There are a lot of businesses based in Detroit that are doing well believe it or not. But there’s many more that need some help. The businesses that rely on the city itself as a market are the ones in need of the most help.
Jeff Aronoff is helping local businesses in Detroit by connecting them with investors from within the community. He started Sidewalk Ventures, a company that focuses on helping local businesses and their supporters grow together. At the company’s core are several closely followed values: clarity, transparency, being hands on, and attachment as a human need, not a file icon. According to the company’s values page:
“We love technology, we use technology, but we aren’t technology. Community-based investment cannot be automated. Technology is a powerful tool, but it’s just a tool. Handshakes, eye contact, face-to-face discussion, and the clanking of glasses still matter.”
Growing up, Aronoff’s parents owned a framing shop and gallery, so entrepreneurship is in his blood. After working as an attorney for a number of years he helped develop D:hive, a nonprofit startup that served as a welcome center for Detroit residents new or old who needed access to resources that weren’t well advertised in the city. As the Executive director of D:hive, Aronoff learned the importance of human connection. He says:
“One thing I learned during the D:hive experience is that in an age of virtual connectivity, people are still yearning for human connection; a forum in which to feel physically welcome and engaged by other people.”
He took this knowledge with him when starting up Sidewalk Ventures. He wanted to help small businesses raise capital, but he didn’t want it to be through crowdfunding on a site like IndieGoGo. He wanted these businesses to build investment relationships with those who already supported them. Aronoff talks about where the investors come from:
“The investor pool is unique to each business, because we draw from the business’s own community of existing customers, supporters, neighbors and admirers. In fact, we always start by identifying people who might have expressed an interest in investing in the business’s growth even without ever being asked. You’d be surprised how common it is for a community business to have those regular customers who have gotten in the owner’s ear and said “hey, I love what you do. If you’re ever looking for investment to expand this place, call me first.” We rely on folks like that to form an “inner circle” of anchor investors who make up the foundation for investment from a business’s wider community.”
A business’s relationship with Sidewalk Ventures doesn’t end once they’ve raised some money. Aronoff and his team use their expertise to act as post-funding advisors, work as consultants to help businesses with strategy and growth planning, work with local government entities on policy related to small businesses, and work with nonprofits that help grow Detroit’s local economy.
Sidewalk Ventures launched in April, 2015 and is projecting to have five local businesses funded by the end of 2015.
Image Credit: Detroit Jewish News