“Detroit is a hotbed for growth in the food scene,” says Liz Kellogg, whose PR company Kellogg & Caviar specializes in restaurants and hospitality brands. “We’ve been seeing chefs in New York slowly starting to leave and going to smaller cities like Asheville, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Baltimore and, now, Detroit.”

Kellogg is also making a move. After working for more than 10 years in New York’s food industry, Kellogg is among a wave of chefs, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs who are leaving bigger cities for Detroit.

From her new office at Detroit’s WeWork Merchant Row, she’s been watching the market closely and has noticed an uptick in the quality of thoughtful cooking, and chefs making waves at places like Selden Standard and Katoi —a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2017.

It’s a great launch a food-related business — or any business, for that matter — in Detroit. On May 25, Detroit will host the Creator Awards, a global initiative by WeWork to “recognize and reward the creators of the world.” Finalists from the Midwest and Canada will compete for $1.5 million in grants. Over the course of the year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million at a series of events taking place in cities spanning the globe.

With two WeWork locations, at Merchant’s Row and soon at Campus Martius, Detroit is the second city to host the Creator Awards, after Washington, D.C.

WeWork Creator
Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya run The Farmer’s Hand, a neighborhood market for the Corktown community.

Michigan born and bred chefs like Mabel Gray’s James Rigato — who is building a restaurant brand that is centered around the region’s best ingredients —is a good example of how Detroit’s pride is being translated into its food identity.

And then there is Brad Greenhill, of Katoi, who is introducing Southeast Asian ingredients — pushing the boundaries of Detroit’s food landscape by challenging his diners to experience more diversity on their plates.

Chefs who can’t afford the rent in Manhattan or simply don’t want to be constrained by the economics of running a restaurant in Chicago, are rethinking where they want to build their restaurant empires. And Detroit is certainly one of those places.

Take chefs John Vermiglio and Josef Giacomino of Grey Ghost, and two-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Lents, of Sixteen restaurant fame. Both Lents and Vermigilio are from Michigan, left to cook in Chicago, and are now back.

Lents, who will head up dining at the new Foundation Hotel, told the Detroit Free Press, “It’s a town that’s hungry for new things and for quality. I think it’s been starved and it deserves better and I hope that I can be part of bringing the culinary scene to where Detroit deserves.”

At Grey Ghost, you’ll find a neighborhood eatery and cocktail bar proud of its Detroit roots. That’s evident in its welcoming, Midwestern hospitality, commitment to butchery, and the beautiful craftsmanship, which made Eater’s list of  most beautiful restaurants.

But Detroit’s food movement isn’t just about its new restaurants or inventive cuisine. It’s about getting Detroiters access to fresh, healthy food, especially in some of the more economically challenged neighborhoods.

Just west of downtown, Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya run The Farmer’s Hand, a neighborhood market for the Corktown community. Part grocery, part cafe, and part farmers market, they bring in local produce and make food for a community that hasn’t always had access to a high-quality grocery store.

Louya, a native Detroiter, who was born in the ’80s, remembers having vivid memories as a child of traveling out to the suburbs to go food shopping.

“We are filling a need, and it’s access,” says Foulkes. “We feel very strongly that every neighborhood should have a beautiful, safe market. Here, they can get eggs and a cup of coffee. We are just two women but we’ve created something that’s tiny and mighty.”

Louya says they chose Corktown because it is a vibrant neighborhood of people who have lived here for generations. “It’s one of the oldest in Detroit, and every time the economy took a downturn, the population stayed the same,” she says. Today, Millennials and young families are moving in, adding to the mix.
“There are so many people that are inspired to start their own businesses and coming from other places to share their food,” says Louya. “The more people willing to share their cuisine and their ideas with the city, is only going to make the scene more diverse.”

A cliché about youthful founders working feverishly to launch an industry-disrupting company is the prediction that they will eventually have to bring in an “adult” to advise on business decisions and manage growth. But what if the founder is already the adult in the room?

A new study that examines age and high-growth entrepreneurship revealed that founders are more likely to succeed when they start their business well after that youthful glow has faded.

“The highest success ranges in entrepreneurship come from founders in middle age and beyond,” says the working paper by professors at MIT and Northwestern University and Javier Miranda of the U.S. Census Bureau. Their findings are consistent, they say, with theories that key entrepreneurial resources like human capital, financial capital, and social capital accumulate with age.

The study analyzed the age of United States-based founders in recent years and focused on technology companies, using markers like the number of people hired, venture capital backing, patents garnered, and acquisitions to measure success. They found that the mean age for the highest growth new ventures is 45, and that the most successful entrepreneurs in both the tech sector and the geographic areas of the U.S. considered the most entrepreneurial are close to the same age.

But, as the study also notes, those findings are at odds with the perception that only a founder in their twenties can have the think-out-of-the-box mindset to disrupt an industry, and the unencumbered life that allows full focus on building the business.

Though certainly aware of those stereotypes, founders in their mid-thirties and beyond see their work experience as key to knowing exactly what disruption is needed in industries they’ve long been part of, and how to achieve their goals in the most efficient manner.

Viewed as ‘more of a peer’

Steve Stewart, who works from WeWork Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, is well versed in working around the clock and traveling around the world at a young age. Starting in his twenties, Stewart spent a decade managing Stone Temple Pilots, one of the most popular rock bands of the 1990s, and built a thriving business overseeing the careers of about 25 other artists and their major-label record deals.

“I felt like I missed the tech boom,” Stewart said recently, shortly after returning from South Korea to open a new office for his less than two-year-old company, Vezt, a platform that allows fans to buy stakes in artists’ songs. “I saw it, but I was so tied up in the business I was in I couldn’t participate in the way I wanted to.”

Cindy Joseph, founder of The Cee Suite, says Brooklyn, was pleased by “how fast and furious my network came through for me when I launched my business.”

It was his extensive experience in the music business that allowed Stewart and his co-founder to later identify its pain points. “The part that was broken wasn’t the distribution, and it wasn’t the production. It was the financing of the music itself, the way that artists were able to monetize, so we started to focus on that problem.”

Age brought not just knowledge, but the confidence to convince customers and investors he’s right about how to do it. “If you don’t have the confidence to project the problem, the solution, what your company is doing, and to invigorate and convince others, [the idea] is just going to sit there,” Stewart says.

His experience allows him to relate both to the young artists looking to make their living in music and the music industry executives close to his age. “When I was 24 walking into Atlantic Records, someone who was 50 may doubt me,” he says. Now, venture capitalists and senior level executives are “looking at someone across the table who is more of their peer.”

His contact list also means he can often get things done more quickly. “I can do something with one call or one email that might take someone without experience or contacts five calls or five emails,” he says.

A ‘fast and furious’ network

Cindy Joseph, who turns 40 in August and operates her talent management and consulting company The Cee Suite from WeWork Montague St. in Brooklyn, says she was pleasantly surprised by “how fast and furious my network came through for me when I launched my business.” That network included colleagues and people she’d managed or recruited over the course of her more than 15 years as a human resources executive at places like Accenture and Goldman Sachs, and her college alumni group.

Joseph works with clients across all industries, including finance and tech, and believes that later-in-life founders must demonstrate why their past experience is invaluable while winnowing that information to what’s most relevant to right now.

“It’s knowing when to lean on having the experience, but not letting that be something that hampers you and keeps you from thinking outside the box,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s more about what’s next, and less about what’s behind us.”

‘Know how the machine works’

John Smelzer, 53, has been working on startups since his early forties, including having an ad network he co-founded, 5to1, acquired by Yahoo.

Smelzer understands the perception that investors are more interested in young founders. “It’s based on a belief that when you’re young you have limitless energy, nothing to lose, no mortgage, no kids, no private school tuition. You’re not bound by norms,” he says.

ScoreStream President and COO John Smelzer, seen here at a game with his daughter, says experienced entrepreneurs know “what will fly and what will not fly.”

Smelzer, who works from WeWork Santa Monica, was a lawyer before working for two decades in sports media for the NFL, NBC Sports, and Fox Sports. He is now president and COO of ScoreStream, a five-year-old company that crowd-sources real-time local sports scores.

“When you’re disrupting… you have to have some knowledge of what will fly and what will not fly. It doesn’t mean you’re going to retreat or not try; you’re using your experience to focus your energy on the highest probability of success within the machine,” he says.

Smelzer feels he often knows exactly what the other side must get to make a deal work. “We know what the other side thinks is important, so it makes it a lot easier in a negotiation to give them the things you know they need and still get what you want,” he says.

‘If you have an idea now, do it now’

Cheryl Cheng, general partner at Menlo Park-based BlueRun Ventures, acknowledges there’s a magic to the youthful need to shake things up, but says founders of any age can be successful if they have that particular fire. One advantage many older founders have, Cheng says, is the operating experience to immediately run the business side of things, and to hire and fire in a way that’s tailored to the specific needs of the company, rather than focusing on friends or a lot of people with the same traits and interests.

Overall, she says, investors are best served to just focus on the problem proposed to be solved and who is the best person to do it.  “Our job is to be open-minded all the time, and to really take in the whole package of any opportunity. It’s dangerous to be categorically opposed to something that arbitrary,” Cheng said, referring to a founder’s age.

Many 35-and-over founders, including Stewart, Joseph, and Melzer, do feel that, advantages of life experiences aside, the idea and the ability to execute are what matter the most. And that comes at different times for different people.  “My view is, ‘Hey, if you have the idea now, do it now,’” Smelzer says.

Photos by Frank Mullaney

“Women hold up half the sky” has been a common saying in China for the past 50 years, but for most of that time it hasn’t been the reality in business. But China is changing fast, and in the past decade women have been holding up their half — and often much more — in big cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai.

Women own 30.9 percent of all businesses in China, according to the most recent Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. That puts it on par with neighboring Singapore (29.2 percent) and well ahead of Japan (17.6 percent).

In some Chinese industries the percentage of female founders is much higher. Among new technology startups, for example, 55 percent are being founded by women.

China also happens to be the only country where women outnumber men at WeWork. More than 51 percent of WeWork China’s members are women, compared with an average of 47 percent worldwide.

What makes all these numbers even more striking is the fact that in China, women make up only 45 percent of the total population.

What’s fueling the momentum? A mix of enthusiastic government support, robust startup communities, strong growth in small- and medium-sized businesses, access to educational opportunities, and the rapid growth of companies like WeWork that provide affordable office space has ushered in rapid advancements over the past decade.

“China is totally different from what people imagined five or 10 years ago,” says Anna Wong, co-founder of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide, a Hong Kong-based organization that recently expanded to Shenzhen and Shanghai. “It’s evolving rapidly. Offices use facial recognition software for security and coffee shops accept WeChat pay. Society is changing, too. Female founders are very well-respected in China.”

An entrepreneurial era

Changes to women’s status in China started with the 1954 constitution, which granted women “equal rights with men in all areas of political, economic, cultural, social, and domestic life.” In the decades that followed, government reforms began to protect and empower women with national education requirements and anti-discrimination laws, including the Women’s Work Protection Regulations in 1988, Women’s Rights Protection Law in 1992, and the Labor Law in 1994.

By the 1980s and 1990s, more social programs — like the Association of Women Entrepreneurs in China, the All-China Women’s Federation, the Women’s Successful Career Program, and the Tianjin Women Entrepreneurs Centre — were born. Such programs offer a mix of career services, including subsidies for professional training, preferential tax treatment, loan programs, and mentoring.

More than 51 percent of WeWork China’s members are women, compared with an average of 47 percent worldwide.

As far as the most recent push to encourage entrepreneurship, most experts point to the country’s flagging economic growth. In a 2014 speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” through more financial incentives for those starting businesses and stronger intellectual protections for innovators.

“In the past few years, the local governments have been competing with each other to build science parks and startup hubs, [enact] lower taxes, or even grant loans to attract people to start the businesses,” says Wong. “Government bodies encourage female leadership and entrepreneurship, so they can contribute to the GDP.”

Wong says that several smaller cities tried to convince her to relocate her business with promises of economic incentives.

“We were offered office space, loans, apartments for staff, and tax breaks in several cities just so we’d register the company there,” says Wong.  “These governments are always looking for good companies that contribute to and diversify their GDP.”

Cities like Beijing and Shanghai often aim to attract big tech companies, but also hope to boost cultural and creative capital by providing favorable tax policies for small businesses in creative industries — think film, design, animation, publishing, and more.

These incentives, combined with China’s development of the private sector, an influx of foreign capital over the past two decades, and higher levels of education across the nation, have created a framework where women founders can thrive alongside men.

Starting up in Shanghai

When China native Wen Yao relocated from Chicago to Shanghai earlier this year, she wasn’t sure what to expect. A WeWork Creator Awards finalist in Detroit, the serial entrepreneur has already started two businesses in Chicago and is now leading her third: Powwful, a female sportswear brand that aims to empower women of all shapes and sizes.

“When we expanded Powwful into China, we realized that we couldn’t just copy and paste what we were doing in Chicago,” says Yao, who worked as a marketing professional before starting her first business. “Everything works so differently in China — the social media platforms are different, the customer preferences are different, the behaviors are different….”

In Shanghai, women say that in business they “enjoy equal if not higher social status.”

But despite the learning curve, the Taiwan-born Yao has found herself at home in a like-minded community where women are highly regarded. “Out of all the cities in China, I feel like Shanghai is one of the best in terms of gender equality,” says Yao. “Our sportswear business is really about female empowerment, but what’s interesting is that when I met the China WeWork manager, he mentioned that women have higher status in Shanghai than in the U.S.”

Lucia Shen, founder of popular millennial-focused video site called DiX (loosely translated to “In the Moment”), agrees. “Every single city in China has its own unique culture, and you really can’t generalize,” says Shen. “But in Shanghai, specifically, women enjoy equal if not higher social status. We don’t really distinguish between female and male entrepreneurs. You’re just an entrepreneur.”

China’s own Silicon Valley

Maureen Mou, who runs luxury online fashion site Xiu.com, says it’s never been a better time to be doing business in China, particularly in the southeastern city of Shenzhen. WeWork will open its first location there later this year.

Today, Shenzhen is often compared to Silicon Valley, due to its emergence as a global tech and hardware manufacturing hub. With more liberal policies than the rest of China, Shenzhen has seen explosive economic growth, enjoying a year-over-year GDP growth rate of 9.1 percent from 2016 to 2017.

There are also myriad crowdfunding platforms, bank loan programs, incubators, competitions, and co-working spaces — all of which have been instrumental in creating China’s most entrepreneurial city. According to a study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 16 percent of adults in Shenzhen were engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activities in 2016.

“We often benefit from experimental policies and there are countless opportunities coming to you,” says Mou. “But you have to be ready to the embrace changes. If you are slow to adapt or to adjust to policy shifts, your business will be pushed out of the market because it’s so competitive.”

Anytime, anywhere

In China today, no matter where an entrepreneur settles in China, the possibility of starting a new business is at her fingertips.

“By using ecommerce platforms [like WeChat or Weidian], anyone can be an entrepreneur,” says Yao. “There are so many platforms in China. I think that provides a lot of opportunities for women to start their own businesses. There’s very little overhead and a low barrier to entry, so you see women really thriving in mobile e-commerce.”

Current government incentives for creative professionals have made video, blogging, and media a promising space. Many women have been able to create businesses in these fields.

“You have access to all the conveniences that you’d have in any metropolitan area, as well as tax breaks, incubators, and affordable ways to test out your idea or minimal viable products,” says Shen, whose video site has 700,000 followers. “You bootstrap here and test out ideas pretty easily.”

Shen says companies like WeWork have also made things easier for women entrepreneurs.

“You know, 15 years ago, if you wanted to have an office, you had to rent an entire office or just work from home,” says Shen. “There is no such things as a garage in Shanghai, so you’d be in your living room with a small team and all your equipment. So I think having a place like WeWork has made the barrier to entry lower.”

There are still many obstacles facing women in China’s entrepreneurial framework, from social expectations to get married and start a family to securing investments from venture capital firms. Last year, for example, a high-profile investor in China stated that he doesn’t invest in female entrepreneurs. Yao says this perspective is not the norm.  

“A a woman founder in China, you’re not going to be an outlier,” says Yao. “Maybe a few years ago it would have been harder. But with the sheer number of women starting companies in China, it’s now normal and expected — and that has improved the big picture.”

Stacy Spikes believes that successful entrepreneurs don’t understand the word “no.”

“I think the people in this room have a part of their brain where they don’t quite hear the word ‘no’ properly,” said Spikes, speaking to a room packed with people eager to hear how he had cofounded the movie subscription service Moviepass. “You have to have that. There are some people in the world that hear the word ‘no’ and they go, ‘OK.’ And that’s it for them.”

Spikes believes that every time an investor says “no” to a pitch, they’re only refining what it will take to get a “yes.”

“Eventually, what they’ve done is that they’ve sharpened your pitch so incredibly that there’s nothing being thrown at you that will stump you,” says Spikes, a longtime member at WeWork Soho West. He recently spoke at a WeWork Labs event that drew more than 70 guests to WeWork Dumbo Heights.

Spikes has heard “no” plenty of times. When he was fired from a film production company in 1997, he rented a small cubicle at the Tribeca Film Center. There he came up with the idea for Urbanworld, which in the past two decades has become the world’s largest film festival for minority filmmakers, actors, writers, and directors. The five-day event takes place in late September in New York City.

In 2011, Spikes and business partner Hamet Watt founded MoviePass, which allows subscribers to see a movie a day for a monthly fee of $9.95. Spikes says they first hit upon the idea for Moviepass in 2005, and despite being told “no” for six years, he and Watt refused to throw in the towel.

MoviePass founder Stacey Spikes talks with entrepreneurs about launching a company.

Spikes says their inspiration came from art-house theaters in New York City that let customers see an unlimited number of movies for a flat fee. They racked up roughly 23,000 subscribers under their original business model, which charged an average of $35 a month. This helped them raise almost $14 million from early investors like AOL Ventures and William Morris Entertainment.

Then MoviePass caught the eye of Helios & Matheson Analytics, a data analytics company that bought the business in 2017. Spikes stayed on to chair the board of directors until early this year, leaving before the stock took a hit in the media and saw its stock price plummet.

Spikes currently working on a new venture, though the 50-year-old entrepreneur has remained tight-lipped about what it will be.

Have the perfect data

Spikes describes MoviePass as a data-driven company that collects information on individual subscribers, like what movies they are watching and where they are located. He believes that the most important thing for a company’s success is having accurate data and has made a point to remember this every step of the way.

“The truth is, if your data is off, you’re just believing your own hype and you’re lying to yourself,” Spikes says. He adds that he’ll often share his data with people outside the industry, just to make sure that the numbers are persuasive

His advice to entrepreneurs starting their own company echoes this, urging people to make sure their numbers are accurate and run their presentations by several people before going too far.

““The truth is, if your data is off, you’re just believing your own hype,” says Stacey Spikes.

“Those things are critical because if you’re not all buttoned up, you’ll pay a price for that,” he says. “And sometimes you can’t walk back in those doors several times.”

Spikes says that when people think of successful entrepreneurs, they imagine someone who is white and male. In the startup world, only 1 percent of venture capital funding goes to black entrepreneurs, and 2 percent goes to females. His advice on how to deal with this? Ignore it.

“I can’t go in the mirror before I walk into that conference room going, ‘OK, you’re black, but you can do it!’” he says. “I have to walk in going, ‘I got a great idea that you should fund.’”

He urges entrepreneurs to continually “ram the gates.”

“You might be that person who gets through the gates,” he says, “and then people are going to look at you and say ‘Well, if Stacy got through, maybe I can get through.’”

Use the right resources

Spikes looks to resources like DocSend, a content tracking solution, to help him get a read on people he’s trying to pitch. By allowing him to see how long investors spend on each slide in his initial pitch deck, DocSend gives Spikes some foreshadowing into what potential clients are thinking.

“It’s a great tool to help me in the [fundraising] process because you don’t want people who are going to waste your time,” he says.

He also advises entrepreneurs to figure out a schedule that promotes productivity. Spikes keeps himself moving forward by breaking up his week. He does certain things on certain days — Mondays are dedicated to tasks and projects, while Thursdays are for finance.

“This makes it easier because there are certain things that you don’t want to do,” Spikes says, “so you’re not stuck doing those things for your whole week.”

Spikes considers himself a voracious reader of biographies, a genre he sees as a handbook of sorts. He likens reading a biography to “an executive coming and sitting with you, telling you exactly how to do things.”

At the end of the day, Spikes stresses that an entrepreneur’s best resource is themself.

“Be smart,” he says. “Find your way into the door and into the conversation. Play the part like you’re there to win. I have a blazer in the drawer because you gotta be ready to roll. You have to think on your feet and use whatever you got to get through the wall.”

Photos by Josh Wehle

 

When Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata reflects on his more than decade of playing professional soccer, he says that the trophies and titles have been gratifying. But it’s the sport’s potential to change the world that compels him the most.

“Thanks to a career in football, I’ve been able to travel to many parts of the world, and what I’ve come to find is that this sport really brings people together and has a profound impact on the next generation of boys and girls,” said the Spanish player, speaking to a crowd of soccer fans at Colombia’s WeWork Usaquén.

He realized that soccer could help transform lives at the local level by funding initiatives to battle intractable problems like gender inequality and youth unemployment.

“We started Common Goal for our love of football and as a way to make an impact, a movement we started some 10 months ago,” said Mata.

Juan Mata poses with a fan at Colombia’s WeWork Usaquén.

Common Goal’s connection to WeWork began last year when the organization won $180,000 at the WeWork Creator Awards in Berlin. Since then, a partnership has developed. WeWork has encouraged its members and employees to help support Common Goal and its programs to empower disadvantaged people and their communities.

“At Common Goal, we use football to improve the lives of young boys and girls, and that’s why why are here with WeWork,” said Mata. “We share the same mission of bringing people together. We are thrilled to partner with a company like WeWork to help support us and our mission.”

After joining a panel discussion at WeWork Usaquén, Mata settled in to watch Spain take on Iran in a match during the World Cup. Members there said watching Mata cheer as his Spanish teammates won the match was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This was one of dozens of viewing parties held at WeWork locations around the world as the month-long World Cup competition unfolded. In Berlin, Common Ground co-founder Thomas Preiss spoke before 150 people gathered to take in the Germany vs. South Korea match on June 14. Half a world away, members at WeWork Seoul cheered their team to victory.

Juan Mata joins the crowd watching a World Cup match at Colombia’s WeWork Usaquén.

As England powered its way to the semifinals, members in London gathered for a series of events leading off with a June 18 panel discussion led by WeWork member Akin Solanke-Caulker, head of the sports talent agency the Athletic Network. Before watching the match at WeWork Old Street, Solanke-Caulker regaled the crowd with tales of negotiating deals with some of the biggest names in soccer, rugby, and track and field.

On July 10, the day France took on Belgium in the semifinals, Miami’s WeWork Security Building hosted a viewing party featuring WeWork member Soccer Shape, a fitness plan started by members of the Miami Football Club that incorporates drills and exercises used by top teams. Members got to kick a ball around before settling in to watch the big game.