For $5, you can change the way business is done in Detroit.
As small as that sum may be, it not only will get you the scoop on entrepreneurs taking a chance on the city, but it will get you a tasty meal as well.
For the first time, Kiva Detroit and Detroit Soup are co-hosting an event (appropriately named Kiva Soup, natch) to launch a socially minded company on its way. The Jan. 17 event is dinner and donations done in a completely cool way.
Seriously, this is impressive stuff. I’m all about crowdfunding lately and the power it has to change Detroit’s landscape, physically and monetarily. What I like about the Kiva Soup combo is that the business or businesses funded that night are not only looking to make money but they also want to improve the city, the lives of its residents and the area at large.
Before I get into the dirty details (I’m just gonna break reporting conventions and assume you know the whos and the whats about Kiva and Soup…if you don’t, hold on for a sec), let me introduce you to Sebastian Jackson and the Social Club Grooming Co.
Sebastian is a Wayne State University student and a young visionary. He already has the salon/barber shop on campus – lots of kids, lots of hair. But he’s taking his idea to another level. See, he is collecting the byproduct of his styling stylists (said hair) and using it to have an impact on both the community and the environment.
This is where the genius comes in. Hair, it seems, not only keeps us warm. It also is an accelerator in terms of what it does to compost. Mix that with compost and the hair hastens the natural process of breaking down waste. The nitrogen that is created is essential to the life cycle of trees and plants. Now you’re talking reusing a product that otherwise would be thrown away. Now you’re talking sustainability. Triple Bottom Line stuff, kids. People/Planet/Profit. You dig?
So far, the Social Club has collected about 36 pounds of hair. That resulting nitrogen could sustain 30 saplings. Each tree can eliminate pounds of CO2. They also produce enough oxygen to sustain two human beings. They prevent erosion, add shade, reduce heat. Haircut to compost to nitrogen to … better planet, healthier community.
“In 10 years when these sapling are mature, they’ll impact our community and environment in a number of ways,” Sebastian told me this week.
He learned about Kiva Detroit through the Green Garage, an incubator for businesses exactly like this – ones that care about the Triple Bottom Line and sustainability. It was at the Green Garage that he ran into Elizabeth Garlow for the first time. (She’s the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Michigan Corps, one of the Kiva Detroit organizers.)
The two ran into each other again at another capital-raising event, and she talked up Kiva to Sebastian. That is when he finally realized that the money he needed for his Social Club wasn’t going to come from a bank…No, sir, a bank doesn’t even want a guy who just formed a business and is still a student – even if he has some pretty tidy ideas.
“Kiva’s been able to help us get on a fund-raising platform – a place where people can learn about what we’re doing and help fund us. Those monies are what we need to push our business to the next level. Then, we can work with traditional lenders and help the community in the way that we know we have the capacity to do,” Sebastian said.
Now, the lowdown. Sebastian is one of the four speakers who will be at Kiva Soup on Thursday. He’ll tell you in much more impassioned words than mine why the Social Co. is going to work. Then, everyone who pitched in $5 for the soup get to vote on which business will get the pot of money collected that night. These pooled resources are a micro-grant destined to grow these good ideas into living, breathing job-creating companies. That is Detroit Soup in a glorious simple form.
“Our goal in the future is to have several salons that participate in this program,” Sebastian said. “We need programs like Kiva to help us let others know what we’re doing.”
Some quick background on crowdfunding: Detroit’s upstart business community is really into crowdfunding. Even the fab pro-business group, Open City, is holding a special get-together this month (Jan. 21 to be exact) to teach others about these creative and important funding alternatives. (Garlow will be one of the speakers there.)
And now, heeeeeeeeeere’s Kiva. It is a site that specializes in person-to-person loans. The microfinance non-profit organization connects people who need money with donors, who know that for as little as $25 they can create opportunities around the world.
Detroit was the Kiva’s first community-led online micro-lending initiative in the United States; there are now similar programs based on this group in New Orleans and Los Angeles, Garlow said. The goal of this grass-roots coalition of individuals is to act as community leaders, small-business champions and advisers to those interested in becoming entrepreneurs in the city.
Members of Team Kiva Detroit nominate a small business to Michigan Corps. The staff there helps the nominee craft their story, helping them explain why they need the funding and how they’ll use it. Then people within the Kiva community can lend money in $25 increments to the business. So far, all of Kiva Detroit’s loans have been repaid, Garlow said, and 16 businesses have gotten off the ground because of like-minded folks who join the Kiva club, so to speak.
“One of the things we’re most excited about is entrepreneurs and lenders can interact right there online. You can interact with the people you’re lending to, learn about where they’re selling products or service,” Garlow said. “Often, what we’re seeing is lenders and entrepreneurs exchanging information and offering encouragement to each other.”
The event’s doors, located at 2900 E. Grand Blvd. in Detroit, will open at 5:30. The businesses talk it up starting at 6 p.m. Dinner arrives around 6:45 p.m. (so be prepared with a snack if you get snappish after work). Winners are announced around 7:45 p.m. (If you’re lightning fast, you might be home in time to catch “The Big Bang Theory.” Better DVR it, just in case.) And donate to Sebastian here (if you do, you’ll have to join the Kiva Detroit community, and the other 835 of us or so will welcome you.)