Detroit Demo Day awards $1 million to local entrepreneurs

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Rocket Mortgage announced the winners of its fourth annual entrepreneurship competition Tuesday, with all 17 finalists walking away with grants totaling $1 million, officials said.

Businesses submitted video pitches for Detroit Demo Day in place of the annual event, which was canceled from the pandemic.

Finalists were judged by Candice Matthews Brackeen, founder and CEO of Hillman and General Partner at Lightship Capital; Jamie Shea, a Detroit-based entrepreneur who also sits on the board of the University of Michigan Social Venture Fund and Delane Parnell, Founder and CEO of PlayVS.

The competition's big winner, Paralee Boyd received the top prize of $200,000 for its streamlined salon.

Every finalist received at least a $10,000 grant for their virtual pitches posted on Once viewers stream this year’s episodes, which replaced the previous competitions held in front of crowds, they can vote for their favorite business in each category.

Voting is open through Sunday for three additional "People's Choice Award" grants of $25,000.

Demo Day organizers said this year's competition was imperative to help as many small businesses survive through the pandemic.

“Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day has never been more critical than it is this year, and we are proud to deploy needed capital to Detroit’s entrepreneurial community,” Laura Grannemann, Vice President of the Rocket Community Fund, said in a release. “Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that we each support the small businesses that make our community strong, diverse and vibrant so that they can survive and thrive.”

This year’s pitches were done through episodes, which replaced the previous competitions held in front of crowds.

Winners by category:

Start (businesses that are launching and finding traction amidst the current crisis, or have pivoted their business models to meet the needs of this moment):

  • 1st Place: ($75,000) – Gildform, on-demand jewelry manufacturing
  • 2nd Place: ($50,000) – Beas’s Detroit, a place to work, eat, shop and celebrate
  • 3rd Place: ($30,000) – Pivot Materials, sustainable materials manufacturer
  • Grant: ($10,000) – Shift_Up, online and in-person learning gym
  • Grant: ($10,000) – Sfumato Fragrances, fragrance company

Sustain (businesses that are longstanding, community anchor businesses that can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic but require additional funding to do so):

Build (businesses with a unique model and/or product that will allow their business to expand despite the current crisis):

  • 1st Place: ($200,000) – Paralee Boyd, streamlined salon
  • 2nd Place: ($150,000) – Skinphoria, facial bar
  • 3rd Place: ($125,000) – Alerje, digital patient engagement platform
  • Grant: ($10,000) – Monger’s Provisions, purveyors of specialty foods
  • Grant: ($10,000) – RIZZARR – content marketplace for creators

Detroit-based salon Paralee Boyd, named after the maternal grandmother of owner Dana White, aims to provide an unparalleled experience for all customers – especially those with thick and curly hair. After founding the business in 2012, White opened her Detroit location in 2017.

“Like all businesses, we have had to implement client-centered safety protocols to make sure our clients don’t just leave feeling great about their hair – but that they leave healthy,” said Dana White. “Thanks to Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day, we can continue supporting our amazing clients and the ever-changing lifestyles they lead, no matter the environment.”

After winning, the Rocket Community Fund’s Entrepreneurship Team provides ongoing support, networking opportunities and mentorship to finalists. Detroit Demo Day has invested more than $4.4 million into Detroit-based businesses over the past four years.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_