ASKED & ANSWERED: Nick Gorga on Hatch Detroit

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

The innovative Hatch Detroit project is intended to nurture independent retail businesses in the city with funding, mentoring and other assistance. Last year's 250 applicants produced 10 semifinalists and eventual winner Joe Posch and his "Hugh" store, a home furnishings store inspired by men's magazines of the '50s and '60s. More than 65,000 people voted in the final rounds of the competition. Attorney Nick Gorga of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn LLP was a co-founder of Hatch Detroit. He was recently recognized by Crain's Detroit Business as one of its "40 under 40," Metropolitan Detroit business leaders under the age of 40. He is a graduate of University of Michigan Law School.

Thorpe: Where, when and how did the idea for Hatch Detroit originate?

Gorga: In late 2008, I moved home after six years of practicing law in Chicago. I vowed to do whatever I could do help with the revitalization of the city and the attraction and retention of young professionals. We started Hatch Detroit in May 2011, after several months of planning and research. We were looking to do our part to fuel the local economy and we identified storefront retail within the Detroit city limits as a vital area that currently was underserved.

Thorpe: Is there any connection between the law part of your life and the Hatch Detroit part of your life?

Gorga: I'm the hiring partner at Honigman and formerly the head of the pro bono committee. Hatch Detroit is a natural extension of my desire to serve those in need, as well as bring the best of the best from the region and around the country to our region to live and work. And Hatch Detroit would not have been possible without the support of management at Honigman, who see Hatch as an example of Honigman's long-standing commitment to public service in the city and region.

Thorpe: What's the link between locally-owned retail and the health of a neighborhood?

Gorga: Diverse and vibrant storefront retail is the lifeblood of a thriving neighborhood. It breeds foot traffic and community interaction, and it draws residents. Independent storefront businesses have a strong stake in the community and contribute materially not just to economic vitality, but also to safety and cleanliness.

Thorpe: Some of your contestants last year were actually cooperating with and sourcing from each other. Was that part of the original plan or did it just happen?

Gorga: The contest evolved organically much like the original idea. We were thrilled to see the contestants partner with each other, learn from each other, and help each other out. This is continuing today long after the contest. This was a microcosm of what is happening in Detroit generally among the grassroots community, the big businesses, the foundations and the government--everyone working together toward a common goal of creating the country's ultimate success story.

Thorpe: How does the public voting in the final rounds work?

Gorga: With the help of our panel of advisors, we narrowed the nearly 250 amazing submissions down to 10. This is where the most exciting part of the contest kicked in. We turned it over to the public to vote on-line to narrow the 10 to 4. After a live Q&A session for the final four hosted by Torya Blanchard, Dave Blaszkiewicz and Paul Saginaw, the public voted again to pick the winner. Over 65,000 votes were cast. Most importantly, while only 1 contestant received the $50,000 cash grant and $40,000 in donated services from Honigman, Team Detroit, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Invest Detroit, and others, the other nine semi-finalists received weeks of unprecedented exposure to potential funders. Many of them are now well on their way to opening their own stores, in part due to the exposure and connections from the contest.

We've now received $50,000 from Comerica to start the Comerica Hatch Detroit Contest in the same format as last year. Submissions will be accepted starting June 1. Voting will happen in September, right around the time that Hugh (our first winner) is slated to open in The Auburn building in Midtown.

We see Hatch Detroit as a great example of what happens when the grassroots community and the professional services world connect. While not everyone needs to start their own non-profit, we'd encourage all professionals in the city and region to look for opportunities to do their part to help. There are amazing opportunities of every stripe out there and no shortage of needs.

In addition to the contest, which will be an annual event, we will be rolling out later this year, with the help of our new executive director and the support of the Knight Foundation, new creative initiatives to showcase and support existing entrepreneurs in up and coming neighborhoods of the city.

Published: Wed, May 9, 2012