Since returning to Michigan in 2007 after living in New Jersey for many years, I’ve been struck by two things. The first is the decline of once-great cities like Detroit and Pontiac and Saginaw and, of course, my hometown Flint. The second is the world-class talent that Michigan retains in its universities, corporations and elsewhere. One might be tempted to ask the question, “If we’re so smart, why do we have so many problems?”
Of course Michigan doesn’t hold a monopoly on challenged cities. In fact, to varying degrees, urban centers around the world present unique problems that cry out for solution. Governments, non-profit entities, and profit-making businesses all play a role in addressing these problems. Entrepreneurs, in particular, search for problem-solving opportunities that yield profit making businesses. The entrepreneur sees urban problems as opportunities ripe for harvesting by a new business venture. How can we unleash this entrepreneurial talent to more effectively address urban problems?
We believe that private enterprise entrepreneurs can be much more effective at solving the problems of urban communities if they approach their work with an “urban solutions focus.” Such a focus would engage community members in identifying problems and proposing solutions, and would empower entrepreneurs to discover the needs of both familiar and unfamiliar communities.
We are proposing an Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative, which, in a nutshell, will facilitate sustainable, scalable, profitable solutions to urban problems. We will do this by connecting those who experience urban problems with those who can solve them. The ultimate objective is to improve the quality of life in urban settings. The core activities that entrepreneurs and community members will engage in are:
- identifying and documenting important urban problems
- crafting and vetting business opportunities to address the perceived problems
- developing and vetting business models to address the most promising business opportunities
- identifying, documenting, and in some cases “cloning” existing effective business models
The Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative is in the definition phase. We welcome your thoughts and ideas relative to the draft UEI proposal, which is available for review and download here. Feel free to leave a comment below, or if you prefer to make a private comment, please do so via e-mail.