It seems that few Grand Rapids people are involved in as much effort as Jonathan Jelks.
All of his endeavors were also intentionally developed, not only to fit into his own personal life and the vision he had of himself, but to be where he believed the greater Grand Rapids and Michigan community could go.
“I’ll never feel any real satisfaction with my business efforts until I’m able to translate these initiatives into uplifting my community,” Jelks said. “As of 2015, Grand Rapids was ranked as the second worst African American economy in the country. Knowing the probability of black youth in our town, I can’t sleep well at night, especially when the same publication and others When rating us as the best mid-sized city to live and raise a family. Where we have strong advanced manufacturing, medical miles and emerging tech industries, we have to figure out how to make sure the rising tide pushes everything.”
Jelks has seven businesses in four Michigan communities, with many more on the horizon. His businesses include Motu Viget Spirits, Motu Lakeshore Wine Bar/Prohibition Cocktail Bar & Lounge, The Botanical Co. Dispensary Middleville, Sip Coffee and Cocktails, GR USA Apparel Company and Midwest Tech Project. Businesses range from liquor manufacturing to hospitality, from cannabis to technology, from Muskegon to Grand Rapids to Detroit.
Growing up, Jelks needed to look up to his parents. Both are first-generation college students. His mother, Mari Beth Johnson-Jelks, started her own private law firm in Grand Rapids. She eventually became an administrator for the city of Grand Rapids and is now the vice president of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Jelks said she “instills and shapes” discipline and encourages a narrow vision of professional execution.
His father, Dr. Randal Jelks has helped shape the way he sees the wider world, improving his worldview and his understanding of politics and community.
“His advocacy for civil rights and social justice inspired me not only to work hard and strive to be successful, but also to give back to the community and create opportunities for others in underserved communities,” Jelks said.
organize: Motu Viget Spirits, Motu Lakeshore Wine Bar /Prohibition Cocktail Bar & Lounge, The Botanical Co. (BOCO) Pharmacy Middleville, Sip Coffee and Cocktails, GR USA Apparel Company, The Midwest Tech Project
place of birth: grand rapids
Residential: grand rapids
Biggest career breakthrough: “In my opinion, I have yet to experience the biggest career breakthrough. The business momentum that my partners and I have gained is the result of years of hard work, ways of finding new opportunities, and pursuing our passions. Every entrepreneurial endeavor is is a step in the right direction as we learn new things about ecosystems. Ongoing process and evolution is my “watershed” moment. The so-called big breakthrough has not happened yet. We are learning how to become better through experience Good entrepreneur.”
Even with two solid parental figures, Jelks is still distracted by his neighbors. He grew up on Sherman Street in southeast Grand Rapids before the area’s recent gentrification began.
He said his immediate neighborhood was peaceful, but the entire neighborhood was unrest, with drugs and guns everywhere. As an older millennial, Jelks is one of the last generations to spend a lot of time outdoors without the constant lure of the internet and social media, learning through their own adventures.
“There are a lot of distractions that can take you off the beaten path,” Jelks said. “Our particular neighborhood is like being in the center of a storm or a tornado, it’s very calm, but the surrounding area is very unstable. Luckily, I have A great group of peers who encouraged and supported me. Some of my friends growing up were not so lucky.
“My challenge is that Grand Rapids is a well-run city on the verge of great things, but historically this has excluded black people from wealth accumulation and ownership opportunities. Unfortunately, those are still things we deal with today The problem.”
Once Jelks could envision his future as a young man, he knew that creating his own wealth was the best option. He knew that entrepreneurship was the key to achieving his goals. Hip-hop moguls like P. Diddy, Nas, Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Russell Simmons helped him show corporate America a viable path.
“To me, these people are what Berry Gordy, Joe Kennedy, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford were to previous generations,” he said.
Now, with more than half a dozen of his own businesses, Jelks says his variety is by design.
“Diversification is a safety net,” he said. “If an industry fails, you have other sources of income to support you when the market changes. I’ve always been taught never to put all your eggs in one basket. My philosophy is to spread and protect myself and my family.
“If nothing else, the recession of the late 2000s and the pandemic of 2020 reinforced these lessons.”
Likewise, Jelks does business with a large number of partners. This helps reduce risk and bring in new ideas, which in turn helps all other businesses and partners.
“Different partners can help you reduce risk,” Jelks said. “They provide ideas and have an edge where you may be lacking. Never underestimate having a sounding board or an advisor who can advise you through your emotions to make the best business decisions. From resources (and) political connections When it comes to creative aspects like marketing and branding, the problem-solving that all businesses deal with becomes less important when you have a strong partnership.
“It’s so much fun doing moves and earning money with the people you love. Partnerships also bring accountability. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years and my partners have been able to help me strategically through those challenges.”
At 37, Jelks shows no signs of slowing down. Once he started his entrepreneurial journey, he saw the benefits it brought, not only to himself, but to everyone in his community and the city as a whole.
The good news for Jelks is that the more businesses he starts and the deeper those businesses go, like the strong sales of Motu Viget in Detroit, the more communities he can help grow. However, in addition to his own entrepreneurial journey, Jelks does hope to launch a venture capital entity with his various partners in the future.
He not only hopes to make some large-scale investments, but also hopes to make some small investments through venture capital firms. From his own experience, Jelks knows that small businesses are important and the backbone of the business community.
He also said bringing more minorities into the tech industry is an important goal.
“In the words of the great Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, I can’t stop and I won’t stop,” Jelks said. “Serial entrepreneurship is a way of life at this point. The ultimate goal for me is to create as many opportunities as possible for my family and others. Not starting a new business to satisfy my ego or just to get rich.
“It’s about building communities, enriching people’s experiences and helping our region grow.”
With all his efforts, Jelks says he won’t feel truly successful until his efforts translate into uplifting the entire community. Grand Rapids may also have hero Jerkes and his cohorts back.
“I’m committed to trying to build sustainable businesses that have a positive impact on the community in my hometown,” he said. “To be honest, if some of my business partners and I were in cities like Detroit or Houston that were upwardly mobile for African-Americans, we would have gone further and flourished on another level.
“The struggle in Grand Rapids is not to create any pipeline for more vulnerable communities to get future jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.”