For the past three years, the Quicken Loans Community Fund has sponsored Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day, a pitch competition that invests over $1 million annually into Detroit-based early-stage and developing companies looking to scale their businesses. The goal of Detroit Demo Day is to highlight, inspire and invest in the Detroit entrepreneurial community. It’s part of the larger strategy of the Quicken Loans Community Fund to elevate Detroit as the destination for small businesses and high-growth startups by deploying capital and supportive resources.
This year marks a shift in the way the event has been traditionally formatted. It’s also been rebranded. The Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day has been reconceived to “meet this moment” and better address the needs of local entrepreneurs – and the community that supports them.
Built For Detroit Entrepreneurs
In previous years, Detroit Demo Day was a single-day event, with hundreds of competing businesses vying for a portion of the $1 million in prizes. Participating businesses competed in three different categories, dependent upon their stage of development: build, grow and sustain. Eventually, the pool of competitors was narrowed down to about 15 finalists, judged by a panel of nationally-recognized entrepreneurs in front of a full audience at the Fillmore Theater in downtown Detroit.
“Detroit Demo Day has not only given me a ton of exposure, but it has provided priceless resources that have helped propel my business to the next level,” said Jennifer Lyle, previous Detroit Demo Day winner and CEO of Lush Yummies. Lyle’s business won the “People’s Choice Award” in the “start” category in 2018. “Having Quicken Loans and the Detroit Demo Day team behind me has allowed me limitless access to people, places, and opportunities.”
Other Detroit Demo Day winners to-date include Good Cakes and Bakes, The Social Club, Healthy Roots, Bloomscape and many more. The eight winners of the inaugural Quicken Loans Detroit Demo Day in 2017 enjoyed tremendous success as a result of the investment and mentorship Quicken Loans provided.
2017 winner Gary Wozniak, CEO of RecoveryPark Farms is a testament to this. “Participation in Detroit Demo Day exposed RecoveryPark to a broad audience of potential customers, investors and admirers,” he said. “It drove people to step up and help, both financially and with time and talent. The funding…helped, but the larger impact were the resources within the Rock Family of Companies. Having the Detroit Demo Day team behind me truly made a difference.”
Winning businesses from the inaugural year grew their annual revenue by an average of 40% and their employment base by an average of 51%. The Detroit Demo Day winners from 2018 increased their annual revenue by 39% and their employees by 68%.
These achievements are facilitated by a dedicated Entrepreneurship Team at the Quicken Loans Community Fund, led by Director Lauren Hoffman. Hoffman’s team works directly with local businesses to highlight Detroit and support entrepreneurs who recognize all that the city has to offer. “Detroit Demo Day is one of the vehicles we use to meet that goal,” Hoffman said. Her team provides ongoing assistance in the form of networking opportunities and mentorship to Detroit Demo Day winners, positioning them for long-term success. “This pitch competition embodies the spirit of Detroit as a resilient city full of resourceful entrepreneurs. It’s the kind of city that rallies behind and celebrates its people. Detroit Demo Day is a reflection of that: it’s designed to financially support local businesses, but it’s also about supporting and promoting the innovative founders who are building them every day.”
A Different “Pitch” for A Unique Business Climate
The 2020 pandemic forced everyone to rethink in-person events. For Detroit Demo Day, there was also a need to address the impact of the global crisis on local entrepreneurs. Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day 2020 was reconceptualized to solve for those challenges. “The ongoing pandemic has forced entrepreneurs across the world to be more adaptable and resilient than ever before,” said Laura Grannemann, Vice President of Strategic Investments of the Quicken Loans Community Fund. “This year’s Detroit Demo Day also required transformation; during difficult times it’s even more important that we provide local small businesses with the resources they need to adapt and persevere so that Detroit remains the ambitious, entrepreneurial city we all know and love.”
To that end, the competition categories have been reframed:
- Start – Early-stage companies who are getting off the ground despite or because of present economic uncertainty, or who are pivoting their core business model to meet this moment.
- Build – Companies who are growing despite or because of the transformed business environment and who are seeking growth funding in this difficult investing climate.
- Sustain – Community anchor businesses with a continuous physical presence in the city for at least 2 years whose survival we want to help guarantee.
As in years past, Applicants must be a for-profit business with a product or service that is available for sale. Additionally, the business cannot have exceeded $2 million in annual revenue or raised more than $1 million in capital. To be eligible, companies must be based in Detroit or committed to relocating to the city.
A New, All-Virtual Event
Additional considerations were also made with regards to how the event would be presented, as large-scale in-person events have been canceled. In 2019, for example, Detroit Demo Day had an audience of over 5,000.
The event will now be an all-virtual experience. Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day will provide more than $1 million in funding, which winners will receive in the form of grants, interest-free loans and equity investments ranging from $30,000 to $200,000. The online audience will once again play an important role in the event by voting for three recipients of $25,000 “People’s Choice” grants – one per category.
The Quicken Loans Community Fund is working with Woodward Original, a Detroit-based creative video studio, to shoot the Detroit Demo Day pitch competition. The event will be released as a series of episodes online. These short video pitch episodes will be hosted by James Chapman, Entrepreneur in Residence for the Quicken Loans Community Fund and CEO of Plain Sight, a mobile application that helps users make connections and support their local business community. Chapman features prominently in the Detroit Demo Day Kickoff video, below, which illustrates how Detroit Demo Day has evolved to meet the needs of local entrepreneurs during such an extraordinary time.
“We started Detroit Demo Day because coming up with an idea, putting it into action, and seeing it grow is very tough. You need support. Insert a pandemic and blatant social justice issues into the mix, and it can seem impossible,” Chapman said. “Entrepreneurs need help now more than ever, and I’m excited to do my part as a close advisor [to the finalists and the Detroit Demo Day team] this year.”
Once applications close on August 9, the Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day Team will review all submissions to determine the top 100 semi-finalists. A diverse panel of prominent Detroit-based business leaders and entrepreneurs representing a variety of industries will select the 17 finalists.
Those 17 chosen entrepreneurs will be announced in September, and their video pitches will go live in October, released as episodes. At that time, viewers will be able to vote online for their favorite business in each category.
For now, those interested are encouraged to apply via the Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day site until applications close on August 9th. “We’ve adapted our eligibility requirements, given that this is such an unusual climate. We know a lot of entrepreneurs are struggling right now – they’re the ones doing the real, hard work every day. We’re just here to help them come out on the other side stronger than ever, and to celebrate their wins along the way. We want to help them get to that next level,” Hoffman said. “That’s what Detroit Demo Day is, really. It’s an open door to new opportunities.”