Part I: My Story.
I'm Jeff Aronoff. I run Sidewalk Ventures.
I was eight when I did my first custom framing job at my family's small gallery and framing shop. Started cutting glass at twelve, 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 often hear 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 micro-issues—maintaining the books, training employees, handling quirky customers and unpredictable vendors—always remain squarely in the business owner's lap.
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 worked on financings for infrastructure, downtown development projects, non-profits and small manufacturers. I learned how creative financing can create great opportunity. I also saw how strong communities, vibrant downtowns and support for small business activity contribute to 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. And that's where you come in.
Part II: Your Story.
While at D:hive, I worked intimately with scores of small business owners working on to turning ideas into enterprises, in what eventually became Build Institute. 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 to work for you, they brag about how cool it is to have you in their neighborhoods. And the theory behind community investment is that the community's interest in you can manifest in an entirely new way: financial investment.
Indeed it’s time to design new methods of funding that provide capital for businesses and empower individuals with alternative ways to support their local economy. The result is good for commerce and community, which makes raising money profitable and meaningful for everyone involved.
Clearly Your Story is shorter than My Story. Why? Your story is still only beginning. Let's continue to write it.
Walk With Us.