Serial Entrepreneur Returns to Build Detroit’s Alchemy

By Amanda Lewan on June 30th, 2014 / Comments

Angel Gambino first left Michigan when she received a soccer scholarship for college, and it wasn’t long after that when she began traveling the world to launch and grow companies.

Angel successfully founded one of the world’s largest social networks, Bebo, which sold to AOL Time Warner in 2008 along with several other startups in the U.S., Europe, and South America. About six months ago she relocated back to Detroit. What called her home?

On a summer trip to visit family several years ago, she was shocked by the state of the city.

“When I was driving in the city of Detroit it was in much worse condition than I remembered,” she said. This was before the burst of new businesses and most startup activity was on the radar, right as the recession was hitting Detroit.  She was in the process of exiting from Bebo, and wanted to be involved with her home town.

She purchased a 100,000 sq building at 2051 Rosa Parks with the idea to renovate it into a mixed use space. The building was filled waist high with trash. Corktown was a little emptier with less restaurants and activity. It was a risky move.

“I saw both opportunity to make a difference and also to make a profit. I thought the profit might come in 10 years, but it’s looking much nearer,” she says.

She calls the building  The Alchemy which is also the name of her business consulting work. About 350 people now work out of the building included Matrix Human Services, Rosa Park Boys, and Essential Screen Printing. Much of the building is still being redeveloped as you can see from our photos below, but Angel says it’s a great home for those growing out of startup phase. She imagines restaurant and event space as well.

Here are a few photos from our visit. The space is surrounded by safe parking lots, and nearby a buzzing Corktown.

view outdoors
View from one of the office windows

 

Inside view of event space.
Inside view of event space.
alchemy 3
Photo of the inside.

 

 

Redeveloping the building was a learning lesson for this successful entrepreneur who had never worked in real estate before.

“It’s been a lot of hard work and learning. I really wanted to prove that you could startup and build a successful business in Detroit without needing subsidies,” she said.

The Alchemy is open now for office space in Detroit. They are specifically looking for experienced focused businesses, and also a community building intern. You can tweet at her @Gambino if you’re interested.

Could Detroit Lead With Mobility?

Angel continues to with many startups and large companies offering business services that help companies grow. She sees Detroit as having many advantages for startups, and recruits the companies she works with like AutoWeb based in Miami to move to Detroit.

“It can be a tough sell. Part of my pitch for the startups is that 20% of all advertising comes out of Detroit. Why not live and work where these decision makers are?”

She also sees Detroit with its history in auto manufacturing a city that could take the lead on new transportation and business models. These are strengths that Detroit based startups have yet to leverage as a recent Pando Daily article pointed out.

“We’re sitting on a gold mine. Mobility in our city is our biggest differentiator and competitive edge,” Angel said. As a startup, it’s great to attract more talent like Angel back to mentor and grow our community. Make sure you check out the space next time you’r nearby.

About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.