From tree-cutting to vegan desserts, Build Institute graduates enrich Detroit’s business landscape

This is part of a reporting series, supported by Build Institute, that chronicles BIPOC-led businesses and entrepreneurship in Detroit. 
Micro-entrepreneurs and micro-businesses are the heartbeat that allows a local economy to thrive. But the ability to be able to enhance a community financially, while sustaining a family-like bond with residents, takes a special talent. That is what small business owners who graduated from Build Institute pride themselves on. 

Build Institute, which is located in The Corner, in Corktown, helps turn business ideas into reality by providing micro-entrepreneurs with the necessary tools, resources, and support network in Detroit. Over 2500 aspiring entrepreneurs have graduated from Build Institute since it opened in 2012. This allows Build Institute to leave an impact on Detroit business owners who in turn create community impact and enrichment in the city.

Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs), like Janae Griggs, are entrepreneurs in the community who provide free one-on-one coaching sessions for other local entrepreneurs and serve them with expertise only a seasoned business owner could have. Griggs, a Build Institute alumni and a serial entrepreneur is knowledgeable in developing business strategies and solutions, business planning, project management, and branding. From starting a non-profit company called P.I.N.K Detroit in 2012, to launching her own virtual assistance agency, she has connected and served many people in all different stages of their entrepreneurial careers.

Janae Griggs is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Build Institute. Photo: Nick Hagen.

“I decided to start up a non-profit because I really just wanted to provide a service,” says Griggs. “With a profitable business, yes it’s great to earn money but I feel better knowing that a person leaves with more knowledge and initiative to start their dream business.”

During her office hours at Build Institute, Griggs reassures creatives that no idea is a bad idea and the idea doesn’t have to be perfect. “When I start my sessions, I let people know that anything is possible as long as you have someone to bounce your ideas off of. If you’re only utilizing Google and YouTube it’ll still be hard to get your business running because you’re trying to build and perfect it on your own. Business is about creating connections and relationships and the more there are of those, the better the outcome and growth of your business.”

Across the small business landscape, the institute's impact continues after participants graduate. Model D sits down with three who are making their mark in Detroit and beyond. 

Photo: The Congregation Detroit / Facebook.

Betsy Murdoch, The Congregation Detroit  

The Congregation Detroit portrays everything the name defines, just in a different fashion then what people may think when initially hearing it. This cafe and bar was recently opened in March of 2020 and is still going strong today. The main goal is to give Detroiters a place that feels like an extension of their living room, even if it is in a 100-year-old church. Betsy Murdoch has a background in all different aspects of the food and beverage industry and is the co-owner and managing partner of The Congregation Detroit. She is proud of the fact that there is an essence of local participation and partnership surrounding the business.

Photo: The Congregation Detroit / Instagram.“We’re constantly paying attention to what we’re missing in our community and always looking out for organizations we can help support and showcase,” says Murdoch. “I have a lot of pride in my business as well as in my neighborhood so the fact that this place was made for our own community is what keeps me going every day and makes me want to do well for everyone.” 

For Murdoch, Build Institute helped make the process of starting the business more lucrative. When her endeavors with Build Institute began, she decided that they were going to use the then-abandoned church to turn the business into a brick-and-mortar.

“The program that I went through taught me how to build a business plan,” says Murdoch. “They gave us a template of areas that we needed to hone in on like financials and squad analysis, to everything in marketing and more.” Being taught  how to analyze the finances was vital to me because I learned how to budget for inventory costs, rent, overhead expenses, and how to make sure our prices were conservative for even low traffic days.”

One of Murdoch’s greatest takeaways from Build Institute are the relationships she made during her time there and the support she has gained as well as reciprocated.

"We still work with Build on a regular basis, for example we host some SOUP events,” says Murdoch. “I get to meet all kinds of business owners and it’s nice to have relationships with them because there is an understanding of the trials and tribulations that come with owning a business, and being able to give and receive support is great.” 

The Congregation Detroit thrives by utilizing partnerships and building new opportunities for the community. From showcasing local Detroit artists and musicians, to helping sell goods from local bakeries, and even holding activities that locals can attend to, it’s evident that this place is more than just your standard cafe and bar.

“She’s a beast,” says Murdoch. “I thought we were opening a cute little coffee shop in the middle of our neighborhood and it has become so much more than that.” Between our regular operation with being a cafe and a bar, to all of the programming, there is something constantly turning. But actually executing these things and seeing it happen is way more rewarding than anything in the world.”

Chantele Jones is the brains behind Estella's Vegan Cuisine and Desserts. Photo: Nick Hagen.

Chantele Jones,  Estella’s Vegan Cuisine and Desserts

The first steps to starting a business are considered the most difficult tasks to complete. Build Institute helped make the starting process for Chantele Jones less overwhelming and easier to approach.

“Build gave me the introduction on how to take my vision, write it down and create actions to get my baby up and running,” says Jones. “Build helped me with things like forming my LLC, drafting up a business plan, pinpointing my target audience, and most of all teaching me the importance of partnership.” 

Jones is a chef and food educator and has made it her mission to spread the plant-based lifestyle and its health benefits throughout the city of Detroit. Once she realized going vegan was the solution to her personal health issues, she then wanted to share her findings with others knowing that there were other people out there that could benefit from this lifestyle as well.
Photo: Estella's / Facebook.
“Every other major city has vegan restaurants and vegan bakeries, why isn't it like that for Detroit,” says Jones. “This is something I wanted to bring to my city because I feel that we are also deserving of being able to enjoy delicious, great tasting, cruelty-free baked goods and cuisine just like everyone else.”

Right now, the business is mainly online but presents itself as a pop-up shop from time to time in the Detroit area. “I knew I didn't want a traditional brick-and-mortar, I just wanted a space where people come and pick up their custom orders,” says Jones. “I absolutely love doing my business online. It’s super simple, it makes setting my schedule easier and runs smoothly.”

When it comes to the Detroit community, Jones thinks it is only right to have her business here. “Everything that I have done was pretty much done in the Brightmoor, and Grandmont, Rosedale neighborhoods,” says Jones. “People started to know me in those areas and one thing about Rosedale Park is that it is such a community-focused neighborhood. So, once I got the chance to open up a pop-up shop in that location I jumped at the opportunity and it was everything I dreamt it would be.”

Jones will be participating in the Spring VegFest at Eastern Market in Detroit on Sunday, June 4 and will be participating Downtown in Cadillac Square this summer on June 9 for Market Fridays.

Photo: Hardwork Tree-cutting and Landscape / Facebook.

Tariq Sharrief, Hard Work Tree-Cutting and Landscape

Hard Work Tree-Cutting and Landscape include Tariq Sharrief and two other employees and they bring service to areas such as Wayne and Oakland County, Downriver, and anything that’s in a 40-mile radius. 

“We provide grass cutting, mulch laying, tree removal and trimming, bush removal and trimming, flower planting, and gutter cleaning,” says Sharrief. “I don’t have many employees because I like to know characteristics before hiring people because I want the people I’m working for to feel comfortable with my team and I being around their property.” 

Sharrief has been operating his tree-cutting and landscaping business for eight years now. For Sharrief, his business is more than just a way to gain income, but it is a duty that he feels he has to perform. “I believe it is important to keep the Earth looking right and presentable,” says Sharrief. “I feel that I am a Khalifah, a protector, of the Earth and this profession allows me to be that.”

Build Institute helped give Sharrief direction on how to run his business by showing him how to create business proposals, track finances and figure out the target audience of his business “I still have my book from the business proposal program,” says Sharrief. “I also met a lot of good people that taught me valuable things and their advice was helpful to me and my business.”

Being a Detroit native, Sharrief felt that it was only right to start his business here. With all of the connections and business he was getting from just word of mouth and passing out business cards, he gathered that his hometown should be the basis of his business. “Detroit is on the come-up right now,” says Sharrief. “People are starting to buy more houses in Detroit so that means more business for me. There is also the fact that I’m Muslim and there is a deep Islamic root here giving me that feel of community.

Photo: Hard Work Tree-Cutting and Landscape / Facebook. With this business, the city and the locals are able to obtain many benefits. One of them being economical and the other being sustainable. “We’re essentially beautifying the city,” says Sharrief. “After a job we pick up the trash, which in turn brings enhancement to the area. That then causes the property value to rise causing more money to go back into the city and that is why I love this job.”

To serve is the underlying purpose of this business. Whether it be service to the city and its locals, or service to the Earth, his main servitude is to his family. “I work hard so my son has the benefit of working for himself,” says Sharrief. This is also a job opportunity for any of my family members to occupy them and put money in their pockets. I work hard for my last name, not for my first name.”

Build Institute and all three businesses and owners are different in some ways, but one commonality they all share is their love for Detroit and its people. 

“If we are not providing the service in a way with what micro-entrepreneurs, or aspiring micro-entrepreneurs, want, then we are doing a disservice to the community,” says Regina Ann Campbell, CEO and President of Build Institute. “Growth for us is going where like-minds, missions, values, and visions match.” 
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