We are nearing completion of the Fall 2023 edition of the Urban Entrepreneurship Practicum. We are fortunate to be working with three businesses that are outstanding examples of urban entrepreneurship at its best. While it may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer, each of these businesses addresses an important urban need, and each has the potential to bring about transformative positive change.
Before we get to the businesses, a quick word about the course. More than half the world’s people – 55% as of 2019 – live in an urban community. That proportion is expected to grow to 70% by the year 2050. In the U.S., 80% of the population are urban dwellers. People are drawn to urban communities because they can be vibrant, exciting, and highly productive places. In the Urban Entrepreneurship Practicum course at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, we acquaint students with the process of building a for-profit urban-focused business. Our students work in concert with practicing Urban Entrepreneur Partners to gain an understanding of the Partner’s objectives, business model and marketing strategies. The partner businesses are a vital source of information, inspiration, and connections for the students.
Fall 2023 Urban Entrepreneur Partners
The Commons is a cafe, laundromat, and event space that serves an east side Detroit neighborhood. The business is owned by MACC Development and is run by Executive Director Antoine Jackson. The Commons provides what so many neighborhoods need – a safe and healthy space where community folks can gather to get work done, connect with others, and acquire knowledge and skills.
Madeline Walker Miller, a Ph.D. candidate at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, is the founder and CEO of NexTiles. Detroit-based NexTiles recycles textile waste produced by auto and clothing manufacturers into useful products. This reduces the amount of waste going to landfills and provides for economical textile reuse. Environmental sustainability is the name of the game, and NexTiles aims to become a key player.
People have built homes the same way for centuries. Cost, complexity, and quality variances have increased while innovation has lagged. California-based Veev is building homes using modern manufacturing techniques and technology. Their process includes digital architectural & structural design, full panelized manufacturing and on-site installation. The long-term aim is widespread availability of high-quality, tech-savvy single-family homes.
It is exciting to work with a group of companies that are working toward positive change for urban communities. The students appreciate immensely the time and attention our Urban Entrepreneur Partners give to the course. They research and document their assigned Partner business, document their business model and marketing strategy, and propose improvements that will help the business accomplish its objectives. Each student team presents their ideas to a panel of reviewers during the last course session. We are all looking forward to that!
People often ask me how I find the businesses we work with in the course. I use several methods, including soliciting participation via my email distribution list and reaching out to industry and community contacts. Students identify potential businesses as one of their class assignments. The Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurship Project, a U-M program, provides some candidate businesses too. If you know of a for-profit business that is focused on addressing an important urban community need, please let me know! We are constantly seeking partner businesses for this and other U-M courses.