Nonprofit Newswire | Backing Promising Entrepreneurs as a Way to Revive Detroit

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June 12, 2010; Source: New York Times | Can you teach someone to become an entrepreneur or is that a skill someone possesses at birth? The backers of a Detroit-based nonprofit, Bizdom U, described by the New York Times as an “intense boot camp for aspiring entrepreneurs,” argue that it’s the latter.  That’s why their program looks for candidates who have the right mix of “vision, ambition, drive and risk tolerance” and then helps them gain additional knowledge and experience to launch and run their own businesses.

Another distinguishing characteristic of Bizdom U is that it is singly focused helping fill Detroit’s need for what Bo Fishback, vice president for entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, says is a “missing entrepreneurial ecosystem.”  The hope is that aspiring entrepreneurs who take part in the program will create businesses that prove successful and contribute to the city’s revitalization.

In addition to a $500,000 grant from Kauffman, Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of the online mortgage lender Quicken Loans—who also started Bizdom U in 2006—has pledged $10 million to the nonprofit.  According to Gilbert, the program identifies individuals who have shown entrepreneurial abilities for most of their lives.  For instance, he asks, “Was this the 6-year-old kid who had the most successful lemonade stand on the block?”

Groups of 15 students at a time enroll for four months of what the New York Times calls “intense immersion.” The Times adds that “Bizdom U has been likened to NBC’s hit show ‘The Apprentice’ because students are expected to prove themselves in real-world situations. To teach sales and marketing, Bizdom U entrepreneurs must sell memberships to the Detroit Zoo.” Individuals with promising business ideas can receive up to $100,000 in grants and additional mentoring.  So far, the program has graduated 37 individuals, and by next month, some 10 will have started businesses.— Bruce Trachtenberg