“The optimism of Detroit is so strong.”
I think these seven words said by Gwen Jimmere from Naturalicious sum up the main theme of our Detroit Startup Day.
This optimism is something that I recognized in each individual that we met with. Collectively, it allows entrepreneurs to thrive in the city, which in turn, fuels the ongoing revitalization.
Jimmere and Melissa Butler — who founded The Lip Bar and shares manufacturing space with Jimmere in Ponyride — demonstrate another characteristic of these Detroit entrepreneurs: Grit.
Although passion, enthusiasm and grit are important, any successful entrepreneur has a team and a support system behind them. One of my biggest takeaways from this trip was learning that these entrepreneurs are not alone. There are far more resources to help these innovators thrive in Detroit than I ever imagined.
Whether it’s grant money like Rohani and Kiki received for The Farmer’s Hand, or it’s the cheap space and resources provided by Ponyride, I learned that Detroiters believe in one another, and they do everything they can to help lift each other up.
As cliché as it sounds, all of these entrepreneurs we met with began with such humble beginnings. They all have a genuine goal that focuses on improving the lives of individuals, even in the simplest ways. In these cases, the “job-to-be-done” is to simply make the community a better place.
While today’s dialogue surrounding media innovations is largely tech-based (including all four of our groups in JRN 450), it was very interesting and refreshing to see this unique focus in Detroit.
Amy Kaherl from Detroit Soup is one great example of being an entrepreneur for the greater good. Rather than trying to make someone’s life easier by creating a new feature on an app, Kaherl is fighting for her business because she’s passionate about bringing equitable justice to the city.
“You have to fight for your business tooth and nail,” she said. “You have to speak up and be uncomfortable a lot. Sometimes your idea doesn’t fit in a box. Ideation is messy.”
Differing from the tech startups that saturate Silicon Valley, Kaherl said startups at Ponyride are not tech-focused. Instead, many of them specifically focus on manufacturing that will help build the city from the ground up, rather than from the top down.
Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, Tamara Kamara, from the city of Detroit’s Department of Innovation and Technology, taught us that you can bring an entrepreneurial mindset to any role. She talked about the importance of focusing on the small wins that keep you “sailing” while you’re in a building phase.
Matching our discussion about the lean model in class, she mentioned that the best way to evaluate your work and move toward these “small wins” is to put something out in the world. This requires a balance of working in teams, enabling others and acknowledging that leadership varies depending on the project or circumstances you are in.
This entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated by everyone in Detroit was truly inspiring, and I can only hope to bring a similar passion, optimism and grit to the future roles that I take on.