DETROIT – TechTown will once again host its annual Toast of the Town virtually on Sept. 30, like it did a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to infect live events again.
This year, Toast of the Town presented by Bank of America will broadcast live from two locations to showcase TechTown’s impact and reach. Remote locations include Wayne State University’s Industry Innovation Center and the Detroit Southwest Ford Resource and Engagement Center.
Online guests will watch TechTown President and CEO Ned Staebler deliver a speech about how TechTown moves forward to a more inclusive economy, witness the live announcement of the TechTown Startup Fund grantees and celebrate the Wayne State Office of Economic Development’s 10th anniversary.
“The team at TechTown has been busy reimagining our economy, and we’re looking forward to celebrating the creativity and ingenuity of our clients, alumni and the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem at Toast of the Town,” said Staebler.
SALUTE AWARD HONOREES
Three local entrepreneurs are set to receive TechTown’s highest honor for their embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit and leveraging the many resources found at TechTown and across Detroit’s small business community: Javier Evelyn, founder and CEO of Alerje; Juan Carlos Dueweke-Pérez, director and founder of Featherstone; and Raquel Lozano, owner of El Popo Market.
Javier Evelyn founded his company Alerje to improve outcomes and reduce the cost of care in the food allergy industry. An active coworking member making connections at TechTown since 2018, Evelyn also expanded his network through Detroit Urban Solutions’ MedHealth Summits. Alerje hit major milestones in 2021, including securing a patent for an epinephrine auto-injector for smartphones as well as for the recently announced Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant award from the National Science Foundation. To learn more, visit https://alerje.com/.
Juan Carlos Dueweke-Pérez started his multilingual and multicultural marketing and public relations agency in 2015 to build a business on his passion for helping other immigrant entrepreneurs. He joined TechTown’s coworking community in 2018 and volunteered as a member of the Professional Services Network, providing one-on-one support to TechTown’s neighborhood business clients as well as workshops held in Spanish on topics including strategy, social media and photography. To learn more, visit https://featherstonemoments.com/.
The husband and wife team of Rodolfo and Raquel Lozano have owned El Popo Market in the heart of Mexicantown for six years. Prior to the pandemic, Raquel Lozano was enrolled in TechTown’s one-on-one coaching program for small businesses to support the addition of a salad bar to her store. When COVID-19 hit, she received TechTown stabilization funds to weather the initial upheaval and then enrolled in 313 STRONG to continue pivoting and adapting. Lozano collaborated with TechTown strategists to expand El Popo’s line of Mexican-imported crafts and implemented significant changes to the store layout and merchandise display to optimize sales. These changes, along with a new website, increased sales and allowed El Popo Market to hire an additional employee. To learn more, visit https://www.elpopomarket.com/.
MARLOWE STOUDAMIRE SMALL BUSINESS CHAMPION
Carla Walker-Miller, founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services, will receive the Marlowe Stoudamire Small Business Champion Award. Renamed last year in honor of the Detroit community leader, entrepreneur and business strategist who died from COVID-19, The Marlowe Stoudamire Small Business Champion Award is presented to an individual or organization that exemplifies Stoudamire’s legacy of building community to create opportunity for all Detroiters.
Walker-Miller was one of the first entrepreneurs to incubate her company at TechTown and a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, housed at Wayne State University’s Office of Economic Development. As her company began to thrive, so did Walker-Miller’s passion for giving back and creating equitable opportunities for all Detroiters. A member of the Executive Committee on TechTown’s Board of Directors, Walker-Miller was instrumental in the creation of a five-year equity plan for TechTown. Walker-Miller also serves as chair of Detroit Means Business, a coalition of public, private and philanthropic partners dedicated to meeting the needs of Detroit’s small businesses. By centering and uplifting the voices of Detroit’s primarily Black small business owners, Walker-Miller is accelerating the pace at which Detroit tackles long-standing equity problems.
PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
For the first time, virtual attendees of Toast of the Town will have the opportunity to vote live for a People’s Choice Salute Award winner during the event. Eight TechTown clients and alumni are nominated for this fan favorite award.
People’s Choice Award nominees include:
- Crystal Rice – Black Economic Exchange Group
- Jerome B. Brown and Samuel Van Buren – Detroit Soul
- Justin Turk – Livegistics
- Katrina Wilson – Crème Brûlée
- The Vargas Lopez Family (Jose, Tere, Leslie and Jose Jr.) – La Jaliscience Supermercado y Taqueria
- Robin Wright King and Dr. Ali Bazzi – Urban Docz
- Ronier Golightly – Motor City Popcorn
- Ryan Salter, Marc and LeTresha Howland – Breadless
TECHTOWN STARTUP FUND AWARDEES TO RECEIVE $23,000
Two Black-owned tech startups and alumni of TechTown will be awarded a total of $23,000 at Toast of the Town to help them reach their next business milestone. Launched in April 2021, the TechTown Startup Fund crowd-sourced capital for promising Black innovators to address the disparities in accessing capital for Black entrepreneurs. More information about the Startup Fund can be found at: https://techtowndetroit.org/startupfundpressrelease.
Toast of the Town will also celebrate the 10th anniversary of Wayne State’s Office of Economic Development (OED), TechTown’s partner for catalyzing business activity in Midtown and across the Detroit region. Established in 2011 in the wake of the Great Recession, OED drives university investments, convenes, connects and leads initiatives to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, attracts and retains talent, and creates a 24/7 campus and neighborhood that is vibrant and welcoming to all. More information about OED can be found at https://economicdevelopment.wayne.edu/.
Registration is required, but there is no cost to attend the virtual Toast of the Town. Donations of any amount will be immediately put to work helping TechTown continue providing programs, education and resources for early- to growth-stage small businesses and tech entrepreneurs. Individuals who donate will be invited to join the Donor Wall for All, a crowd-sourced photo mosaic at TechTown. Register at techtowndetroit.org/toast.
“From March of 2020 to March of 2021, our TechTown community mobilized to support 1,731 entrepreneurs by doing economic differently,” added Staebler. “That’s what you will see at Toast of the Town in our Salute Award winners. You’ll see how access to the first bit of startup capital leads to growth and how inviting entrepreneurs to take the lead and tell us what they need in their own language means making the right progress at the right time.”
Toast of the Town is presented by Bank of America with support from Accenture, DTE Foundation, Comcast Business, Henry Ford Health System, JPMorgan Chase and Co., EY, Girl Meets Grape and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
For more information, visit techtowndetroit.org