Urban Entrepreneurship: The Case for Detroit ~ by Thomas Zurbuchen
Oct 20, 20140 Comments
An entrepreneurial state of mind is one that sees and creates opportunity to the benefit of many. It’s one that is based on our history and our community and builds toward a better future. There is no better place, perhaps in the entire U.S. or even the world, to show the power of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking than Detroit.
The University of Michigan is playing a role in shaping Detroit’s future of innovation in many ways, both through student and faculty projects, and connecting the talent that can translate ideas into real impact. On a recent Friday, U-M was buzzing with this entrepreneurial energy: urban entrepreneurs met to tackle challenges in our cities, while across campus, leaders talked about finding purpose and achieving social impact in their communities.
Urban Entrepreneurs Bring Energy to Ann Arbor
The Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative (UEI) and U-M’s David Tarver pulled together a day of discussion and exchange of ideas to facilitate sustainable, scalable business solutions for Detroit and urban communities. The day was invigorating and full of hope. It is easy to summarize the challenges faced by the people of Detroit: the city struggles with public safety, has a sub-standard educational system, a high unemployment rate, and lacks the basic services and businesses many of us take for granted. Charities and government initiatives have aimed to tackle these important issues, but many have struggled to achieve sustainable growth.
The UEI and the symposium participants demonstrate the power of innovation and entrepreneurial approaches that can break that cycle. By clearly identifying the problems and opportunities, innovative communities can create approaches and businesses that can be scaled up to create positive impact in these communities. We saw companies and projects focused on arts, technologies, and services. Some of them have had stunning successes, and some are still defining their business models, while others have had to pivot from options that did not work – a valuable step toward entrepreneurial progress. We met student organizations like the Detroit Entrepreneurship Network who are out-performing many professionally guided efforts. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative has turned blighted city blocks into sources of fresh food, and grey and desolate landscapes into life and hope.
Achieving Social Change
In a complementary event, Rishi Moudgil’s Social Innovation Summitengaged with social entrepreneurs and thought leaders to explore social challenges and innovations, many in the nonprofit sector. Faculty and students from the U-M joined guests and community members to exchange ideas, celebrate success, and explore scaling up. Associate Professor at the Stamps School of Art & Design Nick Tobier addressed both groups. I personally think Nick is one of the most exciting people we have at U-M. He defies all stereotypes of artists as social innovators and of entrepreneurs. See his thoughts on creativity.
U-M Community Impact in Detroit
Innovate Blue recently collected from its community the most innovative projects that are happening right now in Detroit. We have over eight schools and colleges active in entrepreneurship and innovation each year in Detroit, bringing Michigan students to Detroit and running programs year-round. We have creativity focused programs, engineering-focused innovation, and business training. Last year alone, over 1,000 Michigan students engaged in Detroit-focused innovation, and interacted with about 200 companies. Almost 2,000 Detroit students took part in U-M’s programs. Some of the most impactful programs come from student organizations such as Champions Detroit, OptiMize, and MPowered.
Innovation is plentiful, but we can do better. It is time for the University of Michigan to create an innovation hub in Detroit so Detroit-focused U-M innovators learn about each other and can align and strengthen each other’s programs. I think it will be critical to address the transportation issues in Detroit. We should not make this a UM-exclusive facility but invite innovators from academia around the country to join. With more people and ideas, the stronger innovators we will be.
There is no better place, perhaps in the entire U.S. or even the world, to show the power of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking than Detroit!