On chilly Saturday in February, nearly 70 Urban Entrepreneurship students boarded motor coaches, excited to spend a day immersed in Detroit’s entrepreneurial community. David Tarver, who instructs the Center for Entrepreneurship’s Urban Entrepreneurship Practicum course, spent the day as their guide. Throughout the day, these students were introduced to those paving the way for renewed innovation in Detroit.

The Urban Entrepreneurship Practicum is designed for students who want to understand the process of creating a sustainable business that benefits people who live in an urban community. A crucial part of that understanding is Community Discovery, the process of learning about and understanding an urban community and the people who live and work there. 

Each semester, experiential learning is realized via a faculty-led tour of Detroit, Michigan, known as the Urban Experience Tour. (UXT) On this tour, students visit several sites in the city and hear from entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their communities.

In a communication sent out to students, instructor David Tarver encouraged them to take full advantage of the tour, as it would be sure to make an impact.

“Past Urban Entrepreneurship students have cited the tour as one of the best aspects of their course experience,” said Tarver. “The places they see and the people they meet form the basis for the work they will undertake for the remainder of the semester, and the memories generated by the experience are likely to persist for years to come.”

If you ask the students from the UXT, they’d likely agree that their perspective on Detroit is forever altered. Student Justine Baker was inspired by the resilience and determination of the people she met on the tour. 

“Despite the many challenges that the city faces, there was a sense of optimism. This was especially evident among the entrepreneurs we met on our tour. All were eager to share their stories and talk about their hopes and aspirations for the future … Despite their different backgrounds and business models, these entrepreneurs all shared a commitment to their communities and a willingness to take risks and pursue their passions,” said Baker. 

Chloe Banks shared a similar perspective on the entrepreneurs who spoke on the trip. “Every entrepreneur we met was very gritty, smart, and passionate. Every entrepreneur loved what they were doing, and many of them were working to make a difference in Detroit.”

On this tour, students had the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs making a real difference in the Detroit community. Read on to learn more about the entrepreneurs and places featured on the UXT!

Good Cakes and Bakes

The day started off on a sweet note at Good Cakes and Bakes. Here, students learned about owner and U-M graduate April Anderson’s entrepreneurial journey as she has conceived and built a successful food business in Detroit. On this stop, students also learned about the efforts being undertaken to revitalize the Livernois corridor where April’s business is located.

According to student Alejandro Villafuerte, this stop was the perfect way to kick off the day. “From the very first shop that we entered, Good Cakes & Bakes, I felt an appreciation for the people there. There was a sense of community and familiarity in that shop that immediately put me at ease and made me feel welcome in that space.” 

That sense of community would become a common theme of the day. “This feeling persisted throughout the experience of touring the city that Saturday. Even areas of the city that appeared to have fewer resources for building development, like Hamtramck for example, still held a certain charm that denoted not only resilience but striving towards the betterment of the community,” said Villafuerte.

Motor City Blight Busters

After the sugar high from the Good Cakes and Bakes stop, students met with John George, founder of Motor City Blight Busters, whose mission  is to stabilize, revitalize and rebuild Detroit neighborhoods. They achieve this by demolishing, renovating and boarding up blighted homes for community use, building community partnerships and sponsoring events that cater to low to middle-income families in Detroit. John led students on a tour of the old Redford Theater and Motor City Java House in Brightmoor.

For Kanoh Tannenbaum, this tour was especially impactful. 

“The most surprising element of Detroit was the culture of art that we toured at the Motor City Blight Busters stop,” said Tannenbaum. “I really enjoyed being able to see art positively change a community that is striving to become safer and more enjoyable. I knew of a strong sense of community that thrives throughout Detroit, and this was confirmed during the tour.”

Durfee Innovation Society & The Lab Drawer

Next, students made their way to the Durfee Innovation Society (DIS). The DIS exists to create substantial and impactful opportunities for Detroit children, families, and single adults, while advancing collaboration among the eight major sectors (arts, business, education, faith-based, government, human services, media, and philanthropy) in both the city and its surrounding suburbs. 

Within the DIS, students had the chance to visit The Lab Drawer, an innovative business located within the building. The Lab Drawer produces STEAM (STEM + Arts) experience kits targeted at youth in underserved communities. Founded by Detroit natives Alecia Gabriel and Dierdre Roberson, students were inspired by the entrepreneurial journey of the founders. 

TechTown Detroit 

Break time! After the excitement of the last stop, students stopped at TechTown, Detroit’s entrepreneurship hub, for lunch and an information session. Techtown is a nonprofit business service organization that provides programs, education and resources for early to growth-stage small businesses and tech entrepreneurs. 

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

After lunch, students were ready to keep exploring the city of Detroit. The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art is a nonprofit dedicated to enlightenment through the arts. Created by U-M alum and leading art dealer Dr. George N’Namdi, this state-of-the-art facility includes four exhibition spaces, including indoor and outdoor performance areas. 

For Anastasia Hernando, N’Namdi’s story was especially inspiring.

“The N’Namdi Art studio was my favorite location on the tour,” said Hernando. “The impact that the studio had made in the community was apparent. The owner George N’Namdi explained that many businesses had opened in the studio’s vicinity after his. In this way, he was not only supporting himself but also the community.”

Shinola Detroit Flagship Store

Next up, students headed to a location that probably looked familiar to them. Most students have seen the Shinola store while walking down Main Street in Ann Arbor. On this tour, they found themselves at the original Shinola location in Midtown. 

While inside the store, students spoke to Shinola employees to understand how the company makes an impact on the local community, and how they started in-house manufacturing back in 2011.

Airspace Experience Technologies

Airspace Experience Technologies (ASX) was established in 2017 by Founder and CEO Jon Rimanelli. ASX’s ultimate vision is to democratize air mobility for the mass traveling public leveraging a multimodal system of mobility which is operationally emission free. 

Some students were surprised to find that such groundbreaking innovation was happening in all areas of Detroit.

“While visiting ASX, I was impressed by the high-tech technology hidden in their unassuming hangar in a quieter part of the city, and wondered what other similar high-tech businesses were operating out of Detroit,” said student Michelle Li.

Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (B.A.P.A.C.)

On the last stop of the tour, students visited the Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (BAPAC) in Banglatown. The Banglatown neighborhood in Detroit tells the story of how immigrants can work with residents to revitalize urban neighborhoods. BAPAC works to amplify Bangladeshi-American voices and enhance awareness of their rights as citizens of the US. They encourage Bangladeshi-Americans to remain active in political matters. At this stop, students heard the perspectives of those dedicating their time to the BAPAC.

Student Ben Cannon was particularly moved by their stories. “The passion and enthusiasm when listening to the stories of those at the BAPAC was so clear,” said Cannon.

When the day was over, many students felt like they had gained a completely different perspective on the city of Detroit and its people.

“The tour of Detroit helped me empathize and identify more with urban communities, especially after talking with the entrepreneurs who exist within the city,” said Jared Brecher. “Seeing the state of Detroit up close and talking to its inhabitants opened my eyes to the problems and opportunities which exist within Detroit.”

According to student Max Grossman, the tour was both eye-opening and exciting.

“Overall, my tour of Detroit has had a profound impact on my ability to relate to an urban community and identify important community needs,” Grossman said. “I now have a deeper appreciation for the complex and diverse challenges that cities like Detroit face.”

Among the students who attended the UXT, most share the same common sentiment — the spirit of Detroit is strong.

“What excites me most about the Detroit community is its strong spirit of resilience, creativity, and determination. Despite the many challenges they face, I was impressed by the innovative solutions that many businesses and entrepreneurs are developing to address these challenges and to create a better future for their communities,” said Max Grossman.

Are you interested in attending the next Urban Experience Tour? Check out the Urban Entrepreneurship Practicum course!

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