To Be Young, Smart And Starting A Business in Detroit
Starting a business in downtown Detroit takes nerve, something to sell and – of course – a streak of idealism.
Alex Linebrink has all three. At 27, he’s young and energetic, like most of his downtown cohort.
Linebrink arrived in the city in September, 2009 to enroll in Bizdom, the non-profit brainchild of entrepreneur Dan Gilbert founded to train and mentor those eager to start an enterprise but lacking practical knowledge.
The result of Linebrink’s studies at Bizdom is Core|Merchant. The startup serves as middle-man between businesses that accept a credit card as payment and the banks that eventually pay for the goods and services received by consumers. In return, Core|Merchant gets paid a sliver of commission that merchants pay to the banks.
“Merchants are often sold an over-priced solution by a commission-only sales agent who has had no formal training in the complicated and highly technical service he's selling. Those merchants might see any of a thousand or so different rates on their statement,” he said.
Core|Merchant’s three-person sales staff doesn’t work on commission, Linebrink said. “Unlike those other guys, we’re available 24/7 and we’re right down the street.”
So far the company, partially owned by Bizdom, is growing. Linebrink recently wrote a check for $25,000 to repay some of the seed capital Bizdom lent him.
Core|Merchant isn’t new or revolutionary – in fact, it’s operating in a highly competitive space. What Linebrink does differently is concentrate on Detroit-based merchants and lower the fee structure while keeping it as simple as possible. He’s now looking at ways to expand services that his business might offer to local merchants.
A native of Hillsdale, Michigan, Linebrink first thought he wanted to be an engineer working in the automobile business. He finished three years of a five-year program at Kettering University in Flint, which included two-and-a-half years in a work/study program at General Motors.
While in Flint he somehow found time to run a church as well as an inner-city youth program that fed and tutored 60 children daily. Today he lives with his girlfriend in a $1,600-a-month flat on lower Woodward: As Dan Gilbert would say…Live, work and play in the D.
While at GM Linebrink says he designed a new tooling cart that was built for every GM stamping plant in the U.S.; he developed a new quality training program and supervised several production and service crews. His future at GM should have been stellar.
But he also decided “my opportunities wouldn’t get much greater, and I’d always have to deal with the frustrating bureaucracy to get anything accomplished.” He returned to Hillsdale from Flint, studied religion and philosophy at Hillsdale College and tinkered with two startups.
A person like Linebrink, if the cards had fallen differently, probably would be earmarked for leadership at GM. Instead he left to start his own venture in a place where many see as hopeless. One can only hope for GM’s sake that its 2009 bankruptcy has led to a leaner, nimbler corporate culture, one that can attract and retain the Alex Linebrinks of the world.
Meantime, GM’s loss is Detroit’s gain.