When most small businesses become clients in a Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project class, they get a basketball team’s worth of researchers, data analysts, thought partners, and cheerleaders. Helina Melaku of Konjo Me and Ysahai Honor-Marie of Ice Cream Detroit, it’s more like getting an entire baseball team.
Melaku and Honor-Marie were selected as this year’s integrated semester clients, meaning that they are working with teams of students from three different classes at the Ross School of Business, the Law School, and the Stamps School of Art & Design. Students in the three classes work on different aspects of the business, but they share research, consult, and coordinate with each other.
The classes are taught and coordinated by faculty members Chris Mueller (Ross), Dana Thompson and Susan Chase (Law), and Jill Greene (Stamps). Staff from the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project, who are based at the Ford School of Public Policy, recruit clients and provide administrative support, including reimbursement of student travel for site visits. The program is unique among university-based programs because it is the only one in the country that offers integrated business, legal, and design services in a class setting.
“The Business+Law+Design integrated semester is designed to function as an accelerator,” said Christie Baer, program director of the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project, “Businesses get to develop faster because they receive wrap-around services from multiple disciplines. The fair market value of the research and consulting services students provide is at least $25,000 -- even at discounted student rates.”
Konjo Me and Ice Cream Detroit are both woman-owned, minority-owned, and immigrant-owned food-based businesses in Detroit with unique offerings. Both Honor-Marie and Melaku are graduates of TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp, which seeks to prepare businesses for opening brick and mortar locations.
Konjo Me is a purveyor of authentic Ethiopian cuisine. The business has an Ethiopian spice and coffee line, sells its delicious prepared foods at pop-ups in both Detroit and Ann Arbor, and offers traditional coffee ceremonies and catering for special events. Konjo Me also hosts Ethiopian cooking workshops and traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies. Owner and head chef Helina Melaku is working to expand to a full restaurant in 2023.
Ice Cream Detroit has already painted the mural on the outside of its 2nd Avenue shop, but is awaiting final sign-off on construction before opening to customers. The business offers unique ice cream and sorbet flavors -- with or without alcohol included -- such as strawberry-basil ice cream (with tequila), salted caramel ice cream (with whiskey), or cucumber-ginger sorbet (with gin).
Previous Business+Design+Law clients include Detroit Soul, which went on to win Motor City Match funding and just opened its second location; Detroit Dough, who won $25,000 at the 2019 Detroit Demo Day competition; luxury apparel brand Eumelanin, which won several competitions, and was recently featured in a MasterCard commercial; and tech company Detroit Maid, which offers on-demand cleaning services, and recently launched its new Clean Break app.