Andy Didorosi is a serial social entrepreneur. He’s founded several ventures including Paper Street, Detroit Bus Company, The Thunderdrome, and Wireless Ferndale. He started working when he was sixteen, buying and selling auction cars. He would buy them really cheap and spend a long time fixing them up and sell them for a lot more online through Craigslist. At the same time he’d be working at a little Italian restaurant bussing tables, but realized it wasn’t for him. “I’m a terrible, terrible employee,” he says, “I could never work for anybody ever again.” Detroit is better off with him doing his own thing anyway, because he’s helping to fill in a few of the gaps the city has failed to.
“It was really obvious if you use your intelligence and, you know, like a clever gimmick, then you can turn some money into a lot of money. It all made sense when I fanned out the money from the first car that I sold.” He continued this path and progressed into racing cars, which he still builds and races today. For a little while he was renting out an airplane hangar at the Detroit City Airport for $300 a month, but was kicked out for non aviational use. “The FAA kicked us out, which is a really scary letter to get.”
One of the first companies he started was Paper Street Motors, which is now known as just Paper Street. He launched this in early 2010 as his art and business incubator. He started out in a big building filled with workshop spaces, holding classes, and doing special events and activities just to facilitate small businesses and entrepreneurs around Ferndale and Southeastern Oakland County. Paper Street has now expanded into two more buildings just this year: One in Ferndale and one in Detroit.
The Thunderdrome is a racing series that started in October of 2010. “We found this old racetrack on the East side. It was totally underground.” His partner, Ben Wojdyla and him spent a month excavating, and finally uncovered what’s called The Velodrome and rediscovered it for a new generation. The original track was created in 1969 to host an international competition. Now it hosts a series of racing events, enthusiastically called The Thunderdrome. They plan on developing a non profit conservancy so they can raise money that’s tax-deductible to completely rebuild the park. “It’s a 34-acre park in the middle of the city, well, on the Northeast side, in a neighborhood where a lot of kids still play in the park, despite it being really filthy, dangerous, and overgrown. So we maintain it every week. We mow it, we pick up the garbage, and we’re slowly cleaning it up, but it really needs that non profit push, you know?”
In January 2012, Andy read “Detroit Light Rail is Dead” in a headline. “I was just super dismayed, because you know you heard about Light Rail and everyone in the city went, ‘Awesome!’ and ‘Cool!’.” There was a prospect of the Woodward Corridor coming alive again, just like back in the old days. “I firmly believe the main argument for killing Light Rail is that there wasn’t much of a demand for it, and I also firmly believe that Light Rail would have been enough of a sign of the future to come that it would have generated it’s own demand.” So he took matters into his own hands. He bought a bunch of buses and gave it a shot, calling it The Detroit Bus Company. Right now they’re running Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30pm to 2:30am. There’s one bus running right now, but they’re working on painting the second bus. “The second bus is already going online and it’s really going to be nothing like anyone’s ever seen.” The best part? It’s essentially a hybrid public/party bus. It’s BYOB and it connects all the cool spots downtown. They’re going to have another bus that connects Ferndale, Royal Oak, Hamtramck and Detroit. Basically, doing some of what Light Rail could have done!
His side businesses are all about helping people as well. Wireless Ferndale provides free wireless internet to downtown Ferndale. “Internet is like air or water. Everybody should have it. It’s this incredible communication network that’s totally easy to use, and you can access super cheaply, but the cost of internet right now is prohibitive.” At a price range of $40-$50 per month, many people can’t rationalize a purchase like that, but Andy believes that eventually it will be a public service. The world could really use a few more Andy’s! Another great aspect of this movement is how he sees it growing. They have a network of routers, where if one router drops out, the others fill in the gap. “We’re going to have a program set up where people can buy additional routers and submit their own home internet to build the network further, so hopefully we can wire up all of Ferndale and then use that model to create maybe a Wireless Corktown or Wireless Midtown, or something like that.
His liquidation company, BuildingMinder, helps businesses that are downsizing and help them get rid of assets and turn them into cash.
As Andy speaks of his business ventures and munches on his chicken and waffles, I listen intently while snacking on my sweet potato fries. I’m amused and fascinated by his stories, and am continually impressed by his ambitious nature. He was featured in Crain’s Detroit 20 in their 20′s in 2011, and received the Spirit of Detroit award this past Spring. When asked how he keeps track of everything he replied, “The businesses I somehow keep all organized, but having a supply of clean underwear is the most difficult thing for me, so I end up buying new bulk bags of underwear, because I’m really terrible at the small things in life like keeping my apartment clean, or keeping my Comcast bill at home paid…like, they keep turning it off. It’s not lack of money, it’s just an over focus on my businesses and not on life.” It’s okay, Andy, we forgive you. Just keep on doing what you’re doing, and remember to pick up more underwear before you run out! – Natasha Guimond