Start DC Travels: Detroit

Start DC photos from the Motor City

I recently traveled to southeast Michigan to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Each time I’m in the area, I head to Detroit for glimpses of a changing city that one hopes is rising from the ashes again.

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A year ago, Detroit officially ended the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. The city, once a bustling metropolis with nearly 2 million residents, now has less than 700,000. Detroit has infamously seen better days, but there is growth and innovation here too. Here are three women entrepreneurs rebuilding the Motor City.

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Amy Kaherl: Co-Founder & Executive Director, Detroit SOUP

Amy Kaherl helped found Detroit SOUP, a “microgranting dinner” company and community started in 2010. Each month, attendees gather and for $5, can eat and hear ideas for Detroit-based initiatives. Every diner gets a vote and the chance to ask questions and offer feedback on the proposals; the best idea receives proceeds from the night’s food and drink sales to kick-start their project. Participants explain that more than the cash, Detroit SOUP gives them the opportunity to pitch and refine their concepts in front of a supportive community. It has given $85,000 to community projects and businesses in Detroit, including the first grant to Veronika Scott’s The Empowerment Plan—read on!

IMG_2008.JPGVeronika Scott: Founder & CEO, The Empowerment Plan

While studying product design at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies in 2010, Scott designed a coat that could be used as a sleeping bag for people experiencing homelessness. Originally an idea for a class project, Scott improved her prototype and the concept evolved. In 2011, at age 21, she started The Empowerment Plan.

The Empowerment Plan is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the homeless community. The organization hires homeless women and trains them to manufacture coats. The women also earn a living wage, helping them to secure housing and gain back their independence. The Empowerment Plan has made over 9,000 coats and given out over $40,000 in microloans since its founding.

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Jen Rusciano: Co-Founder & Executive Director, Detroit Food Academy

After living abroad to study the various impacts of chocolate production on farming communities, Rusciano returned to her native Michigan and began working to connect youth in high-need school districts with local food. She noticed a need for skill-building opportunities for her students over the summer, which led to the start of the Detroit Food Academy.

Detroit Food Academy is an after school program for youth that allows students to develop leadership skills and ultimately launch their own food businesses. Students graduate from the Academy with knowledge of business basics, culinary arts, financial literacy, and leadership, as well as a certificate in food and social entrepreneurship, a network of potential employers, a polished food product, and a chance to enter a summer employment program.

The Academy also has a social enterprise subsidiary that sells healthy food products designed and made by Detroit Food Academy high school students to offer real-world career and employment options to students and healthy food to the Detroit community.

Genna Byrd is the founder of Start DC. Learn more about her here. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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