THECUBE Coworking space has asked Philip Lauri from DETROIT LIVES! to write a piece on enterprise. As many cities around the world are facing the same need for new economy, we are interested and curious about how the people in Detroit are going about it. It is a city that has no choice but to look at enterprise in its most rudimentary form, here no businesses that are irrelevant, it may teach us something in London and NYC about Why we start our business. Anyway below are Philip’s words and experience.
Enterprise in Detroit is embodied by a very simple phrase: Make it happen….
See, this city is the biggest small town in the country. We have the infrastructure to support a population that pushes 3 million, but right now we hover around 800,000. Kind of crazy. So, the art of enterprise I think is finding your way in that mix of small-town metropolis, carving out your niche in that community, and blending interests and shared ideals with others. Then, together and individually you make it happen.
Everyone in Detroit is doing something. Everyone. I as said last time but in Detroit, you build something or you sink. Very few people live here for the glitz and glam of city life; very few people live here because there is a sexiness to saying you live in Detroit. People who are coming here and creating live here because they wouldn’t live anywhere else. And they live here because they see the opportunity.
Opportunity?! Yep. Serious opportunity. The wrinkled, perplexed face in response to hearing the words “Detroit” and “opportunity” together are slowly fading. There are people in every imaginable category– business, art, community development, urban farming– that are making things happen that so many people never once thought was possible. To coin a phrase, it’s making lemonade out of lemons. And you can do that in Detroit. That’s satisfying one of the greatest ideals in our democratic system– spot the need, make the difference and feel the exhilaration of victory. That is 100% achieving the American dream.
Look at Mark Covington, an urban farmer on the east side who has taken a vacant lot in his neighborhood and turned it in to a thriving garden and base camp for The Georgia Street Community Collective. Through both the garden and the collective, he has a very strong presence with the kids on his block. Winter comes and he collects warm coats for their bodies. Holidays roll around and he feeds them a wonderful dinner. The summer sun blasts our backs and he shows them how to grow their own food. Beyond that, he is currently in the process of building a community center that will allow kids access to a library, give them internet access, play games, make crafts and other projects and just generally enjoy the company of other people on their block. He literally took nothing and turned it in to a very notable positive force in his community.
Then take an artist like Chazz Miller who grew up in the city originally, went off around the country as an artist, came back to Detroit and is now turning Brightmoor and Old Redford in to a place of commercial and artistic viability. Chazz, with the help of John George at Blight Busters, started Public Art Workz and the Artist Village. The organization has attracted local businesses to move in (a cafe and a wood shop to name a few), the Artist Village now has tenants (one guy that was once an ad exec in New York and now restores antique furniture), and Chazz has personally taken care of and mentored a lot of the neighborhood kids. He recently got scholarships to notable academic institutions for four individuals in the neighborhood. These are kids that didn’t even see that in the realm of possibility. Again, Chazz is another example of taking nothing and turning it in to something very positive and growth-oriented.
Now, I haven’t even really talked about the success that DETROIT LIVES! has seen as a business and how you can take an abstract idea or concept and create something if you really believe in it. Almost two years ago, it started with drawings. Slowly, this vision of a brand with a social identification– the idea that business and revenue streams can actually be the extension of a positive message– is blossoming. People want to hear the hopeful message and be pointed to the positivity. Sales with the apparel line are increasing in retail shops and through the online store. I am collaborating on much larger projects— MantraCity (mantra+city+monstrosity), for example– with other groups, organizations and institutions. I am working towards a five year vision right now that would begin to ingratiate DL! more deeply in to communities throughout the city, making it more reflective of the city it represents.
Once again, all this is starting from nothing. Well, nothing more than a drawing pad and some desire. And that’s roughly the same guiding forces that got Mark and Chazz where they are. So, you want to understand enterprise in Detroit? It’s about seeing the opportunity that starting over actually represents, putting the wheels in motion and just doing it. Make. It. Happen. Make it happen!
When you agree to that phrase, you become part of the enterprise in Detroit. “