As the bye week rolled around for Michigan’s football team, some students took the opportunity to explore Detroit and its thriving entrepreneurial community. The Urban Entrepreneurship course, led by David Tarver, is designed for students who want to understand more about creating a sustainable business that benefits people who live in urban communities. A crucial piece is Community Discovery, the process of learning about an urban community and the people who live and work there. 

Hearing from entrepreneurs and others who are making a difference there forms the basis for the work these students will undertake for the remainder of the semester, and the memories generated by this experience are likely to persist for years to come. 

What exactly was this day-long urban experience like?

7:45 am: Ann Arbor – Board bus and depart for Detroit

A chartered bus waits just outside Pierpont Commons ready to depart. Everyone rolls in on time, hydroflasks clipped to backpacks and coffee already midway through consumption. Long day ahead, need to be alert and ready to engage with hosts.

8:05 am: Travel to Detroit

Students stare out the window, watching the sprawling city grow around them while David gives them the brief on the first business they will be visiting…

9:30 am: Good Cakes and Bakes, 19363 Livernois Avenue, Detroit

Walking into the fun and brightly-decorated bakery, the sweet smell of strawberry, peanut butter and banana greets the students. April Anderson, the owner and a U-M grad, has created a positive, creative, educational and friendly environment. April shares her entrepreneurial journey as she has conceived and built a successful food business in Detroit. She talks about the efforts being undertaken to revitalize the Livernois corridor where her business is located. Most students buy a pastry and have eaten it before they even step back on the bus.

10:30 am: Fitzgerald Neighborhood Revitalization, 16557 San Juan Drive, Detroit

Stepping off the bus next to a newly renovated family home, Century Partners co-founder David Alade greets the class, which he has been a supporter of since its inception. David explains that Century Partners, a young business that is doing residential real estate development in Detroit, is financing their redevelopment work by way of their proprietary investment vehicles. As he talks, the class walks toward the Fitzgerald neighborhood, which is currently in a large-scale redevelopment. This stop concludes at the Ella Fitzgerald Park which opened in July 2018.

Noon: Shinola, 441 W. Canfield Street, Detroit

Greeted by a weathered brick facade, students make their way into the hip and luxurious showroom floor. Handcrafted time pieces in well lit cases, flanked by exquisite leather goods, illuminate the room as Ranetta Andry introduces herself. Everyone listens as she explains that through skilled training, Shinola is able to support Detroit’s local workforce by training them in the skills needed to create these craft products. Almost on cue, someone’s stomach rumbles and everyone laughs. David thanks Ranetta and everyone hurries to the bus and hopefully lunch…

1:30 pm: SpaceLab Detroit, 607 Shelby St., Detroit

Everyone shuffles into the co-working space Karen and Bobby Burton opened in June 2017 to serve built environment professionals. The group gets a quick tour and makes their way to have lunch, provided by Yum Village who is also partnering with the course this semester. As everyone eats, guest speaker, James Feagin, founder and CEO of projects+PEOPLE, gives a presentation entitled, “Detroit’s Entrepreneur Ecosystem: Failure, Success, Opportunity.”

After a Q&A session generates lots of great questions and some social media worthy quotes, folks recycle their lunch packaging and head off to their final destination of the day.

3:15 pm: N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 52 E. Forest Ave., Detroit

The sun reflects off the floor to ceiling glass exterior as the day is winding down. The group is welcomed into one of four exhibition spaces by Izegbe N’Namdi, the daughter of Dr. George N’Namdi, the founder of the center who was a U-M graduate and a leading art dealer. She explains that the state-of-the-art facility was part of her father’s approach to neighborhood economic development in Detroit and elsewhere.  As students pass through the gift shop and bookstore, some linger behind to snap a few photos of the beautiful art hanging in the gallery to share on their Instagram stories.

4:30 pm: Return to Ann Arbor

As the buildings shrink and disappear behind the bus, an exhausted bunch of students begin to reflect on everything they experienced today. All of them seem to have a better understanding and a clearer picture of the community and identifying opportunities to collaborate with residents themselves.

5:30 pm: Drop off at Pierpont Commons.

Back on campus, everyone gets off the bus, looking to grab a SPIN scooter and head home. David thanks them all and hopes this has been an insightful, englighting, and somewhat entertaining way to spend their Saturday. They thank him and begin to make their way home while David begins shouting one last thing about checking Canvas for next week’s assignment…

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