This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Paul Riser, a pillar of the social impact community. Paul’s deep knowledge about the city of Detroit comes from decades in the social impact and entrepreneurship space. In many ways, Paul is the model social innovator. After starting a non-profit in college, Paul knew he wanted to kick off his career in Detroit to continue his work in social impact. Paul has a background in information technology and spent the early parts of his career at a biomedical startup. Later, he transitioned to TechTown where he started as the head of business development. In this role he helped small neighborhood businesses grow and leverage state-based resources. Today, Paul serves as the head of Detroit Urban Solutions. Paul’s current role stems from Detroit’s complex economic history. After the municipality filed for bankruptcy, the government sought to imagine what innovation and entrepreneurship would look like in the city. Paul and D.U.S. are continuing this work by helping to attract and keep innovative talent in the region. They look at community challenges and bring together partners and stakeholders to address the problem across multiple verticals. What unites Paul’s diverse set of experiences is his constant adherence to his holistic approach to social entrepreneurship and desire to improve the quality of life for the people of Detroit. He uses his personal ties to his hometown a community-level perspective to drive his efforts. Moreover, recognizes the importance of bringing people together, arguing when that you think you are working in one space in social impact, you are really working in all of them.
Having spent 95% of his life in the city, Paul and Detroit grew up together, learning to see challenges, not as obstacles, but opportunities for radical change. According to Paul, Detroit’s challenges are what make the city a unique hub for innovation. He describes Detroit as an “underdog” as its often under-resourced forgotten. That said, there is immense opportunity for growth, making the city the ideal test bed for innovation. Keeping with this mentality, Paul sees Detroit as a potential magnet for talent and ideas. His ideas are exemplified by his recent project Erie Hack which focuses on partnerships and technology to improve Detroit’s “blue economy.” Paul predicts that the water industry is an existing asset that should be leveraged and preserved as it directly relates to community issues. What excites Paul most about this work is that it offers him the opportunity to work with people focused on the “triple bottom line: people, plant, and profit.” My conversation with Paul has shifted my perspective on the power of location and the importance of personal connection. As I consider where I want to be after college, I hope to mirror Paul’s approach: choosing a location where your personal drive has room to flourish and help those around you.