Entrepreneurs target Detroit for opportunities

By LACEE SHEPARD

Capital News Service

LANSING – Despite what appears to be a crumbling job market in Detroit and the city’s recent declaration of bankruptcy, local colleges are growing stronger entrepreneurial programs.

Detroit and surrounding areas are becoming home to more start-up businesses, especially on campuses.

“The place it’s most obvious is on college campuses,” said Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. In a survey of 15 public universities, SBAM found there were more courses geared toward entrepreneurship than originally thought.

According to Fowler, the unexpected information found in the survey was the amount of extracurricular student activity.

“The big surprise was the student-led entrepreneur clubs or entrepreneurial gatherings, and even to the point of student companies and organizations of student-run companies,” Fowler said, “a lot more of that activity than any of us thought.”

Wayne State University has a strong entrepreneurial program that is made stronger by student organizations like Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization. CEO is a national group that encourages students to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.

Mustapha Zebib, president of the CEO chapter at Wayne State, has noticed increased interest in entrepreneurship as well.

“I always get emails from students who are interested in getting involved with CEO,” Zebib said. “We are constantly working at increasing our presence on campus and recruiting new students.”

The University of Michigan has more student activity in the entrepreneur program as well. More student organizations were created in the last few years, said Mary Nickson, a U of M marketing manager.

“That shows off their developed interest in participation in entrepreneurship — and actually being leaders,” said Nickson.

“There has been steady, increasing interest over the years and I say the difference is that 10 years ago entrepreneurship was really new,” said Sarika Gupta, program manager for the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the U of M Ross’s School of Business.

“There’s a greater percentage of students that come in and they’re very familiar with what entrepreneurship is all about, and maybe they’ve already tried to launch something. Their expectations are higher,” Gupta said.

Nickson agrees.

“Entrepreneurship is still a hot topic these days, so there are students who come in and are very interested in learning more about that,” Nickson said.

Multiple factors contribute to the growing popularity of entrepreneurship. Students see small companies that start out in a dorm room, like Facebook, and grow into nationally known success stories that inspire them to go the entrepreneur route, Gupta said.

However, other factors like the economy and how big businesses are operating make entrepreneurship an appealing career route also.
The changing economy is becoming more welcoming to entrepreneurs as the economy shifts from large corporate entities to more start-ups, Nickson said.

“What’s happening are many smaller businesses in the marketplace. That’s part of an economic trend,” Nickson said. “There is a big push for people to take the reins and it helps diversify the economy.”

With the current state of the economy, many students are deciding to work for themselves, which inspires them to learn entrepreneurial skills, said Gupta.

“With everything going on with the economy, it’s really a great way to work on ideas and try and improve economic development,” Gupta said. “There’s a lot of programs that are now entering Detroit that promote that increase.”

Detroit is becoming a breeding ground for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Fowler, of SBAM, said the Madison Building on Washington is full of young businesses, making it clear that entrepreneurism is becoming big in downtown again.

One of the many businesses in the Madison is Exxodus Pictures, an entertainment production company focusing on film, television and music.

Richard Mandell, co-founder of Exxodus Pictures, and his partners started the business in 2009.

“It’s a really creative, collaborative environment,” said Mandell. “It was a no-brainer to be a part of that.”

Nickson said location is a reason so many entrepreneurs are starting in Detroit.

“There’s also the University Research Corridor. You have the three schools that make up the core: University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Michigan State University,” she said. “The presence of Wayne State and all the commercialization that filters through the university makes Detroit riper for that partnership.”

Zebib cited some advantages of working as a young entrepreneur in Detroit, and despite negative stereotypes, he said it’s a great place for start-ups.

“The advantages of being located in Detroit are the various resources available to students and the opportunity to meet local and successful start-ups,” Zebib said. “A great resource is Tech Town, which specializes in developing businesses in Detroit, located a few blocks from campus.”

“We all have a passion to see Detroit rise again, and one of the ways to help jump start the economy is to encourage new entrepreneurs to create businesses in Detroit,” he said.

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