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Reinventing America--Detroit’s Westside “Ponyride” Incubator Provides Transforming Opportunities

Phillip Cooley saw opportunity in a 30,000 square-foot abandoned, derelict printing plant in downtown Detroit’s Westside Corktown neighborhood.

Cooley purchased the foreclosed building for $100,000 in 2011 with a vision to provide low-cost commercial incubator workspaces for startups that could not afford market-rate workspaces, along with small businesses struggling to grow on limited budgets. 

Cooley dubbed his business Ponyride because he thought it was a fitting metaphor for the simpler unencumbered time of youth--a time and place when there are no barriers to dreams, hopes, and especially wild ideas.

Central to Cooley’s vision has been to attract businesses that will provide employment and training opportunities for the local community, with a special emphasis to engage and empower those on the fringes of society.

One business specifically hires former prisoners, while another, The Empowerment Plan hires women from shelters to sew weather-poof jackets that convert in to sleeping bags for the homeless community.

The visionary creator, Veronicka Scott, provides her new employees the opportunity to learn a trade while working full time, and empowering the women to move in to their own homes.

The brilliant business was birthed as a class assignment when Ms. Scott was a student at Detroit’s College of Creative Studies. A professor assigned a class project to create “a design to meet at need”.

Ms. Scott visited the homeless and instantly saw their need for something as simple as a weatherproof jacket. She designed her prototype "Element Survival Coat" and today she employs more than 30 formerly homeless women full-time and expects to hire another 30 full-time workers by the end of the year.  

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer in Detroit, Michigan at Ponyride for a visit with visionary, Phillip Cooley and a tour of The Empowerment Plan facility.

You are invited to subscribe to the Lowell Thomas award-winning NPR Podcast travel show Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer via: 

Tom Wilmer produces on-air content for Issues & Ideas airing over KCBX and is producer and host of the six-time Lowell Thomas award-winning NPR podcast Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer. Recorded live on-location across America and around the world, the podcasts feature the arts, culture, music, nature, history, science, wine & spirits, brewpubs, and the culinary arts--everything from baseball to exploring South Pacific atolls to interviewing the real Santa Claus in the Arctic.
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