U-M graduate students showcase sustainability ideas for Detroit small businesses

Source: Michigan News
Photos By: Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography

Students answer questions about green energy solutions during Demo Day at the Ross School of Business.

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Detroit entrepreneurs can access green energy resources.

Figuring out ways to tap into the Inflation Reduction Act funds that could benefit Detroit’s small businesses transition to green energy was the puzzle University of Michigan graduate students worked on in teams all semester.

Ideas from team PowerUp included using AI and machine learning to help predict power outages for users. Information gathered from businesses are used to give them suggestions for green energy options and qualified contractors who can do the work.

“We want to help them be more resilient to power outages,” said Himanshu Dixit, an MBA student at the Ross School of Business.

Concept for mobile power center.

And another solution from team Portable involves creating a marketplace for portable generators to give immediate relief to Detroit businesses during power outages. Users would connect with each other through an app. The app would allow the business owner to indicate the power load needed for a match with local individuals or retailers who generate extra electricity from solar panels.

“We know that upgrading the infrastructure will take a long time,” said Hillary McKenzie, who is working on her MBA and Master’s of Science in Sustainable Systems. “We can give them access to clean energy generation to bridge the clean energy gap.”

Ross School professor Jerry Davis and Cat Johnson, managing director of Michigan Ross’ Business+Impact, designed the class, +Impact Studio Designing Equitable Enterprises, which teaches teams of grad students from all majors how to use equity-centered design thinking to develop businesses that improve communities. 

Cat Johnson, left, and Jerry Davis, right, designed the course to help Detroit businesses connect with federal funds to transition to green energy options.

The students met with Detroit entrepreneurs and energy experts to understand the most pressing energy needs in the city. Those meetings also helped them to create how-to guides on how Detroit business owners can make their business “greener” and obtain green energy funding through the Inflation Reduction Act and also equitable business models related to green energy such as solar panel installation, water cisterns, and heat pump installation, that entrepreneurs can take as templates and implement.

Jay Meeks

Jay Meeks, a board member of the Marygrove Community Association and an academic program manager for the Marsal Family School of Education, said the whole neighborhood around Marygrove is impacted by power outages, which can be more severe for businesses.

“Our shops and businesses aren’t earning income when the power is out,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with businesses on McNichols and talked about the opportunities the Inflation Reduction Act presents. I’m hopeful that these concepts can be brought back to businesses and see how they can be implemented.”


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