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Economic Vitality

Accelerating the Growth of Small Food Start-Ups in Eastern Market

“The Walters Family Foundation values championing a robust economic climate, but in a way that is available to people from a wide cross-section of the population.”

Dan Carmody, President, Eastern Market Corporation

With its rich, 128-year history, Eastern Market is one of the most beloved destinations in Detroit — a vibrant pubic market that fosters community connections, celebrates Detroit’s diversity and showcases its food culture. Over the past 15 years, under the management of Eastern Market Corporation, the district has also emerged as one of Detroit’s leading centers for entrepreneurship of all kinds, particularly in the food industry.

Since 2015, Eastern Market Corporation has provided low-cost, production space for start-up food businesses. Thirty-nine food businesses currently rent space in its shared-use kitchens, and the demand is growing. In recent years, Eastern Market Corporation has witnessed that while many of these small food businesses have achieved success in fulfilling small-batch orders, they often flounder in answering large-scale order surges. In fact, many end up going out of business while trying to meet rapid demand.

Local businesses showcase their food products.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

To overcome this barrier and make it easier for food start-ups to expand quickly, Eastern Market Corporation is building The Metro Accelerator, with support from the Walters Family Foundation. The Metro Accelerator will provide built-out space at below-market rates and technical assistance for up to 14 prospective food businesses. Growing firms can expect to reduce expansion timelines from 36 to six months, have control over their own growth and learn in a community with businesses facing the same kinds of problems. During the pandemic the building has shifted to help in packaging of food boxes for emergency distribution.

The project also focuses on improving the racial equity of success in accelerating food businesses. “We noticed that as companies get larger in the Detroit food system, they've also tended to become whiter,” says Carmody. “We are committed to making sure at least a third of our businesses are owned by people of color.”

When the Metro Accelerator opens in Spring, it will launch with four food businesses, with two to four businesses owned by people of color. “To me, this is a great opportunity to showcase what we mean by inclusive economic development,” says Carmody. “We want to remain a place that is welcoming to everybody across the full spectrum of economic success, whether you're a customer, an employee or a business owner.”