Part I: My Story.
I'm Jeff Aronoff. I run Sidewalk Ventures.
I think I was eight when I assembled my first custom frame at my family's small gallery and framing shop. Started cutting glass at twelve or so, got to work the frame-cutting saw at fourteen. My dad and I would deliver framed prints and paintings to customers' homes and hang them. Ask him about Mrs. Koza if you ever get the chance. The job almost killed me, but she ended up with a damn nice, very large painting hanging over her floating staircase.
My parents' business was a family affair. My sister and I would help out during high school and work the frenzied holiday rush while on break from college, helping our parents think about strategy and incorporate technology as we got older. Growing up in a family business taught me that small business owners are never really detached, even momentarily, from their businesses. I've heard so many entrepreneurs talk about their dreams of building a business that can eventually run itself. I'm sure that happens, but I think it's mostly a myth. The everyday issues—maintaining the books, training employees, handling quirky customers and unpredictable vendors—usually remain squarely in the business owner's lap. That is the experience of the small business owner. Keeping an eye on the big picture while dealing with that constant stream of daily challenges requires all kinds of determination.
After a little too much school, I spent eight years practicing public finance and economic development law at Miller Canfield, a Detroit law firm that remains very dear to me. I was privileged to work on financing transactions for large and small infrastructure systems, schools, downtown development projects, non-profits and small manufacturers. I learned from some brilliant colleagues and clients about how creative financing can create great opportunity. I also learned the importance of taking complex finance concepts and distilling them into terms that make sense to people who are too busy building and creating things to comb through the tax code and securities laws. Most importantly, I learned how strong communities, vibrant downtowns and support for small business activity contribute to quality of life and local economic stability.
Fate finally landed me as Executive Director of D:hive, a non-profit hub of resources for living, working, engaging or building a business in Detroit. We were a startup—inventing, experimenting, putting out fires daily while never letting anyone see us sweat. We were designed as a three-year project, and you can read all about what we did during that time here. We crafted a compelling narrative about a unique city and left a pretty neat legacy that is being carried on by D:hive's successor organizations, Build Institute and the Detroit Experience Factory. And this is where you come in.
Part II: Your Story.
While at D:hive, I had the honor of working intimately with scores of small business owners looking to turn ideas into enterprises. These people have that determination to mind the big picture while dealing with the constant stream of daily challenges. These people are the visionaries who bring their imagination, passion and sheer will to work everyday, without any promise that the community will care.
These people are you, and I promise, the community does care. They buy your goods and services. They come work for you. They brag about how cool it is to have you in their neighborhoods and towns. And the idea behind community-based investment is that all this community support and interest can be channeled in an entirely new direction: financial investment. Indeed it's time to design methods of funding that provide capital for businesses while empowering individuals to support their local economy in a new way. The result is good for commerce and community, which makes raising money profitable and meaningful for everyone involved.
Looks like Your Story is shorter than My Story. Why? Because your story is still only beginning. Let's continue to write it.
Walk With Us.