Archive: Jul 2015

  1. It Takes a Village: A case study of collaborative entrepreneurship in Detroit

    Photo courtesy of Sister Pie


    On the eastside of Detroit, minutes past the buzz of the city’s freshly developing urban sprawl, sits the quaint neighborhood of West Village.

    The streets are quieter – the loudest sounds those of saws grinding from renovation sites screeching, “The revitalization is here. It has taken root.”

    In the last few years, new storefronts have popped up in the neighborhood with increasing frequency among the community gardens and turn-of-the-century homes.

    With a handful of established shops in the neighborhood, doors all ready open, and several more set to open this year and next, it would seem that owning a small business in Detroit would be easy as pie.

    Lisa Ludwinski, owner of the village’s Sister Pie bakery, tells me the journey from ideas to concrete and metal walls is anything but easy.

    Three years after her decision to go it alone, Ludwinski has utilized everything from fundraising campaigns to community classes, loans and a 24-hour dance marathon to get her brick and mortar on the corner of Parker and Kercheval.

    She said it was organizations like the Build Institute, a local non-profit dedicated to helping people turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality, that made it possible.

    It’s about pie time

    Photo courtesy of Sister Pie


    Pulling up to Sister Pie, I could see the kitchen, which opened on April 24th of this year, was busy finishing up the workday. Customers walked past me with smiles, intoxicating smells drifting from their to-go containers.

    Ludwinski, who was sitting at a large wooden table by the front window ordering checks on her laptop, her brown hair tied up and what looked to be remnants of flour on her shirt, seemed a perfect balance of flustered and excited, eager and tired.

    In the final hour ‘til close, the shop was so brimming with customers that we decided to sit in the plastic lawn chairs out front for our chat. Ludwinski mentioned that she had not yet been able to sit in those chairs – from lack of time, no doubt.

    After several internships, part-time jobs as a nanny or barista and years as a New Yorker (complete with self-produced YouTube cooking show “Funny Side up”), Ludwinski, fresh from an inspiring trip to San Francisco, decided to move home to open a bakery in 2012.

    “There was something about San Francisco that made me think of Detroit more than New York ever did. It was just an energy, a certain type of people,” she said.

    “There were all of these bread collectives and they were worker–owned or you would buy into them, and it was all toward this greater good. They would make sure that people had fair wages and that the food was up to a certain standard. I thought, ‘Okay, I want to do that in Detroit.’”

    Ludwinski sent out emails, professional typeface and all, to friends and family announcing the business, set up an Instagram and preheated the ovens.

    That Thanksgiving of 2012 she made 40 pies in her mother’s double-stacked ovens at their home in Milford.

    “They were probably ten years old.  My mom will gladly – not gladly, maybe not so gladly – tell you that her ovens have never been the same since I used them,” Ludwinski said.

    Ludwinski said those struggles in the beginning were some of the hardest because she didn’t know anyone else doing what she was.

    She found out it wasn’t as difficult to break an oven as to break into the Detroit scene.

    “I wasn’t breaking into it, necessarily, through social media,” she said. “I had to meet people, introduce myself and chat it up. You can only feed pie to your friends and family for so long. You need to take that risk of giving it to people that won’t just tell you they love it.”

    People couldn’t simply hear about the pies. They needed to taste them, and Ludwinski needed help getting to their taste buds.


    Building Detroit

    Photo courtesy of Sister Pie


    Enter Build Institute.

    Ludwinski took Build’s 8-week business and project planning course in January of 2013. It was the first time she was able to connect to Detroit’s entrepreneurial community.

    “The whole structure of the class was that we were working through a business plan, so it was the first time I was starting to ask myself questions about this future here,” she said.  “‘How much do I need to make in order to survive?’ ‘What kind of things am I going to have on my menu?’ ‘How many employees am I going to hire?’”

    Ludwinski said that as far as the Build class goes, you reap what you sew.

    “There is no ‘you have to do this.’ It’s beginner level. They don’t go to a lot of specifics because there are so many types of businesses. I think it’s a great place for people who have an idea to start and sort of flesh it out.”

    The course brings in local experts to teach aspiring entrepreneurs the basics of starting a business – from licensing to market research – while providing them with the resources and tools they need to succeed in the community.

    “I firmly believe, and Build Institute firmly believes, that we need to invest and keep our money local and in people and projects that can develop commercial corridors and keep ownership in our communities,” said April Boyle, executive director of Build Institute.

    Because of its dedication to Detroit, Build makes it easy for anyone to attend the course or get involved with its mission.

    The course, called Build Basics, is flexible, offering daytime, evening and weekend sessions, and classes are priced on a sliding scale based on annual household income and family size.

    By the numbers, Build has graduated over 600 aspiring entrepreneurs from over 100 zip codes in the metro Detroit area. Seventy-one percent have been female and 85% have been low to moderate income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Labor.

    “The reason why it takes a village to open a business in the city of Detroit is because the types of businesses that the city needs – mainstream life-style, place-making businesses – are not traditionally and easily funded because they’re high risk [for banks],” Boyle said.

    More than ever in the city, entrepreneurs from all backgrounds are not alone when trying to fund their business plan. Build is only one organization in a large network that has taken a grassroots community approach to help business owners.

    Through Build, Ludwinski heard about FoodLab, a local community of food entrepreneurs that, according to their website, is committed to making the possibility of good food in Detroit a sustainable reality.

    FoodLab helped her with licensing her first commercial space and offered much of the hands-on technical advice she needed.

    “It’s very community-operated with a focus on inspiring and giving the people tools to make a really good food business. There’s a lot of support there,” Ludwinski said.


    A village approach

    Photo courtesy of Sister Pie


    Build and FoodLab helped Ludwinski get a foothold in the city and opened the door to a larger network of resources she eagerly utilized to secure her West Village storefront.

    She did an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, competed in and won the 2014 Comerica Hatch Detroit contest, which landed her $50,000 she put toward the Sister Pie kitchen, and received a micro-loan from the Kiva organization, a non-profit that connects people through lending to alleviate poverty.

    When it comes to opening a small business in Detroit, it is clear that the help and know-how trickle down, up and sideways through an equal-parts community – a village, if you will.

    The village keeps growing with owners like Ludwinski giving back to the local economy with their business practices. She and her “right-hand woman,” Angie, go to Eastern Market every Saturday to buy seasonal, Michigan-sourced ingredients.

    “Not everything we use is highly local or organic, but we try our darndest to make sure that when we can source locally, we do,” Ludwinski said. “We use all Michigan sugar. All of our produce comes from Michigan farms, other than things that don’t grow here. What’s great about that, is that we have these relationships with these farmers from around Michigan, and it is so rewarding.”

    Sitting in front of her shop window talking about the last three years, it seems as though the struggles Ludwinski has faced pale in comparison to the help she has received in creating Sister Pie.

    Her journey proves that once you have the right ingredients, it can still take a village to start a business.

  2. Build Institute Welcomes New Alumni Coordinator

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    Build Institute, a program of Downtown Detroit Partnership, is proud to announce and welcome Nikki Pardo as alumni coordinator. Pardo will oversee the Build Next program, which is exclusively dedicated to Build graduates and provides support and resources they need to launch and grow. Build Next is a very important component to the success of the graduates as they continue to network, collaborate, learn, inspire and serve as catalysts to ensure their businesses flourish and thrive.


    “The Build community continues to grow with over 600 graduates in just 3 short years and we need to make sure our alumni feel supported and have the resources they need for success” says April Boyle Executive Director.

    Pardo says, “As a Build graduate myself, I look forward to rolling up my sleeves to support and celebrate other alums, and let them know they are not alone out there!”

    Pardo dedicated her professional career to the corporate, government, and higher education sectors, and is the founder of Global Alliance Solutions, a diversity training and consulting company. Pardo also earned a Master of Business Administration degree in Management/Leadership, a Master of Science in Administration degree with a concentration in International Administration, and a Bachelor of Science degree.

  3. Three helpful tools for getting your business to the next level


    As an urbanist, I see entrepreneurs as the lifeblood of cities. They are what give cities their own unique identity and sense of vitality. And as an entrepreneur myself, I know how hard it can be to get your business going. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few tricks that have helped take my work to the next level.  There’s a lot of advice out there for entrepreneurs, most of it bad, but I’ve found the tools below to be incredibly helpful.


    1. Get Stuff Done Like a Boss

    get stuff done

    This is my daily productivity system. It’s premised on the notion that what we lack isn’t time, but mental bandwidth. By placing my workflow into a well-defined system, I’m able to stay on top of multiple projects without feeling overwhelmed. Take a day to take this course and set up your system. I promise you will be pleased with the results.




    My wife is a graphic designer, so I’ve come to appreciate the importance of aesthetics in business. A well-designed document or poster can be the difference between success and failure. Canva is a great tool for creating good design easily, quickly, and cheaply. A lot of the content is free, and premium elements only cost a buck. I was able to design the Transit PolicyLab workbook, as well as the social media presence for #becausesomeliveshere using Canva. The website has some limitations though, so for more involved design jobs, I recommend hiring a professional (my wife does freelance).


    3. Profit First

    profit first

    Profit first is a money management system based on behavioral economics. The premise is that demand rises to meet supply. For example: when you have a new roll of toilet paper, you don’t use it judiciously, but when you start to run out you are able to make it last. The same is true for our operating costs, which is why it can be so hard to be profitable. Dispersing a percentage of your revenue to a profit account first allows you bake profitability into the DNA of your company.

  4. Etsy in Detroit using 3 #hashtags




    In 2007 a friend introduced me to Etsy; I was hooked (and not only as a seller). Have you shopped on the site? Yesss honey! Independent designers. Local designers. Makers around the world. I could deliver a piece of Detroit near and far! I planned to hunker down, sell lots of jewelry, and be the boss! Yet, in all my excitement, it was at times overwhelming. If only Etsy could make learning to sell a bit simpler; offer a class maybe? We’ll get to that soon. Fast forward 8 years, a couple jobs, and 2 kids, I’m on my second Etsy store, selling wholesale, popping up around town, and teaching others about the wonders of Etsy. I attribute my growth to consistent work, lots of mistakes, relationship building, and the many resources made available at the BUILD Institute.



    For a frustrating year, I tinkered with my business plan. Then voila! BUILD launched an 8-week course that helped to refine my plan and confidently move forward. The class provided the framework and push needed to take an honest look at the numbers. It was also a safe space to share info with peers while connecting with valuable mentors. I made great business friends, with whom I regularly collaborate.

    The first Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program class in Detroit.
    The first Etsy class in Detroit started last spring.



    Back to that Etsy class. Imagine my excitement when Etsy partnered with BUILD and I was offered the opportunity to teach the Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship Program (CEP)! Based on my beginnings as a seller, it was a no brainer that others could use guidance navigating the platform. Although the site is template based, and relatively user friendly, the CEP class offers, business basics, feedback, and engagement in a real world setting. One student remarked “If I had not signed up, my shop would still be empty. The class created accountability, and forced me to do the work. I learned so much about photography as well.”

    I consider myself an Etsy vet. As a CEP instructor, I absorbed great tips to refine my shop, and improve sales. They have a useful blog with loads of seller related content. The perks of teaching the class? I was able to meet real, live Etsy administrators when they came to visit Detroit. That’s right, there are people behind the site, really great people; it’s not just an app! #MetroDetroitEtsy

  5. So you want to be a localist? Three ways to up your game

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    “Even though I had long preferred my local coffee shop to Starbucks, I hadn’t heard the term “localist” before encountering BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), a network of people dedicated to “restoring community through local businesses.” I attended their conference in Phoenix this year, where I had the opportunity to learn about the localist movement and listen to presentations by founders of pioneering social entrepreneurial companies like Community Sourced Capital and Dankso. I met community organizers focused on local food systems and economic empowerment and chatted with small business owners that understand they are a part of a social movement beyond the doors of their brick and mortar stores.
    Here are three insights from the BALLE conference that individuals can use to become part of the localist movement in a holistic and meaningful way:”

    Read more here.

  6. Left-Handed Brand: From New York to Detroit and growing

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    ​Left-Handed Branded creates custom clothing using sustainable fabrics and fashion accessories that are made from up-cycled materials such as 35 mm film. Our motto is “Make a big statement, leave a small carbon footprint!”scott4

    Left-Handed Branded just cleared a year in Hamtramck after being in NYC for the past 6 years.  So much has happened in those 6 years in Detroit for small business.  I happened intoD:Hive my first month back in Detroit and found out about the Build Institute.   I started out going to Build Sponsored events like Open City and various lectures around town.  Every small business owner I met in Detroit was a Build Graduate.  After attending The Build Institute’s 2 Year Anniversary Party in Southwest Detroit, I decided to apply for the Spring 2015 Build Basics Entrepreneurship Program. I was accepted and as a now recent graduate I understand the hype.  Thank you,  Build Institute!
    The New Year has been good to Left-Handed Branded.  I got a website back up in April and keeping with the theme of putting myself out there I was accepted into the Eastern Market’s Sunday Street Market for the 2015 Season.  It has only been two weeks, but more has happened for Left-Handed Branded in the first two weeks of the Eastern Market Season than an entire Michigan winter (and I thought the winter was good to me).
    scott 4
    I tend to stay in my studio and make things most of my time and getting myself and my ideas out there has been a great way to get the feedback and sales numbers I needed to finish my business plan. I brought a New Yorker to Detroit with me and she is loving Hamtramck/Detroit too. If you want to see what Left-Handed Branded is up to, please come by Shed 3 at the Eastern Market (my space is right below the Huge Shinola Watch).  I am trying to have new products on display every week.
  7. Build in Fortune Magazine

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    In June, Build had the honor of being featured in Fortune Magazine’s article “The fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America” featuring our very own Build grad Danielle Smith of Detroit Maid.

    “The number of businesses owned by African American women grew 322% since 1997, making black females the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S.”

    Read more here.

  8. Lemonade Day + Public Allies: Youth Entrepreneurship Celebration

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    Lemonade Day was a giant undertaking, especially for us Public Allies. I had just started my service working at Build, and jumped on board with their Team Service Project already planning the event.

    Let me take a moment to give the proper introduction to Public Allies. Public Allies is a national AmeriCorps program dedicated to young-adult leadership development and advancing new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation. This happens by placing Allies to work with local nonprofits for 9 months to build capacity and develop programming. Allies are also placed in a Team Service Project to plan events and develop programs in a group outside of their regular placement. One of the greatest things about the Public Allies is that the cohorts contain some of the most driven, talented, passionate, and innovative people I have ever met—with the inclusion of young, fresh talent and older (young-spirited!), experienced, and wisdom-filled community leaders.


    So what is Lemonade Day? Lemonade Day is a fun, experiential, and vivid national celebration of youth entrepreneurship that has been taking not just the United States, but North America, by storm. Founded in 2007 by founder Michael Holthouse, this program was launched in the hopes of igniting the spirit of entrepreneurship in the hearts of American youth. Far surpassing the borders of the place he calls home—Houston, Texas—it is now something that occurs across both the U.S. and Canada.


    Just to let you know, Detroit’s Lemonade Day was the best Lemonade Day HANDS DOWN! (No shade to my other sites! Love you too!) I was completely blown away by the outcome of the event, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the occasion. I’m talking about 75°-80°, bright and sunny, a wonderful breeze, and JUST the right amount of clouds. It was sublime, and seeing the joy on the kids’ faces was one of the most rewarding aspects of helping to coordinate this with Public Allies and Build.


    We had bubbles, face painting, music, and smiling faces. We filled the beautiful gazebo area located at 2700 Bagley with lemonade stands, which were adorned with colorful decorations, balloons, and were fully stocked with yummy confections such as cupcakes, cookies, candies, and of course, lemonade. To top off the fun, the participants even put on a talent show. Our participants included the organizations such Purity in Pink, It’s A-Ok, and Public Allies host site Alternatives for Girls.


    At the end of Lemonade Day, we were all extremely exhausted, and I literally slept until it was time for work on that following Monday. Besides that, I was so happy with the outcome—the support we received from other Allies was tremendous, and the community showed up in droves eager to participate with us. Magic is truly brewing in Detroit, and a part of it is our youth.