Doors open at 5 p.m. | Ceremony at 5:30 p.m.

WSU Industry Innovation Center 

2023 Salute Award Winners

Get ready to raise a glass for TechTown Detroit’s 2023 Salute Award winners! Four outstanding, 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: Jerome Brown and San VanBuren, co-owners of Detroit Soul; Achsha Jones, CEO and co-founder of TripSlip; and Lydia Michael, owner of Blended Collective. Maria Mendez, small business accountant at Accounting Aid Society, will receive the Marlowe Stoudamire Small Business Champion Award for exemplifying Stoudamire’s legacy of building community to create opportunities for all Detroiters. 

Maria Mendez


Maria Mendez

Small Business Accountant, Accounting Aid Society

Accounting Aid Society provides low- and moderate-income residents of southeast Michigan with tax preparation services and education, all while encouraging entrepreneurship and strengthening Michigan’s workforce. Maria has been providing tax services to families and small business owners for over 15 years, primarily working with metro Detroit’s Spanish-speaking community. As a small business accountant, her personal mission is to help clients navigate and rise through the systems and structures that have historically excluded underserved populations. Maria is a dedicated advocate and exemplifies Marlowe Stoudamire’s spirit of collaboration, regularly partnering with TechTown and other business service organizations to catalyze community business growth. Maria serves each of her clients with diligence and empathy, empowering them with the skills and confidence to build successful businesses.

Detroit Soul


Jerome Brown and Sam VanBuren

Co-owners, Detroit Soul

Jerome Brown and Sam VanBuren are brothers and co-owners of Detroit Soul, a hot spot serving up fresh, made-from-scratch soul food. They first launched Detroit Soul as an informal catering business for their families, later opening their first brick-and-mortar location in 2015. Like so many other small businesses, Detroit Soul was affected by the pandemic, but Jerome and Sam were determined to keep their doors open. They enrolled in 313 STRONG, utilizing program strategists’ support to secure capital and resources for both sustaining their storefront and expanding to a second location! Detroit Soul is a staple in the community; Jerome and Sam hire locally and have also been incubating Ice Cream Detroit as they build out a storefront. They’ve built Detroit Soul into a profitable neighborhood favorite, infused with love, family and community.

TripSlip Achsha


Achsha Jones

CEO and Co-founder, TripSlip

Achsha Jones is a dedicated entrepreneur and community builder with a dynamic background spanning transportation, logistics, food and hospitality. As a TechTown client and alum, Achsha has taken advantage of our entire suite of tech-based programming to launch, grow and gain capital for TripSlip, a SaaS (software as a service) company in the transportation space, focused on making educational field trips more accessible. She’s also represented TechTown at national events like SXSW and Black Tech Week. Achsha is paving the way for underrepresented voices in the tech space to be heard and celebrated, and uplifts and empowers fellow founders every chance she gets.

Lydia Michael


Lydia Michael

Owner, Blended Collective

Driven by her diverse upbringing and international work experience, Lydia Michael launched Blended Collective — a multicultural marketing and brand consultancy — to ignite growth, change and innovation for brands. Lydia is actively engaged in TechTown’s building community and has leveraged free programming and networking opportunities with like-minded entrepreneurs over the years to enhance her business. Lydia is also a member of TechTown’s Professional Services Network, providing specialized marketing support through the Ask an Expert program. In her recently published first book, “Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections,” she breaks down the process of building emotionally strong, long-lasting consumer-brand relationships. Through her authentic approach and genuine care for her clients, community and craft, she’s infusing values of inclusivity into the entrepreneurial ecosystem and economy at large.