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The Comerica Hatch Contest announced the opening on January 24 of this year’s applications for Detroit entrepreneurs to compete in a retail pitch competition for an opportunity to win a $100,000 grand prize.
Since 2011, Hatch Detroit has fostered a platform for residents to build upon their dreams of running brick-and-mortar businesses in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck with the support of local experts and training every step of the way.
Last Year, Hatch Detroit joined Techtown Detroit as an in-house program to sustain and support the growing capacity and outreach of small businesses.
“We are offering a lot more services to our alumni through the programming at Techtown,” said Christianne Malone, chief program officer at Techtown Detroit and vice president for economic development at Wayne State University.
“It’s a win-win and it’s not uncommon here in Detroit when we have great initiatives like Hatch Detroit and there’s many others that are finding new homes within other entrepreneurial ecosystem partners. We see the value in what these programs are doing in the community, and they continue to have a great track record of not only inclusion, but a great record in actually producing an impact.”
A few small changes have been made to the contest to make the process more inclusive to all businesses.
The 25 semi-finalists chosen to compete for a spot on the top 10 will be able to supply mood boards and visuals of the businesses concept in the private session with judges and community residents. This helps equalize the playing field, as previously food and beverage companies had a greater advantage by providing product samples.
The top 25 finalists and alumni will be provided with additional workshops led by Comerica Bank on social media and digital marketing, as well as understanding risk and exposure principles on running a sustainable business.
The community-centered program is focused on supporting independent retail businesses with a physical presence that is dedicated to revitalizing commercial retail corridors, utilizing vacant land, and to encourage more investment in the neighborhood.
At the time of publication, the Hatch Detroit contest has over 150 applicants in various stages of completion. Officials say the contest has on average 380 applications submitted every year since launching in 2012.
“We’re really excited, it’s been 12 days and almost halfway through until the application closes and we’ve had such momentum thus far,” said Malone.
“They’re having information sessions to answer any questions on the application and this is a community-focused initiative so we value the intent of the application as community-centered, neighborhood focused. We want businesses to really understand that this is about increasing economic vitality in the neighborhoods.”
The program currently boasts 50 alumni businesses while those placing in the top 10 having opened storefronts, including La Feria, Baobab Fare, and Sister Pie. Hatch Detroit businesses employ over 500 people and invested over $13 million in economic development.
Last year, Little Liberia, a pop-up restaurant serving Liberian cuisine, took home the coveted award and is working with Hatch Detroit on next steps for the grand opening. So far, founder and owner Ameneh Marhaba has selected a store front and is scouting architects for the next phase with a plan to open in Spring 2024.
“To be honest, my favorite part is to be working with them [the contestants] after the contest,” said Vittoria Katanaki, the strategic consultant at Hatch Detroit who works with the program’s alumni network.
“It’s just the most fulfilling and I’m grateful that I’m still given that opportunity to do it because it is the best just seeing their dreams come true and helping them with that process. There are so many loopholes for people to be taken advantage of and I’m really grateful to be able to guide them in a way that allows them to make informed decisions, whereas bigger businesses are able to do that all the time.”
For any applicants this year, officials advised not waiting until the last minute to apply and keep in mind that the award is meant to be starter funding for small businesses that are early on in their journey.
“It’s the location that’s important,” said Katanaki. “Everything is based on number of seats or product; it’s all based on square footage of your spot. So, having a fully done business plan is not necessarily the stage you’re at but you should at least know that you can’t rent downtown for $2 a square foot. There has to be something in what you tell us that shows you did some background research.”
Applications are open until February 21, 2023, at noon.
The Top 25 contestants are notified on March 8 and a panel of business and community leaders will select the Top 10 semifinalists on March 28. The community will have an opportunity to vote online between April 5-12. The Hatch Off Event will take place on April 26 to select the top finalist for the grand prize of $100K.
To apply, visit hatchdetroit.com/apply