Jim Boyle: It's time to celebrate and reward Detroit's existing businesses

Over the last year or so, I've grown very fond of the Linn siblings' (Emily, Andy, and Rob) book Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider's Guide to Detroit. Within its pages are, of course, all of the obvious must-sees for one of America's most important cities, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Michigan Opera Theatre.
Arguably more interesting, however, are some of the secret finds dispersed throughout Detroit's less traveled neighborhoods. In fact, thanks in part to this book, I've become a little obsessed with the joy of discovery these locales engender, even tricking my two daughters into accompanying me on what we now call "Adventure Sundays." During these three-person expeditions, we pack up our now well-worn Insider's Guide and a highlighter and head out to make some discoveries.
The book is broken up geographically, each section highlighting restaurants, attractions, and mainly service-type businesses in different sections of the city. Our trips have included visits to Pinky's Shuga Shack on Schoolcraft, Mike's Antiques on the east side's Morang Drive, Dabl's African Bead Museum on Grand River, and more.
Driving around, even with the back of my seat being kicked by little feet and the sounds of Adele painfully wafting from the speakers, it's difficult not to reflect on the impact these businesses have had -- and continue to have -- on their communities. This is especially true of the businesses we see on our travels that aren't in the Linns' book: small manufacturing facilities, lumber yards, auto and barber shops, day cares, and so on. They are often anchoring residential areas and helping keep commercial strips afloat. They also provide much-needed jobs and services within their communities, which is critical in a city where access to transportation is a major issue.

Much has been made of Detroit's start-up and tech scenes, mainly located in Greater Downtown. And rightfully so. They are a key component of Detroit's economic health. Less celebrated, however, are the small businesses that have been here for five, 10, or even 30 or more years. They have stayed alive through tough economic times, contributing greatly to the fabric of their block, neighborhood, and city.

On Thursday, May 8, the New Economy Initiative opens up applications for NEIdeas: Rewarding Ideas for Business Growth, a challenge for existing small businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park -- areas particularly hard hit by our recent economic woes. Between now and the end of the year, NEI will award cash prizes totaling $500,000 to 32 existing businesses with the best ideas for growth. Businesses must be at least three years old to apply. We hope to not only provide a capital boost to help them realize their ideas, but also celebrate what these businesses mean to this area.
Perhaps most importantly, with the help of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, we will circle back to businesses that apply -- whether they win or not -- and very intentionally work to connect them with the over 54 entrepreneurial and small business service providers within Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. That means the capital funds, place-based services, small business planning services, and more that many small business owners either don't know about or do not feel welcomed to.

NEIdeas is broken into two challenges: one that awards $10,000 each to 30 businesses with annual gross revenues of $1 million or less and potential to grow, and one that awards $100,000 each to two businesses with annual gross revenues between $1 and $5 million and potential to "grow big."
We've tried to make the application as simple as possible for busy small business owners, asking them to provide their best ideas for growth in fewer than 200 words. Businesses of all kinds -- whether they are in the service, technology, manufacturing sectors, or beyond -- are encouraged to enter.
Tenacious, innovative, passionate, risk takers….these words often are used to describe start-ups. But they equally apply to our existing small businesses. And, having been around awhile, existing businesses have proven themselves. That can't be said for every start-up in the world. We hope NEIdeas can catalyze the existing intelligence, energy, and dedication of small businesses and give them a nudge that will help them grow and create jobs for people in their communities.
So spread the word and tell your favorite small businesses to apply. You can also tell us about your favorite small businesses by using the hashtag #NEIdeas. Along the way, we're sure to discover some of the small business gems we know abound in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. We can help grow the local economy, too -- block-by-block, together. I see a Belle Isle to 8 Mile: The Small Business Edition in our future.
Entry for applications opens Thursday, May 8.
Jim Boyle is a longtime contributor to Model D, a founding member of Hamtramck art space Public Pool, and a senior program officer at the New Economy Initiative, a program of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. He and his family live in Detroit's West Village neighborhood.
Model D and Issue Media Group coverage of entrepreneurship in SE Michigan is sponsored in part by the New Economy Initiative.
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