Michigan Firms: The Robot Garage, Edibles Rex Granted $250,000

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Of the nearly 35,000 small businesses that submitted applications to the Mission Main Street Grants initiative, 12 were selected to receive a $250,000 grant from Chase along with a trip to Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. Among them were two Michigan-based businesses: The Robot Garage in Birmingham and Edibles Rex in Detroit.

“It was a total long shot (to apply for the grant), but we thought, ‘Why not try it?’” says Sarah Jacobs, co-owner of The Robot Garage, which provides hands-on classes and events for robot and LEGO enthusiasts of all ages. “I stayed up one night with my husband (co-owner Jonathan) writing the application, pushed send, and totally forgot about it. When they called, I thought it was like a hoax — I didn’t even believe them.”

The business, which employs six full-time and 20 to 30 part-time staff, visited more than 250 schools over the past year, Jacobs says. “We’re always packing up cars with robots and tables and LEGOs. So one of the things we want do to is get a van, or a mobile unit that won’t have to be loaded and unloaded all the time.”

Jacobs says the funding will also support a corporate team building division, which the business has already piloted. “We go into companies and we might get 25 executives that we’ll divide into teams of two. We’ll tell them they have 1.5 hours to design and build a robot and then compete in a sumo battle. There’s screaming and there’s yelling — it’s a lot of fun.”

The Robot Garage, which launched just over two years ago, is now in its toddler stage, Jacobs says. “It can walk on its own, but it’s still going to bump into furniture.”

She adds that she was excited to meet the owner of the other Michigan-based recipient at an award ceremony held Tuesday in Birmingham. Edible Rex, a catering company that partners with educational institutions to provide freshly cooked, nutritious meals to children in Detroit, was established in 1994 and now employs more than 80 people.

“You think about all of these jobs that didn’t even exist before these businesses started,” Jacobs says. “It’s amazing.”

The other grant recipients — chosen for their superiority in demonstrating a solid business plan, feasible growth plan, overall passion for their business, the potential to make a positive impact within their local community, and their likelihood to succeed with a two-year time frame — include:

  • ABL Denim in Los Angeles
  • Axelo Inc. in Austin, Texas
  • buzzy4painrelief.com in Atlanta
  • Chemo Beanies in Covington, La.
  • Curious Jane in Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Living Design Studios, inc. in Lafayette, Co.
  • Milagros de México in San Francisco
  • Overnight Success Inc. in Miami
  • Rolling in Dough Pizza in Greenport, N.Y.
  • Shaktea Kombucha in Fairfield, Iowa

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