What happens when you take a room full of raw ambition, cross it with a $50,000 prize and add the prestige of winning a chance to jump start a business in one of the most desirable addresses in the Midwest?
The answer, if you’re a fan of high-energy business competitions, is the the Comerica Hatch Detroit Contest presented by Opportunity Detroit. Now in its fifth year, the contest will begin its public voting Friday, Aug. 14, in hopes of finding the next rising retail star in the city.
The Top 10 semi finalists were announced Thursday, and their desire to claim the Hatch title was, in some cases, so strong that you could feel it radiate off their bodies. This is a situation where Gordon Gekko-like greed is not only admirable but encouraged. If you didn’t practically jump out of your booth to grab people, talk up your business and get their vote Thursday night, then you’re not ready for this opportunity, plain and simple.
The top 10 businesses vying for public votes are: Bohomodern, Eskimo Jacks Artisan Cookies + Ice cream, House of Pure Vin, Life Cycle Delight, Mi Alma, MOR & Co., Motor City Meatball Kitchen, Norma G’s, Orleans + Winder and The Royce Detroit.
“This year’s semi finalists have some of the most innovative retail business ideas I’ve seen throughout the contest’s five years,” Vittoria Katanski, executive director of Hatch Detroit, said in a statement. “Small business growth is what’s going to make this city flourish and we can’t wait to see how this year’s winner will positively impact and inspire future entrepreneurialism in our city.”
Attending the semi-finalist announcement is telling in several ways. First, there’s the presentation aspect. For the most part, these participants found out literally two days ago that they were going to need to set up an impressive booth Thursday night. Many had logos, wonderful printed materials that outlined their concept as well as business cards ready to pass around to everyone who visited.
Secondly, there are the examples of their work. In the case of a food retailer, that’s kinda easy in many ways because you can show off your product right then and there. (And, as one of the tasters, take my word for it — there are some incredibly viable new retailers here.) That goes for the bar/wine/beer tasting joints as well, to be honest. Everyone knows what you’ll sell because you’ll have it there. But it’s impressive when businesses that will sell a service, a style, a mood can evoke what their store will look like through smart merchandising and schmoozing.
Finally, there’s the moxie. You gotta have drive. You’ve got to get my attention. You’ve got to demand my vote. If you sit back and wait for people both at this semi-finalist event or at the voting booths to come to you, you’re going to lose in more ways than one. If you work the room, get people excited and get your name out there, then you’ve got my loyalty and my interest.
What I liked about this year’s group is that they seem leaner and meaner. When questioned, many talked about having a site in mind, having a business already well under development and doing what they could to boost their brand and marketing across the city. This year’s Hatch application was a bit stricter than before in terms of setting up a budget and encouraging applicants to truly dig deep into how they’ll get that cash flowing. As a result, the Top 10 semi finalists seemed more prepared and self assured.
So here are your 2015 Comerica Hatch Detroit semi finalists. Good luck to one and all – we’re all in this for the betterment of the city we all love, and you’ve already shown enough style and substance to get to the Top 10.
· Bohomodern will become a brick & mortar boutique featuring clothing, furniture, decor, and gifts for women, men, kids and home. Their new storefront aspires to impart a sense of creativity, optimism and discovery to each customer. (The goods Margarita Barry showcased were bright, colorful and drool-worthy, especially her children’s products. Fun stuff.)
Eskimo Jacks Artisan Cookies + Ice Cream has been serving their made-from-scratch cookies & ice cream through their food carts, events and in several markets in the metro area. Now they’re ready to fulfill another piece of their vision — to have a retail space in the City of Detroit. (Let me just say — tasty beyond belief. This is a must-try if you are near their pop-up shops or other showcases. You had me at salted caramel.)
· House of Pure Vin will be a signature retail destination and a consumer attraction for wine lovers and future connoisseurs to experience and acquire a taste for Michigan Wine located in the heart of downtown Detroit. (Michigan-made focus and they already have a PR guy? I think House of Pure Vin is going to succeed.)
· Live Cycle Delight aims to become be the first contemporary cycle studio in downtown Detroit. They are dedicated to providing the residents of Detroit an opportunity to find delight through cycling and creating an environment that makes working out fun. (Amina Daniels is a force to be admired; she might wear Oprah out with her enthusiasm. I appreciated her desire to get people of all ages and fitness levels on a bike to exercise. She’s a “no excuses” kind of fitness guru.)
· Mi Alma is a restaurant concept focused on offering a creative and varied selection of freshly made baked goods, house made sausages and blended juices for the Southwest Detroit community. The name of the business has dual meaning: In Spanish Mi means “me” (and also means Michigan), and Alma means soul, which helped develop the motto: “locally-sourced food that comes from the soul.” (Also mega delicious, especially the dreamy french toast with bananas. Like eating a little cloud of sweetness.)
· MOR & Co. is an outdoors store focused on city dwellers. Their mission is to connect with today’s growing metropolitans through approachable outdoor experiences and high-quality, responsibly made gear, accessories and apparel for outdoor city living. (Think of this like a REI for Detroiters. You don’t have much space but you want to plant a garden, start hiking or get your hands dirty? MOR is for you.)
· Motor City Meatball Kitchen (MCMK) is a from scratch kitchen concept where the quintessential culinary staple, the meatball, takes center stage. They take care to select the highest quality ingredients to grind meats in house, make all sauces from scratch and whip up their own dressings; all while sourcing locally. (So, so fresh. Amazing flavors. I’d definitely drive out of my way to eat their meatballs, which are found in Warren-area pop ups right now. Nice people, too!)
· Norma G’s aims to deliver something unique to the City of Detroit and rare in this region . . . true authentic Caribbean cuisine. Norma G’s has built its brand in a mobile environment and now looks to establish a brick & mortar location within the city. (This guy…this guy is a chef, through and through. Well made, friendly and on point with his marketing.)
· Orleans + Winder was born of a desire to create a concept store, offering a retail platform for the finest emerging artists and designers with a focus on artisanal creations. They believe in slow fashion, in design that moves away from hyper industrialization and toward the artfully constructed. (I want Erin Wetzel, the owner, to teach me about culture, clothing and international design. She was bright, friendly and genuine. The company’s name comes from the streets where she lives, using her loft near Eastern Market as a place for art and conversation. Fun stuff.)
· The Royce Detroit is based on tradition, good design & sustainability. They aim to provide the essentials you simply can’t live without; fundamental things like wine, food, home goods, friendship and community. Their mission is to promote a lifestyle of thoughtful consumption and awareness for the environment. (The chill vibe and delicious treats were enough to make me wonder more about the Royce and its future in Detroit. Should be interesting.)
Full company biographies are available at: www.hatchdetroit.com.
· Round one public voting runs Friday, Aug. 14, at 12 a.m. EST through Thursday, Aug. 20, at 11:59 p.m. EST.
· Top four finalists will be announced and round two public voting begins on Friday, Aug. 21, and runs through Friday, Aug. 28, at noon EST.
· The winner will be announced at the Hatch Off event on Friday, Aug. 28, where the final four will present their business pitch one last time to a panel of judges at The M@dison Building in Detroit.
One last note: It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, Top 10 semi-finalists. Let’s see you open your doors either with the $50k or without it. Being a Hatch alum is pretty great stuff as well, and we (meaning pretty much everyone who cares about this contest and Detroit) will support you in whatever ways we can.