How 2 startups plugged into Dearborn’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Photo by David Lewinsky A “cheat treat.”

Photo by David Lewinsky
A “cheat treat.”

By ZAHRAA FARHAT
Metromode Media

Stacey Grant opened Made Metro Collective, a local artisan marketplace that was located on Michigan Avenue, in December and has garnered 100 vendors since then.

Although doors closed at the end of March, the collective still runs in partnership with other businesses in the area by popping up at shops, representing local makers at various events and creating opportunities for them.

Dearborn startups like Grant’s are finding it much easier these days to plug into a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem with a supportive community, which is vital for any business to succeed.

Made Metro Collective, formerly located in west Dearborn, and Cheat Treats, The Protein Dessert Co., in east Dearborn are two of many new businesses that have experienced that potency in only a few months.
Here are two of their stories.

Self-activation is key

Grant and her former business partner, Amanda Lawson, reached out to a range of local resources when they first started their business, including the West Dearborn Downtown Development Authority and Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce. They also received help from fellow business owners Melissa Burman and Jennifer Smith, of Dearborn Novelty Art.

Burman and Smith “were very helpful because basically, they said ‘here is our model’, and let us use displays and even gave us some training,” Grant says.

Grant believes that to really activate entrepreneurs, it’s less about programming and more about coordinating the resources that already exist.

“You’re activating people to see themselves as part of the ecosystem,” she says. “I think (people as a resource) is the true value of Dearborn, and that requires organizing by people on the ground. Whether it’s a resident, an artist, a budding entrepreneur or an established business owner, everybody has value to add.”

Grant added that Made Metro Collective’s vendors also play a major role in the growth of the business as well as the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem in Dearborn.

“They give you real-time information about what their needs are, and the kind of space we opened up was fantastic because there is an exchange of ideas happening,” she says.

One such idea was to create a Netflix-style rental system for artwork with some of the Made Metro Collective’s vendor photographers. The concept is still in the ideation phase, but Grant says it’s an example of what can happen when people are able to come together, collaborate, and give one another rapid feedback.

“It’s not that we’re piloting the rental idea right away,” she says. “It’s just that we were able to ask questions and get that real-time feedback. From a programming standpoint, it can take weeks or months to gather information.”
Grant believes there’s a lot more room for the ecosystem to grow. She hopes more community members reimagine their roles in it, whether they become a mentor, come up with ideas, or even offer access to space.

“Reimagine the assets that you have in terms of how you can support and grow the creative economy,” she says. “It’s a matter of people self-activating and thinking really creatively and willing to accept that sustainable economic progress needs an outside-of-the-box solution. It’s not just going to be reliant on a specific organization or institutions to do the work.”

Continuous support

Ali Hachem established his Cheat Treats cafe in the beginning of January and has gained customers not just from Dearborn, but from all over Michigan.

And he credits the community in Dearborn for continuously supporting his business.

The new hotspot is one of a kind in the area, offering protein desserts, snacks and smoothies that are tasty, yet still healthy and macro-friendly.

Hachem first came up with the idea while on a diet. He did not want his sweet tooth to get in the way of his new healthy lifestyle, so he started to create healthier versions of his favorite sweets, specifically cheesecakes.

Soon enough, he perfected his protein cheesecake recipe. It was a hit with family and friends, who immediately encouraged him to begin selling. Hachem started selling his cheesecake from home four years ago as he was completing his bachelor’s degree in International Business.

“During the four years, I was studying, building my company from my house and working on the side to save up for a café,” he says. “I already knew what I wanted to do in life, and I knew how much (work) it needed, so I dedicated all my time to it.”

The only marketing strategy he uses, even after opening his café, is Instagram.

“It’s a very powerful tool to use as a marketing strategy,” he says. ‘The more followers you have, the more eyes you have on the page. The more eyes on the page, the more customers you have. I’ve been building my page for a long time and since day one, it’s been solely on Instagram.”

Now, Hachem’s “CheatTreatsCafe” Instagram page has nearly 6,000 followers, showcasing other popular desserts he offers, like protein cookies, edible cookie dough, doughnuts and acai bowls. And, there will be a shipping option on the website soon for those who cannot come to his café.

“It’s something new,” he said. “No one has ever done it and a lot of people have been asking for healthier options as far as desserts. Rather than eating a cheesecake, a cookie, or a doughnut, which all contain high amounts of sugar and butter, a lot of people want healthier options they can enjoy. So, I can’t complain. The business is growing tremendously.”

(This story was reprinted from Metromode Media. It also is available at: www.secondwavemedia.com/metromode/features/dearborn-entrepreneurial-ecosystem-2.aspx.)