Social Entrepreneurship Challenge Awards $60K to Michigan Startups

6/23/14Follow @XconomyDET

On Friday, the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, a statewide competition months in the making, concluded with a showcase celebrating the 11 startups that are this year’s winners. On the table were $60,000 in cash awards, a host of in-kind services provided by partner organizations, and admission to Michigan Corps’ Impact Investment Fellowship, a summer training session meant to ready social entrepreneurs for investment at or above the $50,000 level.

Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps, which is spearheading the competition along with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, says that this year’s contest drew more entrants and more support from philanthropic organizations and corporate partners. “That’s indicative of a growing recognition of the roles these types of companies can play” in the state’s social entrepreneurship ecosystem, Garlow says.

This year, she says, the level of sophistication grew when it came to how these socially minded startups can exchange services with one another. “This region is an exceptionally collaborative place to launch and grow a business,” Garlow notes.

Garlow says another major takeaway from this year’s competition was the need for risk-tolerant investment capital in the range of $50,000 to $250,000 to help social entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. “It’s a call to investors to step into this space if they have shared interests or values,” she adds. “If you’re interested in tackling problems, there are ways to come together and start a fund. We have the tools to help.”

Garlow adds that while this year’s competition saw a surge in the number of social entrepreneurs participating from the Flint area, the west side of the state is still underrepresented—something she plans to change next year: “An area-specific prize is the goal,” she says.

Here’s a list of this year’s Social Entrepreneurship Challenge winners; cash prizes ranged from $2,500 to $5,000 each:

—The Michigan Social Entrepreneur of the Year prize went to Wheels for Workers, which brings together volunteer mechanics and kids to teach auto-body repair skills.

—The Community Transformation prize went to Welding Artisan Center, which provides career training to veterans, job-shifting adults, former inmates, and at-risk teens.

—The PNC Social Innovation prize went to On the Rise Bakery, which employs men who have recently been released from prison or have completed a substance abuse treatment program.

—The Women Rock prize went to City Girls Soap, which manufactures soap, laundry flakes, and lotion from locally sourced goat’s milk.

—The Drive Flint prize went to Vehicle City Tacos, a food truck focused on supporting sustainable, local, urban agriculture efforts.

—The Healthy Communities Prize went to Detroit Food Academy, which partners with Detroit high schools, educators, and food entrepreneurs to help students create and launch their own socially responsible food businesses. Detroit Food Academy also won the $1,000 People’s Choice award.

—Prizes of support services went to Owen & Abby, a producer of furniture from reclaimed materials; Girls with Guts, an organization that aims to empower girls and women with inflammatory bowel disease; Seva Corps, which works to address neonatal deaths in developing countries through a disposable warming blanket; Smart Girls Guide to Self-Defense, an app-based self-defense program; and Enliven, an interactive mobile phone app that aims to address mental health concerns.

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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