No doubt Detroit has garnered a lot of negative press over the years. Once a thriving metropolis, the center of the American automobile industry and the home of legendary Motown Records, Detroit has met with a sharp decline since the 1970s. It has developed a reputation as riddled with crime, unemployment and poverty. Nonetheless, in the past year, Detroit has started to make a significant recovery. I recently came across an article about some of the entrepreneurs who have been making strides in Detroit and contributing to its renaissance.
Detroit native Emily Thornhill received an AFA in Fashion Design, and spent four years at grassroots label Femilia, until she launched the environmentally conscious women’s clothing label “Homeslice” in 2011. All of Homeslice’s fabric comes from the United States, and every article of clothing is made in the firm’s headquarters of Detroit.
True Body Fitness is a fitness studio in Corktown, one of Detroit’s historically Irish neighborhoods. However, owner Kimo Fredriksen has big plans for his establishment. They offer such services as metabolic testing, which measures oxygen input for optimal cardio training. In addition, the studio’s blog offers motivational advice to its followers and awards visitors who win any of the company’s regular fitness challenges.
Social Sushi, founded by Jay Rayford, identifies itself as a catering company for networking and fundraising events. Radford sees the company as a great way to facilitate people meeting each other and exchanging ideas. He currently hosts around four events every month, and plans to expand his operation to incorporate other people and businesses in Detroit.
In 2010, Sheri Crawley founded Pretty Brown Girl to combat negative body image messages in the media. Crawley sells clothing, backpacks and various other items, all of which are labeled with the words “pretty brown girl”. Her plan is to remind children across the world that dark skin is a beautiful thing, and something to be proud of.
Bob Marsh developed LevelEleven in 2012, a tool built to properly motivate sales employees. LevelEleven integrates with sites such as SalesForce.com to incentivize employees’ work and boost sales.
Brothers Andrew and Ryan Landau are the founders of Chalkfly, an office and school supply e-commerce site intent on giving back to their community. The company has hired 10 employees, and one of the main doctrines of its business strategy. In addition, they donate 5% of every one of their sales to teachers.
In 2011, Victor Nemirovsky and engineer Itai Ben-Gal quit their jobs to start iRule, creating universal remotes for mobile devices such as iPhones and tablets. Currently, iRule has products in over 12,000 homes and businesses, and has 269 dealers in 49 countries.
Veronika Scott, a student at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, had an idea for a coat designed to keep its user warm that could also be used as a sleeping bag for the city’s homeless. This idea became reality with The Empowerment Project, a non-profit started by Scott to manufacture and distribute this outerwear. Even though the company relies exclusively on donations, Scott distributed around 4,000 coats this past year.
Henry Balanon is the founder of The Glass Company, which is working to manufacture an electronic glass card that can selectively act as any one of your debit or credit cards. Currently called “Echo”, this device plans to revolutionize payment. At the moment, Balanon is fundraising to develop and release Echo.
In 2012, Detroit natives and Harvard graduates Jay Gierak and Nathan Labenz founded the professional review/referral site Stik. Using social media sites such as Facebook, Stik pairs up consumers with contractors, doctors and other professionals.
Entrepreneur and tech junkie Hajj Flemings is currently developing the website Gokit, which synthesizes all of a user’s social media sites into one cohesive profile. According to Fleming, the startup was launched on a napkin at South by Southwest. The site is still developing, as the company is looking for investors and working out various kinks.
The microgranting company Detroit SOUP, founded by Amy Kaherl in 2010, hosts a monthly dinner designed to give participants a hand in getting their business ideas off of the ground. Diners pay 5$ to eat and pitch their ideas, while the best idea receives all of the proceeds from food and drink sales from that night. This amount typically ranges between $900 and $2,000. As of January 2014, Detroit SOUP has donated over $55,000 to various projects and businesses around Detroit.