Detroit Lions Pledge $500K to Support Local Entrepreneurs

The entrepreneurial momentum in Detroit these days has apparently touched even our reborn NFL team, the Detroit Lions. The team announced a new philanthropic initiative yesterday called Living for the City, part of which involves a partnership between the Lions and Hatch Detroit, a popular local business plan competition, to help entrepreneurs in neighborhoods outside of the downtown-Midtown area.

“I believe entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit are critical to the next generation of our city, what we’re becoming, and how we come back,” says Lions president Tom Lewand. “I’ve been in Detroit almost all my life, and we’ve evolved every time there’s a setback. This time is distinctively different—there’s a new generation that wants to build businesses here.”

Hatch will work with retail entrepreneurs in six neighborhoods: Southwest Detroit, the North End, the Villages, Grandmont Rosedale, East Jefferson, and Livernois between 7 and 8 Mile. Hatch executive director Vittoria Katanski says the Lions approached her organization after hearing about the community response to its online business competition. Hatch was already working with community development groups to support entrepreneurs in the six neighborhoods, but the investment from the Lions will allow Hatch to go in and help business owners with things like building improvements, new signage, a window display, or a better website. “These are savvy business owners,” Katanski explains. “There are lots of incredible established businesses that may have been forgotten or may need a shot in the arm.”

Katanski says Hatch selected the six neighborhoods because they either see retail overflow from downtown and Midtown, or they have a strong residential base. Lewand says that the Lions have initially pledged $500,000 to strengthen entrepreneurs, though that number may grow. “We’re only limited by our ideas,” he adds.

Katanski says meetings are already scheduled with community leaders from the six neighborhoods and the next step is identifying which entrepreneurs can benefit most from the Lions’ investment. She expects Hatch to get started on business improvements right away. Hatch, which was co-founded by former attorney Nick Gorga and serial tech entrepreneur Ted Balowski and is now sponsored by Comerica Bank, is in the midst of its 2012 business contest; voting for the four finalists opens up at 12:01 a.m. on September 24.

As for the Lions’ chances of making the playoffs this year, Lewand is as optimistic about that as he is about Detroit’s revitalization. “We’re looking forward to getting back on track after the loss in San Francisco,” he says with a laugh. “We’ve got a lot of dynamic players, so we expect to compete for the NFC North crown.”

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