Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day is an annual pitch competition that invests more than $1 million into Detroit-based, early stage companies with an ambition to scale. Detroit Demo Day is one part of a larger strategy of the Rocket Community Fund to elevate Detroit as a destination for small businesses and high-growth startups by deploying capital and supportive resources.
Today, the Rocket Community Fund is excited to announce the winners of Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day 2020. This year, Detroit Demo Day was reimagined as an all-virtual event, with 17 finalists competing for a share of more than $1M of funding in three categories. These pitches were recorded and released in episodes, which you can watch now on Detroitdemoday.com.
The virtual event was hosted by James Chapman, who co-founded Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day with Rocket Mortgage Chairman Dan Gilbert and currently serves as the Entrepreneur in Residence for the Rocket Community Fund. “We have to continue to band together and lift up small and early-stage businesses across Detroit because they are the cornerstones of the community,” Chapman said.
And band together they did! This year looked very different for the finalists and the team working behind the scenes to ensure that Detroit Demo Day would have the best impact possible on Detroit entrepreneurs. In addition to expanded eligibility criteria and the all-virtual format, every finalist received at least a $10,000 grant for their virtual pitches. “Time and capital are at a premium now more than ever, so we have provided $10,000 grants to every finalist both out of respect for finalists’ time and as an indicator of just how much we believe in their success,” said Laura Grannemann, Vice President of Strategic Investments for the Rocket Community Fund.
Additionally, after watching the Detroit Demo Day pitch episodes, viewers were encouraged to participate in the event by voting for their favorite finalists in each category on the Detroit Demo Day website. This was meant to replace the live audience voting from previous years. Over a period of six days, over 4,000 viewers voted for their favorite Detroit Demo Day entrepreneurs. The results have been tallied, and you can find out who the People’s Choice Award Winners are by watching the video below:
“This event gives small businesses a platform to not only win money, but to gain the exposure they need to take their business to the next level,” said Beatrice Wolnerman, Detroit Demo Day Finalist and CEO of Bea’s Detroit, a collaborative work and event space. “Demo Day has already opened so many doors, giving a stamp of validity to the entrepreneurs that have participated over the years.” Bea’s Detroit was awarded a $50,000 prize in the Start category; the collaborative event space also won the popular vote by claiming another $25,000 as a People’s Choice Award winner. “We’re hoping that Demo Day will shine a light on our unique concept and help drive traffic to our Eastern Market location,” she said.
The remaining winners took home funding in varying amounts, with all finalists walking away with at least a $10,000 grant. Here they are 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:
- Bon Bon Bon, artisanal chocolate maker – $50,000
- City Bark, community pet supply shop – $50,000
- The Kitchen By Cooking With Que, demonstration kitchen – $50,000
- Pingree Detroit, socially-conscious design and manufacturing house – $50,000
- Yum Village, Afro-Caribbean restaurant – $50,000
- Narrow Way Café and Shop, coffee shop – $10,000
- The Peacock Room, women’s boutique – $10,000
Build businesses with a unique model and/or product that will allow their business to expand despite the current pandemic. Funds will come in the form of an interest-free loan or equity-like investment.
Detroit Demo Day winner Jamie Judson appreciates firsthand why Detroit Demo Day is so important in the current business climate. “Like a lot of businesses, our plans were put on hold indefinitely when the pandemic hit,” said Judson, who won a $50,000 grant for her community pet supply shop, City Bark. “Demo Day will allow us to continue on our path of growth, and take some pressure off of our daily operations. After one of the most stressful years, Demo Day made me optimistic and excited about the future of City Bark.” Laura Grannemann, Rocket Community Fund Vice President of Strategic Investment echoed this sentiment when speaking about how the goal of Detroit Demo Day to support Detroit-based small businesses is of heightened importance this year. “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, she said in a statement. “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.”
Paralee Boyd has emerged as the competition’s big winner by receiving the top prize of $200,000. Dana White, owner of Paralee Boyd, opened the salon in 2017. It was named in honor of White’s grandmother. With the announcement of $940,000 in investments, Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day finalists will receive a combined $1,015,000.
“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.”
Detroit Demo Day also serves another important function: building a support system and motivation for current and aspiring entrepreneurs. “Detroit Demo Day celebrates numerous incredible entrepreneurs who are truly trying to make the world a better place,” said Ashley Williams, Founder of content sharing platform RIZARR. “[This event] shows others that they can achieve anything that they put their minds to do. We need these kind of events, particularly highlighting companies of the Detroit ecosystem, so that we can inspire younger generations of various Detroit neighborhoods to believe in their dreams and that anything is possible!”
Including the grants from People’s Choice Grant Awards, Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day has invested more than $4.4 million into Detroit-based businesses over the past four years. Additionally, the Rocket Community Fund’s Entrepreneurship Team provides ongoing support, networking opportunities and mentorship to Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day winners, positioning them for long-term success.
If you missed Detroit Demo Day 2020, you can still watch the pitch episodes (and learn more about our 17 finalists) on the Detroit Demo Day site.