Two-directional learning helps small businesses and students thrive

Source: Ford School of Public Policy

DNEP meeting at Smooth Soul Cafe. Photo courtesy of the Ford School.

Lily Hamburger (MBA ’16) supports economic mobility for entrepreneurs as the senior director of the pandemic-born Detroit Means Business, a coalition housed at the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and guided by a group of small business owner advisors.

She works in collaboration with nonprofits, financial programs, and corporate partners to provide financial and technical assistance to small businesses. In this role, she also serves as a sounding board for the Ford School’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurship Project and facilitates connections between businesses and student learning projects.

Hamburger says that DNEP’s presence in Detroit has generated trust and new projects, such as the DNEP+Impact Studio for Local Business, which helps entrepreneurs pivot in the post-pandemic economy. During summer 2020, students and businesses worked together to produce a post-COVID resource bank for small businesses. The program evolved in 2021, with 31 students from five U-M schools using research, marketing, and financial skills from their disciplines to provide direct-to-client support to 19 local businesses.

Learning goes both ways, Hamburger explains. She coaches students to learn all they can from the creative, resourceful entrepreneurs they work with.

“If you are a student at U-M, regardless of your background, there is a degree of privilege. It’s important that students are aware that their perspective is not the only truth. They have to be aware of certain language and cues about what they value. We have to approach people with humility when creating policy solutions,” she says.

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