For our first challenge of the 2021-2022 program year, we were thrilled to partner with Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance (MDBBA), a recently launched nonprofit committed to advocacy, programming, and providing resources for Black businesses and entrepreneurs led by President/CEO Charity Dean and COO Kai Bowman. Eight teams of Fellows supported this project – learn more from the perspective of each team! 

October 15th, 2021. Cold and rainy. Familiar faces from the past few weeks everywhere we turn. We all rush in at once as though we were waiting for the store doors to open on Black Friday. Searching for a seat as they are all taken rather quickly, throwback R&B music plays in the background as everyone feels the overwhelming change of temperature from the heat shooting out of the registers. No one knew what to expect from our first kickoff Friday with our partner, the newly formed nonprofit MDBBA. Our team (Marisol Durantes-Silva, Ben Ratner, Andrea Gutierrez, Ellington Smith, Tori Sullivan-Cortez)’s design question was, “How might we create year long programming and membership perks for youth entrepreneurs?.” Using the prompt, we tried to identify the strengths of each of our teammates and discovered that several of us had experience working with youth. Given that MDBBA provides a youth membership, and aims to teach and provide resources for entrepreneurship, it would be new for us to be given creative and structural control to design the programming.

During the stakeholder interviews it became even more clear that we were starting from scratch in the creation of this program. We found the members’ ideas of what they think youth should get from the program helpful; however we quickly realized we needed more information from actual youth entrepreneurs to really assist MDBBA in their goal of youth engagement for the UpNxt program. It was at this point that we all rallied around the words of our partner liaison Ryanne Taylor who said, 

“If you don’t have capital, that doesn’t mean you can’t make your idea happen. You can partner with peers. You have to be willing to grow with others.”

Following these words of encouragement, we began using our connections to meet with local youth entrepreneurs and hear their thoughts about the idea of a cohort targeted specifically for youth entrepreneurship. These interviews helped us to better understand what age we were focusing on through membership and what youth entrepreneurs look for while being in a cohort. Following these interviews, we came into the ideation stage with great excitement and motivation. Despite our positive attitude, the ideation stage challenged us to come up with ideas without any established parameters. With a quickly approaching deadline, many of us struggled to come up with more than a few good ideas during each round of ideation. However, after taking a step back, we found a number of overlapping similarities between our individual thoughts. In making these connections we were able to regain confidence in our ideas, and the process of program development began to produce tangible results. In the following weeks we were able to begin producing a fun event and programming calendar, identify membership perks vs. nonmembership fees, and start testing our prototype.

Weeks of ideating, prototyping and collaborating came to an end in the blink of an eye. In our final weeks it was up to us to use the feedback we received from MDBBA members and other Challenge Detroit Fellows to finalize the products to present and hand over to our partner. Thanks to the numerous hours spent in the partnership between Challenge Detroit and MDBBA we were able to create a fun, interactive program for youth entrepreneurs with a full cohort calendar that is aligned with the calendar of the Detroit Public School Community District. Along with our vast array of membership perks (branded merchandise, free events, mentorship, professional development opportunities, scholarships, cohort participation), we were also able to  create marketing resources to help recruit both youth entrepreneurs as well as youth interested in entrepreneurship. Reaching the end of the collaboration, we see that our hard work will hopefully make an impact in the lives of local youth.