U-M Urban Entrepreneurship Course Syllabus Synopsis (Fall 2020)

Course Overview

How can entrepreneurs apply technological innovation to create sustainable, scalable businesses that improve urban quality of life? This is the question we will work together to answer in the Urban Entrepreneurship course.

More than half the people in the world – 55% as of 2019 – live in an urban community. That proportion is projected 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 that perform well with respect to quality-of-life categories such as:

  • Safety
  • Health
  • Education
  • Prosperity and Income
  • Housing
  • Public Services
  • Mobility
  • Recreation
  • Culture
  • Retail Services and Amenities

Despite the many benefits of urban communities, difficulties and disruption can occur in any of the above categories. As a result, new opportunities for entrepreneurial solutions arise again and again.

In Urban Entrepreneurship you will experience what it takes to make lasting improvements in urban quality-of-life through the creation of innovative for-profit businesses. Governments, foundations, and not-for-profit companies have long been associated with efforts to address urban community needs, but despite those efforts, significant needs persist.  Entrepreneurs have a long history of service to urban communities, and rapidly accelerating technology and innovation in a variety of fields give rise to unprecedented opportunities for solving previously intractable problems, and for scaling the solutions.

Learning Strategies

Students will participate with an interdisciplinary team of 3-5 peers to develop, validate, document, and pitch a business model that addresses an important urban community need. A business model is distinct from a business plan, in that the business model captures the “design” of the business, whereas the business plan is a more detailed document that describes how the business will be executed. You and your team will describe the initial steps toward implementing your business model, but you will not be asked to create a business plan.

Each student team will be paired with an existing business (Urban Entrepreneur Partner) that is already working to address a significant urban community need. The teams will focus on applying technological innovation and business model development processes to improve the existing business and make it sustainable, scalable, and possibly even disruptive.

The class will engage with urban entrepreneurs, community organizations, city officials, and other stakeholders to gain a fuller understanding of the issues and challenges facing urban residents and urban entrepreneurs. You and your team members will also spend time validating your business model by performing research and conducting interviews with marketplace stakeholders. You should expect to spend significant time inside and outside of class conceiving, developing, and validating your urban-focused business model.

Learning Objectives

In this course, you will:

  1. Engage effectively and empathetically with your Urban Entrepreneur Partner and with community members to identify and validate the important community need being addressed by the Partner business.
  2. Create a Problem Statement consisting of A) a Problem Description that captures the identified need, and B) a Vision Statement that describes the conditions that will prevail when the need is effectively addressed.
  3. Document and analyze the existing Business Model being applied by the Urban Entrepreneur Partner to address the identified need.
  4. Using design methods provided in the class, improve the Urban Business Partner’s solution so that it more effectively addresses the need documented in your Problem Statement. Apply innovation and technology where feasible to enhance the solution.
  5. Document and validate an improved Business Model that implements your solution in the form of a sustainable, scalable, possibly disruptive business. Your Urban Entrepreneur Partner may help identify the elements of the business model most in need of improvement.
  6. Create a persuasive Business Model presentation and executive summary that can recruit support for your Partner’s venture from potential investors, co-founders, employees, and community stakeholders.