By Nic Custer

Many students graduate college hoping to find a job in their desired field.

But some strategic thinkers, such as Charles Herzog, use their time on campus to position themselves for success the minute they earn their degrees.

Adil Mohammed (left) and Charles Herzog (right) discuss website content and design.

Charles, 24, graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint Computer Science department in May, knowing he made the most of his education. He transferred to campus from Mott Community College two years ago, graduated with his Bachelors degree and began a job with General Motors in Warren a week after graduation. He will be working as a software developer focusing on vehicle cyber security and vehicle-to-vehicle communication software.

While a student at Mott, Charles was approached by his Calculus professor. Vasu Iyengar asked if he wanted to work on building websites and mobile apps for Med+IT Systems LLC. It is a medical software and consulting company owned by Vasu and his business partner, Adil Mohammed.

Adil Mohammed runs the business in addition to a non-profit, American Muslim Community Services, out of the Innovation Incubator on the UM-Flint campus. He hired Charles, who worked in the co-work space of the Innovation Incubator in the Northbank Center when he wasn’t in class. Charles said, “I tend to get distracted at home” where he lived with his parents. He also found the breezeways on campus, where he used to study, made it hard to focus. He appreciated the quiet professional space of the Incubator, where he could spread out his work and focus. He said his experience in a co-work space helped him towards his goals.

By Nic Custer

President Schlissel

In March, U-M President Mark Schlissel met with Chancellor Susan E. Borrego at UM-Flint’s new EDA University Center for Community and Economic Development. Schlissel was able to see the new center’s main offices and better understand how the Economic Development Administration designation will help strengthen the campus and community. The center, which serves the I-69 Thumb Region, expands University Outreach’s economic development focus beyond Flint to the surrounding 7 county region including Shiawassee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Huron, Sanilac, Genesee and Tuscola counties. The center’s goal is to coordinate, inform and advance efforts to support innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship in the region. By focusing on entrepreneur training, workforce development, faculty and student research, regional asset mapping and developing an online resource portal, the UM-Flint CCED will be able to advance the region’s economic competitiveness and its residents’ access to data to help them make the best choices as they grow their businesses.

More information about UM-Flint’s EDA University Center for Community and Economic Development

By Nic Custer

5 Steps to Start Up Kickoff Event

As part of efforts to expand the reach of the Innovation Incubator, staff has taken the business training out into the community. Two business bootcamps have been recently offered to community members and students. 5 Steps to Start Up, a Procurement Technical Assistance Center-funded series, was held on UM-Flint’s campus and helped more than sixty business owners better understand customer acquisition, marketing, business finances and government contracting.

[IN] on the Road Teen Session at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint

[IN] on the Road, another workshop series, offers multiple free business bootcamps on the north and east sides of Flint. This program’s goal is to build up entrepreneurship knowledge in neighborhood residents. The Innovation Incubator-led project is funded by Ruth Mott Foundation. Each 5-session bootcamp is geared towards both teens and adults.

The curriculum brings financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills to the general community, which may have barriers to access traditional business planning services downtown. The program was held at Joy Tabernacle in Civic Park, Holmes STEM Academy and will be at Asbury United Methodist Church this June. An additional bootcamp exclusively for teens was held at Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint during spring break, funded by Michigan Small Business Development Center. Business counselors make themselves available to community members an hour before and after each session for 1-on-1 counseling. The program will culminate June 24 with a graduation celebration at Berston Field House. Participants will receive certificates of completion and young people will compete in an elevator pitch competition with up to 10 of them winning $500 towards starting the business. The Innovation Incubator hopes to work with clients beyond the life of the camp and is offering bus passes to clients without access to reliable transportation to help them attain services downtown after June.

Larry Nichols of the School of Management and Sara McDonnell of the Innovation Incubator present “Grants, Crowdfunding, and Financing: How to Fund your work and business”

Additionally, Outreach held an Arts and Social Entrepreneurship Symposium at the Flint Institute of Music and Flint Institute of Arts in March. This event brought together local arts entrepreneurs for a day of workshops and panel discussions. Keynote speakers included local printmaker Bill Stolpin and Aaron Dworkin, Sphinx Organization founder and dean of the U-M School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

Matt Kelterborn of the U-M Center for Social Impact and University Outreach Director Paula Nas with Martha Fedorowitz, Emily Futcher, Dean-Mark Clemente, the 2017 Social Impact Challenge grand prize winners.

The Social Impact Challenge finals were held at the symposium and mixed teams from Flint and Ann Arbor presented their ideas of how to better connect IN on the Road’s neighborhood entrepreneurs with a new Ferris Wheel innovation hub downtown. The $2,500 grand prize was awarded to student team, Innovation to Impact.

 

 

 

 

 

By Nic Custer

UM-Flint Social Work professor Todd Womack has been creating important multi-semester partnerships through his SWK 304- The Urban Context course at Joy Tabernacle Church in Flint’s Civic Park neighborhood. The goal of the course is to provide social work students with a real world, understanding of historical, economic, political and demographic issues that affect urban populations in the U.S., with a focus on Flint in particular.

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Professor Todd Womack leading his students in a discussion about how to best address community needs

This semester the class has partnered with Civic Park residents who are trying to create neighborhood-scale food and beautification businesses. University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator has been working with the social work students, not only to explain some of the necessary components of a successful business but also to teach them how to help residents build their own business model and create a start-up cost analysis that will help community members prepare to launch their ventures.

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Innovation Incubator staff member Nic Custer explaining a start-up cost analysis to Social Work students

The class culminated in a presentation for community members at the end of the semester, where students were able to dialogue with stakeholders and present their final projects. Community partners will continue to develop their neighborhood businesses in the Winter semester through an ongoing teaching partnership with the Innovation Incubator.

After hearing from community members that there is a need for more targeted entrepreneurial training in Flint’s neighborhoods, University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator sought funding to develop a business boot camp that can be used with populations across the community. The Innovation Incubator was awarded a $49,050 grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation to implement the North Flint Economic Prosperity program, which will begin this September.

The incubator plans to offer at least three boot camps in various north Flint neighborhoods. The locations include the first and third wards, the Civic Park neighborhood and the neighborhood surrounding the Hispanic Technology Center. The five session boot camp will include both faculty instruction and speaking engagements by local successful entrepreneurs that can serve as role models for participants. Teenagers and adults will be taught together to give both groups a broader perspective and to encourage more diverse business teams to form. At the end of the boot camp, teenagers are eligible to participate in a culminating business pitch competition for prizes to support their venture.

All of the boot camps are being offered for free and will run for five sessions each between February and June 2017. In the fall semester, students will also help collect data from pre-existing business owners in these neighborhoods regarding business climate, availability of business support services and obstacles to growth. Visit go.umflint.edu/in to register or for more information.

By Sherry Hayden

umake-2016-group

Winners (left to right): Rhonda Jones, People’s Choice award; Artemis Mora, $500; Mark Hammond, $500; Josh Clouthier, Janice McCoy, Phil Boyd, $500.

UM-Flint students are an ingenious bunch. On March 24, 2016 at the Innovation Incubator, the public caught a glimpse of the exciting ideas happening here on our urban campus during the U Make the Change Competition.

Students presented innovative solutions to social problems, specifically in technology-based design, social impact, products, designs, and community-based art. Fifteen groups competed for prizes, but only four teams could be winners.

The judges were UM-Flint faculty, with lots of creative experience between them. Dr. Mark Allison is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science; Kurt Neiswender is a local architect who also teaches in Earth and Resource Science and Visual Communications departments; and Paula Nas teaches in the Economics Department and serves as Interim Director of University Outreach.

U-Make LogoComputer Science students Phil Boyd and Josh Clouthier teamed up with Janice McCoy, a graphic designer, to create an app that helps people come up with ideas for dates based on cost, activity level, time length, and location. The U Make judges were impressed with “Easy Dates” and awarded them a $500 prize.

They also awarded a $500 prize to Artemis Mora, for “Weaponized: Me,” a theatre project to help those with marginalized identities find the power of their unique voices to affect change. Mark Hammond won $500 with his smart phone application, “Let’s Fix Flint App” to connect volunteers with organizers of community engagement events.

Rhonda Jones won the People’s Choice award, voted by the majority of the 78 people who attended the competition. Her project, “Bottled Emotions,” recycled 5,000 water bottle caps into a large mosaic mural representing Flint’s lead-in-water crisis and the community response to overcome the issues.  Rhonda won mentoring with a UM-Flint professor to assist in marketing her community-based art.

This was the second year of the U Make Competition, which began as a joint project of UM-Flint University Outreach and the UM-Flint Association for Computing Machinery. This year sponsors included the UM-Flint Department of Visual Arts, the Recreation Center, and Office of the Provost.

By Sherry Hayden

essence wilson

Essence Wilson

Have you noticed restorations on formerly abandoned, historic buildings west of Downtown Flint? What’s going on in the Swayze Building on westbound Court Street? Maybe you’ve noticed the transformation of Oak Street School into senior apartments on eastbound W. Fifth Street.

While any construction at this particular time in Flint is interesting, the bigger story is the way it is being done.

Years ago, Glenn and Essence Wilson dreamed of an improved quality of life for residents of their hometown. They saw a need for economic development and affordable, healthy housing solutions – and they wanted to be kind to the environment.  For three years, they built the foundations of Communities First, Inc.  They searched for a good business evaluation tool and found it in the concept of the Triple Bottom Line.

Glenn Wilson

Glenn Wilson

You’ve heard businesspeople talk about “the bottom line,” which refers to profit. But practical visionaries consider the bigger picture. They examine the potential social and environmental effects of business decisions. “The greenest building is the one left standing,” Essence said to a full house at the Innovation Incubator on Wednesday, April 6.

Taking the Triple Bottom Line into consideration actually promotes the long-term health and sustainability of a business – and a community. It pays off in multiple ways.

Glenn told entrepreneurs they will be tempted to take on projects for profit only. He advised, “Know who you are and stay true to it.” The Communities First Inc. model focuses on three main areas:

  • Economic development, which includes securing funding for mixed-use development projects, and hiring local workers;
  • Green Life Program, encouraging environmental practices in business and homes; and
  • Culture Shock, promoting arts and culture in the community.

In their presentation, they examined other local socially-minded organizations to identify the social, economic and environmental impacts. While there are important keys to implementing a successful sustainability model, Glenn said entrepreneurs should tailor plans to their own situations. That usually means identifying the primary focus of your efforts. For instance, someone may put environmental health first, but will need to consider the community and also find a way to make it sustainable through an income stream.  “It’s important not to try to do too much too quickly,” Glenn said. “Build your foundation and work your way up.”

GVSUSproutLab-1159Charma Dompreh of Charma’s Green Chips has been selected as a SPARK Award recipient by the Genesee eTEAM, a regional collaboration of entrepreneurial service providers.

The SPARK award recognizes local businesspeople, in business for two years or less, for their “entrepreneurial spark,” as demonstrated by their determination, vision, identified market, growth potential, and setting and achieving business goals.

Charma Dompreh is a retired school teacher who earned a license as a raw food chef. She was motivated by the dual urban problem of food deserts and childhood obesity to find a way to teach Flint kids about healthy nutrition. She created an alternative snack product with organically grown and locally sourced dehydrated collard greens and kale. They are tasty!

Charma has been a client of the Innovation Incubator for a couple years, moving slowly and surely, taking advantage of all the resources available to make her vision a reality. She has created partnerships with food labs, and participates in workshops and competitions. She is absolutely, and quietly, determined to be a success. Charma also is a recent winner of the Co.Starters Food Lab competition in Grand Rapids, winning second place. She will use that $2000 prize to purchase a commercial mixer.

The SPARK award will be presented to Charma at the 2016 Annual JumpStart Entrepreneurship Conference on Thursday, February 25, 2016.  The conference is designed for all current or aspiring entrepreneurs and is held at the Holiday Inn Gateway Centre from 8 am-1:30 pm. Information is at flintandgenesee.org/jumpstart.

costart picBy Nic Custer

Mark Baldwin’s filter that turns rain into drinking water, Stephan McBride’s safe space for gamers to congregate, Porcha Clemons’ Christian dance studio, and Glennis Holcomb’s urban farm business producing pickles and kilts are just some of the interesting and exciting business ideas that participants hope will win them start-up funding at a Grand Rapids pitch competition Nov. 30.

At the final session of Co.Starters, a 9-week business boot camp at UM-Flint’s Innovation Incubator, the cohort of entrepreneurs practiced pitching their big ideas and shared feedback.

Eleven participants gave brief pitches about their new or pre-existing businesses. Several entrepreneurs already sell products out of the Flint Farmers’ Market including Alyson Caverson’s Happy Girl Granola, Franklin Pleasant’s The Local Grocer and Cindy Eckert’s Whimsicality, which sells old fashioned toys. Others are looking to launch or expand their community businesses in the next year including Qareena Clemons’ massage therapy business, Isaih Dawson’s Dawson’s Kitchen and Catering, and Francine Houston’s Writers Inc., a publishing business.

steffan picThe program was brought to campus through a partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Sprout Lab, which subsidized some of the costs of the Flint boot camp to make it affordable for local entrepreneurs. The Innovation Incubator was an ideal location because of its convenient free public co-working space downtown and free parking adjacent to the building.

Co.Starters participants across the state are automatically eligible for a pitch competition in Grand Rapids on November 30. One of the Flint pitches will receive a special AKT Peerless sponsored prize of $1,000 and could potentially win the competition’s grand prize of $5,000.

AKT Peerless, an environmental remediation and economic development firm, also sponsored the program and provided Garrett Geer, vice president of business development and government relations, to teach the course in Flint.

porsha picParticipants enjoyed Geer’s teaching style and appreciated the cohort model, in which participants share feedback and together gain a more complete understanding of the concepts. By the end of the program, the more than 20 students and community members who participated were more confident in themselves and the direction of their ventures.

The Innovation Incubator will hold a free pitch clinic in January to prepare entrepreneurs for two other local competitions in early 2016. For more information, visit the Innovation Incubator webpage.

By Nic Custer

After working closely with the Innovation Incubator to develop her business plan and refine her final presentation, UM-Flint student Ashley Knific won the 2015 School of Management Business Plan Competition and a $5,000 prize in March.

Ashley’s non-profit organization, Jobs 4 Moms1517493_678782812241098_6523167721083925809_n, will provide opportunities for parents and other caregivers to work flexible hours from home while raising their children. According to research, up to 43% of highly qualified women risk their careers when they take leaves of absence to raise their children. Jobs 4 Moms would like to change that statistic.

By using specifically designed software, the company will pair businesses with these skilled workers to generate personal income and reduce resume gaps. Businesses get qualified workers who can still take care of their children or loved ones.

Ashley will use the prize money to launch a viable website.  It will allow the company to develop its online platform to meet the needs of both its employers and parents. Full launch of the company and its services are expected later this year.

As the Incubator’s most recent qualifying not-for–profit client, Ashley also will begin receiving free office space in the Northbank Center this summer.