Twelve women-owned community-focused businesses to get boost from Ford Empower-HER

Twelve women-owned community-focused businesses to get boost from Ford Empower-HER

A good pitch will win 12 local women a share of $50,000 to use to support the startups they’ve created that will make their communities better places to live.

You can see how they do at the inaugural Ford Empower-HER pitch competition on Feb. 7 at Ford headquarters in Dearborn. You can register for the free event here. The welcome reception is at 5:15 p.m. and the program is at 6 p.m.

The initiative, a collaboration between the Michigan Women’s Foundation (MFF) and the Ford Motor Company Fund, is designed to support the innovative business ideas of women entrepreneurs. Ford Empower-HER offers educational opportunities, technical assistance and financial resources.

“Our goal is to provide the education, capital and mentorship women need to start and grow sustainable businesses,” says Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO, Michigan Women’s Foundation.

The idea is to encourage the women to move forward with plans for business startups that embrace social entrepreneurship, which is a way of doing business that benefits people in the community, often by employing the disadvantaged, empowering people to take positive steps toward self-reliance or sharing products and/or profits with people in need.

“Ford Empower-HER will inspire women with the business savvy to make a profit and the social awareness to make a positive impact on their community at the same time,” said Pamela Alexander, community development director, Ford Motor Company Fund when the program was launched last April. “Ford’s success has always been rooted in innovation and Ford Empower-HER advances Ford Fund’s support for women through entrepreneurship.”

A winner will be chosen in three categories – Growth, Launch and Ideation.

The top winner in the Growth category will receive $10,000 cash and $15,000 in investment. The other three finalists will each receive a $1,000 cash prize.

The top winner in the Launch category will receive $7,500 cash and $5,000 in investment. The other three finalists will each receive a $1,000 cash prize.

The top winner in the Ideation category will receive $2,500 cash and the other three finalists to each receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Here are some thumbnail sketches of the 12 women and their startups in each area. Which one do you think will win?


  • Erin Rose, Kayla Schindler – Every Two Minutes – Every Two Minutes creates next generation mobile learning platforms to provide immersive prevention education, skills, and on-demand tools at critical moments to help young people combat sexual violence and misconduct during college and post-graduation.
  • Jennifer Morgan, Branches and Bridges – Branches and Bridges provides a program of activities, health monitoring, socialization, and assistance with daily activities for seniors. The service allows them to continue to live in their homes and receive needed care in a supportive, professionally staffed, community-based setting.
  • Lisa Stolarski, Antique Touring – Antique Touring, based in Highland Park, operates tours of local historical sites and neighborhoods in Model T and Model A Fords from stations at Belle Isle, New Center and other notable and historical places around the metro area. The startup wants to leverage the profitability of tourism and the region’s history to spur economic revitalization in Highland Park and create right livelihood opportunities for people in the poorest communities.
  • Kimberly Watts, Purnell Provisions – Purnell Provisions uses surplus, damaged and reclaimed produce to create shelf-stable products like jams, jellies, sauces and soups to reduce food waste. A portion will be donated to food pantries/kitchens to increase access to high-quality products for people experiencing food insecurity. Using reclaimed or blemished produce can be between 25 to 60 percent lower than the cost of “perfect” versions of food, which lowers expenses and lets the company absorb the cost of donating finished products.
Women interested in the Ford Empower-HER program listen to speakers at the initial summit, which took place last summer.


  •  Alecia Gabriel, Chinonye Akunne, Deirdre Roberson – Motor City STEAM Motor City STEAM (MCS) used market research from scientific professionals and community members to be a learning center engaging students, parents and the community vested in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics-related education. It includes hands-on learning laboratory experiences and lectures with accompanying field trips to facilitate integration of science as well as the arts.
  • Kimberly Buffington, Eden Urban Farms – Eden employs a sustainable agriculture model utilizing indoor farming technology to provide locally grown fresh foods and employment opportunities to urban communities. Growing indoors and maximizing square footage by stacking growing systems, it consistently yields double, triple or quadruple the harvest output achieved outdoors. Additionally, Eden can harvest year round without the impact of temperature shifts in weather. With the current shifts toward sustainably grown food, Eden’s produce is in high demand in grocery stores, farmers markets, restaurants, hotels, airlines and hospitals.
  • Michelle Smart, Bags To Butterflies – Bags To Butterflies, L3C, located in Detroit, helps reduce recidivism within the community by providing female returning citizens with employment and training opportunities as well as connecting the women with resources, support and a caring network that will help empower them to redefine their life purpose.
  • Samantha Farr, Women Who Weld – Women Who Weld teaches women how to weld and find employment in the welding industry. It offers three programs. 1) A subsidized, six-week intensive training program where unemployed and underemployed women learn how to MIG weld and operate various metalworking tools and machines. Graduates are prepared for full-time jobs or apprenticeships in the welding industry 2) Paid, week-long intensive training classes for women who are interested in learning how to MIG, TIG, and/or Stick weld. Graduates are prepared for full-time jobs or apprenticeships in the welding industry. 3) Low-cost, single-day introductory workshops for women who are interested in learning the basics of MIG welding and information about opportunities in the welding industry.


  • Deanna Wojcik, Detroit Mushroom Factory – Detroit Mushroom Factory is a sustainable urban mushroom farm providing locally grown fresh mushrooms to Detroit’s restaurants and farmers markets. The triple-bottom-line farm is committed to paying staff a living wage, bringing nutritious food to Detroit’s neighborhoods, and growing mushrooms on 100% recycled materials.
  • Joanne Ewald, Mend on the Move – Mend on the Move employs and empowers women in metro Detroit who are survivors of abuse and addiction. It trains them to create jewelry and other handcrafted products, providing them with an income while in a recovery program. The organization works with its survivor Makers on-site at the recovery home where they live.
  • Alexa Jones, TheraB Medical Products – TheraB Medical is an early stage startup focused on launching its first product SnugLit, a wearable, portable solution to infant jaundice that promotes bonding and breastfeeding. SnugLit is designed to be worn by the infant, facilitating closeness and allowing the mother to freely hold, breastfeed, and bond with her baby. It provides 360-degree blue light coverage in an all-in-one device, simplifying treatment for hospitals that currently use two devices to achieve the coverage that SnugLit provides.
  • Ashlee Trempus, SignOn – SignOn empowers the deaf by providing valuable work opportunities utilizing their American Sign Language (ASL) skills and paying them a living wage. The goal is to actively engage the deaf in the ASL learning process, create a bridge between the deaf and hearing communities, and provide virtual (language) immersion for all ASL learners. It uses a two-way live video portal that connects ASL learners to live deaf ambassadors for one-on-one ASL learning sessions.

The judges for the pitch challenge are:

  • Pamela Alexander, director of community development, Ford Motor Company Fund
  • Richard Beedon, founder & CEO, MacBeedon Group
  • Susan M. Diehl, advisor & partner, Trinitas Advisors
  • Susan Gordon, impact investing managing director, Mission Throttle

Mission Throttle, an advisory firm dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in our community, is joining in with a $15,000 package of advisory services and a potential cash investment in one of the growth category businesses.

Belle Michigan, an early stage investment fund committed to building great companies in Michigan as a premier source of human and financial capital to women-led companies, and the University of Michigan Social Venture Fund also will be on hand to consider investing in these businesses.

“Our goal is to provide the education, capital and mentorship women need to start and grow sustainable businesses,” says Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO, Michigan Women’s Foundation. “We are grateful that Ford has chosen investing in women to be among their priorities and we are thrilled to be selected to partner with them on Ford Empower-HER.”

MWF is Michigan’s largest microlender. The Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, supports programs that help women succeed by overcoming social, educational and financial obstacles. The fund is also active in STEAM (science, technology, education, arts and math) education that is focused on encouraging girls and young women to consider careers in technical fields such as engineering and design.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.