Between business meetings and lunch trips to the neighboring Honeybee Market (which I highly recommend), I have had the incredible and irreplaceable opportunity to connect with the some of the most hardworking and ambitious individuals in the Detroit entrepreneurial scene, people who work at Build and make it the incredible organization it is.
Cassie is one of those people. Living just a few blocks away from Build Institute, she is responsible for managing Kiva at the organization, "a 0% interest, crowdfunded microloan focused on character rather than credit", as she says, of which Build is a trustee. Cassie has a Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing and Design Engineering from Northwestern University. She is also the founder of Jian China Design, a human-centered design and entrepreneurship bootcamp for college students in China. Before joining the Build team, she worked with The Empowerment Plan as a Venture for America fellow. She is involved in the local community as a founding member of Open IDEO Detroit, a community design organization, and a collaborator of The Forge Detroit, an artist residency in Northwest Detroit.
Cassie: Detroit's media presence, whether the negative portrayal of the city or the so-called "come-back", paints an incomplete story. Both of these tales of Detroit leave out so many nuances and so much history, but more important than what they miss is who. Whenever stories are told, it's important to ask who's telling the story, and consequently what they have to gain. We’re not hearing from enough people throughout Detroit. There are many untold stories of people who’ve experienced this city in different ways and it’s important for a community to hear stories told by those within it. Media of all kinds is incredibly influential, especially to how those growing up in a space feel about where they live. I'd like to see the media share more stories that strengthen communities.
How did you get where you are?
Cassie: I was lucky to have grown up in a technologically connected world. In college, I worked in an educational technology lab, creating curriculum to help people crowdfund their ideas, projects, research, and businesses. These projects deepened my interest in technology and the ways it can support communities, create connections between people who may otherwise never meet, and provide access to resources for those often overlooked. I’m now using technology to help entrepreneurs in my community connect with both neighbors and strangers alike and grow their businesses.
What is a hurdle you have to or had to overcome?
Cassie: I’m not a business owner. It’s important for me to remember that in providing these resources, I’m not the expert, they are. I’m here as a guide, to share a tool, and to connect them to the resources they need to help their businesses grow. Listening to and supporting the entrepreneurs we serve becomes especially critical when faced with the challenge of not being able to have a full understanding of what they are going through in running a business.
What is the best part about working with Kiva?
Cassie: Working with Kiva, I get to meet with entrepreneurs around the city and learn about their businesses. There are so many creative and talented business owners in Detroit, and unfortunately too many of whom are overlooked in our traditional funding system. Kiva provides no interest loans without a credit check and Build Institute offers affordable classes to support low to moderate income entrepreneurs. Both organizations are working towards evening the playing field and helping business owners get the resources they need to be successful.
Detroit's future depends not solely on the health of the 7.2 miles in downtown and midtown, but on the success of all of the neighborhoods. Supporting small businesses in these communities means creating a real impact. Asking community members to call upon their neighbors and networks to support each other creates a more connected Detroit. The connectivity of the city and the kindness and support of neighbors was what first captivated me when I moved here and it's what I’m most excited to be a part of.
If you could improve one thing in Detroit, what would it be? Do you think Build can help do that?
Cassie: The people who have grown up here, raised families here, and have watched the city grow and change are the ones that should be leading the improvements and developments of the city. As a newer resident of Detroit, the best thing I can do for my community is to listen to those who’ve been working for change and find find ways to support them. The way I see myself doing this is through connecting people who have ideas, projects, and businesses, with the tools, and resources to turn them into a reality. Build Institute plays a key piece by supporting a diverse group of small business owners across the city and painting a more complete picture of entrepreneurship in Detroit.