BUILD Institute shows micro-entrepreneurs that their vision is feasible

This is part of a reporting series, supported by BUILD Institute, that chronicles businesses and entrepreneurship in Detroit. 
Entrepreneurship requires risk. It’s one thing to produce a really good business idea, but it’s a monumental feat for a person to believe in the idea so wholeheartedly that they put everything into making it an actuality. BUILD Institute knows Detroit entrepreneurs can't do it alone. Strategic focus, networking, and collaboration are significant factors in expanding small businesses, and the institute and since January 2012, the institute has provided 2,500 Detroit micro-entrepreneurs with the fundamental tools, resources, and support they need to begin, grow, and scale their businesses.

Before growth can be ensured, BUILD Institute aids micro-entrepreneurs in realizing that their business idea isn’t just a vision or a dream, but that it is also feasible. BUILD Institute demonstrates this by showing micro-entrepreneurs how to create an organized, thorough, and accomplishable proof of concept. Model D talks with three micro-entrepreneurs who found ways to realize their dreams in Detroit. 

Tishera Page

Touched by Tishh/ The Trap Spa

Tishera Page is a licensed esthetician that owns her very own esthetics brand and her own brick-and-mortar known as The Trap Spa, located in Ferndale on 368 Hilton Rd. The Trap Spa, which opened in 2021, stems further than regular practices of a traditional spa and incorporates luxury services without the luxury pricing, in a holistic manner as opposed to a transactional manner. 

“The Trap Spa is a place where we get busy and do the work,” says Page. “It’s not always going to be pretty with the white sheets and glass everywhere. That’s why there is an array of different services. It’s really about coming in, doing the work, and getting the results.”

The inspiration behind her endeavor to entrepreneurship derives from wanting to support family and wanting to create an establishment that practices inclusivity for everyone, due to realizing there is a lack of accessibility for handicapped individuals and differences in treatment for minority groups. 

“I have been going to the spa for a long time, and I’ve always noticed the discomfort in groups of minorities and my discomfort when I go into a space that is predominately white,” says Page. "In affluent areas, we’re not really accepted. If I come in to receive $1000 worth of services and I’m not being offered all the accouterments that I see a middle-aged white woman receive, I feel slighted and uncomfortable."

Page is dubbed “the Trapsthetician” by her clients because, to them, she acts as a friend who just happens to have an esthetician’s license. She also has familiarity with being a Doula, working in-home care, and being a med tech, which gives her a different perspective on the body.

“I follow a lot of my clients' journeys from womanhood into motherhood. It would be selfish of me to just provide superficial services and not take care of the woman as a whole,” says Page. “I try to increase my knowledge and keep myself abreast of developments on people that are handicapped, the LGBTQIA community, everyone… as well as how to be a decent person and provide proper care to other decent people.”

Page recently became an alumnus of BUILD Institute. Due to the process of rebranding, she took the Rebuild course in August. Before BUILD, she was a finalist in the Goldman Sachs $10,000 Small Business Program last year. “I made it all the way to the finals but I didn’t make it to Cohort 26, but I think that was for the best because I ended up taking the Rebuild course, gave it my all, and it helped provide me with the framework for my next steps.”

Page, during the course, was assigned fieldwork that would help her business. For example, if an entrepreneur is in the middle of a rebrand and wants to offer a new product to consumers, the fieldwork would be reaching out to current clients, potential clients and/or social media about the new product and getting their input. “We would have to take all of the findings from our fieldwork and give a final report and presentation on how we either solved a certain business problem or how we’re bringing our product idea into fruition,” says Page. 

The Rebuild course primarily helps people who already have experience with entrepreneurship, but Page also noticed others took the course to help them put certain business ideas into action. “I was able to gain another perspective on business seeing the different needs people had.” The course also taught Page how to achieve scalability for her business. “Taking the Rebuild course helped me in terms of fund allocation. I’m a lot more knowledgeable now than I was before opening the business in terms of scaling.”

“This course really reassured me that analyzing the customer, knowing the customer and caring about the person as a whole is paramount,” says Page.

“My instructor told me that marketing is a necessity for business," she says. "He told me I’m a very good storyteller and to not ever change the storytelling aspect in my brand.”

Page has a lot of new things in store for the future. She plans on moving her business from Ferndale to Livernois on the Avenue of Fashion at the end of 2024. She is competing in the Skin Games, and the Bronner Bros. Fantasy Homecoming competition in Atlanta next year. Page is also working on introducing a new feminine cleansing wash for her brand and will continue to outreach.

“I’ve gotten a lot of love from my community, to be able to point at different corners and say that’s my peer and that’s my peer, it’s rewarding and I like to go and support other businesses.”

Patrick Beal, Detroit Training Center   

Detroit Training Center / SuppliedPatrick Beal is not new to entrepreneurship. The Detroit Training Center(DTC) is one of several businesses he has founded and opened over the past decade. Beal co-founded the DTC in 2012 and has been the CEO since 2016. This establishment specializes in customized, hands-on vocational programs of study, tailored to meet the construction and workforce needs of the city of Detroit. Some of the programs included are heavy equipment operator training, CDL training, masonry restoration, asbestos and lead abatement, and blight removal training. 

“We have nine different workforce programs. The people that come through our doors are looking for that opportunity to make that bump in pay and the investment in their career that’s going to put them on a trajectory that will grow over time,” says Beal.

The DTC is passionate about giving Detroiters skills and opportunities needed to either flourish in their careers and/or give them the chance to master a new trade that will ensure occupational opportunities across the city. “Our career counselors work with students who face multiple barriers of employment. Not just a missing certification, or skill, but pass incarceration, lengthy unemployment history, or physical and mental disabilities.”

The training center also gives a helping hand to employers who are looking for skillful, reliable, and hard-working employees. Through the training process, students are given the opportunity to prove to themselves and to other employers that they are sincere about working towards achieving their goals.

“We sort of act as a funnel for those employers, there are many people willing to say they want it, but when it comes to showing up there’s a smaller percentage,” says Beal. “The graduates prove to them that they are willing to show up everyday and do everything necessary to put themselves in the position to get that opportunity.”

Over the years, the DTC has accumulated grants from different philanthropic foundations. During the first round of the Motor City Match program, the DTC was awarded $100,000. In 2016, the New Economy Initiative(NEI), with their NEIdeas competition, also awarded the DTC with $100,000. The following year, they were awarded by the Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day with $150,000, just to name a few. 

“We’re pretty straightforward in our process. We take a look at the current employment atmosphere by looking at what existing employers want and what their licensing needs are, and once we find out the opportunities, we make those opportunities available for all sorts of people who have historically been held away from opportunities,” says Beal. 

Beal has been involved with BUILD since the beginning. He took one of the original BUILD Basics classes when BUILD started off as a program of D:hive, a welcome center and resource in downtown Detroit. "This would be before the Corktown space," Beal says. "They participated in some of the programs that we were in but it wasn’t BUILD itself, it was more along the lines of they were a partner, and we were in it as well.”  

BUILD Institute and the DTC have a collaborative relationship. It didn’t just end with Beal taking a course, becoming an alum, and going on his way. The relationship grew and seems to do so continuously. Beal became a BUILD graduate back when his business was just a startup and now, occasionally, the DTC works with BUILD graduates on workforce and job placement. “We’ve worked with BUILD in a few different ways. They were partnered in several different things that we’ve done. I’ve had consultations with Janae Griggs, and I’ve just recently reached out to them about this new contractor development program and I’m hoping to work with them more closely on that,” says Beal.

During the consultation with Griggs, Beal received advice on adding job descriptions and simplifying the onboarding process. “The biggest part was helping to organize the job description and what some of the work proposed and that was as we were scaling and adding some additional structure to the business.” 

The DTC has graduated over 700 people from the Michigan Residential Builders class, a class for inspiring entrepreneurs looking to own a business in the residential construction sector or construction as a whole. After learning the craft, the next step is to learn how to obtain the resources and skills to start a business. Since this is what BUILD specializes in, the DTC refers those graduates to BUILD. “Everyone after graduating that class is looking for that next set of help on how to launch their business. So, certainly, over time BUILD has been on our resource list to  refer to people who are starting on that journey.” 

Today, there are over 50 businesses created by the Detroit Training Center workforce graduates in sectors such as construction, transportation, and trucking companies. 

For the holidays and the new year, the DTC is promoting their home renovation workshops for anybody looking to learn a new skill. Three-hour, hands-on sessions are taught on Saturdays for $70 a piece (two per day) and its lessons include carpentry, drywall, masonry, painting, and any renovation around the house one may want to learn. “We’re running a promotion right now for those looking to learn this skill as a possible gift. You can buy them in sets of one, two, six and 12. People can come out every Saturday, get their hands dirty, learn how to utilize the tools and go home and complete their own projects in their own homes,” says Beal.

If interested in partaking in one of the DTC’s training programs, the best way is to go to an open orientation held on Thursdays and Saturdays at 1 p.m. at 5151 Loraine St. to discuss the different programs, funding options and have a chance to meet with a DTC career counselor. “We’re looking for people that we can help. And the people who can help are the people who are ready to do the hard work.”  

Michelle Smart

Michelle Smart, Bags to Butterflies

Imagine starting a business because someone close to you found themselves caught in a position that would possibly hinder comfort and success in their lives. This is what Michelle Smart did when she received the news that a close family friend’s daughter was going to prison. After research, she realized that the daughter’s life would never be the same and that she would face barriers in her everyday life. Smart wanted to change that and her business Bags to Butterflies uses art to transform the lives of imprisoned women from a life of ridicule and judgment to a life of beauty, growth, and flourishment. 

The business, located at 9138 Goodwin Street, was founded in 2015 and it’s a fashion brand with a “social mission to empower formerly incarcerated women with transitional employment, resources and connection to a caring network to assist the women on their journey towards success.” The women are offered a safe place for creative exploration as well as employment, housing referrals, financial and wellness courses, and skill-building programs. 

Brenda Austin

“Everything that we did is centered around communication with women who were formerly incarcerated, guiding and helping us to determine what this program should look like. We just wanted to make a difference in the lives of these women and wanted to make sure that there was something available for them when they come home.”

Art is a very essential component that plays in this business. Not just because it’s a fashion brand, but because there is an emotional and therapeutic attachment to it. Before her business, Smart went through a divorce which left her in a place of sorrow and uncertainty. Fortunately, Smart was taken under the wing of Brenda Supuwood, the owner of Universal Stained Glass Designs.

Supuwood taught her how to use her hands to express herself creatively. “I was going through some serious challenges with my divorce, but I would find myself rushing to this class every Saturday morning because it gave me a place of peace and tranquility I never knew before,” says Smart.

Having that experience in mind, she began starting her business with a focus group for two years with formerly incarcerated women and tested out the concept every other Saturday at the Oasis of Hope Cristian Church. The ladies were building these bags as if they were rebuilding their lives one piece at a time. Today, Bags to Butterflies has a 12-month-long Butterfly Program that’s centered around reducing recidivism and helping women back into society after leaving prison. “It was originally nine months to symbolize rebirth, but the ladies didn’t want to leave and demanded more time, so we decided on the program becoming 12 months.” 

There is also a Butterfly House, which is located on the campus of the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, where the women come together and receive support, companionship and make fond memories all while creating bags.

“The bags are made with reclaimed wood to demonstrate that something deemed as having no value and is discarded can be transformed into something new and beautiful and we wanted them to realize that the same transformation can happen in their lives,” says Smart. 

Currently, Bags to Butterflies has graduated 19 women, boasts 0% recidivism, and 91% of graduates are employed. One woman started a non-profit called Redeeming Kimberly, a non-profit organization that seeks to aid those who have been impacted by the justice system.

When it comes to BUILD, Smart took a course back in 2013. It gave her the foundation, education, and resources she needed to launch her business. “BUILD taught me everything from budgeting to networking, to social media platforms. They were even supportive afterward with information on pop-ups and pitch competitions… I would highly recommend them for any business that’s looking for support to kickstart their business.”

For Smart, BUILD impacted the launch of her business by providing her with assurance she needed to realize that her business idea was feasible. “BUILD has been so instrumental. They gave me the confidence to step out and start this business and for many, that goes a long way. They provide you with everything that a business owner needs to start a business.”   

Joyce Berry

Over the years, Bags to Butterflies has accumulated funding and grants from different organizations. They’re a 2023 neighborhub small business winner, they’ve received funding from Women Lift, Lowe’s, and won an award from the Ford Motor Company, as well as obtained funding from selling their products.

Now, with Smart’s business scaling, she finds herself with new challenges but still utilizes BUILD’s tactics while on her growing journey. “My instructor Delphina Simmons taught me lessons on sales taxes, legal structures of the business, making sure accounts are up to date; just teaching us things you wouldn’t even stop to think about. They broke it down so thoroughly in order for one to know what to expect before it was expected,” says Smart.

Smart is currently in the process of launching a “Mommy and Me bag” where little girls can have a bag like their mothers. Customers can also register to create their own designs on a board for their own personal handbag. The Butterfly House allows participants to design their own board and have a chance to meet the ladies behind the artwork. Hourly appointments are available Monday-Saturday starting at 10 a.m. 

Bags to Butterflies is now at Cadillac Square, and they’re offering 10% off on jewelry. Visitors can obtain the discount by visiting them at the market and saying the code words: “Hello, Butterfly.” They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open from 11a.m to 8p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. 

For more information, visit the BUILD Institute, and for donations visit here.

All photos by Steve Koss, unless otherwise indicated.

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