April Boyle enthusiastically greets me with a big hug at the entrance of Build Institute "welcome" center and headquarters in downtown Detroit. Nestled in a mix-used neighborhood, Build Institute is a symbol of the tenacity and civic pride that will carry Detroit into its economic future and April, one of the city's new breed of city-first entrepreneurs, is its founder and executive director. April founded Build Institute in 2012 to help Detroit residents turn business ideas into reality, by providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and support network. To date, April and a small, determined team have graduated over 700 aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs from Build's classes (Build Basics and Build Social).
After touring the offices and watching the last of the new crop of Build Basics students leave the building, April and I headed over to another of her ventures (restaurant Gold Cash Gold) to discuss Detroit's economic future, local entrepreneurs and why initiatives like Build are needed.
What is the Build story? Why are initiatives like it needed?
Build was started in January 2012 as a program of D:hive, a welcome center and resource hub located downtown. We saw a gap in resources and support for community, place based entrepreneurs (life style, brick and mortar, passion, mom and pop, micro-enterprise etc.) style businesses that are key to Detroit's revitalization. The classes, called Build Basics, are based on national standards for entrepreneurship education. We need to meet people where they are and many community entrepreneurs see gaps in their neighborhoods, and commercial corridors and want to hire their chronically unemployed or underplayed neighborhoods.
Tell me about the 8-week Build program. When did it launch? What was the problem you were solving?
The first class in Detroit was offered in the spring of 2012 and since then demand has grown tremendously. Classes are now offered every season and have expanded beyond the core curriculum to include Build Social, a class focused solely on social entrepreneurship, as well as satellite classes offered in Hamtramck, Livernois, Grandmont Rosedale and more. Our city's greatest asset is our people and their ideas, Potentially transformative ideas and we provide easily accessed resources in a safe nurturing environment.
Who are Build students? What information are they seeking? What types of businesses are they starting?
Our participants are 70% women and almost 60 percent minority. We are sector agnostic and welcome anyone and believe that a diversity of ideas is innovative and contributes to creativity. Our ideas range from products and services (massage, yoga, the Motorcity soap and candle Firebrand companies, to t-shirts and fashion to stores like Detroit Is the new Black and Detroit Fiver works and Savvy Gents and bakeries and restaurants like Detroit Vegan Soul, Go Smoothies and Cat Cafe ...).
You're described Build as being "entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs". What did you mean by that?
Entrepreneurship and small business is in our DNA. Build was founded by and entrepreneur and is run by entrepreneur and all classes and speakers are small business owners. We encourage collaboration and know that it takes a village to start and grow a small business in Detroit. Sharing knowledge and insight and tips and tools. Learning from others that have come before and staying sharp by listening to the newcomers.
How are you scaling Build?
We continue to evolve our programs in alignment with the growth and envelopment of our community. We scale in two ways: we grow and add programs along the entrepreneurial life-cycle and we continue to grow and expand our geographic reach into neighborhoods and with corporate and organizational partners and INtra-trepreneurship/ professional development and skill building.
You receive applications to participate in Build from entrepreneurs from outside the Detroit metropolitan area. What do you see as some of the challenges holding entrepreneurs and small business owners back?
Confidence and fear are large challenges - That is why community is so important. This is a hard and arduous journey and it is imperative to have support. Funding is also challenge. Tech and scale are super duper sexy because everyone wants to develop and invest in the next Facebook but we all know that jobs are created by small businesses. You cannot outsource the restaurant job, or the massage therapist but that doesn't mean those aren't great businesses to make an investment in. We need to start investing in our local community and supporting and respecting the local small business owner.