educationentrepreneurshipU-M

Change the (urban) World – Fall 2020 Edition

The Fall 2020 edition of the Urban Entrepreneurship course is a wrap! I created this course at University of Michigan Ann Arbor and first taught it in Fall 2015. In the course, students learn what it takes to build an “urban-focused” business, i.e., an enterprise that addresses an important urban community need. They learn how entrepreneurs can combine awareness, resources, and motivation to change the urban world for the better.

This Fall’s class had 30 students – six teams of five. Each team was assigned to work with an existing “urban-focused” business – their “Urban Entrepreneur Partner” (UEP). The students were charged with A) engaging the business and the community it serves, B) understanding and documenting how the business works, and C) developing and validating ideas for making the business even more effective. At the end of the semester, each student team delivered a Business Opportunity Presentation that described the Partner’s business model and the team’s proposed improvements.

The Fall 2020 edition of Urban Entrepreneurship was uniquely challenging due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After attempting an initial in-person course session in early September, I decided it would be best to conduct the class remotely. While this was not ideal, we took advantage of the remote format to partner with both local and distant Urban Entrepreneur Partners. This gave a global aspect to the course that we had not achieved before.

One of our Urban Entrepreneur Partners, Mckingtorch Africa, is located in Accra, Ghana. Our fully remote mode of instruction allowed us to engage both students and Urban Entrepreneur Partners in several locations around the world.

This semester, we partnered with a total of eight different urban-focused businesses. Two of the eight were case study examples that helped the students learn about urban-focused business models. The remaining six businesses were the Urban Entrepreneur Partners that students worked with for the bulk of the semester. We greatly appreciate the time and energy the case study businesses and the Urban Entrepreneur Partners contributed. These entrepreneurs were a key ingredient in the success of the course.

Case Study Businesses

Kaiterrakaiterra.comBeijing, Chinaair quality monitoring systems
Samaritansamaritan.citySeattle, WAclient relationship management tools focused on the homeless
Click on the company name above to see the entrepreneur interview.

Urban Entrepreneur Partner Businesses

Mckingtorch Africamckingtorchafrica.orgAccra, Ghanaconsumer goods from recycled plastic
Ride Scoozyridescoozy.comSt. Petersburg, FLelectric bikes for urban mobility
Yum Villageyumvillage.comDetroit, MIAfro-Caribbean food and experience
Century Partners Detroitcenturypartners.orgDetroit, MIaffordable urban housing
ShotSpotter Technologiesshotspotter.comNewark, CAgunshot detection for cities and campuses
ToDoolietodoolie.comDetroit, MIgig worker platform for odd jobs
Click on the company name above to see the entrepreneur interview.

At the beginning of the semester, I performed an in-depth interview with each case study business and each Urban Entrepreneur Partner to provide background information for the student teams. You can view each interview by clicking on the company name in the above tables.

We relied on our Urban Entrepreneur Partners to acquaint the students with their business venture and connect the student teams to their respective communities, but the student teams were free to restate the problem and modify or improve the business partner’s solution as they saw fit. The Urban Entrepreneur Partners provided important context, advice, and contacts for the teams, and the teams were free to research, propose and validate business model improvements. We encouraged the students to “think big” and apply innovation and technology to produce a business model that could result in a “game changing” business.

Judging from the students’ reflection on their course experience, they came away with a healthy respect for their Urban Entrepreneur Partner and a deep appreciation for the processes and work required to create any successful business. In addition to producing and presenting their full Business Opportunity Presentation, each student team also produced a brief “elevator pitch” that describes their Urban Entrepreneur Partner’s business in a nutshell. You can view a sampling of these brief (approximately one minute) pitches below.

We are already preparing for the Fall 2021 edition of the Urban Entrepreneurship course, and we are once again seeking Urban Entrepreneur Partners to work with our students. If you know of a business that fits the bill, please send an email with information to wdtarver@umich.edu. We are looking primarily for early-stage businesses that are addressing an important urban need and are already gaining traction in their community. We prefer businesses that have at least a core team in place and that are generating revenue. We are especially seeking businesses in the fields of education, health, nutrition, housing, and mobility, but we will entertain any business that is addressing an important urban community need.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank profusely our case study business entrepreneurs and our Urban Entrepreneur Partners:

  • Samaritan: Jonathan Kumar
  • Kaiterra: Jessica Lam
  • Mckingtorch Africa: Makafui Awuku
  • Ride Scoozy: Jason Habeger
  • Yum Village: Godwin Ihentuge
  • Century Partners Detroit: David Alade
  • ShotSpotter Technologies: Ralph Clark and Nasim Golzadeh
  • ToDoolie: Sergio Rodriguez

I’d also like to thank the business professionals who served as guest reviewers at the classes’ final presentations:

  • James Feagin: Director of Entrepreneurship, Rocket Community Fund
  • Grace Hsia: Cofounder, Warmilu & Lecturer, U-M Center for Entrepreneurship
  • Moses Lee: Cofounder, Seelio
  • Aaron Tarver: Director of Member Marketing, Spring Health

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