DETROIT — Larry Cunningham is on a mission. After retiring from 27 years of service in Wayne County’s Sheriff’s department, the 50-year-old former deputy is embarking on a new career providing safe, reliable yellow bus transportation to elementary and middle school students with an emphasis on preventing bullying.
Cunningham conceived the idea for his new business, Step-Up Transportation, after becoming school bus certified and working as a substitute teacher with the Detroit Public Schools. He plans to employ retired law-enforcement trained bus drivers to transport students to and from school and field trips in a safe, non-threatening environment.
“In addition to making the students feel comfortable, our goal is to offer peace of mind to parents, knowing that their kids are safe commuting back and forth to school,” said Cunningham.
Step-Up Transportation buses will also be equipped with a “bully-box.” Located next to the driver, the “bully-box” will allow children who feel threatened to enclose a note explaining their problems. The driver will immediately alert the school, so that a quick and effective solution can be implemented.
“Bullying normally starts in the community and travels to school,” Cunningham said. “It often happens over the summer and escalates at school.”
The company will also have pre-determined safety stops along the route, such as a post office or police station, where it’s safe for students to ask for help and children are far less likely to face trouble.
“We can go a little bit further than just dropping kids off at school and help combat bullying by extending education and training inside the school bus system, as we promote positive adult role models,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham had a great idea when he envisioned his business, but he needed the resources to get started. As a Walsh College alumnus and current student, Cunningham was able to find those resources through the Walsh College Blackstone Launchpad Program. Cunningham is in the MBA program at Walsh College and has a finance degree from the business college.
Through a grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, in cooperation with the New Economy Initiative and Automation Alley, Blackstone LaunchPad was set up as a way for Walsh College students and alumni and Wayne State students to attain the needed resources to start their own business with the help and insight of experienced professionals. Blackstone LaunchPad provides new venture assessment, mentoring and networking services to the campus community to encourage entrepreneurship as a viable career path.
Cunningham credits the Blackstone LaunchPad program as being instrumental in igniting his new venture.
“LaunchPad helped me organize my business plan and directed me on how to obtain my licensing from the state,” he said. “They connected me to business coaching at Automation Alley, where they critiqued me and gave me ideas on how to keep my business afloat.”
The new entrepreneur is optimistic about the future of his second career. He plans to have a celebration this month to mark the opening of his own business, Step-Up Transportation. With a successful first career on the books, Cunningham shares some words of wisdom about starting his new venture.
“The worst thing you can do is have a dream and not fulfill it,” Cunningham said. “I tell everyone at Walsh College to go and use Blackstone LaunchPad resources. You’ll be very happy, I am.”