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Detroit Local NewsUniversity of Michigan's DNEP moves to Ross School, boosting Detroit's small businesses

University of Michigan’s DNEP moves to Ross School, boosting Detroit’s small businesses

Detroit, Michigan – Since starting in 2016, the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project (DNEP) at the University of Michigan has assisted almost 700 small businesses. Recently, it moved to the Ross School of Business after being based at the Ford School of Public Policy for many years.

New business in Detroit will feel the positive impact

This change is good for Detroit’s new businesses because they can now access more resources from a top business school, according to Christie Ayotte Baer, who leads DNEP.

DNEP began at the Ford School to help close the gap in wealth and opportunities, focusing on businesses owned by minorities (about 90% of those they help). The Ford School provided a strong foundation in economic and community growth, Baer explained.

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As DNEP expanded, it became clear that it would benefit from being closer to more entrepreneurship knowledge at the Ross School. Important parts of DNEP, like accounting help and a summer internship program, were already happening at Ross.

The Ross School is known for its excellent entrepreneurship programs, including the Impact Studio, which helps students start businesses that aim to make a positive impact. It offers a notable course on starting eco-friendly businesses in Detroit and runs a summer internship with DNEP that helps local businesses.

Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project (DNEP) relocates but will continue to support new businesses in Detroit

Business+Impact initiative has grown over the years

Jerry Davis, who oversees the Business+Impact initiative at Ross, mentioned that DNEP’s role and impact at the school have grown over time, providing real-world clients for students’ projects in Detroit.

“So, it made perfect sense to relocate DNEP to the Business+Impact unit at Ross to continue its great work,” he said.

The program brings together expertise from different parts of the university, involving professors and students not just from Ford and Ross, but also from the College of Engineering, Stamps School of Art & Design, Law School, and School of Information. They all work together to support local businesses.

“We try to stay with businesses until they can afford to hire professional staff. We want to help them with accounting, legal, business strategy, marketing—whatever they need,” Baer said.

With the recent changes, there’s a plan to bring in more faculty leaders to help even more businesses in Detroit and provide practical learning opportunities for more students.

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“An important part of doing this work is recognizing our role,” Baer said. “We tell students that as consultants we are never Player 1. The business owner is the hero of the story always. But, we can be really important nonplayer characters who help the hero succeed.”

New business in specific areas across the city remains the main focus of the program

The focus of the program has been on revitalizing specific areas in Detroit like Jefferson Chalmers, Southwest, and Six Mile/Livernois, including attracting new businesses to these neighborhoods.

Lutalo Sanifu, who is in charge of Neighborhood Resilience, Safety & Business District Services at Jefferson East Inc., mentioned how valuable the connection with Ross has been. Jefferson East has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with DNEP over the years, he noted.

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“We appreciate the value that’s added to our business owners when they get to sit with a team from DNEP and really dive into their business and figure out what could be done to improve it,” Sanifu said. “Most of our business owners are microbusiness owners or solopreneurs, if you will. Having extra minds at the table to help build out their process is critical to their success.”