On June 7, TechTown Detroit and the community celebrated the 10 tech founders in the Spring 2023 Start Studio Discovery cohort. Start Studio Discovery is an entry-level program for entrepreneurs with tech-based or tech-enabled business ideas. What made it even more special, was that this was the first in-person Start Studio Discovery Showcase since 2019.
Throughout the 10-week program, participants worked with our network of entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs) and coaches to identify the problem their business aims to solve, conducted more than 50 customer discovery interviews to help them refine their business and identified a unique value proposition.
At the Spring 2023 Start Studio Discovery Showcase, three businesses won based on their pitch presentations, and one business was voted the People’s Choice Award winner.
Drone Capital, 1st place winner
Founded by Mario Swaidan, Drone Capital is a commercial drone pilot marketplace designed to revolutionize the process of hiring licensed drone pilots for residential and commercial real estate photography and videography. Drone Capital’s services can be used for inspections, 3D mapping, weddings and other events, photoshoots and more. Swaidan’s business has pilots licensed in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
“Participating in Start Studio Discovery helped me to develop Drone Capital because I was able to narrow the focus of our target market and unique value proposition [by conducting] customer discovery interviews,” Swaidan says. He looks forward to continuing his relationship with TechTown and speaking with team members to discuss the best use of the money he won at the Showcase.
“It feels amazing to have won first place at the Showcase. I couldn’t have done it without the team of mentors and customer discovery specialists at TechTown,” Swaidan says. “It feels good to know there are programs like TechTown’s Start Studio Discovery that provide a unique opportunity for our development.”
OptimizeEV, 2nd place winner
When it comes to the electric vehicle charging experience, Brittany McGee is working to make the process more streamlined and accessible for all. Her company OptimizeEV is a mobile application and device that allows users to report non-working or damaged charging stations and submit service tickets for repairs.
“Start Studio gave me support and guidance, [including the entrepreneurs-in-residence and mentors] who gave me very frank criticism, which helped me to refine OptimizeEV and take it to the next level, “McGee says. “The networking opportunities I received [by] participating in Start Studio has been immense, as they’ve put me in front of decision-makers in the EV space who I hope to build with in the future.”
McGee plans to use her prize money to invest in a simulator program created by Cisco Systems, which she says will allow her to build out a minimum viable product (MVP), build IP around OptimizeEV and address any kinks in the networking portion of her company.
“Winning second place was amazing!” McGee says. “For me, it’s really not about the placement but the fact that I was able to enjoy my experience and learn throughout the program, and eventually get to the point of presenting this idea in front of a community that is interested in innovation.”
Beauty GoGO, 3rd place winner
Jackie and Orna Spencer, founders of Beauty GoGO, want to change the way people shop from and engage with their local beauty supply stores. The Beauty GoGO app will allow users to purchase items for delivery or pick-up directly from beauty supply stores around metro Detroit.
“Participating in the Start Studio Discovery program helped us with the development of Beauty GoGO by focusing us on finding our true customer,” says Jackie. “We did weekly interviews with people and that allowed us to dive deep into finding exactly whose problem our business was solving. What we thought when we started actually changed throughout the program and we were able to find our true target customer.”
The Spencers look forward to using their prize money towards the development of their app. “We are so grateful to have placed in this competition,” Jackie says. “We truly are thankful to the judges, our coaches and the entire TechTown team.”
Supernatural Hair Care, People’s Choice Award winner
Tia Baldwin, founder of Supernatural Hair Care, is another entrepreneur that wants to make waves in the beauty industry. Baldwin’s brand offers plant-based products as well as hair consultations to determine customers’ needs. BraidSpace, an extension of Supernatural Hair Care, aims to change how hairstylists can service their clientele. Together, Supernatural Hair Care and BraidSpace will serve as a digital hair care consultation service that will connect consumers with local hair care professionals and offer tailored product subscriptions.
“Participating in Start Studio Discovery helped me approach my solution in a strategic way,” Baldwin says. “I fell in love with solving my customers’ problems to develop a solution. I’ve been able to understand and relate to my customers as a result of the program more than ever. I’m grateful to TechTown for orchestrating a program that equipped me to go forward in business, bringing my vision to life.”
As Supernatural Hair Care continues to develop, Baldwin looks forward to putting her prize money toward marketing efforts. “It feels incredible to have won the People’s Choice Award!” Baldwin says. “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to stand with other founders to pitch our ideas to such an amazing panel and audience. It was an exhilarating moment that I will cherish forever.”
Participants with mobility-focused tech ideas
As TechTown continues its work in the mobility space — including through the Mobility Accelerator Innovation Network (MAIN), a network featuring seven regional partners that aim to ensure the growth and success of mobility startups — it’s important to acknowledge the Start Studio Discovery participants who are developing businesses with a mobility focus.
Created by Trice Clark, Crosstown Connection aims to service Detroit’s Morningside neighborhood and close the gap caused by digital redlining through public kiosks that offer wireless internet.
While developing this idea, Clark reflected on her own memories of walking a mile to the Thomas Jefferson Branch Library to browse the web in the early 2000s, and how inaccessible internet is still the reality for many Detroiters to this day. Clark says Start Studio Discovery helped her narrow down her target audience and find her customers.
“I plan on using Crosstown Connection to help drive Detroit’s mobility work by getting underserved communities online so they can have access to the education, jobs and opportunities they’ve been missing out on,” Clark says. “While participating in Start Studio, I learned there are many decision-makers [and] ideas [that] need to filter through before something is made tangible. During my 200 customer discovery interviews, I spoke with urban planners, civil engineers and city leaders, all who play an essential part in what comes to be.”
Swaidan says by housing his company’s global headquarters in Detroit, he hopes to drive the city’s mobility work. And later this year, Drone Capital is hosting its inaugural Detroit Drone Film Festival, which he says will be an award show for drone pilots.
“Our beachhead market is Detroit and the surrounding metro Detroit area, where we are first getting to market to test our value proposition,” Swaidan says. “Mobility has a variety of applications and Detroit founders are finding unique approaches to address mobility challenges. TechTown is here to help us along our journey in providing those solutions.”
Driven by the motto “Monitor + Identify + Fix + Charge,” McGee aims for OptimizeEV to efficiently manage charging stations, ensuring lower costs, scalability and a positive user experience. During Start Studio Discovery, McGee says she learned about urban core communities (Detroit is considered one of these) and how their unique mobility challenges require more community engagement and education.
“OptimizeEV is a disruptive tech that will assist in developing the momentum of EV adoption in Detroit by helping to decrease burdens like cost of maintenance, while also helping to increase scalability, which will be key in developing the mobility infrastructure in Detroit,” McGee says. “Detroit is going through a mobile shift and leading the future of mobility as it acts as a launch pad for innovation in the mobility space. OptimizeEV will be a pathway for mobility growth in Detroit.”