Inside General Mills' support for Twin Cities BIPOC businesses

From skills-based volunteering to financial giving, General Mills is helping ensure local BIPOC businesses have the support they need to thrive and grow. 
Vanessa Drews holding her cheesecakes

Cheesecake Funk

Founder and head baker Vanessa Drews knew she had a product people loved. After selling cheesecakes to friends and family for years, even earning the praise of MN legend Prince, she took her business, Cheesecake Funk full-time in 2019. 

Since then, she has operated out of a hotel kitchen, working hard to expand her business. Today, her cheesecakes can be found on the menus of several popular restaurants, like CRAVE and Blue Birch.   

But to continue growing the business and to move into a kitchen of her own, Vanessa needed a better understanding of the business’ numbers and financial projections.  

The GoodWorks pro bono volunteer program at General Mills, in coordination with HandsOn Twin Cities, was eager to help Vanessa reach her goals.  

Over the course of 12 weeks, a team of finance experts from General Mills, led by Camille Zweber, associate finance manager, partnered with her to understand her needs and deliver useful guidance and business solutions.  

“Starting a business has so many challenges. It was incredibly rewarding to know we were helping someone make progress against a dream of theirs. I also loved that this business was right here in my community, that in some small way, I’m helping build the community I want to see around me,” says Zweber.  

“Having the ability to clearly articulate and understand Cheesecake Funk’s financials is something that will greatly help moving forward,” says Drews. 

Building a legacy of service

General Mills’ GoodWorks program has been helping Minnesota small businesses and nonprofits since 2009.  

“HandsOn Twin Cities and General Mills have been working together since 2017. In that time, General Mills employees have worked more than 2,100 hours with 28 clients,” says Joy Altmann, managing director of the pro bono advisory program at HandsOn Twin Cities. 

Over the past two program cycles, General Mills has focused on partnering with BIPOC-owned organizations as they have faced tremendous challenges and additional hurdles from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The timely 2020 focus on working with this demographic has been beneficial to not only the clients but to the employees themselves,” adds Altmann. “We are excited to build on the momentum of the 2022 projects to continue identifying businesses that could benefit from these opportunities.” 

Here are the small businesses that GoodWorks pro bono teams assisted in 2022: 

Local funding to boost BIPOC food entrepreneurs  

Beyond the GoodWorks program, General Mills also supports the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) with charitable grants.  

Most recently, we provided the nonprofit organization with a $300,000 grant to support NEON’s food incubator program and grow their capacity to serve more BIPOC entrepreneurs and small food businesses in North Minneapolis, an area of our community that has been challenged with equitable food access issues. NEON is well positioned to make a positive difference in the community through its programming that has supported over 1,350 clients and provided nearly 6,800 hours of technical assistance in 2020.  

“General Mills has set the gold standard for authentic partnerships. Not only are they providing resources to NEON, but they are looking for ways to truly engage our clients,” says Warren McLean, president of NEON. “The Juneteenth Celebration, for example, was fabulous. Our clients were thrilled with the exposure and the opportunity to sell their products. After that celebration we debriefed about how to do more and even better.” 

General Mills is proud to support the continued development and growth of Twin Cities BIPOC businesses. Through innovative funding and on-the-ground volunteering, the company strives to equip local leaders, business owners, and community members with the resources they need.  

“Our volunteer initiatives and charitable giving are one more way we help to build strong, equitable and resilient communities. I am so grateful to our employees who are deeply passionate about leaning in to give back in innovative ways, and to the remarkable community partners who are driving impact every day,” says Nicola Dixon, director of global impact and charitable giving, General Mills.  

In the Twin Cities and across the globe, it’s work like this that further reflects how G Stands for Good.