Last Fall, the University of Michigan announced the creation of the Detroit Center for Innovation (DCI), to be located in downtown Detroit (See the link below). The stated purpose of the Center is to provide research and education to fuel the economic vitality of the Detroit region. The DCI has the potential to make significant positive contributions to the regional economy and overall quality of life. If the Detroit Center for Innovation applies its considerable intellectual capital toward addressing the various needs of the Detroit community, that would be a tremendously positive development, and one that is totally in concert with the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative mission. We sincerely hope that will be the case.
The idea of universities contributing to the economic vitality of an urban community is not a new one. At the Fall 2016 Urban Entrepreneurship Symposium, hosted by UEI in Detroit, we held a panel discussion with the subject “The University’s Role in Urban Innovation.” The panelists consisted of leaders from University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and University of Detroit Mercy. The video from that panel discussion is included below.
On March 5, 2020, UEI sponsored an Urban Innovators Reception at SpaceLab Detroit. One of the questions posed to attendees was, “How can a university ‘innovation center’ best address the needs of the Detroit community?” This was a particularly timely question, because in addition to the DCI announcement, Michigan State University is also considering the formation of an innovation center in Detroit. We asked attendees for a brief one or two sentence response to the question. Here are the responses:
- Providing a platform for cross-discipline partnerships
- Provide a learning center of the future (learn anything)
- Facilitate connections to people and resources
- Workshops and coaching
- Building partnerships, providing business acceleration, and providing “warm” introductions to work with Ford, GM, DMC, Beaumont Health, etc.
- Provide startup space and resources
- Networking and connections
- Proactively provide resources that would otherwise be inaccessible
- Innovating in the social/non-profit space
- Job creation / close the opportunity gap
- Bring everyone together, of all backgrounds and stages of life
- Good examples – TechTown Detroit and WSU
- Canvass the people to determine what they need to be productive in their community
- Envision the future and fit offerings in that direction
- Information on common business challenges. Success stories and resource matchmaking
- Address the needs of businesses and citizens by providing innovative knowledge and resources. Connectivity should be a priority. “Let’s get it together!”
- Well…the wonderful idea is that it can provide “interns” that can come and train as they learn skills built at the Center
- Find out what the community wants and needs especially for student empowerment
- Exposing U-M students to the challenges Detroiters and Detroit businesses face and getting them excited about staying in Detroit and being part of something special.
- We can have more connections and deeper ties to empowering the community to know that they can start a business, find funding and overcome obstacles.
- People need exposure to higher education and education on how to access higher education.
- Providing unified support, sharing events and connecting millennials to trusted professionals.
- I’m actually in a project proposal talks to develop an educational community in Detroit – think Cranbrook Academy of Detroit, but with a focus not only on design but high technology.
- Make technology available to the community. Teach the general public in Detroit on technology.
Keep in mind that the people who provided the above comments were largely actual and aspiring small business entrepreneurs. The overall attitude expressed by attendees regarding a university-based innovation center was welcoming and hopeful.
Note: W. David Tarver, UEI president, currently serves on the U-M DCI curriculum committee.