Urban Entrepreneurship 2018 is a Wrap!

Detroit was the target community for the Fall 2018 edition of the U-M Urban Entrepreneurship course

The Fall 2018 edition of my University of Michigan course, ENTR 490.012 Urban Entrepreneurship, is now complete! We finished the semester with 29 talented and hard-working students who were excited and challenged at the prospect of developing an urban-focused business. This Urban Entrepreneurship course has been in place at University of Michigan Ann Arbor since the Fall of 2015. In the course, we challenge the students to develop a sustainable, scalable, for-profit business that addresses an important urban community need. We encourage the students to think BIG (e.g. Uber or AirBnB) so the businesses they design can create significant positive impact.

An evolving course design

Since first developing the Urban Entrepreneurship course, we have been evolving the design to improve the student experience. In the Fall 2018 edition, we made a very significant change. Instead of having students come up with an urban-focused business model from scratch, we paired each of six student teams with an early stage Detroit area venture. Each student team was charged with:

  • understanding and validating the problem their chosen venture seeks to address
  • developing and validating a solution to the problem
  • creating and validating a business model that implements the solution
  • producing and presenting a pitch deck and presentation that effectively “sells” the venture

While we relied on our venture founders (entrepreneur collaborators) to share with us the important community problem their venture seeks to address, the student teams were required to restate the problem, modify or change the solution as they saw fit, and develop their own business model to implement the solution. Our collaborating entrepreneurs provided important context, advice, and contacts for the teams, but the teams were not constrained to arrive at the solution favored by the entrepreneur.

Urban Entrepreneurship students (rear), yours truly (front right), and some of our entrepreneur collaborators (front).

Urban Entrepreneurship Fall 2018 Highlights

This semester was action-packed, and it seemed to go by quickly. 

The Urban Experience Tour exposed the students to several neighborhoods and businesses in Detroit so they could gain a better feel for the environment and the opportunities. The following short video gives a flavor for the the tour experience.  Each student also wrote a reflective essay to capture their experience.

Urban Experience Tour video (YouTube)

Urban Experience Tour lecture by Dr. Robin Boyle (360 degree VR video)

Urban Experience Tour reflection essays

The Popcorn Challenge was a brief project that took place over two weeks early in the semester. For this project, student teams had to conceive, develop, manufacture, market, and sell a popcorn-based snack. This challenge provided an opportunity for students to experience end-to-end the business creation and execution process, in preparation for the more substantive work they would do later in the semester. Each team produced a short video to record their experience and document their results. The following Popcorn Challenge videos were judged best by the class.

Popcorn Challenge video – “Most Entertaining, Most Earnings”

Popcorn Challenge video – “Most Informative”

Popcorn Challenge video – “Honorable Mention”

The Perfect Pitch session allowed every student an opportunity for free-form expression. The idea was for students to demonstrate their creativity and passion about any subject they chose, in the hope that they would later exhibit similar creativity and passion in the presentation of their business model pitch. The following are two of the “perfect pitches” deemed best by the class.

Perfect Pitch video – “Most Entertaining”

Perfect Pitch video – “Most Moving”

The Final Presentation session gave each student team the opportunity to pitch the business model they developed in front of an audience that consisted of the teaching team, their classmates, a panel of experienced entrepreneur judges, and the the collaborating entrepreneurs. The following videos show the overall class session, as well as a 360-degree virtual reality video of each individual team presentation.

Final Presentations – complete session video

360 degree VR videos of student presentations





SpaceLab Detroit



The Final Reflection assignment gave students an opportunity to convey what they learned in the course and to provide suggestions for improvement. The students’ course observations and critiques are vital elements in the continued improvement of the Urban Entrepreneurship course experience. The students’ reflection essays are contained in the document below.

Fall 2018 Urban Entrepreneurship Course Final Reflection Essays


Our entrepreneur collaborators were essential to the success of this edition of the Urban Entrepreneurship course, and I’d like to recognize and thank them here.

  • Brandon Jackson – Add-Savvy Digital Signage
  • Darren Riley – CoShop
  • Blair Evans – Incite-Focus
  • Ray Batra – Shift_Up
  • Karen Burton – SpaceLab Detroit
  • Lauren Hood – SuperNatural

I’d also like to thank the businesses and organizations that hosted our students during the Urban Experience Tour:

  • Good Cakes and Bakes
  • Century Partners
  • Shinola Detroit
  • SpaceLab Detroit
  • Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (B.A.P.A.C. Hamtramck)
  • N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art



Special thanks to Dr. Robin Boyle of Wayne State University and Eric Thomas of Saga Marketing who delivered the special course session, “Learning from Detroit,” that took place on October 31 while I was away in China.

Thanks also to the entrepreneurs who formed the review panel for the students’ final presentations. These experienced entrepreneurs asked great questions and provided key input for the assessment of the student presentations.

  • Lane Coleman, CEO, Strike Group LLC
  • Justine Sheu, CEO & Executive Director, EnACT Your Future, Inc.
  • Ehsan Taqbeem, CEO, Manufacturing Quality Resources Group (mQrg) LLC

We are also grateful for the participation of my friend and colleague Reggie Barnett, who has volunteered his advice and assistance since the inception of the course. Reggie also hosted the “Learning from Detroit” session on October 31. Further thanks to teaching assistant Nick Cassar, who was the glue that held our sessions and much of the grading together.

Last but certainly not least, thanks to the Christine Gordon and the Center for Entrepreneurship staff for their assistance in the preparation and execution of the course.

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