about the potential and confident in our ability to make a difference.” – Jeff Aguy


How did you become involved in the GroundBreak Coalition?

I have a background in economic development and own a strategic advisory firm focused on innovation, infrastructure, and workforce. My academic background is in organizational psychology, leadership, creativity, and innovation. My mission has always been to transform global financial systems and leadership structures, but I chose to focus on people development instead of finance. This led me to GroundBreak, as the project aims to transform not just the Minneapolis-St. Paul region but potentially the world, through a broad network of people working on unified goals. I joined to help develop GroundBreak’s implementation teams and work on public-private partnerships, which I believe are key to addressing large economic issues.

What inspired your entrepreneurship path?

I am from a small village in Haiti where innovation is essential for survival. My father was an entrepreneur and immigrated to the U.S. in 1994. Growing up in under-resourced neighborhoods, I saw the disconnect between my parents’ skills and their economic opportunities. This inspired me to explore how to solve pressing economic challenges and impact the world in a practical way. I pursued entrepreneurship during the Great Recession, started six companies, and became passionate about working with leaders to drive change.

What excites you about GroundBreak?

I spend most of my time imagining a brighter future than I do on a problem. And to get to that brighter future, there are problems we have to solve. I am excited about the systematic approach we are taking to address historical challenges and inequities. GroundBreak’s mission aligns perfectly with my passion for economic development and public-private partnerships, making it an ideal platform to make a significant impact.

What are some of the common barriers that are standing in the way of Black and BIPOC entrepreneurs and commercial developers?

No matter your background, being an entrepreneur or commercial developer is challenging. Those challenges are different if you’re trying to start a small family business or if, say, you want to start a business, grow it quickly, and sell it.

For Black and BIPOC entrepreneurs these challenges are more pronounced due to historical structures, perceptions of risk by lenders, and generational wealth disparities. Even when Black entrepreneurs have the same amount of collateral or personal wealth as their counterparts, they are often offered inferior loans by banks. There is a lot GroundBreak can do on the financial side to remove barriers to capital, as well as the long-term work of shifting paradigms around who is contributing to the region’s economic growth and development.

What are you working on this summer with GroundBreak?

We’re building the structure for a new financial system, working with partners and collaborators to establish processes that will allow a transformative flow of capital for new and growing businesses and neighborhood commercial developments. Internally, we’re calling these ‘strategy tables’ which are made up of financial experts as well as entrepreneurs and commercial developers from the community.

What does success at GroundBreak look like to you a year from now?

A year from now, I want Black wealth-builders to be able to walk into a bank with their business plan and receive the loan and loan amount they are looking for. Currently, only 18% of Black people that go into a bank and apply for a loan end up with the specific loan amount they were seeking. Getting to 35% in a year would be a significant increase. Longer term, with flexible capital readily available, this should translate into thousands of new Black-owned businesses thriving in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region and beyond and dozens of new climate-ready, Black-led neighborhood commercial developments completed.

Success is measured in metrics, but more importantly, it’s measured in the confidence that it takes for every entrepreneur to believe that there isn’t a system in place to hinder them, and that if they have the right idea and people together—and can identify the resources they need—then the only thing stopping them is their imagination.

Interested in learning about partnership and investment opportunities with the GroundBreak Coalition? Please contact Ryan Peterson: ryan@petersenconsultants.com or Ben Hecht: bhecht@mcknight.org

MORE NEWS & UPDATES

GroundBreak Announces Request for Proposals for Financial Managers

GroundBreak Announces Request for Proposals for Financial Managers

 Today, the GroundBreak Coalition announced its Request for Proposals (RFP) to grant long-term contracts to Low-Cost, Patient Capital Pool and Guarantee Pool Financial Managers. The GroundBreak Coalition is working to unlock over $5.3 billion over the decade to expand...

Get Email Updates

Contact Us