Computer science student launches Detroit Help Hub to support local businesses during COVID-19 crisis
Mandatory closures of restaurants and storefronts - as well as the "six-foot rule" of social distancing - during the COVID-19 emergency is necessary to slow the spread of illness. However, once the health thread subsides, the economic toll facing small-business owners that have had to shut their doors may be felt for months and years.
Mustafa Ahmed, a computer science student at Wayne State University, has seen firsthand how businesses in Detroit have been affected in these challenging times. As a business owner himself - he started a company out of TechTown last year called Midtown Code - he felt compelled to do something for his fellow entrepreneurs in the city.
"We are all feeling it. We want to do what we can to help," said Ahmed.
In collaboration with business partner Ivana Kalafatic, Ahmed launched the Detroit Help Hub as a platform for business owners to share how people can support them and for consumers to receive updates from their favorite local companies, including what they're still able to offer during the crisis.
Patrons can pitch in by donating to a business, buying a gift card or visiting a company's website to make a purchase. The site also consolidates vast amounts of information from federal and state levels and breaks it down to assist local businesses.
Ahmed acknowledges that software companies such as his can still function through virtual meetings and digital communication, but that the lifeblood of most brick-and-mortar businesses is direct customer interaction.
"These people are part of a community that gives us experiences that shape our version of Detroit that we have today," said Ahmed.
With the rapidly changing conditions in Michigan, the project needed to come together just as fast. The timeline of Detroit Help Hub from idea to implementation was about a week. Within the first 24 hours of launch, about 20 businesses signed up.
"Now more than ever, we need to look out for each other," said Amy Nicole, a local journalist and photographer known by her moniker ACRONYM. "The use of detroithelphub.com is a way to reach my audience directly. The people who want these services or want to help are able to access a pool of Detroit-based businesses only, which takes out a lot of the guess work in how to connect and not get passed over on social media or by a larger corporation."
Many of the business owners that were initially contacted are clients of Kalafactic. She is the founder of DetroitIsIt, a local digital media platform, and 2gathr, a digital marketing and content creation company. She was also an early customer of Midtown Code before she and Ahmed partnered.
Ahmed's business has grown to attract larger clients such as Ford Motor Company, Erb Foundation, The War Memorial and FIRM Real Estate. He has developed solutions for event management and automation, as well as search engine optimization.
Detroit Help Hub, however, is about a small business helping other small businesses in a city that has become an entrepreneurial hot spot. Detroit saw a 59% increase in the number of young, college-educated residents in the last 10 years. It was dubbed "Start Up City, U.S.A." for what it offers to entrepreneurs looking to make their dreams a reality.
"Detroit is so tight knit, and one of the things I love about being at Wayne State is that it's a living ecosystem," said Ahmed. "We're so close to downtown and there are so many startups and businesses."
To learn more about how you can help local businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, visit detroithelphub.com.