Every fall CFE lecturer David Tarver takes his ENTR 490.012, Urban Entrepreneurship Practicum, into the heart of Detroit to meet with local entrepreneurs and hear about the issues and opportunities small businesses face. This year the class visited five businesses: Good Cakes and Bakes, Century Partners, Shinola, SpaceLab Detroit, Hamtramck/Banglatown Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (B.A.P.A.C.).

The class boards a bus from North Campus early on a Saturday morning and returns just in time to catch the kickoff of the evening football game. This year was no different, except for the masks. Last year’s trek was modified into a video David shot with each of the businesses that were then shown to students.

As an alum of the University himself, David feels a deep connection between U-M and the city of Detroit. He hopes that students come away from the experience with a better understanding of the wide array of possibilities an urban setting, like Detroit, can offer entrepreneurs.

When his class next convened, he asked the students to write up a reflection about what they got from their experience. One student said that “Having grown up right outside the City of Detroit, I have long been familiar with some of the leading explanations for its decline since the mid-20th century. What I have been far less familiar with, however, are the efforts going on within the city to reverse the damage and build anew. Going to Detroit helped me better understand how entrepreneurs are working to rebuild the city’s deteriorating housing stock, a result of mass middle-class exodus and a declining tax base. I also learned how entrepreneurs are working to turn Detroit’s mass of vacant office space, often seen as a negative, into a positive by providing cheap office space for companies.”

Another student said, “One really impactful moment for me was when we went through the Boston Edison district and saw beautiful homes that were abandoned just years ago and from there seeing how Century Partners is rebuilding the neighborhood. The housing in Detroit at large just goes to show how much culture is in the city and also the difficult dynamics facing those who are trying to rebuild it.”

Check out a few other quotes from students who participated in the Trek:

“One of the things that surprised me in this tour was the passion of these small business owners and their desire to restore the city. Most people, I think, would’ve just left the city when things got bad and relocated. The sense of belonging and community within these people was truly surprising. Among the entrepreneurs we visited, this was a common theme.” Anna Mulero

“Overall, the tour helped reinvent my opinion on Detroit. I had no idea how many opportunities are lying around for the taking in Detroit and it makes me very excited to see where Detroit will be say 5 years from now.” Marshall Hayes

“I think it was clear that Detroit Entrepreneurs have a lot of common characteristics. They all want Detroit to become a better place and they want to be a part of it.” Janavi Krishnan

“Overlooking the city through the bus window, I was able to see different parts of Detroit, from modern and corporate downtown to the suburbs. It struck me how complex Detroit is with its numerous micro-environments that differ greatly from one to another.” – Louis Baron

“A common attribute that I noticed throughout the businesses we visited was how invested each of them were for the future. Each entrepreneur talked about their extensive plans for expanding their business model. Another common attribute I saw was that every entrepreneur was very optimistic about the city of Detroit. They all see Detroit as a city on the rise and all were very proud of the progress Detroit has seen in recent years.” – Liam Golden

If this experience sounds like something you might want to take part in, check out this and other courses at cfe.umich.edu/courses

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