In March 2017, Build was invited by Michigan House to speak on the panel about equity and inclusion in communities. Exploring the strategies employed by Michigan’s communities to build an inclusive future that encourages opportunity for all.
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss James Chapman of Rock Ventures LLC April Boyle of Build Institute Pamela Lewis of New Economy Initiative
South By Southwest (SXSW) dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. The event, an essential destination for global professionals, features sessions, showcases, screenings, exhibitions, and a variety of networking opportunities. SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.
These were the type of phrases bantered about on Wednesday, May 5, at Social Entrepreneur Day, part of Detroit Entrepreneur Week, May 2-7, 2016. The day was presented in partnership with Build Institute, which is a strong advocate for social enterprise and small business support.
For the 120 Social Entrepreneur Day attendees, who filled a spacious room at TechTown Detroit, the day started off with an overview of social entrepreneurship (the pursuit of a social mission using commercial means). Marcus Harris, Build’s facilitator of Build Social, small business taskmaster, and one of social entrepreneurship’s most vocal champions quickly captivated the audience with his wisdom.
Shaka Senghor, a New York Times best-selling author, presented next. With the story of his personal turnaround, triggered by an epiphany inside a prison solitary confinement cell, he spoke of his journey into crime and drugs, through his 19-year incarceration, and out into the world to become an author, social entrepreneur, and change maker. The Detroit native’s current work focuses on mentoring youth, eradicating gun violence, and getting more books into prisons.
Senghor’s entrepreneurial challenges were greater than most: out of prison for second-degree murder with little chance of finding a job, he sold his books from the trunk of an old Honda Civic and drove from school to school talking to kids and telling them his story.
“I realized I had no work history,” recalls Senghor, having been in prison since he was 19. “But had a dynamic skill set.” Senghor had been selling drugs since he was 14 and ran black market stores in prison. “I took that skill set and said ‘I’m going to start a publishing company.’”
As Senghor spoke of achieving one of his long-time pursuits, to meet Opra, he advised the crowd, “As you’re working on your business, be intentional about what you want to manifest.” He cautioned against becoming “socially invested and financially broke.”
Following Senghor’s motivating words, was a social entrepreneurship ideation session that lead participants through a visual map, a CO.STARTERS CanvasTM (an entrepreneur training curriculum Build brought to Detroit) that helps entrepreneurs better understand, define, organize, and test their business ideas.
Led by Harris, the session further defined items on the placemat-sized canvas, such as identifying customers, defining a solution, and outlining benefits and start-up costs. As participants scribbled their ideas onto their own maps, Harris cautioned: “This ain’t your business plan. It’s more of a pre-plan. You can use this model as a foundation.”
Social Entrepreneur Day participants had a chance to learn from the doers as part of the last session of the morning, “Meet the Social Entrepreneurs,” a panel discussion with successful social entrepreneurs, social impact investors, and representatives from organizations that offer training and support. The panel was populated by:
The group answered questions about their early inspirations, handling competition, balancing money issues with social purpose, and dealing with doubt.
When asked about challenges specific to Detroit’s social enterprise movement, many panelists voiced concern over the absence of resources in Detroit – good schools, lack of money, subpar city services – but also recognized that Detroiters have the drive and grit to keep going.
Fr. Phillip Cooke, who moved to Detroit after doing social enterprise work in Santa Clara, Calif., recently conducted his first program at UDM CSE on writing business plans with a triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial). “The energy in the room was fantastic,” says Cooke. “It was energy that I had not seen in my life. All that Detroit is missing is resources.”
For Detroit entrepreneurs knowledge is just one piece of getting a business going. Capital is still a huge challenge, which is why programs such as Kiva are vital. Therefore, it made sense to culminate Social Entrepreneurship Day with an activity focused on pitching ideas and giving away money for startups.
“There is no lack of people within Detroit’s neighborhoods who want to collaborate. April Boyle, Executive Director of Build Institute, a network of grass-roots programs that train people to bring their business ideas to life, says more attention and investment needs go to into community entrepreneurship. To date, Build has graduated 600 aspiring and experienced community entrepreneurs. Build fosters growth for what they call Main Street entrepreneurs– brick and mortars or mom and pop lifestyle passion businesses–that are looking to open businesses in their community.
“We need both the investment paid to tech and high-growth companies but we also need to foster and nurture the community and Main Street entrepreneurs to keep the wealth, to keep our culture, and to preserve Detroit as a unique place,” says Boyle. “The respect for the small business community or the work that we’re doing at that cross section of community entrepreneurship and economic development doesn’t get the respect it deserves because people measure success in dollars, and they don’t understand that this problem took 50 years. It may take hopefully not as long because we don’t have that long to wait, but it’s going to take a long while in order to have that pipeline of workers, and talented, bright innovative workers have to start somewhere.”
“When I first heard of Forward Cities and their goals of advancing minority ownership and commercial corridor redevelopment I was over the moon with excitement, as these are the key tenants of our work at Build Institute.
I was able to attend the very first convening in New Orleans in December 2014 and was taken with the parallels in the stories of the natural disaster, which many argue was manmade due to faulty levies, and the unquestionably manmade disaster in Detroit after 50 years of disinvestment, structural and institutional racism, the housing and financial crisis during which one in every three homes faced foreclosure, and unemployment at an all-time high. Detroit is in crisis and the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country has helped shed some light on the depth and breadth of the challenges here.”
Read more from our Executive Director April Boyle at Forward Cities here.