By Lawrence Wright
Photos by Alyce Henson/Rotary International
The tagline above was one of the early lines we in Rotary District 6400 used during our LaunchDetroit open house events when we were telling our story to prospective applicants. Later, I remember thinking about that line and wondering if it was too much of a cliché.
Fast forward to today and I have become a true believer. This program, which we started in 2013 to provide microloans, training, and mentoring to those trying to start local businesses, has had that transformational effect on several budding entrepreneurs in Detroit.
I think of Willie Brake and his small computer business. He started in year one of our program and, after two years, opened his own retail store offering computers and computer services to customers in his neighborhood. The neighborhood had been without any local computer stores, since most had either moved to the suburbs or been replaced by big-box stores that sold computers.
I’ve enjoyed visiting with Willie and hearing the good things he’s accomplished so far, such as hiring young local techies to work in his store while he moves out into the community to promote his business. Willie completed one loan cycle and returned for a second round of funding earlier this year. Remember: . . . ”one entrepreneur at a time.”
I also think of the Loves. Donnie (who is blind) and her husband, Alan, own Love’s Custard Pies. They too joined us during the first year of LaunchDetroit. They took advantage of the free small-business classes we offered our entrepreneurs through our strategic partner Baker College-Allen Park.
The Loves were struggling to find a registered kitchen where they could bake their pies, and also struggling to create outlets for distribution. This past summer, they moved into a state-of-the-art registered kitchen operated by a nonprofit at Detroit’s Eastern Market, the largest historic market in the country. In addition, each weekend, they sell their pies to the public at Eastern Market. During the last two summers, they were invited to be the exclusive dessert vendor at a local outdoor concert venue. I watched them develop a following of fans who now seek out Donnie’s uniquely blended pies, and confess that I’ve become one of their biggest fans.
LaunchDetroit serves an important role in this city. It brings valuable resources to entrepreneurs who are desperately seeking guidance. And to think that Rotary members are jumping in to make a difference. Wow!
So, it may be a cliché, but in this instance, it’s very true: We are changing Detroit, one entrepreneur at a time!
- Visit the LaunchDetroit website
- Read The Rotarian article about LaunchDetroit
- View videos about the program
About the author: Lawrence Wright is a past governor of District 6400 and a member of the Rotary Club of Taylor, Michigan. He is president of LaunchDetroit.