Hatch and Comerica pivot $100K from annual startup contest to COVID-19 relief fund for Hatch alumni

It’s right around the month of April when Hatch Detroit and Comerica Bank begin planning their annual small business contest, which, in a typical year, would have awarded $100,000 to a Detroit startup.

The competition, which began in 2011, has been growing, doubling its annual cash award from $50,000 in years previous to a $100,000 prize in 2019.

But 2020 is not your typical year.

"In the beginning of COVID-19, I knew something bad was happening, but I thought we’d be shut down for a couple weeks. I didn’t think it would be like this," says Vittoria Katanski, executive director of Hatch Detroit.

"Planning a contest would be a slap in the face of our alumni businesses that are already struggling."

So the 2020 Hatch Detroit Contest has been scrapped. But that’s not to say that Hatch Detroit and Comerica Bank will lie dormant for the year.

Instead, the contest partners have shifted their attention to Hatch alumni, creating the $100,000 Hatch Detroit Small Business Alumni Relief Fund. Comerica has also granted Hatch Detroit itself an additional $50,000 to provide organizational support.

Hatch alumni consist of some of Detroit’s most notable startups and small businesses of the past decade, including Detroit Vegan Soul, Norma G’s, Sister Pie, and more.

"We thought about those businesses that are struggling right now," Katanski says.

"How do you ignore what’s happening with your family and start something new?"

Katanski refers to Hatch alumni as family because the organization doesn’t just stop working with finalists once the contest ends. While the competition may receive the lion’s share of media attention, Hatch works closely with the top 10 finalists of each year’s contest long after the giant cardboard check has been presented.

More than 40 finalists have opened businesses in Detroit since the contest was first launched in 2011. Hatch offers services to each, providing in-kind support like technical assistance, business planning and consulting services, and more.

The Hatch Detroit Small Business Alumni Relief Fund becomes an extension of that long-term support.

Hatch alumni are invited to apply for the fund. While Katanski suggests things like utility bills, coronavirus-related infrastructure upgrades, and inventory as targets for the fund, the idea is to refrain from making the parameters too specific. Many large grants are very specific, she says, and often small businesses don’t meet their requirements. Hatch alumni must simply justify their need for funding in writing.

Katanski hopes that the $100,000 fund is just the first round. She is currently soliciting donations from foundations, businesses, and individuals to fund additional rounds.

"We’ve been very clear that it’s not just about a contest for our organization. The contest is super exciting and has that spark, has that pizzazz to it. But it’s not just about that one winner for us," Katanski says.

"There’s a lot of work we do throughout the year."

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.