Detroit Soup, funding ideas one bowl at a time

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Cracked ceilings and cement floors might bother some people, but for Detroit resident Amy Kaherl, the imperfect aesthetics of Ponyride are motivators.

Amy Kaherl heads Detroit Soup, a micro-granting dinner event that funds creative projects.

“I love that there’s drywall behind us because it always feels like there’s something else that needs to happen,” she says, wedged in her few feet of space on the second floor. “It makes me feel like the work’s not done.”

Kaherl’s to-go cup from the Anthology coffee house downstairs hints that the 34-year-old former pastor, who deejays at Old Miami bar on the side, doesn’t stop.

Yet the cup of coffee would be more fitting if it were a bowl of soup.

Ponyride: 5 years of helping start-ups grow

Kaherl is the founder of Detroit Soup, a nonprofit micro-granting dinner event that funds creative projects in Detroit, ranging from education and social justice to art and urban agriculture. After explaining Soup to thousands of people since launching in 2010, Kaherl’s pitch rolls off her tongue:

“You spend $5 at the door as a suggested donation. You get soup, salad, bread — a potluck style meal — and a vote. These votes go towards four projects that have four minutes to share their idea. There’s four questions back from the diners, and then the diners get the chance to eat, connect, debate, discuss and vote on what project they think should get the money from the door. Whoever has the most votes, wins the money.”

There’s only two rules: 1. The pitch has to relate to the 138 square miles within Detroit. 2. Presenters can’t use technology.

The Detroit Soups held in nine neighborhoods across the city have raised $120,862 from 133 dinners. Kaherl’s map plastered on her Ponyride wall has blue pins stuck in Africa, purple in Canada and pink in Europe, representing her reach.

Sixty dinners were held in the U.K. in 2015 alone, spurred by a BBC documentary that aired last year. It’s unclear how much the crowd-funding initiative has raised internationally.

“I have a Skype tonight at 6 with Australia to help talk to them about starting their Soup,” she says. “How cool is that?”

The first Detroit Soup was on a snowy Super Bowl Sunday in 2010. As Kaherl told a standing-room only crowd of 165 Soup-goers in April, the event had zero pitches. “But it had booze and it had dancing and it had energy,” Kaherl boomed into the mic. “And I think that’s all you really need to start something.”

The second Soup held in 2010 had two presenters, but only one (a pitch to catalog buildings in Rust Belt cities) showed up. Detroit Soup got off the ground after that.

Kaherl moved her headquarters from Great Lakes Coffee in Midtown to Ponyride in 2013 after Phillip Cooley offered her space to work.

Dinners now attract at least 10 pitch proposals and up to 300 people at the Jam Handy building on East Grand Boulevard.

At the citywide April Soup, attendees came from Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and even Canada. Rosina Riccardo, 24, brought her boyfriend from Windsor.

“Being from Canada, we hear a lot about what’s going on in Detroit, but this is a better way to see the actual issues from the ground,” Riccardo says. “It’s really nice to see people actually taking charge and doing something about it.”

For now, Kaherl’s happy creating opportunities for folks around the world. Though, if a Soup presenter makes it big, that would be OK, too.

“I would love for somebody who is just ideating to come in, get connected with the right people and one day be a company that makes $2 (million) to $5 million a year,” she says. “That would be amazing.”

Upcoming Detroit Soup

June 5

Doors open at 5 p.m.

2900 E. Grand Blvd., Detroit48202


Detroit Soup

Launched: 2010

Employees: 1.5

Founder: Amy Kaherl