8 Detroit startups that could change the world

Entrepreneurs are as entrenched in Detroit's mythology as much as any city in the United States. James Vernor and his oak cask-aged ginger ale. Henry Ford and his five dollar workday. Berry Gordy and his Hitsville USA. These are the names and feats of people that were first mentioned on the streets of Detroit, before then spreading across the country, and then the world.

The city’s startup culture is just as vibrant today. What follows is a group of small businesses and entrepreneurs that could soon or already have make waves outside of Detroit.


They’ve received attention from publications like The New York Times and Time Magazine. They’ve been featured on reality television. They’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money. Detroit-based pasta makers Banza continue to thrive.

Why all the fuss? Banza is a chickpea-based, gluten-free pasta, and a healthier alternative to traditional wheat-based pastas.

The business was started by Brian Rudolph out of his Detroit apartment, and co-founded by his brother Scott. It’s since grown. According to a recent article in Business Insider, Banza is the best-selling pasta at Whole Foods and the second best-selling pasta at Target. 


From starting in New York to moving the company to Detroit, to partnering with Lyft, to recently being acquired by German company Bosch (yet remaining an independent subsidiary), it’s been quite a ride for Splitting Fares, Inc., more commonly known as SPLT. Which seems fitting for a transportation company. The Detroit-based app-maker connects commuters to create carpools and fight congestion.

In addition to the carpooling service, SPLT also offers SPLT Rides, a partnership with Lyft that offers non-emergency medical transportation for underserved people. Look for SPLT to expand into public transportation and other transportation sectors in the future.

Maxwell Detroit

There are clothing companies that sell coats, and then there are clothing companies that sell coats and fight to end the cycle of systemic poverty. Maxwell Detroit belongs to the latter.

Maxwell is the retail offshoot of the Empowerment Plan, a non-profit organization that manufactures winter coats that transform into sleeping bags, which are then given to members of the homeless population. Not only does the Empowerment Plan hire members of the homeless community to manufacture the coats, they also offer further assistance that includes GED training, financial literacy programs, and more.

Empowerment Plan founder Veronika Scott decided to start the Maxwell retail line after years of consumer interest. Now anyone can purchase the sleeping bag-coat, which comes in several styles and are all manufactured by the workers at Empowerment Plan. An added bonus: Revenue generated from Maxwell sales goes back into the non-profit.

Pingree Detroit

Maxwell isn’t the only apparel-based social enterprise in Detroit. In fact, the city has a rich culture of businesses being launched with the expressed intent of doing social good. The t-shirt maker Lazlo hires returning citizens. Jeweler Rebel Nell hires disadvantaged women. And bootmaker Pingree Detroit hires homeless veterans.

Pingree is intent on creating an affordable, urban utility boot that is made in Detroit from the hands of United States veterans. Materials are either sustainable or reclaimed, like the leather repurposed from automobiles. The inaugural boot is still in the design phase, but, in the meantime, impatient shoppers can browse Pingree wallets, totes, backpacks, and more.

Lunar Wireless

Like many of the businesses featured in this list, Lunar Wireless is trying to disrupt the practices of long-standing businesses that are deeply entrenched in the way they do things. And like some of these businesses, Lunar is doing it at a fraction of the cost.

The Detroit-based mobile phone carrier professes low-cost monthly cell phone bills thanks to their flat-rate pricing model. Pay for what you use, and nothing more.


Abess Makki is looking to change the way municipalities interact with their citizens. He’s doing so with CityInsight, the app development company he founded in 2014. Maki’s first app, CityWater, allows users to monitor their water usage in real time, reach customer service, and pay their bills online. Upon its release, Maki was able to secure a rather large first client: the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, the very organization that inspired the development of the app in the first place.

Among Maki’s next steps include securing contracts with other municipalities throughout Michigan and, eventually, the country.


It’s been just over a year since AutoBooks went from being a Troy-based startup to a Detroit-based one. The financial technology firm has only grown since then; in February 2018, AutoBooks announced a $10 million Series A1 round of funding. The company continues to grow and add employees to the payroll.

Located in the Dan Gilbert-owned Madison, a historic theater-turned-flexible office space on Grand Circus Park, Autobooks is making a name for itself in the financial industry through its payment and accounting software. Increasingly being picked up by banks and credit unions, the software geared toward small businesses integrates accounting and payment services with online banking.

Plum Health DPC

Your own personal doctor, on call and on demand. That’s what Dr. Paul Thomas is pitching with his Plum Health practice in Detroit. Rather than pay a doctor for each visit, Thomas is instead instituting a monthly subscription-style service for his patients. What’s more is that you don’t need health insurance for his services (though Thomas does encourage patients have health insurance as he doesn't offer hospital-type healthcare).

Dr. Thomas’s patients receive unlimited care for a monthly fee, which breaks down as follows: Ages 0 to 17, $10 per month; 18 to 39, $49 per month; 40 to 64, $69 per month; and ages 65 and up, $89 per month. The service results in significantly cheaper lab tests, prescriptions, and more.

Dr. Thomas could disrupt the field of primary care, right from his office in Detroit.
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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.