WeWork, Quicken hand out $2.5M in business contest

The Detroit News

From an urban farm to a biotechnology company and mobile app developer, a host of businesses, nonprofits and projects competed in Detroit on Thursday for a slice of $2.5 million in funds to push their progress.

After much activity Thursday as part of Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day, a panel of judges chose eight to share in funding ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 in the form of an interest free debt instrument with a five-year term after a one-year payment-free holiday.

Detroit’s Social Club Grooming Co., which caters to men, won two prizes: a $25,000 people’s choice award decided by audience members and one from Quicken worth $200,000.

The money will help grow the business as it adds locations in the next two years, founder Sebastian Jackson said. “It’s amazing to be recognized. This is a real impact.”

Grace Hsia of Ann Arbor jumps and hugs Laura Cyrek, who presented her Tuesday with a Launch Award for her Warmilu product at the WeWork Detroit Creator Awards & Quicken Loans Demo Day in Detroit. At right is emcee James Chapman and at left is judge Kane Kim.

Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day and the WeWork Creator Awards brought the flurry of activity, and hope, to the finalists who participated in the events at the Gem Theatre and Cadillac Square downtown.

The function, which capped weeks of prep work and attracted participants from outside Michigan, helped highlight and boost the Motor City’s business community, officials said.

“The energy in this city is buzzing,” Adam Neumann, co-founder and CEO of WeWork, told the audience of more than 400 people at Gem Theatre. “You can feel it when you sit here.”

Hundreds of startups began competing last month in the inaugural Quicken Loans competition, which attracted entrepreneurs from various industries to vie for a piece of $1 million in the firm’s capital through pitch or demonstration.

Out of 600 applicants, 20 were selected as finalists. That group, which included everything from a retailer specializing in clothes for shorter men to a pop-up restaurant networking experience, briefly presented pitches at the theater or demonstrated their offerings and business plans in Cadillac Square.

The finalists showcased the city’s strong entrepreneurial spirit, said Josh McManus, COO for Rock Ventures, which is part of the Quicken Loans family. “I think what we’re seeing in Detroit right now is a burgeoning population of entrepreneurs and new entrepreneurs starting everyday.”

The awards followed a day of related events at Cadillac Square, which featured a career fair, master classes and workshops as well as a curated pop-up market with local vendors.

Also during the awards ceremony, WeWork, a privately held company founded in New York, gave some $1.5 million in funds to entrepreneurs, artists and nonprofits.

There were 30 finalists ranging from social advocates to artists who competed in three categories during the Midwest Regional Finals: “scale,” which represented businesses/nonprofits with proven success; “launch” for established outfits that are established but still learning; and “incubate,” which targeted ideas/projects that sought funding.

Warmilu, an Ann Arbor-based non-electric warming technology manufacturing company, was among the four “launch” winners that earned $72,000 in funds.

That windfall helps the enterprise develop more products in its bid to prevent deaths from hypothermia, CEO Grace Hsia said. “This is a sign of how much progress we’ve made.”

Another $72,000 winner was Brave Initiatives of Chicago, which works to empower high school girls through design, coding, and leadership training. “It’s giving us an opportunity to take the next step forward,” said Anna Bethune, co-founder and director of research.

Assemble Sound, a Detroit-based studio complex and artist development hub, won $130,000 in the same category. That helps its leaders with taking care of the space as well as furthering an artist residency, co-founder/general manager Garret Koehler said. “This money does everything. It’s the lifeline.”