Detroit is Creating Opportunity for Social Entrepreneurs

29 Ene , 2015  

Text: Amanda Lewan | Versión en español

In a city that has nearly hit rock bottom, there’s only room to build back up.

With affordable rent in an urban area, it’s easy for an entrepreneur to get their start in the Motor City. In particular, many young professionals choosing to start a business are aware of the impact they have on their own neighborhood. We’re seeing quite the trend of entrepreneurs compelled to help re-invent industry with a social mission.

Social entrepreneurship in Detroit takes on many forms. Businesses who follow this route are often trying to solve a local problem but with an approach that can applicable to urban areas around the world. Below are a few examples of social entrepreneurship in Detroit.

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Some entrepreneurs at Bamboo Detroit, a coworking space in the heart of Downtown Detroit.


Urban Farming & Local Food Movement

What happens to urban areas that have suffered from a population loss? Detroit’s decline was enormous. The city shrunk from a population of nearly 2 Million in the 1950’s to under 800,000 at the turn of the century. With an estimated 20 square miles of abandoned land some there has been quite a discussion and movement around re-inventing it’s use.

Entrepreneurs have been turning toward urban agriculture as a way to create business in solve the problem of unused land in the city. Recently, the city of Detroit announced the sale of $1 side lots to residents who live next door to unused space making it easier to get started with an urban farm. Urban farming has just begun to take root with many entrepreneurs selling their locally grown food at Detroit’s large outdoor market Eastern Market, and to restaurants around the city.

In addition, we’ve seen many food products begin to grow out of a more locally conscious food movement. Entrepreneurs are sharing commercial kitchens around Detroit through FoodLab Detroit, and new products grown and made in the city are being produced. By sharing spaces and working together we will likely see this movement continue to grow.

Hiring the Unemployed

In 2008 America faced a large recession, and Detroit led by the automotive industry was hit harder than most urban areas. Now a few years later, several companies have began to help the homeless or unemployed by hiring them. Veronika Scott of The Empowerment Plan and Amy Peterson of Rebell Nell both started a business that hires and trains local unemployed women.

Veronika Scott was only in her twenties and still in college when she envisioned a product that would serve the homeless. She created a coat that transforms into sleeping bags for the homeless. However, when she went out into the world to product and pass out her product, a homeless person boldly told her she didn’t need it. She needed a job instead, sparking Scott to create a program to train and employ the homeless women of Detroit.

Amy Peterson took a slightly different approach. Peterson already a successful lawyer had an interest in making jewelry she wanted to explore further. Peterson noticed graffiti paint chips falling off of abandoned buildings. She began to layering the multi-colored chips together to create beautiful pendants. When starting the company she immediately began to work by training a few homeless women to help make the jewelry, growing to a small team nearly a year later.

Recycling Materials

Detroit’s shrink in population also leaves us with many abandoned homes, an estimated 40,000 blighted property exist in Detroit today. Here a slew of companies are developing products made from reclaimed wood. Why not re-use the stored materials right in your own backyard?

Reclaimed wood is made from preserving and reusing old wood, often for creating home products and commercial interiors. This wood can be from barns, warehouses but mostly in Detroit it is from old homes filled with unique character. There are no limits to what entrepreneurs are creating. New products have been created from this vast resource including building furniture from companies like Workshop, craft beverage products like the Woodward Throwbacks, and even hand made guitars from Wallace Detroit Guitars.


Some entrepreneurs at Bamboo Detroit, a home for Detroit’s new creative workforce.

With unique urban challenges in Detroit, there are plenty of creative opportunities to solve problems with sustainable business in the city. The world is watching how the city of Detroit emerges from bankruptcy and encourages entrepreneurial development. We hope that other urban areas can encourage creative thinking, collaboration, and sharing or easy access to resources across the city.

As a Founder at and Co-founder of Bamboo Detroit, I’m lucky to be surrounded by many talented entrepreneurs here in Detroit. We can’t wait to see how some of these new companies thrive helping the city, the people, and their industry re-think business.


Amanda Lewan is the Founder & Editor of Michipreneur, and Co-founder of Bamboo Detroit. Both help grow the entrepreneur community in Detroit.


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