As a life-long Michigander, I always thought that I was up-to-date with Detroit news, whether it was the Motor City declaring for bankruptcy back in 2013 or it topping America's Most Dangerous Cities List in 2014. What I should have come to realize much sooner and what many before me have uncovered is the deeply-rooted culture of Detroit that has spawned an influx and cultivation of bright, diverse, and talented minds. This culture and history I am referring to is perfectly captured by the abandoned Michigan Central Train Station, a building I pass by everyday on my way to work. In its heyday, it stood as the tallest rail station in the world; only now, it is surrounded by barbed wire and "No Trespassing" signs. However, before you get too depressed, it should be strongly noted that a few months ago, all of the building's once shattered windows have now been replaced. This building doesn't just speak volumes to me about Detroit's prickly, misunderstood, and dare I say barbed wire-like, exterior. More importantly, I see the newly refurbished windows as the up-and-coming future and spirit of the Motor City.
Michigan Central Train Station not refurbished (left); refurbished (right)
Before I get too deep and philosophical, I wanted to delve into the amazing enrichment activities outside of work and the many already-rewarding on-the-job experiences at Build Institute, a small business accelerator for rising entrepreneurs. On our scavenger hunt in Downtown Detroit, in the moment, it felt like senseless scrambling to figure out random facts like "What is name of the circular arch sculpture near Hart Plaza." But as I am writing this blog post, I've come to realize that each site tells an essential snippet of the Detroit saga. Take the arch sculpture entitled Transcending for example: at first glance, it appeared to be a giant steel ring that had been snapped at its apex. Upon closer inspection, more reflection, and a quick Wikipedia search, I discovered that this sculpture depicted an elegant gear rising from the ground, symbolizing the efforts of the American labor movement. Now, when I look up at Transcending, I don't see two slabs of metal pieced awkwardly together; instead, I see the workers of the automotive industry that have been such a central component of Detroit. These landmarks that our scavenger hunt led us to now seem like giant puzzle pieces that give us a glimpse into the giant mural that is Detroit.
The sculpture Transcending
On a work-related note, my partner Keiley and I have started working with Build Institute on an economic impact study, focusing on how Build Institute fits into the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Detroit. In addition to this great opportunity to explore a more data-driven side of entrepreneurship, I have been able to meet so many talented and diverse Detroiters, including and especially our project leaders April Boyle and Christianne Sims who have been wonderful mentors. Attending the Build Bazaar event, a rotating pop-up marketplace where entrepreneurs get to test their new products, at the Detroit Opera House was such an eye-opening experience. Being able to see entrepreneurs start with an idea and fully develop them into products ranging from jewelry to water-colored paintings to handbags through Build Institute has been truly remarkable.
Keiley and I at Build Bazaar
At the Downtown Detroit Partnership Stakeholder Meeting today, I had the privilege of asking Mike Duggan, the mayor of Detroit, about what efforts could be made to incorporate more local college students into the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Detroit. As star-struck as I was about actually having the opportunity to ask Mayor Duggan a question, his answer of breaking down physical barriers such as the gates that separate the University of Detroit Mercy and Detroit itself only partially quenched my thirst for a comprehensive answer. So the question still remains... how can I make an impact? [TO BE CONTINUED]