D2D Buyer Ready Business: Benkari – Adrienne Bennett, President and CEO


Detroit’s Benkari Mechanical is Michigan’s first and only female, minority-owned plumbing and mechanical contractor. Benkari provides both plumbing and heating & cooling services for a variety of facility types including from commercial buildings and transportation facilities to single family homes. Adrienne Bennett, President and CEO, holds the distinction of being America’s first African American female licensed master plumber, plumbing contractor, plumbing inspector, and medical gas system inspector and installer. Additionally, Bennett was recently named the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Detroit, Crystal Vision Woman of the Year. She founded Benkari, a family-owned business, nine years ago and within the past few years has brought her son into the business as well.

What is the history and background of Benkari?

I’ve been in the A/E/C industry for 35 years and after holding positions from plumbing apprentice to Senior Project Manager, I decided to utilize my experience in the field and boardroom and launch my own company. My youngest son, Adrian-Keith (A.K.) decided to follow in my footsteps and has become a tremendous asset to the company’s growth as its project manager. Together we are dedicated to providing apprenticeship and employment opportunities to employ the unemployed and give back to Detroit in any way possible.

What are some of Benkari’s notable clients?

We’ve had the pleasure of working with many wonderful clients. One of the largest to date, is the Detroit Transportation Corporation which operates the Detroit People Mover. As their maintenance contractor, Benkari has completed extensive plumbing and heating repairs and renovations including fixture replacement, backflow prevention testing, and replacing significant spans of drainage pipe within the facilities and along the track of the system. We worked on build-outs for The Albert located in Capitol Park. We also had the opportunity to work on the site storm water drainage for the Detroit Events & Entertainment Center in late 2015. We hope to return to “The District” for more work in 2016.

Beyond those two projects, other renovation work recently completed includes PNC Bank, Burger King and the City of Warren.

A project we just began is the Goodwill Welcome Center on E. Grand Boulevard in the Milwaukee Junction area. We’re very excited to be a part of the team building a new facility for Goodwill Industries, a beacon in our community.

What is Benkari’s culture?

We strive to be personable, passionate and loyal to our clients, employees, colleagues and to provide quality services. A personal mantra I try to instill by example is to: be someone people are happy to see coming and sad to see go. Relationships are the bedrock of our business and we take them seriously. Tenacity and perseverance are requirements to survive in this industry and that’s a big part of our culture. We’re small but mighty.

Why did Benkari select Detroit as its headquarters?

I grew up in Detroit and am a graduate of Detroit Public Schools. I spent the vast majority of my apprenticeship here in the city, and I served as the master plumber for Henry Ford Health System for a decade. I was the plumbing inspector for the re-opening of the Fox and worked on the Hart Plaza fountain and Millender Center. The city, its past and present, are in my bones. There’s no question that we want Benkari to be a mainstay of Detroit for decades to come. We are currently planning to purchase property in the city to establish an expanded headquarters with additional office space and a fabrication shop.

What companies have you collaborated with in Detroit?

Clients of ours located in the city include W3 Construction, Sachse Construction, Walker-Miller Energy Services, Blaze-Iafrate, and DAPCO. We strive to use Detroit-based suppliers as well. Engineering Reproduction Inc. supplies all of our blueprints, B & D Construction LLC is one of our trusted subcontractors and we utilize both Advance Plumbing and Heating Supply and Safway Services frequently. We’re always looking to meet and work with other Detroit businesses.

What are the benefits of connecting with other Detroit businesses?

When Detroit businesses work together and support each other, we’re helping the city flourish. As Detroit company revenues rise, tax revenues rise and the city is able to improve its services and areas we operate in. Connecting together helps build a network of businesses and people passionate about Detroit and that network becomes a tremendous source of referrals, contracts and sales.

Brian Watkins

D2D Program Manager


D2D Buyer Ready Business: Anew Life Prosthetics & Orthotics – Chris Casteel, Co-Owner/Member Manager

degc-growth-update-_0003_01-Paul Cauley and  Chris Casteel (right) by Ali Lapetina

Anew Life Prosthetics & Orthotics assists patients who have faced limb loss, and provides prosthetic (artificial limb) or orthotic (brace) devices. The company fits and manufacturers these parts, and also has a lab on-site in order to conduct face-to-face patient meetings.

Co-Owner/Member Manager Chris Casteel and his business partner Paul Cauley founded the company five years ago in Detroit (at the old Detroit Savings Bank location), and now have a staff of five who support the client-centric mission of the company.

What is the history and background of Anew Life Prosthetics?
I worked at University of Michigan, where I was previously a patient. (I have a prosthetic leg from a motorcycle accident I was involved in 27 years ago.) While working at the university, I met Paul. In 2009 our paths crossed again and we began a vision to help more people. Paul is a certified prosthetist, and I graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics in order to become a certified orthotist / prosthetist. It’s incredibly fulfilling to help others regain “independence” doing what we do – that’s how Anew Life Prosthetics got its start.

It’s been wonderful process – in fact, we’re right on the cusp of hiring a few more practitioners which will propel our business forward. We’re looking forward to growing in our team in our space.

What is Anew Life Prosthetics’s culture?
We are all about our patients; we want to make their lives as functional as possible. Not only do we assist them via the limbs and braces we create – we also make physical therapy referrals, and provide dietary counsel and support group resources.

Personally, I lead an amputee support group with members in the metro Detroit area. A lot of what the group does is education and pair those who are transitioning into this “stage of life” with a person who is a bit more “seasoned” and lives a full life. It’s a really impactful peer mentoring process.

Why did Anew Life Prosthetics select Detroit as its headquarters?
It was very important to Paul and I to have a location that was central to our clientele, which are all over the metro Detroit area. Our location in the city is perfect; our neighbors and nearby Detroit businesses have been and continue to be so welcoming. Our neighbors Detroit Hardware and Roby’s Shoes (who previously owned our space) were particularly kind to us, especially when we first moved in.

What companies have you collaborated with in Detroit?
Chase Bank helped when our company first got on its feet. Michigan Employment Solutions helped us find some of our beginning staff members. D2D has assisted us with various tax breaks which allowed us to get into the space we’re in.

Due to our relationship with D2D and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation we entered and became a recipient of an NEIdeas grant. With this money we intend to implement scanning technologies that will allow us to create a digital model of residual limbs. This will help us move towards 3D printing and direct manufacturing of prosthetics and orthotics (rather than use traditional methods like plaster). This will ultimately reduce cost and time for patients.

We’ve also worked with Baker College so that students can complete some of their clinical hours in our location. We’ve also hosted Eastern Michigan University master’s students in our location. (We’re working towards having Anew Life Prosthetics being an official residency site.)

What are the benefits of connecting with other Detroit businesses?
I have never found a more supportive group than I have in Detroit. We’re continuing to explore additional partnerships here in the city. In fact, we’re in the process of collaborating with Busted Bra Shop, a Hatch Detroit winner, in order to help those who have had mastectomies. There are endless benefits to collaborating with other Detroit businesses.

Brian Watkins
D2D Program Manager

D2D Targets $1 Billion in Detroit-to-Detroit Business Spending

2016 D2D Matchmaking Opportunity Event

Mayor Mike Duggan announced Detroit Economic Growth Corporation’s D2D program set a target of $1 billion in Detroit-to-Detroit business spending by its 18-member Buyers Council as it opened the 2016 D2D Matchmaking Opportunity Event in February at the Greektown Casino Hotel.

In 2014 the D2D Buyers Council purchased $925 million dollars in products and services from other Detroit-based businesses. Results for 2015 are not yet available, but D2D projects that Detroit-based purchases could hit the $1 billion mark by the end of 2016.

Mayor Duggan said, “That $1 billion figure shows the value that Detroit’s anchor institutions have found in other Detroit companies. They are buying local because it makes good business sense. There are terrific companies represented at this event, and that’s why the City of Detroit is here. We brought more than $20 million in City bidding opportunities with us, and we just might identify qualified suppliers for some of those right here.”

During the event, companies participated in more than 200 “speed-dating”-style interviews with 11 large purchasing institutions, including the City of Detroit. On the table were 200 bidding opportunities that buyers will be offering over the next year. President and CEO of Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) Rodrick T. Miller said, “Relationships count in business, and this D2D event gives small companies a chance to make direct, face-to-face contact with buyers from big purchasing organizations, and to learn first-hand what those buyers require from their suppliers.”

The Matchmaking Opportunity Event addresses a second obstacle of small businesses – finding technical assistance and financial resources to grow — by providing direct access to 19 organizations that offer that help. D2D Program Director Brian Watkins said, “Business comes to companies that have the capacity, internal systems and necessary certifications to meet the requirements of large purchasing organizations. D2D tries to connect Detroit businesses to the resources they need to become what we call ‘Buyer Ready.’”

In all, close to 300 people participated in the event.

Business owners who want to participate in D2D programs can start by visiting http://d2dbusiness.org and registering in the Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC) database using PMBC link on the home page. Information about becoming a Detroit Certified Business can be found by following the Selling link on the home page, or visiting http://www.detroitmi.gov/How-Do-I/Find/Human-Rights-Forms

D2D is funded by the New Economy Initiative of Southeastern Michigan, a $140 million philanthropic effort to help make thousands of ideas the next economic engine by getting entrepreneurs and small businesses what they need, when they need it, in order to succeed and grow.

Brian Watkins
D2D Program Manager

D2D Buyer Ready Business: Executive Construction Management – Vencie R. Jackson, President & CEO

Executive Construction Management

Executive Construction Management (ECM) is a Detroit success story with a unique history and a number of special features that set it apart. ECM is a certified minority contractor headquartered in Detroit, with a proven track record as a general contractor. The company serves both public and private clients by providing all phases of construction project management, including: project planning; design consultation; cost and time estimating and a full range of building services and site supervision for both new construction and renovation/rehabilitation projects. ECM has in-house capabilities in a number of building trades, including concrete, carpentry, drywall, painting, flooring, earthwork and electrical.

ECM’s staff has decades of experience completing major projects for a wide range of government and commercial customers. The ECM team is lead by founder Vencie Jackson.

What is the history and background ECM ?
When an associate and I left our jobs as accountants at Ford Motor Company to form a private accounting firm, we did not plan to get into the construction business. However, a number of our clients were churches that wanted to undertake building projects. As we helped them plan and raise the funds for these projects, we recognized the need for a minority-based construction firm in Detroit and realized that we could oversee and manage the whole construction process. Along with some friends and relatives who had backgrounds and experience in the building trades and other key fields, we incorporated ECM in the state of Michigan in 1996. All eight of ECM’s founders originally came from the South. Some of us had gone to school together, others had worked together in the past. We came from different fields – everything from accounting to marketing – and this diversity has been a unique strength of ECM. From the outset, we wanted to establish a business that, while it would require hard work, had great potential for success. Collectively, we share a commitment to professionalism and being the best at what we do.

Why did ECM select Detroit as its headquarters?
Detroit was the right place for ECM. At the time we established ECM, there were great opportunities in the building and construction field in the city. There also was a pressing need in Detroit for a minority-based company in this field and some competitive advantages for a minority-owned construction company. From the outset, we realized the potential for working alongside and serving the needs of the growing automotive industry. In fact, some of the major auto businesses in Detroit welcomed ECM and continue to be our clients. Our love for and commitment to this city has never wavered, and we have maintained our headquarters here through thick and thin. We continue to be delighted to be part of Detroit’s current revitalization.

What are some of ECM’s notable clients?
ECM has an extensive and diverse list of clients. We have done construction management for New Hope Baptist Church and Detroit Public Schools. We have completed design/build work for Chapel Hill Baptist Church and have been the general contractor/sub contractor for Warren Academy. We have successfully completed projects for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; U.S. General Services Administration; Detroit Medical Center/Sinai Grace Hospital; Detroit Department of Transportation; Detroit Water & Sewage Department; Detroit Public Schools as well as Education Achievement Authority and charter schools. We have done roofing work for the U.S. Navy central region and the Detroit Lions Ford Field. We have renovated commercial retail centrs, parking facilities and branches for PNC Bank.

What companies have you collaborated with in Detroit as customers or suppliers?
ECM has a reputation for working seamlessly as a subcontractor with large firms and as a teaming parner with other “diversity/minority” firms. ECM has successfully partnered with large Fortune 500 General Contractors, including Turner Construction and contractors. In addition, we have had successful partnerships and alliances with other “Diversity/Suppliers” and small businesses, including service-disabled veteran-owned firms. We have specifically sought partnerships and collaboration with businesses owned and operated by women and by the disadvantaged.

What are the benefits of connecting with other Detroit businesses?
Working with local businesses has a number of benefits for ECM and for the businesses we work with. These kinds of collaborations strengthen the overall economic climate in Detroit, and collaborating and partnering with other businesses in Detroit has the advantage of expanding ECM’s capabilities. Working with local businesses saves time and effort, and ECM/our local partners benefit from sharing our networks of contacts. When bidding for contracts in the local area and from government agencies, a srong coalition or partnership with other local often firms strengthens our bids and underlines our commitment to the area. As a minority-owned business, ECM also offers other local businesses with whom we partner the ability to satisfy bid criteria that require or favor working with minority-owned businesses. Similarly, there is mutual benefit when ECM partners with businesses owned and operated by service-disabled veterans, women and the disadvantaged.

What are some of the additional unique features and capabilities of ECM?
ECM has a number of capabilities and capacities that set it apart from other construction management and contracting firms. We have operations and management offices in both the Midwest (Detroit, Michgian) and the South (Huntsville, Alabama). We have in depth accounting experience and a high bonding capacity for a small business ($2 million single job – $4 million aggregate). We also have an excellent 94 percent track record of accomplishing project goals on time and within budget.

Brian Watkins
D2D Program Manager

D2D Buyer Ready Business: Culinary Associates – Frankie Brooks, CEO


Culinary Associates is a full-service, corporate-class caterer that serves companies throughout Southeast Michigan. The Detroit-based company has been serving the community with locally sourced food for the past 11 years under the leadership of CEO Frankie Brooks.

What inspired you to found Culinary Associates?
I wanted to be the first person in my family to start a business. I felt very inspired to take my knowledge, culinary skill and wisdom to the next level in the form of catering. I have been very lucky to work for some of the best companies, restaurants and chefs in the past – from HDS, servicing hospital patients to Golden Mushroom to MGM Grand – and I wanted to be the leader of my own company.

What are some of your notable clients?
We’ve worked with many amazing clients such as the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, The Detroit Regional Chamber, Universal Studios, Beyoncé, Coco-Cola, Lift Technologies and more.

Why did you select Detroit as your headquarters?
I’m from Detroit and I love this city. I wanted to be a part of the fabric that is the new Detroit ‘garment’ that’s being created. I wanted to make an impact in Detroit and motivate the urban kids in and around the city. This is what led me to begin The Association League of SuperFriends.

Tell me about The Association League of SuperFriends.
The Association League of SuperFriends is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving lives through servant leadership, quality services and human kindness. It represents that supporting one another encourages individuals to reach their potential for the greater good of mankind. 

I wanted to be a part of the solution for entrepreneurs. We launched the Cultivate Me pilot program (within The Association League of SuperFriends) to assist entrepreneurs/students on how to make exceptional food and how to package/ sell them. I personally funded this program and I’m hopeful that we can continue this program for future classes.

How do you want Culinary Associates to impact Detroit in the long term?
We want to hire more people and train them on how to be an effective part of the hospitality culture. It’s our goal to train more people on what it means to provide exceptional customer service.

What is the Culinary Associates culture all about?
There’s no such thing as an effective one-man operation, so here at Culinary Associates we’re always promoting teamwork.

Another key component of our success is anticipating our customers’ needs. It’s about being masters in sociology so to speak; we strive to be one step ahead in making sure they have everything they need. It’s our job to be the experts and teach customers on appropriate menus for particular venues and events.

Essentially our team culture encompasses the passion to serve.

What companies have you collaborated with in Detroit as customers or suppliers?
We are dedicated to providing locally sourced foods so we frequent the Eastern Market for many of our meat, poultry and fish products. From the various vendors at the Eastern Market we’ve become more educated on seasonal foods and what pairs well together. We are also on board with Greening of Detroit, which is an organization that brings together local farmers to provide in-season, fresh food and educate others on sustainable growth throughout urban communities. 

We are also a member of DEGC’s D2D program which has been an excellent promotional platform to meet other Detroit companies.

When you can connect with other Detroit businesses, what benefits does that bring?
Collaboration is key in Detroit. Connecting with other local businesses gives us a culture of networking, relationships and friendships. Everyone benefits when we’re working towards one goal which is creating job opportunities and hope in Detroit.

Brian Watkins
D2D Program Manager