Creative pursuits: Former attorney sets sights on area growth


By Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

Before Jeff Aronoff could leave his career as a public finance attorney with Miller Canfield to become executive director of D:hive — an experiment in the form of a physical storefront designed to connect people in Detroit to the best the city has to offer — he had some convincing to do.

“When I was first talking to the folks at D:hive, I had to convince them that someone with a law background could have a lot of creativity,” said Aronoff. “The most creative people I know are lawyers. It’s one of the most important skills you need to find a way to get a client from Point A to Point B within the constraints you have.

As lawyers, he said, “you have to foster creativity because you don’t get to make your own rules.”

“People heavily underestimate how creative good lawyers are,” Aronoff said.  They’re some of the most creative thinkers I’ve ever met, even after working with artists.”

At the end of the three-year project, it was time to assess what happens next.

“We had to address that question whether to evolve into something else,” said Aronoff. “Two other nonprofit organizations (Build Institute and Detroit Experience Factory) that are spinoffs of the work D:hive has done, but in a different structure, are the result.” Now Aronoff has gone on to start a for-profit company, Sidewalk Ventures, that works with local entrepreneurs to raise money for businesses like retail and restaurants that are positioned to open a second location.

Since an existing business in need of capital may not always be able to borrow from a bank, Aronoff facilitates possible financial arrangements, whether with a customer or an advocate who becomes an investor.

Either way, the focus is on a larger number of investors with smaller amounts to invest.

For instance, there might be 100 people investing $1,000 each instead of one committing $100,000.

Though Aronoff is shifting gears again, his newest venture is not a major departure from his recent stint.

“In Detroit, nonprofit and for-profit work together almost seamlessly,” he said. “There is so much work to be done still and I’ll continue to be in the middle of that.”

His experience has taught him that dedicated and enthusiastic people are the key to success.

“When you have the right person in the right position, I’m blown away by what they can accomplish,” he said

Aronoff, who is married with two sons, still finds time for a few purely philanthropic causes like Kiva, an international multi-lending platform, where he serves on the local advisory committee.

Through everything, he values his career at Miller Canfield.

“I did love the people there and I still keep in touch with them,” he said.

His former boss, Amanda Van Dusen, principal and group leader, public law, for the firm, appreciates what Aronoff brought to the table.

“He’s a really good communicator with the spoken word and the written word,” she said, noting that he also holds a degree in public policy. “He has a nice tone in his demeanor and
he’s really good at bringing people together to find points of common interest.”

She said he is especially adept at complex negotiations like the structuring of the Cobo Authority.

Van Dusen said Aronoff’s skills are likely to make a difference wherever he lands.

“Jeff has some passions and some qualities that make him very good at what we do here; passion is something that drove what he did here at the firm and it tells you why he took the chance at D:hive,” said Van Dusen. “He is engaged in efforts to make Detroit a better place and make the region more successful.”