5 Ways Students Can “Shock the Urban World” in Detroit

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Antoine Garibaldi, President, University of Detroit Mercy, Lou Anna K. Simon, President, Michigan State University, Cynthia Wilbanks, Vice-President for Government Relations, University of Michigan, and Ned Staebler, Vice-President for Economic Development, Wayne State University and President and CEO, TechTown Detroit talk about the role of academia in Detroit’s resurgence.

 

What does the future hold for Detroit, a city with a rich history and long legacy of innovation, a city on the brink of resurgence? Hopefully, more opportunities for students and recent graduates from Michigan to be an active part of the city’s transformation.

On Friday Oct. 23, more than two hundred students, community members, academics, and entrepreneurs gathered at the College for Creative Studies in Midtown, Detroit for the 2nd annual Urban Entrepreneurship Symposium. The event, called “Shock the Urban World,” was hosted by the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative, and co-sponsored by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. These three sponsor universities make up Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC), one of the nation’s top academic research clusters and the leading engine for innovation in Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

On Friday Oct. 23, more than two hundred students, community members, academics, and entrepreneurs gathered at the College for Creative Studies in Midtown, Detroit for the 2nd annual Urban Entrepreneurship Symposium. The event, called “Shock the Urban World,” was hosted by the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative, and co-sponsored by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. These three sponsor universities make up Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC), one of the nation’s top academic research clusters and the leading engine for innovation in Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

Panelists and conference goers all had one thing in common—their passion for urban entrepreneurship, specifically in the city of Detroit. Topics ranged from community involvement strategies to tips for developing urban-focused businesses.

“Think of Detroit as an opportunity for you,” said Chad Rochkind, founder of Human Scale Studio, who participated on a panel about community involvement. His business works to provide people-centric solutions to urban cities. In Detroit, they aim to make the city — and it’s wide multi-lane roads — more walkable for citizens.

According to Ned Staebler, CEO and President of TechTown and VP of Economic Development at Wayne State University, “If you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself, come to Detroit. This is a transformative movement in our city, state, and country’s history.”

The takeaway: Students who are honing their entrepreneurial talent and drive at Universities across Michigan can enact an extraordinary amount of change right now —especially in Detroit. They just need the right guidance and tools. Here’s a few points of advice for students interested in urban entrepreneurship from the symposium:

1. Move to where the change is happening.

You’ll be more impactful if you’re there, experiencing the problems you desire to fix. Because, like Lyneir Richardson, executive director the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers, said, “Anything for us, without us, is not about us.” So, if you wish to change and innovate Detroit, move there. Many Detroiters noted a noticeable gap between the people experiencing the problem and the outsiders who will attempt to solve those issues. Students who wish to provide real impact must narrow this gap. The University of Michigan has a number of opportunities for students to live and work in Detroit, from internships to semester in Detroit through the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts. The city is home to a wealth of ventures and individuals working to affect change. Use them. Be a part of them. Grow with them.

“U-M students and grads can best contribute to Detroit’s resurgence by getting directly involved. Follow news and information sources that focus on Detroit. Take a tour of the city.  Hang out for a while.  Move to the city. Take a summer job or internship there. Get involved with a startup. Work for one of the many community development organizations. There are many ways to get involved, and to contribute, based on one’s experience, skills, and desires,” said David Tarver, Founder and President of the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative.

2. See opportunity everywhere.

As Don Reimer, Director of Entrepreneurial Programs at Lawrence Tech University, said during his panel, “As entrepreneurs, we have to see opportunity in every situation. Everything we come across has to be the chance to create something better. When I see a problem, my first instinct is to fix it.” Reimer took part of the panel on business models for entry level employment.

The panelists who participated in the Symposium on Friday have definitely taken every opportunity presented to them to make a better, more efficient Detroit. “This was a great opportunity for me. I’m trying to become an entrepreneur, and hearing everyone talk inspired me and showed me what kind of problems I could potentially solve,” said Ziqi Guo, a junior at the University of Michigan.

3. Use entrepreneurial academic resources to your advantage.

“As Universities, we have the unique opportunity and resources to help urban entrepreneurship activity. It’s not easy to sustain this kind of activity, but we’re dedicated to it,” said University of Michigan’s VP for Government Relations, Cynthia Wilbanks.

You don’t have to be a specific kind of student to make a difference. “We need both right and left-brained thinkers for the future of entrepreneurship,” said Don Reimer.

“The only way to learn entrepreneurship is to do entrepreneurship – explore your ideas, build a prototype, and above all, listen to and observe people to understand what they need,” said David Tarver. “I’d also advise students interested in urban entrepreneurship to take the new course I developed with the CFE, to begin to understand the process and mindset required to build an urban-focused business.”

4. Be courageous. Believe in yourself.

You won’t change anything without trying, and you cannot be afraid of challenges. Don’t think of obstacles as failures. When discussing scalable urban business models, panelists received a question from the audience asking about their biggest failure. Leslie Horn, CEO of Three Squared Inc., answered, “I don’t like calling setbacks ‘failures’ because that implies it’s going to stop me. I like to view everything as a challenge.” Three Squared Inc. is a commercial, residential, and mixed use property developer that uses old cargo shipping containers to produce structures that are built faster, stronger and more efficient than traditional construction.

James Robinson, CEO of MetroEZRide, which provides affordable and reliable transportation for the people of Detroit, echoed this determination, saying, “You can’t give up. You have believe in yourself when no one else does. Do whatever you have to do to make it.”

5. Get connected.

Another good way to get your foot in the door is to attend events like the Urban Entrepreneurship Symposium.

“This symposium raises a student’s awareness about the challenges facing urban communities, and the tools available to deal with such challenges. Creating a business model that addresses an important urban need requires a combination of community engagement, design thinking, technical analysis, and business management,” said David Tarver. “This combination of skills is applicable to a wide range of fields and challenges, so the experience gained from a focus on urban needs will likely help students succeed in any number of disciplines.”

U-M students who attended the event were able to see, firsthand, what urban entrepreneurship could mean for them. Colin Halow, a sophomore noticed that “there’s a lot of ambiguity in being an entrepreneur as a student, but listening to everyone today, I got to see a systematic approach to it.”

Caitlyn Dolan, a sophomore and member of R.I.M.E. (Redefining Innovation in Medical Engineering) agreed, “Today busted misconceptions about entrepreneurship. Being surrounded by so many successful entrepreneurs gives you hope and allows you to ask questions,” she said.

By Hannah Gordon, Innovate Blue Student Associate

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