NEI Story Quick Facts
Grants: Detroit-Based High Growth Accelerator, First Step Fund
Grant Amount: $7,000,000
- Build the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- Address the deficit of financing that is a major impediment to the attraction of new businesses
When I first told my wife I was leaving a large company to start my own company, that was naturally greeted with a great deal of surprise on her part.
- John Swiatek, Coliant Corporation
First Step Fund
The First Step Fund, a revolving loan pool for emerging small businesses located in Southeast Michigan, was established in 2010 with the help of an NEI grant. The Fund provides entrepreneurs with much more than capital—its directors provide them with high level mentorship and coaching. The First Step Fund engages with partners throughout the region—from Detroit to Ann Arbor—to make sure that their entrepreneurs are plugged in to the best business support network in the region.
Receiving capital from the First Step Fund not only allows startups to invest in their personal growth, it signals to other lenders that businesses are worthy of investment. Capital can be tough to come across for startups, but recipients of the First Step Fund get leverage. To date, the First Step Fund has helped entrepreneurs procure over one hundred patents and earn tens of millions in additional funding.
For John Swiatech, the hardest part of becoming an entrepreneur was telling his wife.
John had a comfortable career working as a designer for Chrysler, but in his spare time he was a devoted motorcyclist and often spent weekends and nights in his basement customizing his motorcycle to improve the comfort and safety of his riding experience. His hobby grew into something bigger—the inspiration for a business.
In 2004, he and two friends launched Coliant Corporation out of his basement. He went all in, leaving Chrysler to search for startup funding. He found Invest Detroit's First Step Fund and received a $50,000 loan to get Coliant Corporation off the ground.
“The $50,000 dollars was obviously helpful," says Swiatech, "but Invest Detroit provided so much more than that. They introduced us to a whole community of entrepreneurs, helped me feel validated in my decision to start Coliant, and gave private investors the confidence to get involved with us. And, most importantly, that validation made my wife feel better.”
Today, Coliant Corporation is thriving. Their line of Powerlet products make it convenient for motorcyclists to install power outlets on their bikes that they can use to connect and mount electrical devices. Coliant is now producing a line of heated clothing to keep bikers comfortable on rides all year long. Coliant's operations are currently housed in the first Chevrolet Dealership in the region, which they saved from demolition.
Moses Lee had a problem with resumes. He asked himself, "How are you supposed to distinguish yourself when everyone is using the same format, the same action words, and the same numbers?" He knew there had to be a better way to communicate your experiences and expertise—who you really are—to potential employers. He decided to launch a company that would offer an alternative to the resume.
Seelio allows students to create portfolios that showcase their college work, demonstrate to potential employees that they are more than just a resume, and immediately turn their coursework into marketable skills.
With the help of a loan from the First Step Fund, Seelio developed a business plan and was able to leverage those funds to attract angel investors. To date, Seelio has assembled $1.5 million dollars in seed funding. They now have 12 employees and university partners across the country.