Words like “grit” and “perseverance” are common adjectives used to describe successful entrepreneurs. It’s no surprise, then, that a thriving startup culture is flourishing here in Flint. From coffee-brewing and consulting to high-quality clothing and sustainable eyewear, here are our picks of local startups and entrepreneurs who are making waves across our city.
1. Seeing Clearly: Ali Rose VanOverBeke
Ali Rose VanOverBeke, Co-Founder & CEO of Genusee
As a byproduct of the water crisis, single-use, plastic water bottles were piling up in Flint. Witnessing the waste firsthand as a volunteer with the Red Cross, Ali Rose VanOverbeke had an innovative idea. She founded Genusee, an eyeglass company that recycles water bottles to make their eyewear. The “for Flint, by Flint” company raised more than $75,000 on Kickstarter in under a month and has even been featured in Refinery29 and Vogue. “People want to invest in brands that are aligned with their personal values,” says VanOverbeke in Vogue. “I think it’s no longer acceptable, or even a sustainable business model, to just be focused on capital and profits.” One pair of glasses uses 15 plastic-use bottles and come in classic black and crystal fog.
2. Conversation Brewing: LV Hunter
LV Hunter, Founder of the Daily Brew
There’s something brewing in Flint. Building his customer base through social media, LV Hunter’s “The Daily Brew” began as a podcast and YouTube channel before he began making his own locally roasted java. “I believe coffee brews conversation,” he told The Hub Flint. “I think conversation can change culture and culture can change regions and lives.”
Hunter, 34, serves only the freshest, locally roasted, pour-over coffee, but his ultimate goal is to franchise and give back to the citizens of Flint. “I’m wired to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “I’m living out my dream, actually. I’m living my best life, so I’m excited.”
3. Building up Business: Ebonie Gipson
Born and raised on Flint’s north side, Ebonie Gipson has always been an entrepreneur. As a child, she sewed purses out of fabric (her mother was a seamstress) and later, she started a business selling hair extensions. After 12 years in retail management, she started I'm Building Something, a consulting business that helps Flint entrepreneurs and small business owners. “Flint is full of amazing, amazing talent,” she says. “What I don’t want to see is that talent uncultivated.”
4. Fashion Karma: Kiara Tyler
Kiara Tyler, Founder of Fashion Karma
The daughter of a soldier, 26-year-old Kiara Tyler spent her early years in Flint but moved around a lot with her father. After attending Notre Dame college, she returned to Flint and got a job as a paralegal. In 2015, she began designing large boxes with logos on them, where shoe collectors could store a dozen or more pairs of Air Jordans or Christian Louboutins. She shared her creations on Instagram and got a few orders, but soon set her sights on designing apparel. Her clothing brand, Kalm Clothing, has since developed a following among the celebrity set, including actor Joseph Simmons Jr., Grammy-nominated Detroit rapper Deja Trimble (a.k.a, DeJ Loaf), comedian Jess Hilarious, and Teyana Taylor, a singer and actress who wore her designs in the film Honey: Rise Up and Dance. "I can't keep up with demand," says Tyler. "People are actually getting pissed when I can't fill orders."
5. All-Natural Beauty: La’Asia Johnson
La'Asia Johnson, Founder of Elle Jae Essentials
Diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in high school, La’Asia began researching products that would help soothe her skin and prevent hair loss. After sharing her experience with friends and family, the 24-year-old Flint native realized there was a demand for all-natural beauty products. In 2017, she launched Elle Jae Essentials, a beauty brand that offers body butters, body washes, oils, and balms. “I’m excited to be able to share my products with people who want only the best for their skin and hair,” she tells Flint Courier News. “I’ve learned a lot about myself since starting the business. My self-confidence has improved.”
6. Clothing for Good: Oaklin Mixon
Oaklin Mixon, Founder of GoodBoy Clothing
Oaklin Mixon came to Flint as a teenager in the foster system. Even then, he had big dreams. He fell in love with the city and was determined to make a difference. While working at the Flint Crepe Co. shop, Mixon had a vision to create a socially-driven clothing company inspired by street style. In 2014, he established GoodBoy Clothing with a vision to “push idea, push a philosophy, an ideology into the culture of doing good.”
He began small, with high-quality t-shirts and bowties, but expanded into a full range of apparel that includes shirts, pants, hats, and more. “We have an awesome entrepreneurial buzz going on right now. Very artistic; some incredible people here. Despite its challenges, we sought to plant our home here. Flint is our home and we want to see it flourish.”
7. Nails on Flint: Natalie and Alex Kadie
In 2018, Natalie Kadie and her husband Alex opened Eight Ten Nail Bar, a sophisticated nail salon in downtown Flint that focuses on pampering and socializing. The couple was inspired by a visit to a nail bar in Detroit, which offered a relaxing, friendly atmosphere and luxurious touches. “We thought, 'Oh my gosh, what if we bring something like this to our city? People are hungry for things to do,’” Natalie told Inc.com. The pair decided to move from Flint Township to downtown Flint and set up their own shop, named after Flint’s area code. "People told us we were crazy," Natalie says. "We said, 'Yeah, I guess we are crazy.' But we still believed in the city." Today, the business has more than 200 clients with plans to expand.