Pop-up restaurant Little Liberia wins $100,000 Hatch Detroit grant

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Ameneh Marhaba cried with joy as she accepted a check for $100,000 after winning a competition on Thursday, where she showcased her business, Little Liberia.

For the 2022 Comerica Hatch Detroit competition, Marhaba shared how his father sold everything he had and brought his family from Liberia to the United States. She lost her father in January of this year.

“I feel like I owe a lot of where I am now to my dad because of his sacrifice he made to get us here,” Marhaba said Thursday at the Wayne State University Industry Innovation Center, where the last night of the competition was held.

Little Liberia owner Ameneh Marhaba hugs her sister Aisha Marhaba in tears after winning the Hatch Detroit pitch competition at Wayne State University Industry Innovation Center on July 21, 2022. "I owe a lot of where I am now to my father because of his sacrifice he made to bring us here," said Marhaba.

“Everything I do comes from such a passionate place. It’s hard for me to express that to people on a deep level,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like to do this I have to go back to where I came from and where I started. I was able to give a bit of my story tonight, and that makes all the difference.

Her business is a “pop-up Afro-fusion restaurant” in Detroit and she submitted a three-year business plan in the competition.

Marhaba joins several alumni of Hatch Detroit, which started as a nonprofit in 2011, and helps small businesses open storefronts in the city. Now, Hatch Detroit is part of TechTown, which is an entrepreneurship hub for tech startups and small businesses.

Ameneh Marhaba, owner of Little Liberia, is emotional while presenting the grand prize check after winning the Hatch Detroit pitch competition at Wayne State University Industry Innovation Center on July 21, 2022. "I owe a lot of where I am now to my father because of his sacrifice he made to bring us here," said Marhaba.

The other four finalists on Thursday were: Lily’s & Elise, a luxury tea house set to open on Detroit’s Fashion Avenue; Colfetarie, a Romanian pastry; Gajiza Dumplins, a frozen dumpling distributor, and Detroit Farm and Cider, a 4.9-acre farm that hopes to open retail space.

Kimberly Elise, owner and CEO of Lily’s & Elise, traveled the world to visit luxury tea houses and felt Detroit should have one too. Her goal is to have customers dress in their best outfits for their tea experiences.

“Lily’s and Elise is an extremely feminine, extremely beautiful, extremely pretty company,” Elise said. “We have a garden theme. We exude femininity and our goal is for people to leave feeling better than when they arrived.

Lily's & Elise owner Kimberly Elise, 34, of Detroit, rehearses her trademark speech backstage at the Hatch Detroit pitch competition at the Wayne State University Industry Innovation Center on July 21, 2022. Five companies Colfetarie, Detroit Farm and Cider, Gajiza Dumplins, Lily's & Elise, and Little Liberia pitched their brands for a chance to win a $100,000 grant.

Around 350 small businesses applied to participate in the pitch competition. This number has been reduced to 10 semi-finalists, and with the help of public voting via social media, five companies qualified for the final.

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The contest featured five judges from small businesses: Lee Padgett, the owner of Busted Bra Shop; Regina Ann Campbell, President and CEO of Build Institute; Jeremy Lewis, Director of the Accounting Help Society; Camille Walker Banks, executive director of Detroit LISC, and Kimberly Faison, director of community and economic development at Detroit Future City. The host of the competition was Mark S. Lee of the band LEE.

This is the 10th year of the Hatch competition, and the prize has been doubled by Comerica Bank for this round.

Vittoria Katanski, executive director of Hatch Detroit, explained why the money had doubled from $50,000: “Over the years, we had seen how steadily the cost of opening had increased, and the impact of that $50,000 wasn’t the same as it was. when we announced our first winner in 2011.”

Comerica Bank held a boot camp for the semi-finalists focusing on marketing and corporate communications. A retail training camp was held for the five finalists.

“We intend to continue working with small business owners just to make sure they have all the tools they need – from access to capital to products for small business owners,” said Linda Nosegbe, Market Manager for Southeast and National Community Impact. , loans and investments at Comerica Bank.

“This year we did things differently,” she continued. “The pandemic kind of taught us that there was a huge need and small businesses suffered, and then you combine that with minority small business owners.”

Marhaba said the most important thing she took from the experience was “the connection I create with the people in the program. Everyone is so supportive and helpful. They really just want to see you succeed, which is amazing. The money part is not everything.

Ameneh Marhaba, owner of Little Liberia, presents his brand pitch on stage in front of the judges and the audience during the Hatch Detroit pitch competition at the Wayne State University Industry Innovation Center on July 21, 2022. Five companies Colfetarie, Detroit Farm and Cider, Gajiza Dumplins, Lily's & Elise and Little Liberia pitched their brands in an attempt to win a $100,000 grant.

Hatch Detroit has helped open 45 businesses. The 10 semi-finalists will continue to work with Hatch Detroit until they open. Katanski said participating business owners don’t need to have a business plan or location in mind at the start of the program.

“All of them are at different stages of their development process,” Katanski said. “The first thing that’s important to know is that I sit down with each of them and come up with a plan of action.”

Ned Staebler, president and CEO of TechTown, said Detroit has had its ups and downs, but what will really make the city healthy is revitalizing neighborhoods and increasing resident retention in the city. town.

“I think before COVID we (Detroit) were on a really good trajectory,” Staebler said. “It was pretty exciting what was happening. COVID put a wrench in that. But even a global pandemic wasn’t going to stop Detroit. I think with the partnership between Hatch and TechTown to provide support to all of these small companies across the city, it’s going to help Detroit get back on its feet. I think you can already see that.

Contact editor Chanel Stitt on Twitter: @ByChanelStitt. Become a subscriber Where offer a subscription.

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