Voices: California dreaming...of Detroit

I moved my business home to Detroit and I’m ecstatic to be here. Here’s why.

We left Michigan, as many did, during a time of economic upheaval. We eventually settled in San Francisco, where I founded M3D Experiences in 2011. Though we savored California’s intense concentration of talent and ideas, home still beckoned.

From 2000 miles away, I kept hearing about things happening in Detroit. Auto jobs were growing again, tech startups were taking off, the city’s design and food communities were getting noticed. From our perch in a high-achievement, but very low-diversity market, we started paying closer attention. The numbers supported the hype. With 28% of tech companies already minority- or woman-owned (versus 3-4% nationally), Detroit showed extraordinary promise for our work.

Several of our clients were based here already, and we wanted to be closer to family and friends. So we packed our wagons and headed home. We were thrilled to join entrepreneurial risk-takers, talented artists, and community leaders all showing off what their home had to offer. Detroit has always had ingenuity and moxie, but the world often missed that, choosing instead to focus exclusively on the city’s ailments and challenges. Now that the flowering of ideas was gaining traction, we knew we needed to come back. We had to be a part of it.

It might sound like a tale you’ve heard before, but it’s not. People are coming here -- or, in our case and others’, returning here -- because Detroit is different. First, the arts community is innovative and has been for a long time. Indeed, what single U.S. city was named a UNESCO City of Design? Detroit. Second, our citizens are creative, strong, resilient and always have been. Yes, our challenges are daunting. But that’s only the beginning of the story. For example, while the city has experienced severe, structural trauma, it also has gained an arable, experimental landscape. Detroiters have always refused to give up, despite facing fundamental obstacles that might sink a less determined community.

Though our principals’ creative experience ranges from Jeep and Ford to Hallmark and FedEx, with non-profit and museum work thrown in for good measure, we’ve always enjoyed working with blossoming enterprises. Whether helping an independent film Kickstarter campaign get off the ground or creating a brand for a fledgling ethical meat producer, we’ve been continually inspired by untapped talent. The opportunity to partner with entrepreneurs chasing a dream and figuring out who they are and what they want to share with the world is like no other. We are also enjoying working with established corporate clients on branding, websites, social media, and multi-sensory trade show experiences.

We have discovered that Detroit offers multiple opportunities to support entrepreneurship. In fact the city’s “narrative right now is economic growth and opportunity,” according to Anne Duncan, founder of Blessed Hands Interpreting Services and M3D client. “Detroit is making strides to make the community better for its citizens, for its businesses and everyone else who lives in the city…[we have] opportunities as small businesses to be able to do business here...to move forward without hindrances, as there were in times past.”

Indeed entrepreneurs and small business owners here feel valued, more so perhaps than in other cities. Molly O’Meara, co-founder of Beau Bien Fine Foods, agrees it’s a marvelous time to be an entrepreneur in Detroit. “There’s a critical mass now...lots of opportunities for learning, for self-development...the city is very supportive” of creative business ideas.

From M3D’s new studio at Saint Vincent Corktown, we partner with small businesses growing strong in the city. In the last few months, we’ve built a website and online store for artisan food startup Beau Bien Fine Foods; designed branding and integrated online class technology for Detroit Yoga Lab; created logos and printed materials for Canine Workshop, a dog training center; and crafted a social media campaign for the DAD Foundation, a non-profit foundation providing services and access to the hearing-impaired.

We also create marketing campaigns, video and photo work, identity design, website infrastructure, print collateral, trade show design, editorial, social media management, graphic design, and even a bit of prototyping for more traditional Detroit industries. We did all of these things and more for automotive supplier Deshler Group’s seven companies, including GS3 Global, an award-winning minority- and woman-owned Deshler affiliate. One of these companies, Amanda Products, was a new off-road lifestyle brand that we helped introduce at the 2014 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

Since there’s a generous supply of useful space in Detroit, we work with clients on site selection, build-outs, and re-imagination of old spaces. When making these decisions together, we are honored to incorporate history, heritage, and culture. The opportunity to be part of a community’s ongoing conversation about where it’s been, what it’s experienced, and where it wants to grow next, is a privilege.

One exciting interior architecture project has been our partnership with Dana White, founder of the successful and growing Paralee Boyd Salon in Southfield. We’ve been working closely with Dana and Midtown Inc. to manifest her concept for the salon’s soon-to-be-opened second location in Midtown, while helping her secure funding from Detroit Development Fund and Invest Detroit. M3D is designing the salon's interior to produce a space that delivers efficiency while embodying an aesthetically welcoming and culturally relevant social environment.

Dana is thrilled to “have the opportunity to bring my business into a city that is recreating itself. It’s inspiring because small businesses are integral to Detroit’s resurgence.  I chose Detroit in the hopes that Detroit’s growth would be an excellent platform to bring a new type of business into an already saturated industry.”

This story is one of many unfolding across Detroit right now. Tons of programs, many sponsored by the city, offer networking and grant opportunities to help entrepreneurs jump in and get started. M3D is also an approved Motor City Match vendor, and we’ve worked with several grantees to develop branding and marketing collateral, social media campaigns and space planning.

Frankly, Detroit, historical home of innovation, is becoming this country’s premier place to succeed as an entrepreneur. We know it and more and more people every day are realizing it. We’re onto something and it’s a tremendous time to be here.

As we’re building our company here, we’re also seeking advice from fellow small business owners about their work, their goals, and their paths to success. We’ve learned a lot and we’re excited to share some of their stories.  

Ojas Akolkar, founder of Tribalfare says it best. There’s “so much going on in Detroit right now for anyone who wants to start a business...that there are really no excuses. If you want to do it, the city is yours. Go for it, just dive in.”

She couldn’t be more right. This town is the comeback kid with skills and we’re delighted to be home.

M3D Experiences is an experience design studio located at 2020 14th Street #103, Detroit, Michigan 48216. Contact M3D at info@m3de.com or 313-855-5693 and find them online at m3dexperiences.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
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