Small businesses can be a huge risk, with everything it takes to start one, especially when pitted against the success rate. But for Detroit-area entrepreneurs, a partnership has been helping jump that hurdle. University of Michigan’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project (DNEP) is trying to address those barriers, as shown in the most recent episode of Michigan Impact video series “This is Michigan.”
Launched in 2016 by Ford School Dean Michael Barr, Ross School professor Michael Gordon, and Stamps School associate professor Hannah Smotrich. Using funding from MCubed and JPMorgan Chase, this venture pairs students and U-M faculty with small business hopefuls. Since its start, it has helped over 100 businesses take off in Detroit.
It was based on Dean Barr’s research on inequality in access to capital, showing that “all entrepreneurs need access to three things to be successful: monetary capital, social capital and managerial skills.” DNEP uses interdisciplinary, “action-based learning experiences” to engage students from schools like the Stamps School of Art and Design, the Law School, the Ford School, and the Ross School to tackle early issues businesses face.
Barr’s research emphasizes inequality in access for minority business owners, as well. Christie Baer, assistant executive director of the U-M Center on Finance, Law and Policy, says “If you look at the history of who has had access to credit and who’s been able to have social capital to be able to do well in their business, it’s not minority-owned businesses.” So far, about 94 percent of the small businesses DNEP has helped launch have been minority-owned.
These actions create a “ripple effect,” says Baer, translating into change for the neighborhoods they’re based in. Victoria Washington, a small-business owner who worked with DNEP, says the experience enables her and other entrepreneurs to “get outside of ourselves as business owners and look at things a little bit differently with their insight and perspective.”
To watch the “This is Michigan” video and read the story, click here.