By Lori Atherton
Nick Gorga, ’02, is helping “to put a small thumbprint on the next chapter of Detroit.”
After working in Chicago for six years as an associate at Latham & Watkins LLP, Gorga returned to Detroit in 2008 to help combat what he viewed as a “brain drain” in the region.
Gorga—the hiring partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP—wanted to make a direct impact on Detroit without duplicating what already was being done to revitalize the city. He teamed up with Ted Balowski, a former classmate at Detroit Country Day School, to launch Hatch Detroit, a yearly contest that helps local entrepreneurs set up shop. The Chicago neighborhoods Gorga once frequented served as their inspiration.
“What I saw living in Chicago is that the neighborhoods were able to attract and retain people and develop cool and diverse retail shops, bars, and restaurants,” Gorga says. “We didn’t see anybody in Detroit helping out in that vein, so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to carve out a niche and help to foster dense retail districts in the city.”
Contestants are whittled down to the top 10 by Hatch’s board of directors. The public then votes on the final four, who compete in a live Q&A session moderated by local business leaders. Those individuals, along with the community, select the winner, who receives $50,000 in start-up funds and $50,000 in services from Hatch and its sponsors.
Gorga describes the process as Shark Tank meets American Idol.
Hatch sponsored its third contest last summer; the winner, Batch Brewing Company, is Detroit’s first nanobrewery. Previous winners include HUGH, a home goods and accessories store with a Mad Men vibe, and La Feria, a Spanish tapas restaurant and wine bar that celebrated its grand opening in late 2013. By spring 2014, 11 Hatch Detroit contestants are expected to have opened their doors, thanks to the boost they received from participating in the contest.
Detroiters, Gorga says, have had a vested interest in the competition from the start. “The public’s response has been overwhelming. For the first contest, we expected to have 25 or 30 viable ideas, and we got 200. We expected to have 5,000 votes cast, and we had 65,000. It just shows how Detroit and the region crave something positive and supportive.”
An outgrowth of the contest, Gorga notes, is Hatch’s partnership with the Detroit Lions to help revitalize existing retail businesses and neighborhoods beyond the downtown and midtown areas. The first neighborhood to undergo revitalization—anticipated to be a yearlong process—is the Avenue of Fashion on Livernois between Seven Mile and Eight Mile roads, where Hatch and the Lions will help businesses with façade renovations, along with beautifying key public spaces and installing art projects.
“It’s an exciting second half of what we do,” Gorga says.