A Black-owned coffee roastery and an Ethiopian pop-up have emerged as the two food and beverage-based projects that have advanced to the final four in the Hatch Detroit Contest (now run by TechTown) small business competition. The Sepia Coffee Project, which currently roasts ethically-sourced coffee out of the North End, and Konjo Me, which invites Detroiters to eat with their hands to help get reacquainted with their ancestral palates, are among the four finalists vying for $100,000 in funding from Comerica Bank.
New this year, the public will be invited to cast their votes for another round for just two days between noon April 24 and through the conclusion of a ticketed, Shark Tank-style pitch-off event taking place at 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at the Wayne State University Industry Innovation Center at 461 Burroughs St. In previous years, the voting period was longer, however, this new format will allow voters to vote based in part on how well each contestant articulates their business plans in front of a live audience.
Here’s a look at this year’s contenders:
Food and Beverage
The Sepia Coffee Project is a micro-roastery that aims to connect Black and brown communities overseas and locally through the power of coffee. Founded in 2021 in Detroit’s North End neighborhood, owner Martell Mason sources specialty coffee beans from farmers in under-represented regions of the Americas, Africa, and the Indian Pacific. Mason grew up in Highland Park, but left Michigan for college and went on to study sustainability and the coffee value chain during his graduate work before launching a career as a coffee trader overseas. During the pandemic, he returned stateside and applied his experience abroad to start The Sepia Coffee Project out of a 500-square-foot space in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. He plans to launch a full-scale roastery and eventually a cafe in his hometown on Hamilton, a once bustling neighborhood commercial district. “Coffee brings people together, and with and with that, there’s dialogue, and that dialogue can create change,” says Mason.
Konjo Me was founded by Helina Melaku, who immigrated from Ethiopia to Michigan in the 2000s as a teen. She says growing up in Ethiopia her family grew vegetables in the backyard, animals were slaughtered on-site, and generations of family members would gather for a meal — all impressing on her the importance of mindfulness when eating. She launched Konjo Me in 2020 — a pop-up that she uses as a platform to educate others on how they, too, can learn to make that connection between mind, body, and planet. During her events, she gives diners an overview of Ethiopian traditions, offers samples, and invites customers to eat with their hands, as is customary to Ethiopian dining. “It wakes up their dormant palates and also connects them to their ancestral palates,” she says.
Next Chapter Books, a new and used, all-ages bookstore in Detroit, and Bouncing Around The Motor City, a party rental and planning business, were also named finalists for this year’s contest.
Earlier this month, Hatch unveiled its Top 10 semifinalists, which included several other food-based businesses, including: pop-up taqueria Shell Shock’d; Detroit Ice Cream, which specializes in boozy frozen treats; the Highland Park Community Kitchen; JP Makes and Bakes, a forthcoming Filipino bakery, and Chi Fan Le, an eatery that specializes in traditional Chinese dumplings. All semifinalists are considered alumni of Hatch and also receive support for their business ventures.