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Posted: 12/3/2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ] - 0 Likes
Category: Business

 Achille Bianchi

Journalist, photographer and entrepreneur




Social Entrepreneurship: A Budding Industry (of Sorts) in Detroit

Posted: 12/ 1/11 06:34 PM ET




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My family has scant ties to the auto industry. We all drive foreign cars. Like most American families, we're not fully American. My sister and I also did not grow up around parents who had corporate jobs -- we were pretty blue-collar.

Maybe it's because I didn't grow up in a GM or Ford household that I don't believe big companies can solve the unemployment and jobs problem by adding, or subtracting, thousands of jobs at time. To me it makes more sense to create an environment where individuals are encouraged to create jobs based in their communities and on work and the skills they're most comfortable with.

The point is, no matter if your job comes from a CEO's pen or your own hard work, we all work hard. To me, though, it's not necessarily about how hard you work, but where you put your effort that counts for more than anything else.

It's hard to ignore the increasingly louder voices of the generations succeeding the baby boomers. While we're not as experienced as them, we're taking action and not asking for permission. We're starting to feel the consequences of decades of their decision and policy making and some of those consequences hurt -- a lot.

If you live in Detroit and have tried starting a business or buying real estate or even tracking down meeting notes from a city council meeting, you've surely been led on a run-around and ultimately to frustration. I'm also sure I'm not the only person who's had simple solutions to some of the problems that exist within these institutions.

But sometimes it's hard to get the city's attention.

This is why so many grass-roots and socially progressive movements and organizations thrive and continue to thrive in Detroit. Their invention, innovation and efficiency spawns from a certain type of need that only specialized tools can fix.

And the best part? If you're motivated enough you can find ways to get paid to solve problems and build communities.

Social entrepreneurs, as they are called, seek to not only generate profits through business ventures, but the emphasis relies much more heavily in establishing and nurturing hearty social values in the communities they serve.

This kind of place-based problem solving and activism has been around for decades, and in Detroit especially. For Detroit entrepreneurs though, our work and business practices are steeped in diverse and dynamic social values, consciously or subconsciously. We've all been exposed to the hardships in this city and I'm sure many of us would be damned before starting an enterprise that wasn't sensitive to our city's context. It's just not in us -- that's not why we're here.

Detroit and Michigan should be creating conditions that foster social entrepreneurs like those at the Heidelberg ProjectAllied Media Projects, the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC), the Mt. Elliot Makerspace, the East Side Riders and others.

Organizations like these start as modest ideas from one singular problem. In the DDJC's case, it was lack of information in Detroit neighborhoods, whether from having no libraries or Internet, which got the problem-solving gears spinning.

Now just a few years later and with $2 million in grant money, DDJC is able to employ a handful of full-time employees while tackling one of the most profound and fundamental problems in the city. They're working fast, and they're working efficiently and through community input and feedback, people are already beginning to benefit, too.

With the authentic desire to build community and solve problems, it's the local people who have the greatest handle on the solutions our communities seek. With the right values and tact, an abundance of talent and unprecedented access to affordable technology, Michigan and Detroit can realize the 3.0 future we all dream of -- we just need to embrace the movement and encourage our representatives to put politics aside and to listen to us a little bit closer.

Posted: 4/9/2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ] - 0 Likes
Category: Business

 By -- Shawn Wright

Using his background in multimedia production, Joe Gough decided to creatively address the need for getting seed funding into the hands of up-and-coming entrepreneurs. 

Gough's "Adventure Capital" is a concept for an "American Idol"-style reality television series that would follow the business launch process from the selection of the companies to a final tournament competition. Judges and the public would vote for the best early-stage company to win a $1 million prize from the sponsoring venture capital company. 

"When you put it on TV, it changes the paradigm -- hundreds of thousands of investors will see it," Gough said. "And then it gives a chance for first-adopters to see it, give good feedback and then give good word of mouth." 

Gough said it's difficult for new companies and entrepreneurs to receive seed funding to get conceptual innovation into prototype- or beta-phase programming. And once in a beta or prototype, he said, there are not adequate marketing vehicles to attract first customers and follow-on investors. 

"The idea of producing any multimedia programming around an entrepreneurial program is that Michigan investors have a tough time getting their arms around the creative realm," Gough said. "The only folks who have gotten around it are people like Josh Linkner." 

Linkner, founder and chairman of Pleasant Ridge-based ePrize Inc., is a partner in the Dan Gilbert-launchedDetroit Venture Partners LLC that has expressed serious interest in Gough's idea.

The next step for Gough's "Adventure Capital" is getting funding for the production costs. Gough has a nonprofit and radio show called "Inspire Michigan" on WDTK AM-1400. The nonprofit focuses on economic development by supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.

Posted: 12/31/2010 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ] - 0 Likes
Category: Business


A Real “Rockin” Success Story by Our Inventor-Member Bogdon Vasquaf!

Cardboard Bass A member of my Facebook group “Independent Inventors – Help Has Arrived!“, Bogdon Vasquaf, recently posted his inventor success story to our group. I hope that this helps to give some direction and motivation to other inventors who are struggling making money from their inventions.


Original Post:

“Greetings from Detroit. I’m enjoying a little bit of success with my invention the ‘Bogdon Box Bass‘. It won Best in Show in its category at the Summer 2008 NAMM Showand has a rave review in a national magazine called Bass Player Magazine.

It’s in 2 world-wide retail stores, 11 mom and pop stores, and one store in Mexico City. I’m a full time Mail Man and i have an all new product almost ready for retail (I missed the 2009 Christmas season).”


Bogdon was kind enough to elaborate on his original post in a follow-up post.

Follow-up Post:

“The world needed a $99 Upright Bass. I was totally broke and couldn’t afford a cheap $800 upright bass so I made one using a cardboard box, weed whacker twine, nuts-n-bolts as tuners, and a scrabble piece for a bridge. My cardboard box bass sounded too good to be true so I posted a video on the web. Good Morning America showed 10 seconds of footage and I began to get emails asking to purchase my cardboard box upright bass. I asked my Uncle who owns a printing shop to help. He got my cousins who are an Acoustic Engineer and an Electronic Engineer to perfect my idea and create a kit.

We started to sell 100′s on Ebay and I sent the info to Bass Player Magazine who wrote a feature story. My uncle put up a few thousand dollars to buy materials, and as we sold our product, we used the profit to protect our box bass. I started with no personal investment and we earned $100k in the first year. We participated in a national trade show NAMM and we won best in Show and as a result are now in retail stores. I’m in charge of sales and marketing, though I’ve NEVER sold a thing in my life and know nothing about marketing. All I do is write letters, make phone calls, emails, and any other way to contact everyone all over the world. My cousins are in charge of manufacturing, and my uncle oversees the business and is the shipper.

Our customers made suggestions and we’re on our 5th version of the box bass after being in business for 3 years. I originally made a 2-string bass and my customers wanted a 3-string bass so we now have 2 models of box basses, and the customer demand product is outselling my original idea! We have many prototypes of new products and have been testing them locally. We make the worlds only “Electric Washtub Bass Pickup” and it was picked up by our retailers without even showing it to them. Some retailers said “we’ll sell what ever you got…”.

We manufacture everything ourselves. When sales become impossible to keep up, we will approach a manufacturer with actual sales receipts to outsource product production. As for now, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had in my life. I am an inventor and a small business owner. I make the Bogdon Box Bass and have shipped them all over the world. I’ve been to New York to be on MSNBC Elevator Pitch. Fox News has been to my home to feature me in a story, as did my local NBC News. My box bass has been in all the newspapers in and around Detroit along with local and national magazines. I write a letter to someone each and everyday. Some days more than just one, but I never go to bed without making at least one contact in sales or marketing.

Oh yea, the moral of the story is that everything is possible, some things just take more time than others, and most of all ASK FOR HELP when help is needed.”

A very inspiring and informative article… thanks again to Bogdon for writing up his success story!

BE SURE to visit his website at for more information about his products (and inspiration too).

Best regards,

Brian R. Rayve

P.S. Be sure to protect your invention PRIOR TO advertising it on the Internet or elsewhere… read my previous posts for further information.

P.P.S. One thing I recently learned that Bogdon has been practising for quite awhile… as Bogdon put it “I write a letter to someone each and everyday. Some days more than just one, but I never go to bed without making at least one contact in sales or marketing.”.

Bogden Bogdon Box Bass Do it yourself kit Style

Bogden Bogdon Box Bass Do it yourself kit Style

The Bogdon Box Bass is truely a remarkable instrument for the price. Who could imagine that a 93.80 bass could be so much fun and sound so good!A fellow named Chris Badynee aka Bogdon Vasquaf in the lower part of this fair state of Michigan has come up with a VERY nice sounding and playing two string bass made using a cardboard box for the body!

   Price:  $93.80 from
Store Product Price Bogden Bogdon Box Bass Do it yourself kit Style $93.80
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Posted: 12/15/2010 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ] - 0 Likes
Category: Business

Hostel to open in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood


Great world cities have youth hostels.

Emily Doerr, 25, of Detroit is the driving force behind a hostel slated to open in April, offering cheap, safe accommodations.   (RASHAUN RUCKER/Detroit Free Press)

Emily Doerr, 25, of Detroit is the driving force behind a hostel slated to open in April, offering cheap, safe accommodations. (RASHAUN RUCKER/DETROIT FREE PRESS)

Detroiters Julius Marchwicki, 27, and Emily Doerr check out a kitchen area in the new hostel Doerr is opening in North Corktown in Detroit. The hostel, the city's first in 15 years, is slated to open in April.   (RASHAUN RUCKER/Detroit Free Press)


Now, the first hostel in Detroit in 15 years will open in early 2011.

"People who come here want to explore the city," said founder Emily Doerr, 25, who lives in Corktown. "We want to give people a clean, safe and inexpensive place to stay."

Hostel Detroit is to open in April at 2700 Spruce St., in sparsely occupied North Corktown, north of the site of long-gone Tiger Stadium. It will have nine bedrooms, a total of 20 bunk beds and four double beds. Rates are $25 a night for a single, $45 for a double.

Doerr said she's had lots of support, with "local people signing up to be ambassadors. They'll even pick people up here at the hostel and show them around town."

Added supporter Ashley Woods, 26, of Detroit: It's "sort of like a grassroots concierge to show you the best bands, the best restaurants."

1st Detroit hostel in 15 years to open in Corktown in April

Step out of Hostel Detroit's front door at Spruce and Vermont in Corktown, and fields grow wild. Fisher Freeway traffic roars nearby. The ruins of Michigan Central Station loom like a mirage.

"This is close to everything," said Emily Doerr, a 25-year-old Detroiter who sees possibilities, not obstacles, for Hostel Detroit, the city's first hostel in 15 years. It is set to open in April. "The Gaelic League, Slows (Bar BQ), the train station are within walking distance. There are hundreds of couch surfers who come to this city, and they all want to see the train station," she said.

Doerr is a veteran of the couch surfer trend, in which people around the world sign up to host -- or be hosted -- in people's homes for free. After hosting about 100 travelers at her Corktown condo, she realized that what the city needs even more than strangers' couches is a hostel to serve everyone from young bar-hoppers to German electronic music fans to Japanese architecture buffs.

So she decided to open one.

In November, she signed a lease on a red-brick structure in North Corktown. The 4,000-square-foot building was built in 1900, but had been rehabbed as apartments.

Furniture designer and Lawrence Tech adjunct professor Mark Wilson of Royal Oak will involve his furniture design class in constructing beds and tables to fit into the small spaces.

Doerr said she was surprised 48 people showed up to a community meeting to volunteer to help with landscaping, donations and painting. Of course, they still need more help and "maybe a lot of extra-long twin sheets," she said.

The building will be leased, so she hopes to break even the first year. But more than that, she wants to help revitalize North Corktown.

"We want this to be like a community center, a hub for the community," said Doerr, gesturing around the hostel's newly fenced backyard. The native of Goodrich, near Flint, has lived in Corktown since 2008. She is the former grants manager for Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency and is working on a master's in business administration.

Hostel guests will likely be intrigued by the North Corktown neighborhood. It has empty lots and boarded-up houses, a bar, a vintage clothing shop, an urban farm and lots of what's euphemistically called "green space."

With the new hostel, "our goal is not just to attract the normal backpacking and hosteling people. We want to reach out to people who live in Ann Arbor or Macomb to come, stay, meet people, go to bars," Doerr said.

"We want to welcome travelers from 40 miles away, not just 4,000 miles away," said supporter Ashley Woods, 26.

Sean Harrington, owner of the Town Pump Tavern, closed the city's last hostel in 1995. Hostels are part of what makes a city civilized, he said. No official hostels exist in Michigan now.

"Hostels are for students who like international traveling but who don't have a lot of money," he said. "You want the experience of not locking yourself away in a hotel room."

Run as a nonprofit, Hostel Detroit will be independent and not affiliated with Hosteling International, the world hostel organization.

Doerr and Woods said they believe that the hostel itself is part of the narrative of Detroit.

"In Detroit, you can start a hostel 13 blocks from the city center with almost no money," Woods said.

To help make it happen, go to

Contact Ellen Creager: 313-222-6498 or


Posted: 12/8/2010 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ] - 0 Likes
Category: Business





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Posted: 12/4/2010 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ] - 0 Likes
Category: Business


Exclusive interview

Iacocca upbeat about Chrysler, Ford, future of the industry

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Los Angeles --Lee Iacocca is as blunt as ever.

"The (Obama auto task force) called me for my advice, but they didn't follow it too well," the former Chrysler CEO said of his chat with top federal officials in the spring of 2009.


"Keep your hands off of (the auto companies)," Iacocca said he told task force co-chairman Larry Summers, now President Barack Obama's top economic adviser. "You can't run a business out of Washington, D.C."


The candor was vintage Iacocca, the straight-talking, cigar-wielding celebrity CEO whose 1970s sales pitch for a failing Chrysler ranks among the most memorable of all time: "If you can find a better car, buy it."

At 86, with the perspective of history and an eye toward the future, Iacocca is optimistic about the industry that made him a household name.


"Two years ago, it looked like Detroit and Michigan and the car business was in the toilet," Iacocca said during a recent interview with The Detroit News in his Bel Air home, in the hills west of Los Angeles.


Now, with all three companies on the upswing, he says, "things have turned out pretty well."

Things have turned out pretty well for Iacocca, too.


His gait has slowed a bit, but the visionary designer, executive and pitchman still cracks the trademark smile that sold millions of vehicles for Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler.

As Ginger, his 4-year-old French bulldog, sniffed around the living room, Iacocca's biggest worry was seeing that he was prepared to host his two daughters and eight grandchildren for Thanksgiving.

He still misses Michigan, where he made his mark


"I just love Michigan," said Iacocca, who moved from the state to California in 1993, with his third wife. They divorced a year later.


His life today is a big change for the self-described "patron saint of the bailouts."

As Chrysler president in 1979, he convinced Congress and President Jimmy Carter to rescue the automaker from death with a $1.2 billion infusion.


Iacocca believes post-bankruptcy Chrysler, 30 years later, will survive this latest near-death experience, too.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he praises the government actions over the last two years that gave two of Detroit's Big Three automakers — General Motors as well as Chrysler — another chance.


Still, he doesn't agree with everything that was done. GM and Chrysler were forced to cut too many dealers as part of their restructuring, Iacocca said: "They went too far."

Like many others, Iacocca was hurt by Chrysler's bankruptcy, losing 80 percent of his pension. He joined a class-action lawsuit of 450 white-collar retirees in September, but doesn't think it has much chance.

"There is," he observed, "no fairness in bankruptcy."


Daimler hurt Chrysler

Iacocca lays a great deal of responsibility for Chrysler's failure this time around at the feet of the previous owner, Germany's Daimler AG, which sold most of its stake in 2007 to Cerberus Capital Management and got out completely last year.

"For 10 years, all they did was wreck Chrysler," he said. "Ten years it took them, but they did a pretty good job."

Daimler spokesman Han Tjan responded that Iacocca "wasn't there in those years," and "I don't think he is an objective observer."


Iacocca believes Chrysler is finally on the right track, but he isn't convinced all of its moves with partner Fiat SpA make sense — especially the decision to bring the tiny Fiat 500 to the U.S. market yet this year.

"It's a little car. It fits in Italy. Whether it will fit on the California freeway, I'm not too sure," Iacocca said, pointing to the poor sales of the Smart car as a cautionary tale.


Iacocca knows a bit about imports, having twice tried to bring Alfa-Romeo to the United States.

But he is encouraged by Chrysler's gains.

"Chrysler's got some great new products," Iacocca said. A new Jeep Grand Cherokee — Chrysler's first post-bankruptcy new car — sits in his garage, and Iacocca calls it a "knockout."


Next to it, under a sheet, is the first Dodge Viper that came off the line in 1991.

His old company's new mantra — quality, quality, quality — is spot on, Iacocca said.

"They put out some lousy products," he said of Detroit's automakers. "The quality is better. We shipped a lot of junk in the past at times. Styling sells them but the quality keeps them sold."


Iacocca said he remains convinced that he could have turned around Chrysler if he and billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian had succeeded in their 1995 bid to acquire Chrysler. The bid failed for a lack of financing.

Iacocca says he still sees Kerkorian.

"I tell him: 'The only time in your lifetime you couldn't raise the money was when you joined with me and Chrysler,'" Iacocca said.


Still a Ford fan

Chrysler was Iacocca's second act in Detroit. Born in Allentown, Pa., the son of Italian immigrants, he joined Ford as an engineering trainee in 1946, climbing up the ranks to become the father of the wildly successful Mustang in the mid-1960s and president of the company in 1970.

Henry Ford II canned him in 1978, the end of a relationship marked by conflict, and Iacocca landed at Chrysler Corp., where he was named CEO the following year.


In his 2007 book "Where Have All of the Leaders Gone?," Iacocca urged automakers to discard losing brands. GM did, last year dropping Saturn, Hummer, Pontiac and Saab. Chrysler had ditched Plymouth in 2001.

But Iacocca has a hard time accepting Ford's decision to kill Mercury at the end of this year. Iacocca was instrumental in developing several Mercury models during his time at Ford.

"I don't think I'd have done it," he said of Mercury. "It's a pretty good brand."


Despite his ouster from Ford, Iacocca still roots for its success and said he believes the Dearborn automaker was smart to avoid taking a government bailout.

"Having gone through bailouts before, if you can keep the government away, you are the winner — and Ford kept them away completely," Iacocca said.


He wanted to buy Ford stock when it fell below $2 a share.

"My advisers told me 'Don't buy it' at $1.30, at its all-time low" in November 2008.

Iacocca did buy in later.

"I bought enough at $5.50," Iacocca said, noting that Ford stock is now trading in the $16 range. "I bought it because (Ford CEO Alan) Mulally has done a hell of a job in a short period of time."


Iacocca has no plans to buy GM shares, but is considering investing in Fiat, which owns 20 percent of Chrysler.

Iacocca has another reason to be bullish on Ford — he is still trying to sell about a half-dozen Iacocca 45th anniversary edition Mustangs that went on sale in the summer of 2009.

The 400-horsepower Iacocca model starts at $90,000, features a custom-built body and interior, and comes with a factory warranty from Ford.

He got his friend Nancy Sinatra to cut him a deal on using her father's "Fly Me to the Moon" song in the ad for the car.


'A great ride'

Looking down the road, Iacocca says the newer automotive technologies — hybrids and electrics — are exciting.

But Detroit automakers were way behind the curve.

"They let Prius for 10 years rule the roost," Iacocca said. "For Detroit to leave (Toyota) with a hybrid for that long is crazy."

Nissan Motor Co. — with its all-electric Leaf — is on the right track, he said, rather than GM and its extended-range, electric-gasoline Chevrolet Volt.


"You are going to have to have a pure electric car," Iacocca said. "There's going to be a scramble for the pure electric car."

That will be a challenge for the next generation of auto executives.

The world's most famous former auto titan is sought after, even in retirement.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne came to visit Iacocca in Bel Air last year, soon after taking the reins at Chrysler, and honored Iacocca in July at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum.


"Lee Iacocca's Chrysler took help once in the form of government-paid loan guarantees and paid the loans back years early," Marchionne said in July. "I told him that the day we pay the government back, I'll take him to Washington so he can hand over a check for the second time."


But Iacocca has other interests, too. He remains active in philanthropic and charitable endeavors, having raised millions of dollars for diabetes research. His first wife, Mary, died from the disease.


And he recently returned from his home in Tuscany, where his 5 1/2 acres of grapes produce up to 100 cases of wine annually, bottled locally for him under the "Villa Iacocca" name.


He has no plans to work for another auto company, build another custom vehicle or write another book.

"It was a great ride," Iacocca said. "Been there, done that."

(202) 662-8735

From The Detroit News: