Archive: Aug 2015

  1. Woodbridge Bikes and Coffee: The story of partnership through Build

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    For many of our graduates, Build Institute is a place to toss around a business idea, find support in an entrepreneurial environment, and get connected to a network of doers that welcome collaboration. For some, Build becomes the place where they found exactly what they needed to launch their idea – a business partner.

    Jonathon Colo and Benjamin Kehoe applied for the same Build Basics class in Spring 2015 with similar business concepts, but with no knowledge of one another. Neither of them went into the Build class with the sole intention of finding a partner, but knew it was a possibility when joining the Build community.

    Photo courtesy of Woodbridge Bikes & Coffee.

    “I had thought about having a partner before Build but I wasn’t sure who or how to find one. I’d shared my ideas with a lot of people but nothing really came to fruition,” said Benjamin.

    Benjamin grew up riding bicycles and working in a bike shop in metro Detroit. He went into the Build class for a bicycle and coffee shop concept, which came from exploring other cities in the Pacific Northwest and realizing there wasn’t that same shop density in Detroit.

    Jonathon grew up with a family of small business owners from auto dealerships and real estate to pizza parlors and lunch spots. He went into the class with the idea of opening a cycling centric coffee shop called “The Little Café”, the name of his family’s restaurant on Gratiot from the 1930s into the late 1980s.

    “There was nothing I loved more than talking with my father about The Little Cafe and all the relationships he was able to build with community members,” said Jonathon.

    After meeting the first day of class, combining both Benjamin’s idea for a bicycle shop and connected coffee shop with Jonathon’s idea for a bicycle centric coffee shop into Woodbridge Bikes & Coffee was “business partner love at first site,” according to Benjamin. They grabbed a beer after class and talked about how they could make a partnership work. However, partnership is more than just finding someone with the same idea. How both Benjamin and Jonathon work independently and together was a huge factor in partnering.

    Photo courtesy of Woodbridge Bikes & Coffee.

    “We each live pretty organic lives but from different views and processes – I am more methodic, a writer, and typically thinking about the next 5 steps needed [to have] everything planned out. Ben is more of a brainstorming, creative, hands-on person that is ready to get things done as soon as possible. It is warming to know that we have such similar visions for what we want in Woodbridge Bikes & Coffee, but have completely different skill sets that allow us to get tasks done in an efficient and effective manor while learning from each other, too,” said Jonathon.

    Working with a partner through the Build class can be very beneficial. Both business partners are able to have the same material and collaborative atmosphere but different experiences and ideas. Similarly the Build class can provide that space to make sure partners are on same page about what stage the business is at and what needs to be worked on. Jonathon had already been moving forward prior to the Build class in securing a location in Woodbridge for the business and was able to get Benjamin up to speed and in agreement about their goals.

    “Our goal is to be the commuting cyclist shop in the city, supplying the town with all the best coffee to start the day with. We want it to be a welcoming spot to come, hang out, study and have business meetings…The project will be a huge lift to the community,” said Jonathon.

    Photo courtesy of Woodbridge Bikes & Coffee.

    Their most recent developments and challenges revolve around funding and branding. They applied for Hatch Detroit and made top 25 out of 300, which was very exciting and reassuring for Benjamin. They have some private investor interest and are exploring different loans; however, they are still looking for more funding opportunities and recognize their sometimes limited capacity as they still both work full time jobs.

    “Financing seems to be the toughest part of any project, but we will make it happen,” said Benjamin.

    Not only did the Build class provide them with a collaborative, supportive environment to learn the basics of a business plan, but they had that opportunity to meet others with similar passions and goals that ultimately led to their partnership.

    “[Build] is an encouraging network. We are able to see so many different examples of how a business opens, and of how what was wrong for someone else could be right for you. I encourage others who have great ideas to become small business owners – the water is warm and the resources in the city is plentiful,” said Jonathon.

    They look forward to opening their Woodbridge Bikes & Coffee tentatively in Spring 2016, but for now continue to be assets to the community by providing weekly Bike in Movie Night at the Woodbridge Community Garden where they screen movies, brew coffee, and provide basic bike tune-ups. Check out their Facebook page to learn more.

  2. Kiva Zip’s Impact: Three borrowers share their experience, growth, and success

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    Kiva Zip, a 0% interest, crowdfunded micro-loan program, has been in Detroit for 3 years and has had tremendous positive impact on small business owners. This program, now powered by Build Institute,  fills a gap in Detroit for entrepreneurs trying to access capital to take their business to the next level, and creates community where individuals from Southeast Michigan and all over the world can have an active role in creating opportunity and rebuilding Detroit for as little as a $25 loan.

    In only a few years there has been more $106,200 over 27 loans funded in Detroit and that number is growing every month. Build Institute has been the most active trustee endorsing over 12 loans totaling $48,350 and 100% repayment rate. Here are the stories of 3 Builders that used the Kiva Zip micro-loan platform and how it has impacted their business. For more info on applying, visit here.

    1. Tell us who you are and what your business is.


    Caitlyn Pisarski, Motor City Soap Company

    I moved to Michigan from Wisconsin in 2008 for graduate school and was working at an environmental nonprofit when I established my business. I founded Motor City Soap Company in 2012 after my interest in sustainable living led me to attend a soapmaking workshop. I now work part time as an English language instructor in Southwest Detroit, a few blocks away from my new soap studio on Vernor in Hubbard Farms. As my business evolves so does my philosophy on the interconnectedness between work and community.

    Motor City Soap Company makes handmade vegan soaps, lip balms and sugar scrubs. For years I had been aware of where my food came from and I grow nearly all of the vegetables I need for seven months of the year in a community garden. It was only natural to begin questioning the commercially manufactured products I was using on my body. My soaps are inspired by working people and are named after occupations like The Farmer, The Mechanic and The Nurse.


    Bryant Owens, EverButter, LLC

    My name is Bryant Owens, and I am the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of EverButter, LLC which is a family company that is owned by my wife and I and specializes in formulating, manufacturing, and selling all natural hair & body products, Natural Hair Coaching, and Hair Schooling Seminars.  We focus on helping women build & strengthen relationships through hair by providing information about how to take care of their hair; to help them build the confidence they need to help and educate others about their natural hair.


    Danielle Smith, Detroit Maid

    Detroit Maid is a residential and commercial cleaning service for busy Detroiters. We provide vacancy cleaning, green cleaning, regular maintenance and more.

    In 2012, I was commuting to Lansing daily for work while juggling family and social obligations. The last thing I wanted to do was clean. I finally decided to search for a cleaning service that met my needs in Detroit, to no avail. When I looked to suburban cleaners, merely 3-5 miles away, no one was willing to cross Eight Mile.

    It was then that I realized I could put my cleaning skills and entrepreneurial spirit to use and create a business of my own—one that provides quality service while celebrating Detroit and Detroiters. Soon after, the first two team members were hired and we began to provide service to residential clients in Midtown and Downtown. We now have clients in every corner of the city.

    2. How did you hear about Kiva? Why did you think the Kiva Zip loan was for you?

    Caitlyn: I was first introduced to Kiva’s lending side by a friend years ago and became a lender in 2010. Then in 2013 I learned about Kiva Zip in a Build class, thanks to Delphia Simmons! I thought Kiva Zip was a great fit for me because I liked the idea of character based lending that was fueled by a supportive network of individuals. I needed funds to purchase carrier oils in bulk to bring down production costs and my first Kiva Zip loan gave me the chance to do this.

    Bryant: I heard about Kiva Zip through my Build class, which was in the summer of 2014.  One of the sessions was on funding and the different organizations that businesses can obtain funding through.  As soon as I heard what it was, what type of businesses it was for, and how it worked, I knew I needed more information. I was intrigued by the Kiva Zip loan because it is a 0% interest loan, it is based on the company’s story, and it is a way to engage my own community for support in a non-threatening way. At the time, we had already launched our business and began bringing in sales, so our business fit the model of  what Kiva was looking for.

    We did a loan for $2000 for video and photo equipment that would allow us to build a YouTube channel and take professional photos of our products in house.  This equipment would save us lots of time by not having to outsourcing our product photos and help us expand our reach by producing videos for YouTube.

    Danielle: I became aware of Kiva Zip through the Build Institute’s Facebook page. I had built increased marketing into my business plan, but had not identified a funding source. When I learned about Kiva Zip it was perfect timing and just the right fit. I am now redeveloping my website and increasing outreach for our new social initiative, Clean for Good.

    3. Had you been looking at other loans? What made your decision to go with Kiva instead of others?


    Caitlyn: I began researching other options but Kiva Zip’s 0% interest made the decision quite easy!


    Bryant: At the time of being introduced to Kiva Zip we had been in business for 7-8 months, so I investigated a few different funding types such as crowdfunding through Kickstarter or Indiegogo, SBA Loans, looking for a more traditional loans through banks.  I knew we had not been in business long enough to be approved for a bank loan because they typically require business to be in business for 2 years or more, among other requirements.  The requirement of the amount of time in business would have knocked us out.
    Photo courtesy of EverButter LLC


    4. What was your experience with the Kiva loan process?


    Caitlyn: The Kiva Zip loan process was refreshingly smooth and supportive. From the staff I worked with on the ground in Detroit to the Kiva Zip personnel located at their headquarters, I felt informed every step of the way.


    Bryant: The process was quite simple. After I was introduced to [the previous Kiva Zip fellow] we set up a phone call and discussed our business, what we were currently doing and what we wanted to achieve in the future. After that we completed the application and after about a week we were approved and were able to set up our internal funding process where we needed to get 7 people from our internal network to contribute to the loan before it went live to the world. After our loan was fully funded, the funds were in our Paypal account the next day!  Amazing right!  I thought so, too.


    Danielle: The loan process was very easy to navigate and a great opportunity to generate support and visibility about family, friends and supporters.
    Photo courtesy of Detroit Maid.


    5. What was it like to crowdfund your loan with people from all over the world?

    Caitlyn: My experience crowdfunding through Kiva Zip was exhilarating because people were investing in something I created and believed in. I was also humbled by the fact that so many people were willing to take a risk and invest in my business. I still have customers to this day who started as lenders during my first campaign and that’s a great feeling.

    Bryant: Very Interesting!!  Watching the loan gradually get funded from people I didn’t know was amazing. It made us feel validated and in what we were doing, and very grateful for their support.

    Danielle: It was so exciting to see each lender’s story. I felt amazed at how many people from across the U.S and abroad saw value in our work and wanted to support it. It made me want to accomplish even more.

    6. What has it been like since your loan was fully funded? How did Kiva Zip impact your business? 


    Caitlyn: My first Kiva Zip loan was fully funded in December 2013 and it impacted my business in several ways. The campaign gave my business exposure and certainly boosted my online/social media presence. I was also connected with an amazing support network that showed genuine interest in my business’s growth, offering advice, encouragement and even ideas for new products. Lastly, the loan itself gave me the much needed breathing room to acquire raw materials and increase production rather than stress about cash flow, which can easily thwart creative output.


    Bryant: We are blessed and amazed that our loan was funded within five days of opening worldwide. We are now able to save a tremendous amount of time and take our own professional product photos, so that is fantastic.  We are in the process of gathering material together to shoot our product videos for each of our now 25 products.  We can’t wait to release this project to the world.  This wouldn’t be possible without the Kiva Zip loan, the Knight Foundation, Build Institute, and the support of our friends and family around the world.


    Danielle: My loan was funded on July 21, 2015. Since then we have begun redeveloping the Detroit Maid website through Build web design partners Compass and are ramping up marketing efforts for our social initiative, Clean for Good. Additionally, many of our lenders have become clients, due to the increase in visibility.


    7. Caitlyn is the first Detroit business to return for a second Kiva Zip loan of $5,000. When did you know you wanted to go back for another loan? What was that experience like? How did the second larger loan impact your business?


    Caitlyn: I had such a positive experience with my first loan that I quickly took the opportunity to apply again when it was offered earlier this year. My business had a successful holiday season and I was eager to utilize this momentum to kick off my second campaign. The application process was just as smooth as the first but the campaign itself was more challenging. Kiva Zip had changed their process since my first experience in 2013 to require a minimum of private lenders from the borrower’s networks before the campaign went public. I still met my campaign goal and found that this requirement added a greater sense of ownership to the process. This second, larger loan is helping me grow responsibly and has alleviated some of the cash flow challenges that affect retail businesses during the summer months.
    Photo courtesy of Motor City Soap Company.


    8. Any advice for future Kiva Zip borrowers?


    Bryant: People may hear that some Build grad’s loans were funded extremely quickly, that we had tons of support, and that people just sit and wait on the Kiva website to invest and loan to businesses in Detroit.  That may make them have a sense of confidence that all they have to do is put their profile up and the loan will be funded.  It takes a lot of work, calling, Facebook messaging, texting, and emailing asking individuals to support.  Make sure you are ready to work your butt off to reach the goal of a fully funded loan.
  3. Embracing Human Nature: Entrepreneurship

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    It’s a funny thing about humans, our propensity to be natural-born problem solvers. We constantly want to fix things, to improve and make them better. This past year I’ve learned that’s why so many of the people moving to or staying in Detroit have intentionally done so. Detroit is a place full of problems that need solutions and, for the determined problem-solvers, it has become their home.

    kenny 2
    Photo courtesy of Kenny Andejeski

    Over the course of the last year, I’ve also embraced a new word for these innate problem-solvers– entrepreneurs. Think about it. At their core, entrepreneurs identify needs or opportunities and try to respond to them with innovative solutions. I came to Detroit a problem-solver, but in short order, the city has turned me into an entrepreneur. It has invited me to conceive, prototype and test ideas that, prior to moving here, would have merely ignited and dwindled in the confines of my mind. I’ve been welcomed here by a supportive, conscientious group of changemakers collectively trying to make Detroit a better, more equitable place.

    Take Challenge Detroit for example. It brings together a diversified group of highly-motivated young professionals places gives them a platform to positively affect a multitude of influential third-sector organizations across the city. Every Friday, an employee from General Motors, United Way, the Detroit Lions and DTE Energy sit in the same room and collaborate on game-changing initiatives. Where else does that potential for impact exist?!

    Take it a step further and you have Detroit Revitalization Fellows. Instead of young professionals, focus on mid-career professionals; instead of working with the organizations dedicated to reimagining Detroit, work for and within them. Convene the talent poised to redefine this city, foster their growth and let the magic happen.

    kenny 1
    Photo courtesy of Kenny Andejeski

    In recent years, Detroit has opened itself up to these entrepreneurs and these organizations. In Detroit, I have had opportunities that someone with my age and background would be hard-pressed to find in other cities. With the experiences and network I have fostered over the past year, I can start my own business; I can progress the work of others; I can do things that the rest of the world will witness, learn from and watch in awe. I’m staying in Detroit because of the limitless opportunity that exists for me here. I invite you to do the same.

  4. Forward Cities Featured Post from Build’s Executive Director April Boyle

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    Photo courtesy of Forward Cities

    When I first heard of Forward Cities and their goals of advancing minority ownership and commercial corridor redevelopment I was over the moon with excitement, as these are the key tenants of our work at Build Institute

    I was able to attend the very first convening in New Orleans in December 2014 and was taken with the parallels in the stories of the natural disaster, which many argue was manmade due to faulty levies, and the unquestionably manmade disaster in Detroit after 50 years of disinvestment, structural and institutional racism, the housing and financial crisis during which one in every three homes faced foreclosure, and unemployment at an all-time high. Detroit is in crisis and the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country has helped shed some light on the depth and breadth of the challenges here.”


    Read more from our Executive Director April Boyle at Forward Cities here.

  5. Sidewalk Ventures: Are you ready to start raising community-based investment for your business?

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    sidewalk ventures

    “Seeking community-based investment is exciting. With the right team in place, it can be relatively user-friendly and easy to understand, but it still involves asking people to take real financial risk with you. There will be some serious issues to address and information to provide.

    You’re an entrepreneur, so you’re probably a doer and you like to get things moving, but it’s important to make sure you’re prepared before you start looking to the community for investment. Want to know if you’re ready?  Start by answering these questions..”

    Read more at Sidewalk Ventures here.

  6. Lapel Bar: From running a family business to opening my own

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    Think about it, it’s pretty safe to say that we as people have encountered someone that has said the words “I hate my job.” But typically, these same individuals that create these harsh statements rarely find themselves leaving this particular job of theirs until something pushes them over the boiling point. No, this is not an article about how I reached my boiling point. We can save that great story for another date and time. Today is about how I knew I’d become a business owner.

    Growing up with parents that were successful business owners themselves, it was difficult to imagine myself following in their footsteps solely because I did not want to take over the family business. The idea did not appeal to me. My parents were owners of multiple dry cleaning locations. Even though the dry cleaning industry turned me off, it also helped to shape my love for fashion. There was something about fashion that was my highlight.

    Photo 1 (1)
    Photo courtesy of Pharoah Kirk


    I was always under the impression that life was going to take me somewhere else. But it sure is funny how life can present its greatest opportunities to you when you least expect it. The “aha” moment settled in when I realized that working the corporate 9-5 job was not making me happy. I was that individual coming home after putting in long hours on someone else’s watch. I was that individual coming home and muttering to myself “I hate my job.” The moment presented itself when I sat back in my chair at my office one fine day, and I just casually gazed at those who walked by on the sales floor. At first I wasn’t gazing at them for any particular reason. Then after a brief few seconds, something caught my attention.

    What caught my attention was the fact that as I gazed at the different individuals walking, their walk began to tell it all. Especially the men. There was no confidence. There was no swagger. There was no style. As I began to create a pattern over the next few days to actually figure out this problem, it became apparent to me. I was going to show men how to dress, and how to dress for success. I was going to present what was taught to me within the 30 years that my parents had owned a dry cleaners.

    Photo 2 (1)
    Photo courtesy of Pharoah Kirk


    What I had learned after all those years growing up in the dry cleaning industry was that fashion was something that I wanted to be around, and it was something that I wanted the world to share with me. And in what better way than to start the movement of opening my own upscale men’s clothing store.

    I founded Lapel Bar, an Image Consultancy firm that is here to help you become everything that you could possibly be. Whether you are an individual, a business or an entrepreneur working from home, an image consultant can help you to improve the three main aspects of creating a positive visual impact. These include physical appearance, behavior and communication.