On May 23, TechTown Detroit hosted its Spring 2023 Retail Boot Camp (RBC) Showcase to celebrate the graduates of RBC’s 14th cohort. Seventeen entrepreneurs spent 12 weeks learning the ins and outs of opening a brick-and-mortar storefront from a team of industry professionals. During the Showcase, those entrepreneurs pitched their businesses, shared what they had accomplished so far and what they’d do with the prize money if they won a $5,000 Kickstart Award.
Five standout businesses won the Kickstart Awards and one business won the $1,000 People’s Choice Award, which was voted on by the live audience and online viewers.
For the Love of Cheesecake, Kickstart Award winner
Cortney Hamilton, chef and founder of For the Love of Cheesecake, says the most important ingredient in all of her cheesecake creations is “love.” The pop-up bakery specializes in gourmet cheesecakes; take your pick from desserts made with fruity toppings, layered in chocolatey candies or even multi-tiered cheesecakes with unexpected additions like strawberry crunch toppings, banana pudding or vanilla wafers.
“I loved it! The program is well-needed for anybody who’s trying to do retail in metro Detroit,” says Hamilton, aka “Mz. Cheesecake,” about her experience participating in RBC. “It is very informative and I learned so much. It was a lot of hard work and homework, so I’m just so happy to see that it all paid off.”
If you’d like to try these treats for yourself, you can sample For the Love of Cheesecake at several events this summer, including the Night Markets at Beacon Park and Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats.
Halie & Co., Kickstart Award winner
Halie Conyers, founder of jewelry brand Halie & Co., has enjoyed making one-of-a-kind jewelry since she took her first metal-smithing class as a freshman in high school. Now, through her business, Conyers provides customers with “handmade jewelry for your everyday,” including rings, necklaces, earrings and anklets in 14k gold-filled, solid gold and sterling silver options. Halie & Co. has also expanded to candles and diffusers.
“My experience being a part of Retail Boot Camp was indescribable. I’ve learned so much,” Conyers says. “I was feeling a lot of pressure before being in this to open a retail store. By going through this process, I know that I can do it and I know the right steps to do it. [Winning a Kickstart Award] feels amazing. It validates that there’s room in the market for jewelry made with intention.”
Halie & Co. frequently appears at pop-up shops and events around metro Detroit; find an event near you.
Lynzi, Kickstart Award winner
Lindsay Jenkins has over 10 years of experience in the fashion design and styling industries, working at various brands and businesses, including Somerset Collection Studio in Detroit, Détroit is the New Black, Mature, the McMullen pop-up boutique in Detroit and StockX. She also comes from a long line of designers and seamstresses.
As she refined those skills over the years, Jenkins used her expertise to develop her womenswear label, Lynzi. The brand offers contemporary streetwear pieces with edgy touches, including tie-dyed denim garments, multicolor dresses in abstract prints and elevated basics like joggers, leggings and tank tops.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Jenkins says of RBC. “It took a long time to formulate a pitch but it was very helpful. I met a lot of people along the way, and I can’t wait until my peers and I all have our stores open so I can visit them. We all came up together and I’m more excited about the community aspect.”
Rosemarine Textiles, Kickstart Award winner
If you’re in the market for ethically made home goods and accessories, check out Rosemarine Textiles. Founder Meghan Navoy and her small team make products using plant-based dyes. Customers can shop for pillows, table runners, napkins, socks, hats, scrunchies and more.
Rosemarine Textiles also hosts regular craft workshops at its current Hamtramck studio, including natural dyeing, knitting and candle making. Navoy hopes to open an expanded home decor shop in Hamtramck at the end of this year.
“I loved taking this [program],” Navoy says of RBC, adding that she also completed the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program last fall. “I feel very prepared to open my business now. I would not be where I am today without these [programs] and I just feel so grateful for the immense support from TechTown.”
U Drink I Make, Kickstart Award winner
Mixologist Mary Harvin took her 20-plus years in the hospitality industry to build her mobile bartending business, U Drink I Make. Harvin crafts signature cocktails for adult parties and corporate events and makes capturing moments for social media a part of the experience with fun props for taking pictures. U Drink I Make also offers cocktail-making courses as well as consultations for folks interested in creating their own mobile bar business.
While the business is based in Detroit, Harvin has taken U Drink I Make on the road for various events and has even served celebrities like comedian and actor Mike Epps, singer-songwriter Kandi Burruss, actress Drew Sidora and TV personality Karlie Redd.
“Winning the $5,000 was amazing; I can’t wait to put it to use in the business,” Harvin says. “The network that I have gained is the best thing. Christina [Devlin], Carrie [Vestrand] and Faris [Alami] pour everything they have.”
Ooh La La Events & Design, People’s Choice Award winner
Co-founders LaFawn Felder and Lamoya Young aim to bring party experiences like no other to metro Detroit through their business, Ooh La La Events & Design. The two use their event planning backgrounds to help people create their ideal parties, from brainstorming the concept to bringing the venue to life.
Felder and Young have created backdrops for prom send-offs, balloon sculptures and bouquets for holidays like Valentine’s Day and have completely transformed venues for themed events (take, as examples, a masquerade ball birthday party and a baseball-themed baby shower).
“I’ve done a few camps, classes or workshops over the years,” Felder says. “But [RBC] in particular, I really loved the guest lecturers. Hearing people in their field who we directly will be in touch with and can reach out to even after class was really impactful. But overall, I think the people in our cohort, just learning from what they go through and seeing all of us have similar goals even in different industries, that’s the attractive thing that I think of.”