2023 Community Trailblazer Awards

Michigan Founders Fund is a network of trailblazers, disruptors, and problem-solvers in Michigan’s startup ecosystem who believe in the power of collective action. We are united by a common vision for Michigan to become the most successful and equitable state in the country – not only for startups, but for everyone who lives here. Our fund is generated by MFF Members (startup founders and investors) who donate 1% of their equity, profits, or carry to the MFF Michigan Pledge Fund. These commitments generate a permanent stream of charitable capital for Michigan communities within our impact areas. Learn more about the Michigan Pledge here.

This year, we are recognizing three Community Trailblazers from across Michigan – nonprofit founders, organizers and movement builders – who are working within our impact areas to create change in our community. Each of our 2023 awardees are receiving $5,000 and the opportunity to join MFF as a Trailblazer Member. Our awardees were selected by the MFF Advisory Council’s Impact Sub-Committee and all MFF Members.

MFF Community Trailblazers

Dr. Keli Christopher, The STEM Greenhouse

Based in Grand Rapids, Keli Christopher created the STEM Greenhouse to grow STEM proficiency in vulnerable children, cultivate education and career success, and enhance diverse and globally competitive STEM education in the K-12 education system. 

STEM Greenhouse increases STEM proficiency, access, and innovation through programs that develop kids’ skills through culture-focused and community-centered educational programming through after school programs, summer academies, and opportunities for students to build culture, confidence, and proficiency in STEM.

Keli is excited to join the MFF network because she knows how important relationship-building is to founders and creators. From Keli: “Networking is important for anyone who’s an entrepreneur and has a dream like I do. Relationships don’t have an end game and it’s exciting to see where they will lead.”

Learn more about Keli and her work here.

Phimmasone Kym Owens, Refugee Garden Initiatives

Based in Ann Arbor, Phimmasone Kym Owens created Refugee Garden Initiatives to help refugee mothers succeed in their new communities by taking a holistic approach to addressing their immediate needs, building community, and advocating for refugee-centered policies.

Refugee Garden Initiatives is not only a culturally diverse community garden community, it’s also a center for trauma-informed mental health support, English as a Second Language programs, skill and life workshops, and entrepreneurship initiatives that foster self-reliance, giving single refugee mothers the tools they need to succeed. 

Phimmasone is eager to join the MFF network because she wants to be part of a community that celebrates entrepreneurship, learning, innovation, and connections. From Phimmasone: “I’ve always been an advocate and a problem-solver but I’m brand new to [entrepreneurship]. Being part of this group will really open up the opportunity for me to learn and grow.

Learn more about Phimmasone and her work here.

Tammy Black, Community Treehouse Center Detroit

Based in Detroit, Tammy Black created Community Treehouse Center Detroit to promote the diversity of individuals in her community, the mental and physical well-being of community youth, and the inclusion of people of all ages and abilities using holistic interventions.

Community Treehouse Center is not only building an ADA accessible tree-top community center, they also operate a community garden, solar-powered charging station, and various community programming – from an elderly/youth mentorship and tech training program, to launching a flood-reporting app, to running donation drives to support unhoused residents.

Tammy is excited to join the MFF network because she’s always thinking outside the box and wants to connect with others who do too. From Tammy: “I want to spend time with like minded entrepreneurs who don’t take no for an answer. It’s inspiring to partner with people who are moving the needle and to see what we can come up with when great innovators come together.”

Learn more about Tammy and her work here

What does it mean to be a MFF Community Trailblazer?

We launched the first MFF Community Trailblazer Award last year and you can learn more about our 2022 awardees here. This year, we received 30 applications from leaders across the state who were interested in becoming Trailblazers. All of our applicants are the founders of their community-based organizations, are working to advance one of MFF’s impact areas, are part of a socially and economically disadvantaged group, and live and work right here in Michigan.

MFF Community Trailblazers receive a $5,000 award from our Michigan Pledge Fund and become Trailblazer Members of MFF. This means:

  • Trailblazers benefit from the same opportunities as all MFF Members by creating opportunities for relationship-building, co-learning, personal support, program offerings, and other growth opportunities;
  • We Trailblazers and their organizations on our website, social media, and blog, including opportunities for the broader network to make personal contributions to their organizations at select times throughout the year;
  • We also co-create opportunities for Trailblazers to collaborate directly with the MFF network through volunteer days, problem-solving sessions, tech tool integrations, guest speaker opportunities, and more.

When will the next Trailblazer Award opportunity become available?

This program operates annually, with applications opening in late summer/early fall of each year. We expect the 2024 applications to launch in September of 2024. To stay updated, be sure to sign up for our MFF newsletter (enter your email in the website footer below!).