For the second time, Detroiters have a chance to help open a new business in Detroit, and all it takes is a vote.
The Comerica Hatch Detroit contest, founded last year by Nick Gorga and Ted Balowski, will provide $50,000 and support services to one of the 10 semifinalists announced Thursday, relying on public online voting to whittle down the business ideas. The eclectic group, chosen from more than 250 proposals, will be narrowed down to four finalists.
Some contestants are looking to establish a second outpost of a popular shop; others are first-timers but make up for it with a sound business plan.
“The premium we place is on how well you think out your idea,” Gorga said.
“Our money comes from Comerica, and the voting comes from the public,” he added. “We feel we’re entrusted with a responsibility of managing this money … so we want to pick the [plan] we think has the best chance of succeeding.”
There are several eateries and bars, two retail clothing shops and one proposal for a kayak rental and tour spot. While the latter is perhaps the most surprising, Gorga said it makes complete sense. After researching, they found plenty of people eager to make use of one of one of the city’s natural resources, and continued development of the riverfront shows the timing is right.
Among the 10 semifinalists, who introduced themselves to each other and the public at a Hatch event Wednesday evening, there’s a focus on the homegrown and hand-produced, from Whip Hand Cosmetics to The Collective Tap, a store planning to sell Michigan microbrews and offer classes.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all local minds behind the businesses. A Michigander who currently lives in Alaska is the mastermind behind The Collective Tap, and Gorga pointed out Brock Willsey, who opened clothing store Vividbraille Studio Boutique in Chicago last year. According to Gorga, the Flint native has been looking for a way to open a second store closer to home.
He’s exactly the type of person the Hatch founders were hoping would enter the contest.
“We’ve heard so many times, ‘I would come back here if there was a job, if there was an opportunity,” Gorga said.
Many names will look familiar, like Tashmoo Biergarten, which previously ran a pop-up beer garden in West Village to much excitement, and Motor City Design, a denim company launched by "Project Runway" contestant Joe Faris after he left Motor City Denim.
Starting Sept. 10, individuals can vote for their favorite business idea on the Hatch website, which will then have more detailed information about the contestants. Popular vote will determine the four finalists to be announced Sept. 19. A panel of judges and a final round of pubic vote will determine the winner, announced Sept. 27 after a public Q & A session with the finalists.
The contest is in its second year, with new sponsorship from Comerica Bank. Last year, seasoned retailer Joe Posch’s concept for a men’s shop took home the prize. He’s been working with Hatch since and plans to open his store Hugh in the Auburn, a building under construction at Cass Avenue and Canfield Street, this fall.
Below, check out tips for running a successful small business from the country's best indie doughnut shops.