UM receives grant to help Detroit entrepreneurs bridge the digital divide


Source: Ford School of Public Policy

Credit: Scott Soderberg, Michigan Photography.

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Michigan received $ 300,000 from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to train local residents and UM students to provide one-on-one technology support to entrepreneurs in Detroit. The project aims to better understand the types and complexity of technology support small businesses need, as well as timing and delivery preferences.

Lutalo sanifu

Researchers will work with former UM Lutalo Sanifu (MURP ’18)

and his colleagues from Jefferson East, Inc, a community-based, non-profit organization committed to expanding work for the people of Detroit and reducing barriers to the growth and expansion of small businesses.

The university project team includes Kristin Seefeldt, associate director of Poverty Solutions and associate professor of social work; Tawanna Dillahunt, associate professor at the School of Information; Julie hui, assistant professor at the School of Information; Christie Baer, deputy director of the Center on Finance, Law & Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and program director for the center’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project; and Aaron Jackson, program manager for the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project.

Kristin Seefeldt

Small businesses are a key driver of economic mobility and employment in Detroit, but the digital divide is preventing some businesses from reaching their full potential. This research will allow us to better understand the technological needs of small business owners, so that workforce development efforts can provide the technical support local entrepreneurs need to thrive. We are delighted to partner with Jefferson East in this endeavor, ”said Seefeldt, principal investigator for the research project.

The project builds on Dillahunt and Hui’s partnership with Friends of Parkside to pilot a “community tech worker” program to help older people in need of tech-related support. Tech workers will be integrated into Jefferson East to develop a sustainable and useful model that will help bridge the digital divide for small businesses.

Tawanna dillahunt

“I am delighted that we are able to expand our Community Tech Workers pilot project to provide support to local businesses,” said Dillahunt. “I hope that Community Tech Workers will be integrated into every community! “

Julie hui

UM’s The Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project observed that older, low-income business owners typically find tools like planning software or Excel-based cash flow calculators difficult to use without training. Baer says helping with the use of tech tools could make a big difference to small businesses.

“This pilot project fills an important gap in the entrepreneurial landscape of Detroit. When it comes to teaching technical skills, there is no substitute for one-on-one support, ”Baer said. “Our hope is that this pilot will provide the necessary information for some of our Detroit partners to be able to offer one-on-one technical support to business owners in the future. “

Christie Baer

The UM project was one of six projects of the Kauffman Foundation community research wallet.

“We are delighted to support community engagement in the research process through this grant portfolio. These six projects aim to create equitable, collaborative and solution-oriented initiatives between communities and researchers that can advance inclusive prosperity through entrepreneurship, ”said Chhaya Kolavalli, Senior Program Officer, Knowledge Creation and Research, Entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, non-partisan foundation based in Kansas City, Missouri that seeks to create inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-driven economic development.

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