Tag Archive: build grad

  1. Donations

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    At Build Institute, we break barriers and provide self-empowerment by fostering confidence, validating ideas and preparing entrepreneurs to launch their ideas.

    With over 1500 graduates, more than 500 businesses, and nearly 1000 jobs created, we are dedicated to making Detroit the leader in equitable entrepreneurship. 

    Core to our mission is keeping our programs accessible to everyone. With your help, we can continue to provide affordable education and support to both aspiring and established entrepreneurs. Help us impact more people who dream of owning their own business and support us in uplifting neighborhood enterprises.

    Build with us by making a donation today!

    Donate Now

    Please make checks payable to Build Institute. 
    Checks should be sent to 2701 Bagley Ave, Detroit, MI 48216


  2. Limited Edition Holiday Build Box 2017



    Build Institute is proud to introduce to you a carefully curated box of exciting goodies from Detroit-based small businesses. Shipped directly to your door in time for your holiday gatherings, our Build Box features a wonderful selection of products from our graduates. The box makes a perfect gift for friends, family or clients and supports local entrepreneurs and Detroit’s economy. Numbers are limited so order a box or two for yourself and a friend today!

    Support Local! Get a Build Box this holiday season!

    After paying our Build grads for their amazing products, proceeds are donated to Build Institute.

    Included in each box: Motor City Popcorn, Sfumato Fragrances, Motor City Soap Company, The D. The Jewelry, Natural Red Essentials, Simple Supple Foods, Paisley Paper Company, Boro Resale, and Pastel.

    Build Box 2017

    *Shipping will begin in November.

  3. A Spirit of Detroit: Build grad reflects and thanks those that have helped

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    I’m a relative newcomer to Detroit, having moved here in 2012 to teach elementary school on the west side of the city. When I tell my friends and family on the east coast why this city is so special to me, the spirit of Detroiters always stands out in my mind. Everyone I meet is passionate and involved in something to create a stronger Detroit – whether it’s working with youth, rehabbing a home, starting a business, organizing a block club, volunteering in spare time, and much more. Doing all these things is not the unique part, but it’s the underlying purpose – contributing to something greater – that sets Detroit apart.


    With all the challenges Detroiters have faced in the past and present, those who have chosen to stay and those who are moving here now share a common passion for making Detroit a better place. It’s an infectious spirit that has always made me want to play my part.

    Detroit Horse Power 1
    Photo used with permission from Detroit Horse Power.


    Roughly one year ago, I left my job as an elementary school teacher to start a new social venture, Detroit Horse Power. We plan to open a new urban equestrian center that repurposes vacant land and provides year-round programming for local children, helping them develop critical skills that set them up for future success. We have achieved a lot in one year: incorporating as a nonprofit, receiving tax-exempt status from the IRS, raising an initial budget of $6,000, organizing two successful pilot programs in June and August reaching a total of 18 kids, The vision was mine, but I can’t do this work alone and I am deeply grateful to all the different people and organizations that have helped Detroit Horse Power get where it is today.


    It’s this trend that makes me most hopeful about our city. By unlocking the brilliance across Detroit, we have the talent and resources to achieve incredible things. Synergy will multiply our achievements – with potential partnerships like locally sourced hay for horses to eat, recycling dumped tires to create synthetic footing for our arenas, and composting horse manure to fertilize urban gardens. We are stronger together; Detroiters know this implicitly. Lifting each other up is the only way we can move forward because our collective success is tied to the fate of each individual. And if we have the power to help someone realize their dreams, we will all be better off as a result.

    Detroit Horse Power 2
    Photo used with permission from Detroit Horse Power.


    So as I reflect on a successful first year of Detroit Horse Power, I would like to honor many of those that have helped me along this first step in this journey. There are many to recognize and I’m likely forgetting a few. I hope this goes to show that your efforts are deeply appreciated and to let others know of these wonderful folks and the larger spirit they embody.


    • The Build Institute has been tremendous to my development as a social entrepreneur between the Build Social class as well as events and networking with Build alumni and fantastic resources. After going through Build Social, I got to work with Eastern Michigan’s Center for Advancing Social Entrepreneurship, who generously donated their time to give me guidance, feedback, and connect me with critical resources. And Gingras Global LLC has worked with me one-on-one to put in place systems to document our finances and social impact.
    • There are several other organizations that have taken an interest in our social mission and helped lift up what we are doing. Detroit Future City has been a great supporter of our plans for innovative land use and helped connect to valuable expertise and resources. Michigan Community Resources has a terrific pro bono legal services program along with valuable events. Two Wayne State programs – the Community/Business Law Clinic and Blackstone Launchpad have been great opportunities to get initial legal support and further develop our business plan, pitching in front of investors and Detroit stakeholders for grant funding. Lawyers from Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss and Olson Bzdok & Howard have also patiently answered many questions to support our strategic planning.
    • Detroit Horse Power’s community partners in our first two pilot programs were Alternatives For Girls and Burns Elementary/Middle School, which both took a leap of faith on a new organization, entrusting me to successfully deliver on the program I had in my head.
    • Those camps would not have been possible without our generous hosts at the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Center and Equinox Farm. These gracious folks made their facility and their wonderful horses available for our kids to have amazing experiences this summer. In order to get our kids to the second camp, Summer in the City gave us a sweet deal on using one of their 15-person vans.
    • We had an amazing group of volunteers from across southeast Michigan (and even one from Indiana!) who gave their time and skills to make this program a success for our participants. A big thanks to the United States Pony Club, and FCA’s Motor Citizens Program (which also led to a grant opportunity). We also had guest speakers from different equine professions give up time in their busy schedules to spend time with our kids!
    • And this couldn’t happen without the grants pledges we received early on from the Healthy Environments Partnership and Eastern Michigan’s Student Funders Group. I also have to plug for Detroit SOUP, which I pitched at last November when this was just a crazy idea and then returned to win the crowd’s vote in June.
    • Support also came from the United Way Meet Up & Eat Up program, which provided free lunches to our campers. Meijer also contributed a gift card.
    • Teach For America-Detroit has been a huge champion for us, giving support on data measurement, resources, networking, and media outreach – which led to a terrific article in the Detroit News. I’m also so thankful to the folks at Tell who produced an amazing video for us.
    • I’d also like to thank Nancy Kotting who took the time to write a terrific piece about Detroit Horse Power in our early stages, which was published in the Huffington Post. Additionally, Kecia Freed has patiently worked through a half dozen iterations of our soon-to-be released logo. Kate Sumbler has been so generous with her time in working up our new website (also launching soon). Then there are dozens of individuals, family, and friends from around the country that have offered advice and perspective at various points in this journey.


    Thank you to all who have lifted Detroit Horse Power closer to our goals through your generous contributions. The best way I know to honor your acts of kindness is to pay it forward. I know this collective spirit will lift Detroit to new heights.

    Detroit Horse Power 3
    Photo used with permission from Detroit Horse Power.


  4. 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.

  5. 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.
  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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.


    2. Canva.com


    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.

  10. 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