Detroit’s small business owners see summer boost through entrepreneurs project

Detroit’s small business owners see summer boost through entrepreneurs project

Working through a pandemic has been stressful enough for Detroit’s small-business community.  Finding enough time, energy and talent to expand their companies through innovative programs, social media or new strategy has been doubly difficult. But a group of business owners got fresh insights into how to grow thanks to some uniquely talented University of Michigan student consultants. 

These students in the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project, their advisors and community participants recently met on Zoom to outline the work seven student teams did for Detroit small businesses such as Ivy Kitchen + Cocktails, recapping problems Detroit business owners asked students to address during the internship program. 

For example, Nya Marshall of farm-to-table restaurant Ivy Kitchen + Cocktails received a social-media mini-makeover. Students including Madelyn Woodrow spent two days at the restaurant on Detroit’s East Side to create more than 100 professional-grade photographs of its food, drinks and ambiance.

The team also prepared social-media posts for Marshall to draw people into her Jefferson Avenue space. It was a win-win for both parties, especially hungry undergrads like Woodrow, who described Marshall’s dishes as “absolutely incredible.” 

Detroit advisors such as Lawrence Jackson, Entrepreneurial Education Director at TechTown Detroit, lauded the program and its student consultants. Jackson applauded students for providing real-life data as well as practical advice that Detroit’s small-business community needs.

“This is a great help to entrepreneurs and I’m looking for greater things to keep on happening,” Jackson said. 

The schools involved in the project include the Ford School of Public Policy, +Impact Studio for Local Business at the Ross School of Business, the Stamps School of Art & Design, the School of Information and the College of Engineering.  

Its multidisciplinary consulting teams focused on key areas such as brand identity, marketing campaigns, operations, e-commerce, product enhancement & expansion and point of sales management.

The DNEP +Impact Studio for Local Business started in the summer of 2020 as an emergency pilot program. When asked to help, student response was so positive the team developed a full summer internship program with students creating a post-COVID resource bank for small businesses. 

“The challenge has always been how do we take these incredible resources that are available from a university and make them available to business owners and to those who are on the ground,” said Chris Mueller, faculty director for the +Impact Studio for Local Businesses.

In 2021, the program evolved again with 31 students. They partnered with 19 Detroit-based businesses that wanted insights, information and execution on real projects that could help them not only survive this historical moment but find additional customers, develop new processes and develop long-lasting revenue.

Christie Baer, assistant director at U-M Center on Finance, Law & Policy, said the project shows incredible long-term potential. 

“This was a big experiment for us,” Baer told the students on the Zoom call. “This was a tremendous collaborative effort and there were literally dozens of hands involved in making this happen. … You really knocked it out of the park.”  

This article was written by Karen Dybis of Michigan News.