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'We Gotta Keep Moving': Detroit Entrepreneurs Awarded $1.2M In Funding At Quicken Loans Demo Day

In Dan Gilbert’s view, there are four pillars to Detroit’s growth: blight, jobs, safety and education.

That’s why the company Gilbert founded, Quicken Loans, awarded $1.2 million in funding to Detroit entrepreneurs at the company's second annual Demo Day Friday, he said.

“You can’t break out of this and create a better world, society [and] city if we’re not creating jobs, and entrepreneurial businesses are a machine of job," Gilbert said.

The Winning Detroit Small Businesses

Michigan Farm to Freezer, a startup that freezes fruits and vegetables and serves them at more than 100 schools, took home a $300,000 convertible note and $25,000 people's choice grant Friday at Demo Day.

The Eastern Market business was one of 15 finalists chosen from more than 500 applicants for funding.

Michigan Farm to Freezer won the “scale” category, for established businesses seeking to expand nationally. Downtown Detroit’s TEN Nail Bar received a $250,000 interest-free loan in the “grow category,” for established companies looking to expand, and Lush Yummies, a farm-fresh lemon pie bakery in the city, won a $100,000 first-prize grant in the “start” category, for companies introducing their product or service to market, as well as a $25,000 people's choice vote in the category.

The winners were chosen by judges Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter; Ron Bartell, a former Detroit Lion player and founder of the restaurant Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles; and CURiO Brands CEO Anne Sempowski Ward. Audience members chose a $25,000 people’s choice grant winner in each category using a smartphone app.

De’Shawn Lindsey of the nonprofit Detroit Food Academy won the first-place $50,000 for three food concepts in a youth entrepreneur category.

Demo Day closed with a surprise performance from Grammy Award-winning rapper Common.


Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert, left, with James Chapman, director of entrepreneurship at the company's Community Investment Fund, and April Anderson, whose business Good Cakes and Bakes was a 2017 Demo Day winner. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

‘There’s Opportunity In That Struggle’

An elite perception exists of people who work for themselves, but it’s a false one, Gilbert said in an onstage conversation at Detroit Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts with James Chapman, the director of entrepreneurship for the Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund.

“The majority come from very challenging environments,” Gilbert said.

Chapman agreed.

“A lot of times there’s opportunity in that struggle,” he said. “You meet a lot of entrepreneurs who are entrepreneurs out of necessity.”

The audience at Demo Day learned about the challenges faced by some of the applicants in their funding pitches.

Cynthia Davis of Cynt-Sational Popcorn — who took home a $150,000 interest-free loan and a $25,000 people's choice grant in the “grow” category — lost her husband. She and her sons continued with the vegan air-popped popcorn business, which is slated to be featured on the QVC shopping channel and sought funding for equipment and hiring.

“We gotta keep moving,” Davis said.

Gilbert asked April Anderson, whose Good Cakes and Bakes won a $200,000 investment at the first Demo Day in 2017, why she pulled the trigger on starting her own business. Anderson said she knew she wanted to open a Detroit bakery, and did just that 91 days after she quit her job — and the opening came just one month after the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

The northwest Detroit bakery is planning a second location and has a two-year goal of opening a location outside Michigan.

What advice did last year’s winner have for the 2018 class of Demo Day entrepreneurs?

“Make sure you know your numbers,” Anderson said.

Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert is an investor in Benzinga.

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Lead photo: Brandon Seng reacts after learning his business, Michigan Farm to Freezer, was awarded a $300,000 convertible note at Quicken Loans Demo Day on Friday, June 22 at Detroit Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

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