The Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project was founded in 2015 by three University of Michigan faculty, Michael Barr (Law/Policy), Hannah Smotrich (Art & Design), and Michael Gordon (Business), to support neighborhood-based small businesses in Detroit and to provide students with an interdisciplinary learning experience, rooted in mutual respect, cultural humility, and reciprocity.

Growing Small Businesses



Small business growth is driven by (1) access to capital, (2) access to business relationships and broad networks for mentoring and business opportunities, and (3) access to financial, technical, and managerial skills. Our work incorporates all three of these pillars and responds to the nuanced challenges facing small businesses as observed through our engagement in Detroit.

UM Entrepreneurs Innovators Meeting

  1. Access to capital: We coordinate our work with CDFIs and other financial institutions.
  2. Business Networks: Our work supports the missions of economic development organizations and neighborhood groups in Detroit.
  3. Business Skills: We provide free technical assistance to help solve business owners’ legal, financial, marketing, operational, and design challenges. We work together with partner business service organizations in Detroit to amplify our impact.


Our Work



In 2020, we worked with 76 Detroit businesses on 91 semester-long projects, coordinating with courses across the University of Michigan. We also provided one-on-one accounting help to 158 businesses through DNEP Free Accounting. In summer 2020, we launched the Impact Studio for Local Business (+ISLB) based on our experience with how businesses were responding to the pandemic, and created tools, guides, and frameworks to help businesses survive, pivot, and adapt to the economic shutdowns.

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Year Founded

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Businesses Assisted

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U-M Schools

(2020 Involvement)

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Courses, Clinics, & Programs

(2020 Unique Opportunities)

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U-M Faculty Involved

Detroit Partner Orgs


Partner Orgs in Detroit