Kale Chips & Cutting Boards: Michigan Ross Meets Youth Entrepreneurs

Florence Noel

Florence Noel (second from left) celebrates with her team after winning the seed money from Deloitte and General Motors. Photo courtesy of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

When Bart Eddy arrived in Detroit in the 1980s, it wasn’t by plan or purpose. A product of the ’60s, after graduating from college he had reportedly embarked on an On The Road-style journey, influenced by hippie movement architect and famed vagabond Jack Kerouac. Something about the decaying of a once-vibrant and burly upper-Midwest city captivated him.

Eddy quickly went to work in various community-activism roles before eventually co-founding what is now Detroit Community Schools in 1997. The schools, a high school and middle school, are located in the Brightmoor neighborhood, an approximately four-square-mile swath of land on the northwest border of the city. Built largely for the workers of a burgeoning auto industry in the ’20s, Brightmoor has felt the effects of the Detroit bust as much or more than any neighborhood in Detroit and has since been dubbed, not-so-creatively, “Blightmoor.”

Until 2013, when the Detroit Blight Authority began an all-out restoration blitz on Brightmoor, the streets were crime-ridden and people fled, leaving dilapidated buildings and vacant lots in their wake. The population has dropped from about 23,000 at peak to fewer than 13,000 in the 2010 census.


But don’t tell any of that to Eddy. The man shows no letup in pouring his life into a community trying to haul themselves up from near rock-bottom. Eddy has a mystical and calming sense about him. Conversing with him is like talking to your grandfather, Yoda, and your high school shop teacher all at once—there’s warmth, wisdom, and the fear that he’s going to tell you like it is, no matter what, and sometimes the truth does indeed hurt.

“We are lacking training in the arts and the practical, hands-on arts and crafts,” Eddy says when describing the motivation behind his newest project with students of his high school. “This used to be so much a part of community learning styles. There’s a hunger from our young people to become creative, active, engaged, and learn to do things with their hands.”

In 2009, Eddy began applying for and receiving grants from the city to hire his high school students—at an amount less than minimum wage—to do vacant-lot restoration and landscape design during the summer. In 2011, he established Brightmoor Woodworkers Association in an abandoned building, teaching the students “curbside economics and entrepreneurship.”


The first project involved building and selling handcrafted wooden signs in the neighborhood. In the fall of 2011, people started noticing the signs around the community and inquired how they could buy their own. So Eddy and the students figured out what they should charge and began selling them.

Then students started showing interest in bike maintenance and urban gardening. So Eddy created a garden and bike maintenance shop with them. He started calling it Youth Entrepreneurship in Action and operated “by the amount of work they can hustle” and the ideal of “if you have an idea, let’s find a way to put it into action.”

For the past two years directing the program, Eddy has been able to hire students to work in the woodworking shop, urban garden, and bicycle shop. “We have a real series of enterprises going here,” he explains. “Right now, we’re employing 40 kids. We’re doing the kind of education methodology that I like to describe as an elemental pathway to work. And we’re putting the youths’ experiences as apprentices and journeymen to master entrepreneurial training.”


The next step in the evolution is the Brightmoor Maker Space—a 3,200-square-foot abandoned building on the Detroit Community Schools campus being revitalized to encourage and enable Brightmoor residents to create and incubate ideas. The project originated from Eddy’s efforts, a partnership with the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design, which received a two-year $100,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and a July crowdfunding campaign.

Since this past spring, the maker space has also received attention from Michigan’s Ross School of Business. The largest investment of time and resources so far from Ross students came during this year’s Impact Challenge, organized by the Sanger Leadership Center. Each year, incoming Ross students spend an orientation week working within Detroit on a business challenge. This time, teams worked with Brightmoor neighborhood residents and nearly 60 Brightmoor young people to develop products and business plans for the maker space and the Ross-hosted Detroit Youth Maker Faire in Detroit’s Eastern Market.

“The week is about showing our students how business can be a force for positive change in our communities, creating both economic and social value.” explains Scott DeRue, associate dean and director of the Sanger Leadership Center. “Brightmoor is a neighborhood in our community that is not experiencing the same positive momentum that other parts of Detroit are today.”

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