Rachel Lutz opened her first store, the Peacock Room, in 2011. The spot had traditional selling points — foot traffic, original 1920s architectural details and a spacious window for displaying her wares — but what sealed the deal was an unusual perk: a private security force. CreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

Ask business owners what it is like to operate in Detroit and you will hear comparisons to the Wild West or a third-world country. They often mean it as a compliment.

“You can do things here that would be impossible in a more functional city,” said Andy Didorosi, 27, an entrepreneur who housed his first business, a car repair shop, in a vacant airport hangar that he rented for $300 a month. The arrangement ended when the Federal Aviation Administration caught on that Mr. Didorosi, then a teenager, did not actually own an airplane.

An urban area filled with empty buildings and an underused labor force offers some powerful advantages for entrepreneurs. The cost of starting here is a fraction of what it would be in other large American cities, which is one reason Mr. Didorosi’s ever-changing collection of enterprises includes successful ventures like the Detroit Bus Company, a fleet of biodiesel-fueled tour buses, and whimsical ones like the Thunderdrome, a motorcycle-racing series held at an abandoned velodrome.

But Detroit also poses daunting challenges. Crime is a constant problem, the city cannot afford to repair its aging infrastructure, and banks are not eager to work with businesses in such a troubled location. One owner speaks casually of the arsonists he regularly chases from his manufacturing building. Another simply laughs when asked how he financed his company’s expansion.

“You can’t get bank loans in this town,” said Matthew Naimi, 40, who acquired a 260,000-square-foot warehouse from the city by paying off the building’s $128,000 tax bill and then created a hodgepodge of businesses to fill it. “We’ve basically been growing out of profit and a bit of float from our accountant. When your accountant is your banker, you know your business is on solid footing.”

Click HERE for the full article!

Technological breakthroughs are contagious: They break out in specific areas, then spread. To identify the most innovative cities of the 21st century, we compiled U.S. Patent and Trademark Office data on utility patents (for a new invention or process) issued between 2000 and 2011--and analyzed which metropolitan areas were the national leaders in each patent category.

We found several hubs of industry fueling new ideas. These innovation clusters create an "ecosystem effect," says Steven Pedigo, a director at the Creative Class Group, an advisory group founded by urban theorist Richard Florida. "It's a concentration of assets," Pedigo says. "Companies have everything they need to be successful: talent, capital, other firms." And there's nothing like a little competition to make you more resourceful.


No. 1 in these classes: Internal-combustion engines; land-vehicle bodies and tops; vehicle navigation.

Still Humming: The Motor City is running strong as far as patents go. Detroit is 10th in the nation, with more than 25,000 patents issued between 2000 and 2011.

Auto Shop: It also leads the country in 38 different patent classes, the majority of them involving cars or car parts.

Click HERE for the full list! 

Click HERE for more information about City Year!

Detroit’s woes are well known; so too, are the efforts of some entrepreneurial spirits to revitalize this once-great city. Dan Gilbert, the CEO of Detroit-based Quicken Loans, has poured a billion dollars into Detroit’s downtown, as Chuck Salter reported in Fast Company Magazine last year.

With Gilbert’s interest in making the old new again, it should come as no surprise that the offices of Quicken Loans--as well as the offices belonging to some of its related, Detroit-based companies--are physical manifestations of that interest.

Click HERE for the full article and slideshow! 

The popular reality TV show “Shark Tank” highlights innovative start-ups pitching to investors. This past year, Michigan piloted a real-life version of this show, but instead of making profit, the idea was to demonstrate an innovative way to address poverty.

In 2013, Michigan created a competition to attract more than $1 million in new financial commitments to fund unknown change agents—people with innovative solutions to addressing joblessness, environmental problems, urban vacancy, and other issues.

As the nation focused on Detroit’s failure last year, it missed Michigan’s new strategy for actually moving the needle on poverty. Here’s what happened.

In a 2012 speech, Governor Snyder charged the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Michigan Corps, a local nonprofit under the leadership of Elizabeth Garlow, to develop the nation’s first statewide social entrepreneurship competition. The competition aimed to “bring together the best innovative minds to design sustainable solutions to address unemployment.”

The first task was to define social entrepreneurship—no easy task. Elizabeth Garlow and I ultimately came up with a simple five-point checklist:

The entrepreneur is a tenacious leader with a pragmatic vision. The solution addresses a clear social problem. The solution changes systems, not just symptoms of the problem. The model prioritizes social impact over financial gain. The model generates a sustainable funding stream.

Using the state’s existing annual entrepreneurship contest as a foundation, Michigan Corps set out to launch Michigan’s Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The hope was that they would receive 30 or so business plan submissions, but the response was overwhelming. Grassroots Michiganders came out in droves to the first training webinar, which racked up over 100 participants. By the time the competition chose winners, nearly 300 people had registered for the competition and 150 business plans had been submitted.

As Michigan piloted the nation’s first, statewide social entrepreneur competition, partners and funders were initially skeptical it would generate any meaningful outcomes. “We were told it would be impressive to get 50 entries to the competition,” remembered

Garlow. ”Michigan, it turns out, is full of civic-minded social entrepreneurs who have been waiting a lifetime to share their ideas.” In fact, so many participants asked for coaching on their business ideas that Michigan Corps had to hold a solid week of half-hour coaching clinics to meet demand. By May, the competition team chose 10local change agents as winners.

Click HERE for the full article! 

Always on the road: Witnessing rays of hope in Detroit from Oliver Schrott Kommunikation on Vimeo.

Veronika Scott wears The Empowerment Plan's sleeping bag coat
Veronika Scott wears The Empowerment Plan’s sleeping bag coat

As we drive through Detroit, on the surface I see a city that’s been abandoned by its residents, filled with poverty and crime. But when we stop and meet store owners, artists and women who went from being homeless to employed, I see a city that’s energized with entrepreneurship, hipster creativity and potential. Suddenly I understand what Veronika Scott, the 24-year-old who is sitting in the driver’s seat, often called “the crazy coat lady,” means when she says, “I love Detroit.”

Veronika is empowering Detroit with a disruptive business model. She’s the CEO and Founder of The Empowerment Plan, a non-profit organization that employs homeless women and trains them to become full-time seamstresses who produce coats that turn into sleeping bags which are given to homeless individuals across the nation. She doesn’t just employ these women — she educates and equips them with the professional skills and knowledge needed to compete in Detroit’s new economy and evolving job market. “As this city continues to grow, we cannot forget about or leave behind those that have seen Detroit through its roughest time and are still out of work,” says Veronika. “We currently have 13 seamstresses working full-time at The Empowerment Plan and most of them have been able to transition out of the shelter system into their own home or apartment. We believe in giving second chances to those who want it, and providing warmth to those who need it.” (Disclosure: I am on the board of the Empowerment Plan.)

As I see more of Detroit, I ask Veronika, “Can you name five women (transgenerational) who are also passionate about saving Detroit, women who are making a difference, women we probably don’t know about, but should? I want to know what they think needs to be fixed and what they’re doing to fix it.” Following are Veronika’s picks, starting with their top 10 list of things that Detroit needs to fix:

Click HERE for the full article!
Toby Barlow and Sarah Cox are part of Write A House, a project whose goal is to acquire houses and give them to writers. CreditFabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

The message implicit in the prizewinning documentaries “Detropia” and “Searching for Sugar Man,” in Detroit’s declaration of bankruptcy in 2013 — in even a casual drive along Gratiot Avenue, past mile after mile of burned-out or boarded-up houses and stores — is that Detroit is in a pitiable state.

Yet when Toby Barlow reflects on Detroit, his adopted hometown, what he describes is potential, not pity — cheap real estate being the major reason.

“It’s fun to be here and be a part of those things that are re-emerging,” says Mr. Barlow, creative director at the advertising agency Team Detroit. “There are just a wealth of things that don’t exist in Detroit — and should.”

To create those things in the Motor City, Mr. Barlow, 48, who moved from New York to work on a Ford Motor account and stayed, has become an entrepreneur. He has opened a design store in Midtown, founded a nonprofit at Eastern Market that trains people in letterpress printing, and plans to open a restaurant in Corktown soon.

He has even found time to publish two novels since moving to Detroit from Brooklyn seven years ago. But his newest, headline-grabbing venture — with Sarah Cox, his partner in the project and another Brooklyn transplant — is one that aims to revitalize the city’s art community and potentially be a model for post-blight Detroit.

The project is called Write A House, and it is giving free houses to writers.

Click HERE for the full article! 
Detroit Institute of Arts


Where: Detroit
The Detroit Institute of Arts displays an impressive collection of African-American art, in addition to its holdings of American, European, Asian, African, Native American, and Islamic art. Look out for Diego Rivera’sDetroit Industry frescoes, which the artist considered his most successful work. The museum has occupied its home on Woodward Avenue since 1927, and contains more than 100 galleries, an auditorium, a lecture/recital hall, an art reference library, and a conservation services laboratory. A massive expansion completed in 2007 added 35,000 square feet to the museum. Established in 2000, the General Motors Center for African-American Art is one of the first curatorial departments dedicated to African-American art in a major museum.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, which was the first Van Gogh painting to arrive in a U.S. museum collection.

Click HERE to see who made up the remaining 19!

The inaugural Freep Film Festival will showcase Detroit and Michigan-themed documentaries, along with film discussions, panels and a few other surprises. The curtain rises March 20-23 at the Fillmore Detroit and the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The lineup is now complete. Check out the full schedule with quick descriptions of every movie by clicking on "Films and schedule." 

The choir at the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences has a lot to be happy about.

Tuesday morning, the “Today” show called. Tuesday afternoon, the “Ellen” show called. Late Tuesday afternoon, a representative of “The Queen Latifah Show” called.

Representatives of all three shows want the 40-member school choir to perform their rendition of Pharrell’s “Happy” on air thanks to a video of them performing the catchy tune that went viral.

The two-minute video has been viewed more than 461,000 times on YouTube.

Click HERE for the full article!
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