7 Companies Putting Detroit Back On The Map

Posted in: Innovation, Lifestyle

Detroit has historically been a city of constant destruction and rebirth.

First, there was the Great Fire of 1805 which burned the city to the ground.  Soon after the fire, a group of Detroiters gathered to make a plan to rebuild our city. And guess what? Our beautiful city prevailed. It’s no wonder why the Detroit flag reads “It will rise from the ashes.”

More than 200 years later, Detroit is facing yet another cycle of destruction. First, our Big 3, then our Mayor, and now our money. But many Detroiters are ready to roll up our sleeves to work together and show the world what the D is made of.

In 2003, Peter Karmanos Jr. sparked the excitement when he moved his Compuware headquarters to Campus Martius. Seven years later, Detroit native Dan Gilbert moved his Quicken Loans headquarters to Detroit, purchased nearly $10 billion in prime real-estate, and has dedicated most of his time to his vision for the “new” Detroit.

And since he started putting his vision into action, scores of companies (with an estimated 10,000 workers) have followed their lead and moved their offices to Detroit. And it doesn’t stop there.

So why now? Why is Detroit FINALLY, after all of our failed attempts...  now being coined as “America’s Great Comeback City”? According to Tifini Kamara, founder of Never Say Die, a Michigan-based agency highlighting local artists and talent, “that’s a REALLY big question with a really big answer”.

“Theres a lot of reasons why Detroit has decayed. Detroit has put a lot of people in power who haven't had the city’s best interest in mind. Now, business is the only real way to change people’s minds about Detroit,” she continues. And it’s true. There are hundreds of people who fight the great fight everyday to put the D back on the map.”

And today, we’re here to tell you about them, starting with Tifini’s awesome story...


Never Say Die

Photo via Never Say Die facebook page.

“If you would have asked me in 2009 or 2010 if I cared about living in Michigan, I would have said no. I couldn’t wait to get out of here,” Tifini Kamara explains in a past interview with P2P, a Michigan-based social experiment blog. But, she says, moving away helped her appreciate her hometown that much more. When she moved back and Detroit filed for bankruptcy, she noticed that many people were talking about the state of Detroit, yet none of them actually lived there. “We wanted to find out from people who live here and businesses who work here how THEY feel about it,” she explains.

That’s when she founded Never Say Die, a small agency promoting local artists and entrepreneurs through events, social and traditional media. The goal of Never Say Die is to help metro-Detroiters share their craft and tell their story in unique ways. “It's the little man who's really moving Detroit and they're deserving of attention even if they can't afford it,” Tifini says.

Never Say Die highlights local artists through specialized in-house projects called Living Room Sessions. These sets are filmed and later released online. Additionally, a free streamable/downloadable compilation album is recorded by their award-winning sound engineer, Ezra Bakker.

Check out Never Say Die’s latest Living Room Session below:

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“This project allows musicians to share an experience with their fans. We provide a branded video and professionally recorded tracks for free, which could potentially help them with their next opportunity.” Ezra says. We love Never Say Die because its focus supports the bigger picture: building Detroit and taking advantage of the resources available for entrepreneurs.


The Empowerment Plan

The Empowerment Plan constructs coats that transform into a sleeping bag to keep people living on the streets warm at night. Photo via Vimeo.

Did you know 1 in every 42 people in the city of Detroit are homeless? I didn’t until I came across Veronica Scott’s website for her non-profit organization, The Empowerment Plan. It started as a class project when she was a 20-year-old student at the College for Creative Studies, studying product design. She says during the creation of her project, many people told her it would never work, but she fought hard, or as us Detroiters say, she hustled harder... and made it happen. Her aim for The Empowerment Plan is to help homeless women escape the in-and-out journey most women experience with homeless shelters and the streets by hiring them to construct coats for the homeless.

“We currently have 13 seamstresses working full-time at The Empowerment Plan and most of them have been able to transition out of the shelter system into their own home or apartment. We believe in giving second chances to those who want it, and providing warmth to those who need it,” said Scott in an interview on Forbes. Thanks to Veronica’s efforts, dozens of women have been able to earn money, find a place to live, and most importantly, gain back their independence for themselves and their families. In our opinion, The Empowerment Plan is exactly what Detroit needs to rebuild itself from the ground-up.


Detroit SOUP

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Detroit is a city where entrepreneurs are rolling up their sleeves everyday to make the community a better place. What if you knew you could help them achieve success? Thanks to Detroit SOUP, now you can.

Detroit SOUP is micro granting dinner where participants donate $5 for soup, salad, bread and a chance to vote on four presentations from Detroit entrepreneurs looking for funding. The projects you’ll see will range anywhere from urban agriculture to social justice. After each presenter shares their new project, attendees can ask four questions, and at the end of the night, everyone votes on the project they think will make the biggest difference in the D. Winners are asked to return to share the progress on their new venture with everyone.

Detroit SOUP started in 2010 as a small discussion with a small group of people who wanted to brainstorm a new idea. Four years later, SOUP has raised more than $55,000 that has sparked the creation of new non-profits, local businesses, after school programs and park clean-ups. Last year, more than 4,000 people attended SOUP events, and now seven neighborhood SOUPs and a citywide Youth SOUP have been created. We love Detroit SOUP because it helps those with high hopes to break the barrier and hit the ground running with support from other Detroiters. That’s the type of teamwork it takes to change what the world thinks of our city, don’t you agree?


Inside Out Detroit

Photo via InsideOut Literary Arts facebook page.

Last year, CBS featured a story whose headline read “75% of Detroit Schools Don’t Provide Adequate Education”. The report, done by Excellent Schools Detroit, is hard to ignore.

While many organizations are created to help adults living and working in Detroit, we must not forget about the most important part of the equation: our future generations. That’s where  InsideOut, a literary project founded in 1995 by award-winning poet and long-time teacher Terry Blackhawk, comes in.  InsideOut (also referred to as iO) places professional writers in Detroit classrooms once a week to mentor them in poetry and writing. At the end of the school year, students become published poets because their mentors create a perfectly bound book with a collection of their writings.

In 2013, 25 writers helped children in 27 Detroit schools. “We’re trying to revive our city, not just in the cultural center, but neighborhood by neighborhood. And I think that every school needs a poet, because this poet can help the school, the children give voice to their lives. And, you can also build connections in the community at large,” said Terry Blackhawk in a PBS feature on iO. Although the financial crisis and shrinking population has led to the closing of more than 100 schools in Detroit, it’s programs like Inside Out that give us hope for our future generations.


The Detroit Bus Company

Photo via The Detroit Bus Company facebook page.

"Transit in Detroit is bad. It's very underfunded; the city is gigantic; and a lot of people can't afford to get around,” said entrepreneur Andy Didorsi in a recent interview with Fast Company. He was, for lack of a better word, pissed when he found out that the proposal for a train system called the M-1 rail that would run down Woodward Avenue was announced dead due to “expenses and demand” in 2012. So, Didorsi did what any great innovator would do... he solved an itch that he wanted to be scratched in a way no one else would think.

Andy bought 6 buses for $2,000 each, hired a graffiti artist to give them a creative edge, and installed electronic trackers on them. At first, Detroit Bus Company started as a party bus service that would take curious suburban folk who wanted to explore Detroit back and forth without the hassle of driving. Then, in 2012, he launched the Youth Transit Alliance, which offers free rides for kids to-and-from nearly 100 after school and youth-development programs in Detroit. And Andy’s contribution to the comeback of Detroit doesn’t stop there. Over the last few years, he’s launched businesses like Paper Street, The Thunderdrome! and Wireless Ferndale, to name a few. It’s entrepreneurs like Andy Didorsi who we should treasure, because his efforts have touched thousands of lives in a big way.



Photo via D:Hive facebook page.

There aren’t many organizations in Detroit that are as all encompassing as D:Hive. Launched in 2011, D:Hive describes themselves as “a physical store front in Detroit's central business district that connects you with the tools and resources you need to live, work or engage in the city”. They’ve partnered with some pretty successful staples in the city such as Model D, Detroit Creative Corridor Center and Opportunity Detroit to create a hub of resources that make the D a great place to start a new business.

One of their most successful programs is called BUILD, a class that’s already helped more than 250 aspiring entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality in the city, including Detroit Vegan Soul, Good Cakes and Bakes, and Flash Delivery. Once entrepreneurs turn their ideas into a reality, D-Hive even offers an opportunity to test out it’s marketability in a rent-free storefront space in a prime downtown location with their new Pilot program. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how much D:Hive is doing to help people where they’re going in our city. But, the one thing I totally dig about them the most is their newest venture, Detroit Experience Factory. It gives tours of Detroit to anyone who’s curious about what’s REALLY happening in the city. So far, they’ve given nearly 10,000 tours, and they’re just getting started. “[Our tours give] an insider’s perspective that can change people’s impressions and expand their understanding of the city,” says Jeff Aronoff, the Executive Director of D:hive.


Hello Innovation is passionate about the D... join us!

In 2011, the Hello Innovation team knew we wanted to be a part of this renaissance happening in the D. That’s why we spread our wings and moved the Hello Innovation headquarters to the heart of Detroit - bringing nearly 100 employees with us. Now, we’re making headlines, growing like crazy, and we want YOU to join us as we find ways to transform the D into the best damn city in the world. Take a look at our 60+ open job positions here. Let’s get together and create the future, together.

Awesome t-shirt by Detroit Cousin.


What other people, places or things are helping make the D a better place? Share them with us in the comments below!



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