TechTown names Ellis Island Tea Entrepreneur of the Year

Date: October 4, 2018
Contact: Kristin Palm
Phone: (313) 483-1326


TechTown names Ellis Island Tea Entrepreneur of the Year
Monica Wheat, Sicily’s Pizzeria and Genus all honored at Toast of the Town October 18

TechTown Detroit has named Nailah Ellis-Brown and Ellis Island Tea as 2018’s Entrepreneur of the Year. The honor will be presented at the Salute Awards, part of TechTown’s Toast of the Town celebration of entrepreneurship October 18 from 6-9pm. The event takes place at TechTown, 440 Burroughs, Detroit, with the award ceremony starting at 6:30pm across the street at the Wayne State Industry Innovation Center (formerly NextEnergy Center), 461 Burroughs.

The Salute Awards honor Detroit’s standout small businesses and entrepreneurs. The awardees were selected by a committee comprised of leaders in metro Detroit’s entrepreneurship, small business and economic development communities.

Ellis-Brown and Ellis Island Tea will be honored for numerous accomplishments and milestones reached in 2018, including inking a distribution deal with Sam’s Club in May of 2018. Ellis-Brown launched Ellis Island Tea in 2008 and the product is now sold in more than 1,500 stores nationwide. In 2014, Ellis-Brown opened the official Ellis Island Tea production facility, making her the only black female beverage maker in the nation with her own manufacturing plant. She has been recognized widely for her achievements, including being named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in 2016 and The Root 100 in 2017.

TechTown will also honor Monica Wheat, founder and partner at Venture Catalysts, with its Small Business Champion award for her work connecting entrepreneurs through events like Techstars Startup Week Detroit and AfroTech Detroit. Joe Gleason, CEO of Genus and developer of the family care app genusConnect, and Ali Beydoun, owner of Sicily’s Pizzeria will be honored with TechTown on Tap Awards for TechTown clients who have reached significant milestones.

“The growth of Ellis Island Tea has been tremendous to watch. Nailah’s dedication to her hometown of Detroit and ability to hire fellow Detroit residents is truly inspiring to the community,” says Ned Staebler, president and CEO of TechTown. “All our awardees personify courage, willfulness and diligence, and that is exactly what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur here in Detroit.”


More on our awardees: 

Monica Wheat (Small Business Champion) is a strategist, educator and venture developer. She is the founder and partner at Venture Catalysts, a venture and ecosystem development group which recently helped launch the #CodeDetroit initiative introducing 2,500 kids to mobile app design in one week. She also serves as the Entrepreneur In Residence at Grand Circus Detroit where she leads projects focused on techEd, corporate partnerships and diversity & inclusion. In addition, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Digerati Girls, Inc. / Digerati Kids, a non-profit that has helped 6,000+ Detroit-area students gain skills and an introduction to careers in digital technology and entrepreneurship. She also serves as curator for Startup Digest Detroit/Ann Arbor and Director of Startup Boost Detroit.

Genus (TechTown on Tap): Genus is a Detroit-based technology firm focused on solving the challenges faced by family caregivers. Genus has developed genusConnect, a care platform and app that unites caregivers, families, neighbors, volunteers and physicians, and empowers them with tools to build communities of care around every person in need. genusConnect was designed from the ground up as an innovative way for families to work together through hardship and crisis. genusConnect is committed to empowering givers of care with the best tools and resources and supplying an effective, collaborative environment.

Sicily’s Pizzeria (TechTown on Tap): Sicily’s Pizzeria is a 29-year-old pizzeria in Southwest Detroit. Owner Ali Beydoun, opened Sicily’s in 1989 with his own finances and it has been a staple restaurant in the Detroit community since.  Since its opening, Sicily’s has operated as a neighborhood carry out and delivery restaurant serving pizza, subs, salads and wings. Its delivery service is popular and reaches Dearborn, some parts of downriver and into the greater downtown area. Sicily’s currently employs 12 people, most of whom have been with Sicily’s for over 10 years. Sicily’s Pizzeria is a 2017 winner of the Motor City Re-Store program and has plans to add family-friendly dining next door to their carry-out location.

In addition to the awards, Toast of the Town will feature a strolling dinner, signature cocktails, musical entertainment, an entrepreneur Marketplace, Silent Auction and more. For tickets or more information, visit

TechTown is Detroit’s entrepreneurship hub, with a full suite of programs for both tech and neighborhood small businesses. TechTown works with businesses at all stages, helping startup, emerging and established companies develop, launch and grow. Since 2007, TechTown has supported 1900 companies, which created more than 1400 jobs and leveraged more than $130 million in startup capital. For more information, visit