Detroit Is Cultivating Local Entrepreneurship to Secure Its Future

The Motor City isn't waiting for a savior to move to town. It's banking on the energy of the people who call it home.

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By Amanda Lewan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When you visit downtown Detroit today you can't help but hear and see the opportunity. The city is alive with events and networking, apartment buildings at full occupancy, and entrepreneurs opening up new businesses. Though the recession hit us hard there has been progress in our recovery.

Detroit is also a city that is made of 82 percent African-American residents and 52 percent women residents, with an annual median household income of $26,000. When witnessing this new business growth we must ask ourselves, is everyone able to participate? Can all have the opportunity to start a business and grow? Nationally, according to our database, minority entrepreneurs make up 15 percent of businesses and contribute $591 billion in revenue to the economy. Will Detroit capture and foster this growth?

In Detroit, an effort of inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship is growing. Meet five of the organizations that are helping to support minority entrepreneurs in Detroit.

Build Institute.

For the entrepreneur getting started, the Build Institute offers a very affordable eight-week small business class. Most of the entrepreneurs graduating start a retail, lifestyle or service based businesses. With over 600 graduates, the program has been a success helping entrepreneurs to launch their business. Executive Director April Boyle states that their work has been intentional to support all entrepreneurs.

"I think we're at a point where Detroit can be a model for other communities, to really make sure it's an equitable and inclusive city," said Boyle. "It doesn't have to be growth for growth's sake. We can make sure everyone is invited to the table."


FoodLab Detroit.

Food entrepreneurs in Detroit of every background are invited to participate at this table. FoodLab is a member-based network of food distribution, processing and retail businesses committed to making "healthy, fair and green food accessible to all Detroiters." According to Chief Cultivator Devita Davison, at least 74 percent of their members are women and 62 percent are women of color.

"No matter how hard we work to change the conditions within a community, real change will only come from the community itself," said Davison.

To cultivate a diverse community, Davison says they created a steering committee to include minority representation, set aside resources to be shaped and decided on by their members, and make sure to host meetings in Detroit's diverse communities.

Related: 13 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Detroit

TechTown Detroit.

A nonprofit business accelerator and incubator founded by Wayne State University and Henry Ford Health System, TechTown Detroit has expanded its entrepreneurship support programs into the neighborhoods. Most revitalization and private investment has been in Downtown and Midtown but TechTown's SWOT City program is active in the neighborhoods.

Ned Staebler, president and CEO of TechTown, says SWOT City works in six neighborhoods, partnering with local community development corporations to identify entrepreneurs and provide them with technical assistance and support.

"You can't just build and hope they come, you need to go out and meet people where they are," Staebler said.

Related: 56-Year-Old Detroit Man Walks 21 Miles To and From Work and Never Misses a Day


The Motor City was once a Mecca for immigrants. Many places in Detroit, like Southwest Detroit, still have strong immigrant communities. ProsperUS does all of their work in the neighborhoods assisting immigrant and minority entrepreneurs. They provide technical assistance, entrepreneurial training, and micro-lending for entrepreneurs helping over 300 graduate and expand their often-at-home businesses. Ninety are graduating just this season. Classes are taught in both English and Spanish to better serve the Detroit Latino community.

Bamboo Detroit.

At Detroit's largest co-working community, we've built a diverse community of what we call the "Modern Worker". These are all entrepreneurs who need the shared space and a community to grow. Often they've graduated from a program or are ready to get out of the house and into an office space. By starting with a diverse leadership team and being inclusive in events and programming, we've been able to continue to grow a strong and diverse community at our Downtown co-working space.

Related: What Every Business Builder Can Learn From Detroit About the Power of Relationships

Amanda Lewan

Founder and Editor of Michipreneur

Amanda Lewan is a Detroit based writer, Editor of Michipreneur, and co-founder of Bamboo Detroit.

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