The Fall 2018 edition of my Urban Entrepreneurship course at University of Michigan is underway, and I’m excited by the participation of students and Detroit entrepreneurs in this newly updated course. This semester, we have six teams of five students each working with six different urban-focused entrepreneurial ventures in the Detroit area. By the end of the term, the students will learn how to develop a sustainable, profitable business that serves the needs of an urban community (or any community, for that matter), and our entrepreneur partners will gain access to the skills and fresh ideas of some very talented, very creative U-M students.
Genesis of the Urban Entrepreneurship Course
I started teaching entrepreneurship courses in the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship in the Fall of 2012. I did so because, after a successful career as an inventor, engineer, and entrepreneur, I wanted to be able to teach others to be successful entrepreneurs. However, after a couple of years, my thoughts about entrepreneurship were consumed by two nagging questions: 1) Why isn’t more explicit attention being paid to the kind of entrepreneurship that benefits people who live in urban communities, and 2) If we’re so smart, why can’t we solve problems for people who live in cities, not with charity, but with profitable, sustainable businesses? I created the Urban Entrepreneurship course at U-M to answer those questions and to facilitate the development of more successful urban-focused businesses.
A New Year, A New Course Design
In past semesters, I have asked students in the Urban Entrepreneurship course to get familiar with the City of Detroit and to “design” a profitable business that addresses an important problem they identify. While several student teams have come up with some really innovative ideas and business models in these past courses, I feel it is time to evolve the course to a new approach that teams the students with actual entrepreneurs who are engaged in developing an urban-focused business. This new approach was made possible by the experience I have gained over the past few years running the Urban Entrepreneurship Symposium, and by the results gained from running the Urban LaunchPad accelerator at SpaceLab Detroit this Spring.
For this semester’s course, we recruited entrepreneurs from eight urban-focused startups to pitch their venture to the class. Afterward, the students elected to work with six of these startups to help analyze, validate, and enhance their business models. The hope is that, working together, the students and entrepreneurs will be able to supercharge the business model and bring each business to a whole new level.
The Urban Entrepreneurship course will culminate on December 5 with a presentation by each of the six student teams to their entrepreneur partners, and panel of judges, and other interested parties. The student teams will present an updated vision and business model that illustrates how the business can optimize community impact and financial results.
Here’s a brief video of the Urban Experience Tour of Detroit that the class participated in on September 29, 2018.