How Build Institute uses subject matter experts to grow Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

This is part of a reporting series, supported by Build Institute, that chronicles BIPOC-led businesses and entrepreneurship in Detroit. 
Janae Griggs has been an entrepreneur-in-residence at Build Institute since May of 2022, and when it comes to consulting and giving business advice to others she does it with enthusiasm. Griggs knows entrepreneurship can be arduous and she wants others to know that there is support to help start or grow their business. 

“When people sign up for a consultation with me, I know that they’re serious because it takes filling out a form and a few steps to even get on this screen with me,” says Griggs. “I know people are looking for valuable information so I tailor the advice that I give. The interactions I have with people is me kind of acting like their 30-minute business manager.”

 Even outside of consulting, she’s always looking to advertise small businesses in Detroit. “I’m very active on Facebook and I’m very conscious of supporting other small businesses in the area,” says Griggs. “Running a small business requires us to have to stick together and look after one another. I know some businesses don’t have big marketing budgets, so periodically I tell people to post about their businesses so I can eventually use that to refer them to someone else.”

Detroit’s small business owners, as well as organizations like Build Institute that support them, lean heavily on collaboration to keep Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem flowing and growing. Along with high talent and far market reach, it’s one of the reasons Detroit is considered to be one of the top-ranking emerging ecosystems in the world. 

Community also plays an important role in Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. There is a sense of pride and togetherness Detroiters have for themselves and for the city. It is very common to see one establishment either showcasing local talent or helping spread exposure of another local business. While exposure helps expand the business, knowledge and access to many resources evolve the entrepreneur.

Janae Griggs. Photo by Nick Hagen.


“We have a saying at Build Institute that’s even our social media hashtag called ‘start with Build,’ because a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs in the city started with either a Build class, program or event," says Griggs, one of Build’s entrepreneur-in-residence.

“Organizations like Build Institute are at the forefront of the ecosystem because we take all of the guesswork out of starting a business. We don’t just help you with a blueprint and that’s it, we connect you to resources like funding and education to help you grow.”

Build Institute has serviced over 2,500 people since 2012. One of the many ways they help cultivate Detroit’s micro-entrepreneurs is by connecting them with the necessary tools, resources, and support networks in the area. There are a number of programs that business owners can utilize to become connected with other entrepreneurs as well as valuable resources. One popular program is Build Bench, and it consists of specialized subject matter experts like entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs) who are available to give free, personalized, wrap-around support to help micro-entrepreneurs grow and scale.  

Peaceful Partnerships

Leonard Cocklow, also known as Yogi Leonard, is a Yoga instructor who created his micro-business six years ago called Elevated Yogi. It is a cannabis-friendly, safe space located in the Boston Edison Historic District, for people to practice and inherit this holistic lifestyle. His teachings consist of stretching, breathing, meditation, proper diet, focus on self-awareness and self-love, and nurturing of one’s divine self and inner peace. 

“I started this business because I wanted to create a space where people could focus on their inner vibrations,” says Leonard. “That’s why I transformed my business into a Yoga house… I want people to retreat from the world and focus on the way they feel and relax and feel the bliss of focusing on themselves instead of worrying about things.”

Leonard feels the most fulfilled when he is able to share with others what brings him peace and happiness. When it comes to his entrepreneurial ecosystem, financial profit is not the most significant aspect. It’s the fact that he’s able to share that sense of peace and inner bliss with others that attracts people.

“My entrepreneurship journey right now is sharing what’s most valuable to me. I’m not about to do anything just to make money, that’s a waste of my time,” says Leonard. “I’m sharing this because I feel my highest when I do. It’s truly what I love doing, so I don’t do it for a certain result because you’re truly not able to fully relax and enjoy yourself due to stressing about getting that result.”  

In the midst of looking for resources, Leonard set up a consultation with Griggs to gather some pointers that would benefit his business. 

“I was looking up start-up resources in Detroit and a certain article popped up. In that article, I saw that Build was giving free consultations to help with your business,” says Leonard. “Build really has entrepreneurial experience, she gave me a whole list of things I could do to improve my website. They gave me another set of eyes to view my business for free and I appreciate them for that.”

Elevated Yogi thrives on empowerment and collaboration. From working with other instructors, to local musicians to even living with the chef who cooks meals for consumers of his business, there is constant interaction between others and this leads to the discovery of talent and new innovation.

“The main entrepreneurs I’m working with are people that match the vibe of empowerment and peace. Instructors that have knowledge in proper diet, or proper exercise are people that I usually work with,” says Leonard. “With having a yoga house, I live with the chef that cooks plant-based meals for consumers, I’ll even work with local musicians that talk about positivity… I don’t mind opening up my space for this because the value of what we share comes back in a different form; and when self-love is the priority you can’t go wrong with that.”

Elevated Yogi is currently welcoming consumers to become members of the business. He continues to invite consumers to visit the Tribe House to share a session of peace and tranquillity. Leonard is also incorporating more yoga retreats and invites members and others to become more in tune with nature. 

Jumping Hurdles

Marissa Schuh is a gymnastics coach who started her business Detroit School of Gymnastics in December 2020. It is the first artistic, cost-effective, Black-owned gymnastics club in Detroit. The gym, located at 2728 W Davison St., was created to give inner-city children with a passion for gymnastics, access to a gym home without the expensive fees. Her inspiration for starting the business came from her little cousin, Harmony. She saw that she had a talent for gymnastics and wanted to open up a space for her to continue to enhance her skills.  

“I really opened this gym because I saw that my little cousin was good at it and I really couldn’t afford to put her into the gyms in Novi or Plymouth,” says Schuh. “I never planned for it to turn into what it has turned into today. I feel like now I have gained about 80 little cousins.”

Schuh grew up in Detroit and recalls having to travel to the suburbs to do gymnastics, relocating to Farmington Hills to practice at one point. Today, with gymnastics being a predominantly White sport, she wants her business to reflect Detroit’s demographic and wants inner-city children to believe that they are able to have the same opportunities as their counterparts.

“When I was doing gymnastics growing up, I never had a Black coach and there were maybe 2-3 black kids,” says Schuh. “There are some black children out there that don’t have somebody to tell them that they can do anything they want to and I want to be that person for them.”

Schuh runs her business by herself, meaning she holds all of the responsibility of being the main coach, the competition coach, the marketer of the business and more. She utilized Griggs’s free consultation to get some advice on managing all of these tasks.

“I do everything for my business and it was causing me a lot of stress. So I sat and talked with Build and they gave me advice on how to manage smarter since I am doing everything by myself,” says Schuh. “She gave me options and websites that I could apply to to kind of give me some sort of ease.” 

Schuh’s entrepreneurial ecosystem was minuscule, only starting with the talent of nine children. Then, she began marketing her business on social media and not only did she gain more kids to coach, she became a 2023 NeighborHUB grant recipient. Word-of-mouth led to even more exposure which eventually led to collaboration with other business owners. 

“My entrepreneurial ecosystem is growing at a fast rate. I now have over 80 kids and collab with other businesses,” says Schuh. “I work with my mentor, Mrs. Camille, who is the owner of Motor City Dance Factory and I require my kids to take ballet with her in September and October as competition training. I also work with Coach Pott’s competitive cheer team by doing their tumbling and conditioning and she’ll use the gym on Sundays, collabs like that.”

Detroit School of Gymnastics offers classes to children of all ages and skill levels. September private lessons and class sign-ups are now available. Schuh plans on incorporating her content creation skills into her business. She wants to make a YouTube channel for her girls to showcase their outstanding talent and personalities and inspire the children of Detroit to pursue their goals and dreams. 

The Importance of Inclusivity

Photo SuppliedTime and time again, entrepreneurs find themselves either having to pivot or adapt to a new change altogether. Tiera Turner, the owner of Autism in the D formerly known as the VendBros, is constantly finding herself having to shift. Turner is the mother of two autistic boys, MyKail (6) and Miguel (4), and is on a mission to open up the first autism-inclusive play center in the city of Detroit.  

“I was originally looking for something to get into for my boys and since my oldest son at the time was the only one with the diagnosis, I wanted something that had a routine as well as being able to make some money,” says Turner. “But then I got to a point where I needed a community that understood where I was coming from when it came to my kids, so I put myself in a position where I could help and relate to other parents with autistic children.” 

Prior to Autism in the D, she started her own graphic design business called T Styles Graphics since she has several years of graphic and web design experience.

“Graphic design is my bread and butter. It is my full passion project,” says Turner. “But now my life has shifted and so has my passion at the moment. Now, I use those skills to advertise this business and focus on creating more awareness of autism in Detroit.” 

Right now, Turner is in the process of growing her entrepreneurial ecosystem by reaching out to Detroit corporations that have access to funding as well as utilizing their resources. She signed up for a session with Onni Stone, Build Institute’s Capital Access Manager, to receive some advice on obtaining funding for her business.

“I’m currently in the process of finding the proper funding for my business. I have been in direct contact with Onni from Build Institute and had one of those coffee and chat calls and she has definitely helped give me clarity in getting my things in order for applying for funding,” says Turner. “I also just completed Capital Connect with Metro-Detroit Black Business Alliance and they put me in conversations with Invest Detroit.”

Turner is always on the lookout for a chance to add more awareness of autism in Detroit. She has reached out to some trampoline parks as well as swim instructors to get some inclusive classes and courses for children with autism. She also lends a helping hand to parents by sharing resources on her website that they can use if in need of anything. 

“Right now, I am offering a lot of love and support to people since the gym hasn’t opened up yet,” says Turner. “But when it does, parents will be able to take their kids to a safe, inclusive place without having anxiety and fear of judgment.”

That sense of belonging and community is one of the reasons Griggs has such faith in Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Detroit is not a selfish city, and business owners here understand that in order to service this city it takes all of us to do so. It’s not just about gaining a financial profit, it’s about making and keeping those connections with others. And that will cause everyone to see that Detroit has a strong community.”    

All photos by Steve Koss unless otherwise noted. 
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