Detroit is under the spotlight and the glare has never been more intense and brighter.
Detroit entrepreneurs, Jeff Smith and Donald Levitt, Ph. D. are hoping to use the glare of the spotlight to show the positives of Detroit by developing Enterprising Detroit–a proposed Detroit Public Television (DPTV), one-hour documentary to tell the story focused on entrepreneurship and its impact on this city and region.
In addition to the documentary, “Enterprising Detroit” will also include an interactive web site, social media, and a public relations campaign to draw attention to entrepreneurship in Detroit. Its objective is to tell a realistic story focused on attracting and and retaining entrepreneurs.
Smith is CEO of Woodworth Financial, an independent financial advisory firm helping business owners and family stewards make smart decisions about money and investing so they can increase the probability achieving life’s goals. He began his professional career in New York working at CBS, Inc., CBS Television Network and Crain’s New York Business.
Donald Levitt, Ph.D. is President of Levitt Consulting, Inc. Dr. Levitt is a recognized expert in helping leaders, teams and organizations to reach their goals. He has provided consultation in a variety of industries including pharmaceutical, financial, engineering and construction, manufacturing, and professional services.
I recently interviewed Smith and Levitt for their perspective on Enterprising Detroit and to provide their thoughts on resources to assist small businesses across the region.
Please tell us about Enterprising Detroit and how did you come up with the idea?
LEVITT: I was speaking with Dave Egner, the Executive Director of the New Economy Initiative (NEI) and he showed me the BizGrid which lists over 50 resources in Detroit for entrepreneurs. I was absolutely stunned. I had no idea that there was this level of activity and support for entrepreneurs in Detroit. If I was unaware of this, I assumed that others were as well. I knew that this is a story which has to be told – to help leverage the enormous investment in entrepreneurship.
Why did you feel the time is right to develop this concept and what are the objectives of Enterprising Detroit?
SMITH: International bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell has noted that “For more than 25 years Detroit’s image has been one of decline and decay.” The next picture we are going to see in the national media is of the Renaissance Center through abandoned buildings. “That’s the frame.” “Everyone knows Detroit is a cheap place to do business.
What they need to know is that it is a good place to do business.” Very few people know about Detroit’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Detroit is not attracting the attention and enthusiasm of the American people simply because they don’t know the real story. Without documenting this unfolding story people will keep their fears and stereotypes about Detroit. The frame of Detroit won’t change. This current wave of investment won’t last forever. This could be a lost opportunity.
Is it focused on entrepreneurship or simply presenting Detroit in a positive light locally, regionally and nationally–or both?
LEVITT: The “Enterprising Detroit” documentary and public relations campaign will tell the story nationally. But this is not a “puff piece” – we’re not saying that everything is great for entrepreneurs in Detroit. We’ll tell the real story – but it happens to be a great story of extraordinary support, resources and opportunities available for entrepreneurs in Detroit.
The interactive web site and social media will provide real, substantive help for entrepreneurs. We will offer a central reference point for resources; and a place for entrepreneurs to actively network with each other to find customers and suppliers and mentors; and a place for entrepreneurs to post their “elevator pitches” and get the word out about their businesses.
Detroit is attracting investment dollars for incubator and accelerator initiatives. What are specific resources available for startups and businesses focused on growth? In other words, please identify available sources of revenue and specific organizations who can help.
D:hive will find help with anything Detroit: places to live, great work opportunities, community events, and how to BUILD your business in the city.
BUILD is a business and project planning program. In the BUILD program you’ll receive personalized support, expert advice and mentorship while learning in an open, diverse, and highly collaborative environment. Over 250 entrepreneurs have graduated and gone on to start successful businesses.
Labs programs include tech-centric business acceleration, as well as proof of concept, incubation and commercialization services.
Blocks Retail Boot Camp prepares entrepreneurs with strong retail concepts for the successful launch of their brick-and-mortar business in a core Detroit commercial district after program completion.
SWOT City program combines economic development and start-up acceleration strategies to transform underserved neighborhoods into vibrant and dense communities.
TechTown also has small offices, office suites, labs and co-working space.
Ponyride provides cheap space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks. They offer space for $0.10-$0.20 per square-foot, which includes the cost of utilities. They have over 25 organizations in the space and will be adding more with the opening of the co-working space.
Small business development is occurring downtown and Midtown, what’s happening in other parts of the city and region regarding entrepreneurship? Where do prospective business owners go if they want to access resources across the city?
ProsperUs Detroit: www.prosperusdetroit.org
Near Mexicantown, ProsperUS Detroit helps neighborhood entrepreneurs, businesses, and community-based organizations maximize economic growth within their own communities. They have training and lending programs.
Detroit Kitchen Connect: www.detroitkitchenconnect.com
In Eastern Market, Detroit Kitchen Connect (DKC) exists to promote entrepreneurs in the food business. DKC can help provide a supportive community with access to commercial, licensed kitchen facilities and equipment in a reduced risk environment.
Back to Enterprising Detroit, you referenced a television program. Will it be a one-time broadcast or a series focused on Detroit?
LEVITT: “Enterprising Detroit” will be a one-hour documentary. We will feature four entrepreneurs and their support organizations. The “Enterprising Detroit” interactive web site and social media will allow this initiative to provide ongoing support.
As you develop the program, what types of businesses are you seeking and what topics will be discussed?
SMITH: Filming within the greater Detroit area we will document the heart, emotion and competitive hustle of underdog entrepreneurs in various stages of development. Our goal is to tell an entertaining, engaging and enlightening story of human achievement against huge odds.
Ideally, we will capture four different types of businesses. This includes one in high tech, one in retail, one in the food space and one in a place based community.
What’s the overall interest level in Enterprising Detroit and how confident are you it will launch in a timely manner? What’s been the interest level as you’ve pitched the concept to various parties?
LEVITT: Interest in “Enterprising Detroit” has really been “off the charts.” Everyone can immediately see how important it is to tell this story and bring greater awareness to what’s going on with entrepreneurs in Detroit. Just like many other entrepreneurs, we need to raise money to fund “Enterprising Detroit.” We have already received tremendous support from the Michigan Film Office and we are in the process of completing support from other government, corporate and private sources.
When will it be produced and on-air?
LEVITT: We plan to produce the documentary in the fall and broadcast it nationally in February, 2015. The interactive web site and social media will start in the fall.