Now an incubator, Detroit's Green Garage used to be a show room for Model Ts.


More than 200 community volunteers came together to help design and renovate the Green Garage. In accordance with its eco-friendly mission, they used mostly reclaimed materials, generated just one-and-a-half Dumpsters’ worth of waste, and used passive means – a white roof, triple-glazed windows and extra-thick insulation – to cut the building’s energy demand by 90 percent. The remaining demand is provided by renewable means. (Thanks in part to a solar-powered system for climate control that circulates hot water through pipes below the floor, the heating bill for one year — harsh Michigan winters included — is about what a traditionally outfitted building one-twentieth of the Green Garage’s size would pay, Mr. Brennan said.)

So far, the 11,500-square-foot space has attracted more than 20 one- to five-person companies. Participants brainstorm together in small working groups. They share gardening chores in a newly greened alley alongside the building. Each Friday, they break bread with visitors from the community at large .

They lease their Green Garage work spaces at rates ranging from $50 a month for an open chair at one of the room’s shared tables to $1,000 for an office-size area that fits four to five people. The Brennans also plan to generate revenue by offering consulting services to outside businesses pursuing triple-bottom-line strategies.

A few of the in-house businesses, like Dickinson by Design, which makes furniture and renovates homes using recycled materials, are already established and humming along; the company’s founder, Chad Dickinson, moved to Detroit from Nashville and just hired his first employee. Other enterprises are new and finding their way, eschewing traditional means of financing – Mr. Brennan isn’t big on loans that burden still-developing plans with debt – and looking to the community for help, ideas and materials. One such start-up, De-tread, plans to harvest the thousands of discarded tires that are a blight and health hazard around the city and turn the rubber into new products, including floor mats for cars, a good match for automobile manufacturers that have started pledging to include recycled content in new vehicles.

Jason Peet, 34, who interviews potential Green Garage residents, is the founder of a start-up called Mend, which uses old-growth beams from Detroit homes slated for demolition and refashions them into tables and housewares, each accompanied by a historical account of the home where the materials originated. Before joining the Green Garage, Mr. Peet attended a seminar at another incubator for local businesses. “They had this whole fast-track program, it gets you to a business plan very quickly,” he recalled. At the time, however, Mr. Peet was going through a divorce, had a 6-year-old son, and didn’t want to take out a loan to get the capital he’d need for a speedy start.

He switched tracks after meeting Mr. Brennan, who gave him a job as a carpenter on the Green Garage’s renovations, a way to pay his bills while working to conceive Mend on the side. A year later, Mr. Peet said, he’s reached the prototype stage for Mend, while keeping his finances intact.

“I haven’t really come out of pocket for it,” he said, adding that he feels good about the slow and measured growth of his plan. “The core needs to be real solid before you go forward.”

Click HERE to read the full article by Jessica Bruder on NY Times (dot) com!


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