26 April 2012

New Business Taking Root in Detroit

Story first appeared in The Detroit News.
They didn't come because of major tax breaks. They aren't looking to move even as city leaders attempt to stave off bankruptcy. Many entrepreneurs have staked their ground in Detroit because they see business opportunities and social needs.

There are countless examples that showcase Detroit's real spirit. There is a spirit of urban innovation that's advancing economic opportunity, quality of life and civic engagement across Detroit. A Dearborn Business Lawyer states that the number of new start-ups needing guidance has really jumped recently.

Here are four examples of companies that are enthused about Detroit, and hope to capitalize on its emerging trends and unmet needs. 

Detroit Bikes

A Calgary native who first visited Detroit two years ago, has now setup shop and feels more welcome in Detroit than he has anywhere else.

This year, the Canadian started Detroit Bikes, his vision to create an accessible, well-built three-speed commuter bike for the masses. The 31-year-old loves the fact that his small production crew of four is working on the prototype in the carriage house of his Boston Edison home. Henry Ford once lived in the Boston Edison neighborhood.  His goal is to create affordable, reliable transportation.

He eventually he wants to build 100 bikes a day.

If he ends up buying a building in Detroit, he could end up investing up to $400,000 to get Detroit Bikes in motion. He believes the market is there: A 2012 report by the Alliance for Biking & Walking found the number of bicycle commuters in Detroit rose 258 percent over the past two decades.  The Canadian says that it is very important to him that he be able to hire Detroit workers. Many people have inspired and encouraged him during the business startup.

En Garde! Detroit and Sword Dreams

A 28-year-old Jamaican immigrant has been fencing almost half his life, and founded a social entrepreneurial company dedicated to fencing, called En Garde! Detroit three years ago.

His prowess led to an athletic scholarship to join Wayne State University's world-class fencing team.

He wants to offer that kind of opportunity to inner-city youths by teaching about his sport. He loves to tell students that fencing originated in Egypt, and it sharpens the mind as much as the body. There are too many public schools with no arts program, no cultural programs. Fencing can offer them something they can feel, touch, breathe — be totally connected to.

Last year, his programs reached more than 1,000 students.

This year, he started the nonprofit Sword Dreams, whose goal is to buy fencing equipment for students. He also opened a studio on the edge of Corktown to offer free classes.

On Thursday, he will deliver the keynote speech at the 2012 Governor's Fitness Awards at Ford Field.

Detroit Farm and Garden

The store opened April 2 in what used to be the parking garage and lot of a former Detroit Police precinct in southwest Detroit.

Detroit Farm and Garden's goal is to provide high-quality gardening, farming and landscape resources to Detroit. Nearly everything in the store is organic, and much of it is locally made.

Already, there has been a run on 50-pound bags of chicken feed, Klein said. And at the request of several customers, the store now carries pig feed. The bales of hay and straw are selling pretty well, too.

There were 1,351 vegetable gardens in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck in 2011, according to the coalition groupcalled the Garden Resource Program Collaborative. That includes 800 family gardens, 300 community gardens, 60 school gardens and 40 market gardens.

The owners of the business feel that they are really servicing a local need.


Pluto, a Birmingham-based "creative content" firm is setting up an office in a warehouse on the southwestern edge of downtown Detroit. Pluto plans to create 10 jobs from the get-go, and aims to become a hub for visiting New York and Los Angeles-based advertising and marketing professionals. Pluto was inspired by the decisions of Compuware Corp., Quicken Loans Inc. and General Motors Co. to relocate as many employees downtown as possible.

GM has tried to convince its new marketing partners to commit to Detroit. New ad agency Commonwealth — a 50/50 partnership between Chevrolet's U.S. agency, San Francisco-based Goodby Silverstein & Partners and New York-based McCann Erickson Worldwide — is bringing 280 jobs into the city. Social media company Twitter and at least two public relations firms also are setting up shop in the city.

Pluto specializes in broadcast and online marketing. Its workers include motion designers, Web designers, computer graphic artists and sound designers.

Next month, the company plans to open a 5,000-square-foot space in a West Fort Street warehouse.

Pluto has converted it into a sleek, playful area with state of-the-art editing, Web-serving programs and design facilities.

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