Last week’s report about the state of women leadership in Chicago tech was a powerful reminder of where our successes are and where we can continue to improve. The data creates actionable opportunity for everyone — from individual contributors, to executives, to investors — to catalyze our city and industry toward fostering a more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem for all underestimated, and thus underrepresented, minorities in tech.

 When thinking about the successes that we, as an ecosystem, can build upon, I was reminded of an entrepreneurial ecosystem where I continually see significant leadership among women: our fellow Midwestern city of Detroit. Although Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert receives a great deal of recognition for driving the city’s economic resurgence (understandably so), there are a number of women whose initiatives are powerful winds behind Detroit’s sail. So in the spirit of highlighting successes and in honor of International Women’s Day, here are 10 women who are at the helm of fueling an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Detroit:

Talent Incubation

April Boyle, Founder & Executive Director of Build Institute

Kicking off our list is April Boyle, the Founder and Executive Director of Build Institute. Founded in 2012, Build Institute provides classes, events, funding, and mentorship to help aspiring entrepreneurs turn their ideas into successful companies. April and her team are doing their part to foster a more equitable and inclusive entrepreneurial community in Detroit. More than 80% of their aspiring entrepreneurs are women, more than half are ethnic minorities, and nearly 75% come from low- to moderate-incomes. Build then helps these graduates launch companies through a small business microloan program, which has a 98% repayment rate.

Amy Kaherl, Director of Curation at Ponyride & Co-Founder of Detroit SOUP

Next on our list is Amy Kaherl, who helps run Ponyride, a Detroit non-profit focused on making success a realistic opportunity for all. Amy and the Ponyride team make Detroit’s space accessible to artists, non-profits, and entrepreneurs who are working on social missions. Their space offers resources, community, diversity, and collaboration to help make Detroit a better place to thrive in all aspects of life. Amy also co-founded Detroit SOUP, which is a community-driven microgranting dinner where Detroiters support fellow Detroiters in funding projects across a variety of sectors. Winners of these dinners have gone on to create non-profits, businesses, after-school initiatives, and more.

Amanda Lewan, Co-Founder & CEO of Bamboo Detroit

Also incubating talent is Amanda Lewan, the Co-Founder and CEO of Bamboo Detroit. Bamboo was the first co-working space in the heart of downtown Detroit and has been recognized as one of the country’s top shared office spaces. Bamboo’s entire mission is centered around fostering inclusive entrepreneurship and economic impact. Amanda and her team execute this by helping companies of various sizes to launch, learn, and expand in Detroit. And when those companies outgrow Bamboo, Bamboo connects them with partner resources that help companies secure spaces that will take them to the next level.


Patti Glaza, Managing Director of Invest Detroit Ventures

It’s not enough to simply have an idea and the talent to strategize it, of course; entrepreneurs often need capital to help them execute on their strategy. In recent years, Detroit’s capital has increased to support its entrepreneurs. A notable leader in this is Patti Glaza, the Managing Director of Invest Detroit Ventures, which has invested in more than 100 Michigan-based companies in the last eight years. Patti and the ID Ventures team focus on supporting Michigan’s high-technology startup ecosystem. They do this not only through venture capital funding but by managing the Hacker Fellows program, which connects software developers to Michigan startups, and the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, which brings together key ecosystem stakeholders for the purpose of catalyzing entrepreneurial growth through both expert mentorship and capital.

Pamela Lewis, Director of New Economy Initiative

While Detroit has seen an influx of venture capital, there are other programs that infuse significant capital into the growing ecosystem as well. Pamela Lewis is the Director of the New Economy Initiative, which is a $159 million philanthropic program that drives inclusive entrepreneurship and small business growth in Southeast Michigan. Pamela and her team award grants to a wide array of initiatives, from small hackathons, to university research parks, to venture capital funds. NEI’s support of more than 100 organizations has in turn helped nearly 10,000 businesses in the region either start or scale their operations.

Monica Wheat, Managing Director of Backstage Capital Detroit

Working on a new initiative to drive venture capital to Detroit is Monica Wheat of Backstage Capital Detroit. Monica has a deep history of supporting inclusive entrepreneurship throughout the city. As the Diversity & Inclusion Advisor at Detroit coding bootcamp Grand Circus, which focuses on giving individuals of all backgrounds access to tech jobs, Monica has helped support tech diversity for many years. As such, it is no surprise that she would lead Backstage Capital’s new Detroit accelerator. Officially launching in Detroit next week, Monica and the Backstage team are strategically building a bridge between the Bay Area’s financial resources and the underrepresented entrepreneurs driving Detroit innovation.

Ecosystem Support

Olivia Guterson, AfroTech Organizer

In addition to those women working to increase Detroit entrepreneurs’ access to capital and talent resources, there are women leaders in the community who strategically work to support the region as a vibrant hub of innovation. One of them is Olivia Guterson, who organized the first ever AfroTech conference held outside of the Bay Area. AfroTech’s mission is to support the black tech community, and after attending its San Francisco conference in early 2018, Olivia strategized to host the event in Detroit just a few months later. A community builder, former startup employee, and artist, Olivia is on a mission to leverage Detroit’s strengths to make it the black tech capital of the country.

Emily Heintz, Founder & Managing Director of EntryPoint

Also supporting Detroit-based events (among other key initiatives) is Emily Heintz, the Founder and Managing Director of EntryPoint. EntryPoint’s mission is to promote inclusive entrepreneurship in Michigan. Although based in Ann Arbor, Emily and her team at EntryPoint have spent the last year putting a special emphasis on Detroit. They partnered with Invest Detroit to run the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, which I mentioned above. EntryPoint also conducted a significant research study that culminated in the 2018 Detroit Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Report. This report is the first of its kind for the city and allows investors, civic leaders, startup operators, and community supporters alike to better understand the entrepreneurial opportunities that exist in Detroit.

Lauren Hood, Community Development Consultant

In the same vein of supporting how people think about growing Detroit’s entrepreneurial community is community development consultant, Lauren Hood. A Detroit native, Lauren focuses on helping the city’s economy grow equitably by increasing awareness about how to enter Detroit thoughtfully and respectfully. Leveraging her expertise in both community engagement and economic development, Lauren empowers organizations to thoughtfully strategize how they can preserve the city’s rich heritage and build with the long-standing Detroit community, rather than displace it.

Jeanette Pierce, Founder & City Institute Director of Detroit Experience Factory

Also native to Detroit, Jeanette Pierce founded Detroit Experience Factory (DXF) with a goal of helping both Detroit locals and visitors have a deeper respect for and understanding of the city’s roots and growth. Jeanette and her team offer free, ticketed, and custom private tours that are led exclusively by Detroit local experts. These experts give attendees insight into the city’s rich history, its development, and how that development has impacted the local community. Of note is their Innovation tour, which takes attendees to some of Detroit’s most innovative hubs in order to highlight the city’s burgeoning entrepreneurial talent and traction.

Each of the women in this list contributes meaningfully and substantially to Detroit’s entrepreneurial resurgence in their own ways. What is special about them, however, is that they also work together. These leaders are helping Detroit build on its existing strengths through the collaboration of its talents, the sharing of its resources, and the common value of fostering an inclusive entrepreneurial community. They’ve had an undeniable impact on nurturing Detroit’s ecosystem of resources, and the city’s entrepreneurs — as well as our broader Midwest ecosystem — are better for their vision and leadership.

Originally featured in American Inno.