Sparking ideas, jobs, and creation in Detroit

Source: Michigan News

Whitney Lewis, left, of Boiling Point Detroit. Of the free services U-M provided to 120 entrepreneurs in Detroit’s small business community, 85 percent are minority owned and 70 percent are female owned.

Partnering with a small business owner to boost her coffee shop business, building a makerspace for students and the Brightmoor community, and working with Eastside city residents to create authentic tours are just a few projects the University of Michigan is collaborating on to boost entrepreneurial impact in Detroit.

The variety and volume of the efforts touch Detroit’s neighborhoods, its community organizations and its residents. While the specific goals and partners of each effort vary, all of the work aims to help boost the vitality of Detroit and the region.

“Detroit has a unique ecosystem of entrepreneurs: they are more focused on creating enterprises that can serve their community than in creating a super-slick presentation to investors,” said Jerry Davis, associate dean for Business + Impact at the Ross School of Business. 

Through the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project, for example, students and faculty support the community by providing free services such as help with accounting and advertising, trademark and copyright research, and creating a new logo and marketing plan, he said. 

“The students gain deep insights into some of the practical realities of operating an enterprise, finding customers, making payroll, and contributing to the community. The benefit is truly mutual,” Davis said.

The array of innovative projects include:

  • In Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood, a long-running partnership between Detroit Community Schools, the Sunbridge International Collaborative and the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design created the Brightmoor Maker Space. The makerspace was created by Stamps professor Nick Tobier and Bart Eddy, co-founder of DCS and Sunbridge International. The Brightmoor Maker Space is a 3,200-square-foot building on the campus of Detroit Community Schools that is resourced to help students learn, share knowledge and build entrepreneurial skills around the act of making. Read more here.
  • U-M’s DNEP students provide financial and legal advice to small-business owners. Credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

  • The Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project is an accelerator program for small businesses in Detroit that draws on the expertise of U-M students, faculty, and staff. Businesses are paired with teams of students from the Business School, Law School, Ford School of Public Policy, and Stamps School of Art & Design for technical assistance consulting projects. U-M students receive course credit for their work, and businesses receive in-depth assistance on complex business problems. Since 2016, the project has partnered with over 115 businesses in Detroit, including over 30 this semester. Five of these businesses are working with multiple U-M schools this year including: Detroit Maid (an on-demand cleaning company), Estos Garage (a Mexican restaurant and catering business), Featherstone Moments (a social media management and marketing company), Gaddis Gaming (a board game company), and Detroit Soul (a soul food restaurant and catering company). To learn more visit
  • Free Accounting Fridays, which is an offering for Detroit businesses from the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project and Business + Impact at the Ross School, brings accounting students to Detroit to consult one on one with local business owners. More information and signup link.
  • A capstone course for seniors at the Ross School of Business gives students the opportunity to consult Detroit-based small businesses like Ocelot Print Shop or Pizza Plex for an entire semester under the guidance of faculty, business executives and MBA students. Read more here.
  • Open Road at Ross: Since 2014, Ross has sent MBAs to participate in Open Road, a program that sends MBA students across the USA to work with visionary entrepreneurs. All teams start in Detroit. Read more here.
  • Detroit visitors now have four new urban tours to enjoy, thanks to help from a team of faculty and students at the U-M School of Information. The team provided a group of Eastside residents with technical assistance to launch four new tours that cover Detroit’s bootlegging history, urban farms, Motown, and the city’s African-American story. Since 2016, a team led by faculty members Tawanna Dillahunt, Kentaro Toyama and Joyojeet Pal have been researching how to help people in “lean” economies learn entrepreneurial skills – and use them to earn much-needed side income. They encouraged residents at the Eastside Community Network to invent ways they could earn extra income without going into debt or disrupting their jobs and lives.
  • A Detroit mini business, Cass Coasters, grew from a U-M course that brings together students of business, engineering and art and design. The mini business provides work for homeless men. Called Integrated Product Development, the class worked closely with Cass Community Social Services in Detroit to brainstorm and set up the business. The glass coasters emerged as the first product to be commercialized out of six mini-business ideas that U-M students developed for Cass to consider adding to its Green Industries set of micro businesses. Read more here.

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