10 Uniquely Detroit Start Ups that Give Back to the Community
Story by Sarah Bence | Photos by Sister Pie by Bill Bowen; Batch Brewing by Emily Berger; Antique Touring; Detroit is the New Black; Live Cycle Delight by Breann White
Detroit is a city known for its innovative, scrappy, self-starter attitude. Which means it’s the perfect creative breeding ground for start up businesses.
Consider some of Detroit’s greatest start up products: Ford automobiles, Vernors ginger ale, and even, because it totally counts, Detroit-style pizza.
What exactly is a start up?
Most of us think of fast-expanding tech companies when we think of start ups. However, start ups and start up culture are much more diverse. A start up is, essentially, any brand new business that was designed to match an unmet need, or fix a problem. Start ups, therefore, are really a state of mind.
Detroit is full of start ups that were created to fill a local need. Luckily, the city is also full of start up investors and competitions that are designed to fund these endeavors. Here are some of Detroit’s most loved and most exciting start ups, many of which give back to the community.
Detroit Start Ups
1. Sister Pie
Sister Pie, a woman-run pie shop based in Detroit’s West Village, won the Hatch Detroit competition back in 2014. Hatch Detroit was developed in order to help fund small start up businesses that can contribute to the city’s redevelopment. The competition awards $50,000-100,000 to build a brick and mortar establishment within Detroit. Six years later, Sister Pie is still growing but is now a nationally recognized brand with a bestselling cookbook. With its base still in the West Village, Sister Pie continues to support the local community.
2. Batch Brewing Co.
Another Hatch Detroit winner, Batch Brewing Co. is Detroit’s first nano brewery. Now with a base in both Corktown, Batch Brewing is wildly successful. Soon they will even have a tap room in Detroit's North End. They also run a monthly ‘Feelgood’ tap, where profits from a certain beer each month are sent to a local Detroit charity.
3. Antique Touring Co.
Antique Touring, founded by Lisa Stolarski, is a recent Detroit start up that’s on its way to revolutionizing Detroit tours. The start up has a fleet of vintage Ford Model A vehicles, and offers historical tours of the city. Backed by Michigan Women Forward, this start up also reinvests in the local community by hiring from within the Highland Park neighborhood.
NOTE: Antique Touring has cancelled all tours for the 2020 season due to COVID-19. They hope to open up for the 2021 season.
4. Live Cycle Delight
Live Cycle Delight is Detroit’s first ever cycling studio. Their studio in the West Village was funded through the Hatch Detroit start up competition. Since winning the competition in 2015, Live Cycle Delight has blown up in popularity, and now has a second ‘hot cycling’ studio also in the West Village. The start up continues to grow and expand, all while encouraging Detroiters to get active and choose environmentally friendly transportation options, like cycling.
Amina Daniels at Live Cycle Delight, photo by Breann White
5. 27th Letter Books
27th Letter Books is the 2019 winner of Hatch Detroit. With the winning funds, 27th Letter Books is working to build a brick and mortar bookshop in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. The independent bookstore aims to feature underrepresented voices and promote stories of connection. Stay tuned in 2020 as this startup continues to grow and contribute to Detroit’s literary scene.
6. Street Beet
A finalist in the 2019 Hatch Detroit competition, Street Beet was founded by Megan Shaw and Nina Paletta. Street Beet has historically operated as an incredibly popular pop up, hosting vegan fast-food style meals across Detroit. ‘Vegan Taco Hell’ and ‘Detroit Fake Chicken’ are two of the events that draw a cult-like following across metro Detroit. Moving to the next stage of their start up journey in 2020, Street Beet is now located inside Third Street Bar. This homey bar in Midtown has the perfect ambience to match Street Beet’s modern comfort food.
7. The Commons
The Commons is a specialty coffee shop… in a laundromat. This genius combination promotes gathering and community on Mack Avenue in Detroit’s Islandview neighborhood. The start up is only a year old, but is already a much-loved local institution. It is funded by the MACC development firm, that aims to revitalize the 48214 zip code with innovative start up businesses.
8. ILERA Apothecary
ILERA Apothecary was a finalist in the 2019 Hatch Detroit competition. The business is owned by Detroit sisters Nneji and Chinonye Akunne, who aim to fairly source ingredients from West Africa for an organic, vegan, non-toxic handmade apothecary. ILERA Apothecary currently operates online and stocks a selection of Detroit businesses. They aim to grow and find their own brick and mortar home within the year. Each month, 5% of all proceeds are donated to Jasper House Haiti.
Banza is perhaps one of Detroit’s most successful recent start ups. This chickpea-based, gluten free pasta company was started by brothers Scott and Brian Rudolph, from their Detroit apartment. In 2015, the start up won a $500,000 grant from Accelerate Michigan, which helped them grow exponentially. Now, Banza is sold in thousands of stores across the United States, and is the best-selling pasta at mega giant health food store, Whole Foods.
10. Detroit is the New Black
Detroit is the New Black is a sustainable fashion store, which solely sells pieces from designers of color. Their slogan ‘Detroit is the New Black’ speaks to both Detroit’s renaissance, as well as the communities of color that have built this renaissance. The start up brand was founded in 2014, and spent years operating from pop up shops. In 2019, it opened its first permanent location in downtown Detroit on Woodward Avenue.