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What We All Can Learn From Detroit Small Business Owners

Group photo at Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project

As a BBA concentrating in Marketing with a minor in Social Class and Inequality Studies, I sought to find a summer opportunity that could combine my different interests.

When a former intern told me about the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project +Impact Studio for Local Business program, I knew I wanted to get involved in helping minority-owned businesses in my home state. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Entrepreneurs are some of the most passionate people you’ll meet:

I leave work every day completely in awe of the clients we serve. Although I am not from Detroit, I have witnessed their impact firsthand. Take Detroit Soul, a soul food restaurant in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. One of the owners, Jerome B. Brown, told us that his restaurant fulfilled a need that the community was looking for: an affordable but still healthy dining option. During our visit, Brown explained how small business owners can impact the community. One of the ways is by providing job opportunities. A few years ago, he hired a man who had a decades-old offense on his record that prevented him from getting a job. After a couple of years at Detroit Soul, that man is now working at a law firm. The Detroit business owners we are working with have such a sense of pride in their community and a strong culture of giving back; we could all learn a thing or two from their character. 

Business in DetroitI was blown away when I was first introduced to Darryl Humes, the co-owner of Mature, who gave us the run-down of the business. Mature is a premier lifestyle clothier based in Detroit and has styled Cade Cunningham, a guard for the Detroit Pistons, as well as the Detroit City FC team. Darryl is an amazing mentor, who is not afraid to dig deeper and ask questions so the customer retention team can draw the most out of our data analysis. Working with him has been such a treat!

2. Class concepts actually come in handy sometimes:

When I talk to upperclassmen, I often ask them what classes at the Ross School of Business they have found to be the most beneficial for their professional life. Although learning concepts in a classroom is much different than in a work setting, I still find myself benefitting from my Michigan Ross degree. In the classroom, we often find ourselves giving recommendations and stopping there. However, in the internship, we get the chance to implement our solutions. Funny enough, one of our faculty advisors, Chris Mueller, LEO Lecturer, is an instructor of a class in which the textbook was titled Navigating Ambiguity. This perfectly encapsulates our work this summer, as there is not always one definitive answer to anything. We truly learn as we go and that’s one of the great things about working with small businesses; they’re so dynamic. 

I have learned something new every day in this internship. Ross constantly emphasizes the importance of diverse teams. One of the best things about DNEP +ISLB is the opportunity to work with other Ross students and in interdisciplinary teams with students from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design. I am captivated by their unique skill sets and depth of knowledge. Brenda Cai and Lindsay Farb, two of the Stamps interns who are on my team, have an eye for detail and the storytelling that’s behind every element of a business. Working in these interdisciplinary teams has allowed me to discover that design is one of the first things used to establish a business’ credibility, and that intentionality is key to building a strong brand identity. Now I wish I had picked up a minor in Art and Design!

As we continue to work with clients, I am looking forward to all the lessons I will learn from both the business owners and my fellow interns. This makes the program so rewarding, and I cannot wait to see the impact we will have this summer!

Dominique (Nikki) Ambas is a rising junior at the Ross School of Business.