Made in Detroit Businesses: Tech, Graffiti and Tea…Oh My

Modified: March 25, 2019 | Story by Arthur Bridgeforth Jr. | Photos by Ponyride, Bill Bowen

Detroit’s business scene, while steeped in the foundation of the auto industry, is also driven by a diverse landscape of entrepreneurs and businesses involved in several industries.

Visitors to Detroit are encouraged and welcome to see firsthand how these companies go about their business through tours. There is plenty of products made in Detroit.

Rebel Nell is an example of pure vision, entrepreneurial ingenuity and social conscience all colliding in the sphere of Detroit’s business landscape in the form of jewelry.

Visitors to Detroit aren’t only welcome to tour Rebel Nell, said co-founder Amy Peterson, but it also has developed team building experiences geared toward corporate groups that happen to be in town. All must contact Rebel Nell to book team building or tours.

The company’s story is quite compelling. Its origins traced to Peterson walking her dog Elbe through her Detroit neighborhood and a chance conversation with one of her neighbors, who happened to live in a nearby homeless shelter.

Through more conversations Peterson learned the incredible stories of the women living next door. Peterson’s stereotypes of homelessness were shattered.

“That was my Aha moment,” Peterson said.

Peterson, along with her business partner, initially thought teaching financial literacy classes for the women were the thing. Then it occurred to them that ‘teaching them to fish,’ would enable them to eat for a lifetime.

“What if we could provide them a job that supported all the wrap around services that they needed,” Peterson said.

That’s when the notion of starting a business came into play and jewelry was the chosen product.

That idea was solidified when a fallen piece of paint from some of the graffiti that adorned the walls of Detroit’s Dequindre Cut caught Peterson’s eye while out running.

Dequindre Cut Bike Path Graffiti Art

Dequindre Cut bike path by Bill Bowen.

Rebel Nell is a for-profit L3C company that employed the very homeless women that lived in the Cots shelter near Peterson’s home.  Its mission is to empower homeless women. Its name honors famed first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who Peterson admires and was considered a rebel and nicknamed Nell.

A L3C is a limited low-profit business that has a stated social mission for its business.

The company makes earrings, rings, pendants and cuff links ranging in price from $20 to $200.  The products, all made from graffiti paint, are sold online and can be found in stores in 10 states and Washington D.C.  

Rebel Nell is housed in Ponyride, a collective of artists and entrepreneurs in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. It also has a non-profit component called TEA (teaching, empowering, achieving).

Another must see opportunity on Detroit’s diverse business landscape is Ellis Island Tea. The company is in Detroit’s North End neighborhood not too far from downtown Detroit. Ellis Island welcomes convention visitors to schedule a tour of its tea brewing operations. It produces two versions of Jamaican tea, sweetened and unsweetened that are rooted in the recipes handed down by the grandfather of its founder Nilah Ellis Brown.

Ellis Island Tea employs 15 part-time employees that make the tea which is sold throughout Metro Detroit and at 1,500 stores in the Midwest including Whole Foods, Meijer and Kroger and several airport stores throughout the country. The company recently inked a deal with Sam’s Club that will carry the tea primarily in its Midwest stores.

There are several other Detroit companies chock-full of exploration and tour opportunities.

Bedrock Detroit, a commercial real estate company, conducts specialized two-hour tours for visitors interested in the company’s unique culture and investing in Detroit, said Lexie Poeschel, a director of business development for Rock Ventures.

Tours run Monday through Friday during regular business hours. Convention visitors can register here.

Another tour destination visitors lies in the city’s Midtown neighborhood: TechTown.

Midtown Detroit

Midtown by Vito Palmisano.

Ashleigh Dandridge, marketing coordinator for TechTown, said its tours, scheduled through advance appointment, are usually an hour-long, from Monday through, Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The tours entail perusing the TechTown Building and a presentation by its marketing team.  On occasion an entrepreneur on staff also addresses visitors.

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Mentioned Attractions And Venues

  1. 1
    Dequindre Cut Greenway
    Dequindre Cut Greenway, Detroit, MI 48207
  2. 2
    Bedrock Detroit - The Madison
    1555 Broadway St., Detroit, MI 48226