An ecosystem for entrepreneurs grows in Dearborn

Over the past few years, Dearborn has welcomed many new small businesses to its downtown, many of which have seen success and even some expansions in recent years.

But that success does not only stem from the business owners’ entrepreneurial spirits and determination. It's also a result of the local business climate in Dearborn, one that offers a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem to help foster projects.

Researchers define an entrepreneurial ecosystem as having both supportive culture and infrastructure, venture-friendly markets, varied financial options, and excellent human capital.

In Dearborn, organizations and institutions such as the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce, ACCESS and the University of Michigan-Dearborn have played a major role in creating such an environment.

Help from the Chamber

Chamber President Jackie Lovejoy tells Metromode that there has always been a robust and evolving relationship between corporate anchors and local entrepreneurs in Dearborn that keeps the city flourishing, and that’s due to its entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Folks moved to the area in the 20's when the Ford Rouge plant was finished in 1928 and Henry Ford's $5.00 a day wage,” she says. “Some may say that's not entrepreneurial, but I do... That influx of growth fostered all the other ancillary industries and ecosystems for entrepreneurs from those serving the auto industry of course, to grocers, seamstresses, restaurants and everything needed to build great neighborhoods.”

Lovejoy notes that a thriving business environment emerges through collective effort, not competition for resources. And so, the Chamber brings together a network of attuned entrepreneurs who want to progress their businesses and each other.

Jackie Lovejoy. Photo by David Lewinski.

“We had our annual meeting and awards luncheon, Chamber Choice 2018, with more than 350 in attendance, and the introductions between attendees who sincerely want to help each other always make it a lively and great day,” she says. “It's so rewarding to see the culture we help foster and the results of our hard work.”

Lovejoy says the Chamber partners with the Small Business Administration, Small Business Development Center, ACCESS, SCORE and area incubators to support and assist aspiring entrepreneurs in planning and establishing a business. It also partners with academic institutions, including Henry Ford College, U of M Dearborn, Central Michigan University, Davenport University and more.

“All these groups and the Chamber assist by working with our great chamber member banks and credit unions that can assist and advise in funding options,” she says. “We also hold town halls for community input on shaping our downtowns, and workshops for owners look for taking their businesses to the next level or next location.”

The Chamber also offers a Young Entrepreneurs Academy for students from grades 7 to 12 from which they graduate as CEOs with licensed businesses.

Lovejoy hopes the Chamber will keep growing so that it can expand their programming.

“I can see us assisting more with microloans to help launch new businesses or product lines as we get bigger and provide more venues to bring people together,” she says.

Resources for new American entrepreneurs

The nonprofit organization ACCESS hosts a Growth Center at the Arab American National Museum providing programs, resources and services with Dearborn’s high concentration of Arab immigrants and refugees in mind.

“We offer our entrepreneurial business training courses in both Arabic and English, which is very important to this community,” Growth Center Supervisor Audrey Ramadan says. “Our Explore course is taught in Arabic and is dedicated to new Americans interested in opening a small business.”

Ramadan said that after taking courses, the Growth Center encourages students to come back for business coaching. Coaches guide clients in their business and strategic planning and work with partner organizations to assist in the establishment.

Arab American National Museum. Photo by David Lewinski.

“We like to hold their hands through the entire process because, as new Americans, they have a lot of questions and maybe not have the English language as a skill, so they may shy away and never actually open their business,” she said. “We have seen a number of refugees, immigrants, and political asylees register a business and establish their own American dream.”

The Growth Center also offers workshops and a microloan program. Applicants, including refugees and political asylees who qualify, receive loans from $500 to $10,000 for start-up costs.

“We also give vendors the opportunity to set up pop-up shops as merchants for different events,” Ramadan says.

Learning entrepreneurship

Students and community members can also access resources at the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research. Timothy Davis directs the Center and is a lecturer of entrepreneurship and business administration at the school.

“The University of Michigan-Dearborn has a certificate program in entrepreneurship that is more frequently being taken by students, but it is open to anyone from the community as well,” he says. “On campus, we have an entrepreneurship minor in the works, which should be ready in the next academic year. We also have a small business management major for folks in the community and our students."

Davis says the Center recognizes that many students talk about the fact that they work in their family business or they expect to go into their family business, so it developed a small business management major in part to support those students.

"I think it’s also part of why we’re seeing a stronger culture of entrepreneurship both on campus and extending into the community,” he says.

Timothy Davis. Photo by Davis Lewinski.

Davis said that once a student is ready to launch a business, they connect him or her with organizations in the community, like the Dearborn Chamber and the Arab American Chamber of Commerce.

“We don’t worry so much about doing everything for everyone,” he says. “We try to stay very connected to the ecosystem, the other partners, and networks, out there.”

He added that successful entrepreneurs in the community are often ready to come to class and share their experiences with students. The university also offers learning-based internships at start-up businesses.

Davis notes that Dearborn’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is getting stronger.

"When we talk about being entrepreneurial, I don’t worry so much about whether it’s a traditional business," he says. "I think you can be entrepreneurial in ways where you’re supporting social causes and supporting the community. But, it can also be the corner shop or a side hustle. It doesn’t have to be the big business or a mom and pop’s store. Lots of things can be entrepreneurial and I think we’re seeing that in the community.”

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