Kale Chips & Cutting Boards: Michigan Ross Meets Youth Entrepreneurs

A Ross student and youth working with music production at the Detroit Youth Maker Faire. Photo courtesy of Michigan's Ross School of Business

A Ross student and young people working with music production at the Detroit Youth Maker Faire. Photo courtesy of Michigan’s Ross School of Business


However, momentum is growing around the Maker Space, DeRue says. Ross students were divided into six teams of 60 students each and were assigned to the creation and scaling of a product in 72 hours, alongside Brightmoor adults and youth, to sell at the Detroit Youth Maker Faire and pitch to a panel of judges from Deloitte and General Motors. The winning product received seed money to grow the business.

Working in the three categories of urban gardens and food, music production, and woodworking, the challenge was clear. It would be tough enough to create, scale, market, and sell a product in 72 hours. Not only were the students tasked with that, they had to do it with strangers—and some potential cultural divides, to boot. When Eddy first heard the idea to create and sell a product in 72 hours, he wasn’t convinced. “Why are you doing this? What’s the point?” Eddy recalls asking himself. “It’s kind of like one-and-done in a way. But, there’s something much, much richer in this. It’s about sitting together and thinking about a vision and then making that vision a reality.”

Eddy also points to the fact that outsiders coming into a community to “save it” often doesn’t go over well. In one instance, Eddy recalls, a social worker met with students at his school and spoke about helping the poor neighborhoods in the area. “The kids got up in an uproar about this,” Eddy remembers. “They don’t consider themselves poor and they certainly don’t want to hear the idea they’re underserved.

“You can’t have the mindset of, ‘Oh, this poor, underserved, minority is going to receive something from us.’ That’s a challenge right there. And the Ross students have not projected that kind of attitude or a mentality of sympathy. They’ve wanted to know in a genuine way what our students are interested in, what they think is saleable and makeable in the community.”


And the genuine interest led to many interesting products. The teams created kale chips and popcorn, urban garden planter boxes, cutting boards, and two songs, entitled Open Window and #BE.

The cutting boards, in particular provided a couple valuable lessons for both MBA students and Brightmoor youth, alike. “When they (Ross students) presented the personalized cutting boards to the Brightmoor students, they didn’t think much of it at all,” Eddy says. “They said, ‘Why would we use a cutting board? We’ve got counters.’

“Of course the other side of that is, a cutting board might be great for our kids to market and sell in metropolitan Detroit. And through that, we might be able to grow our market. So this is the type of learning experience and awareness that is beginning to take place.”


It’s reasonable to believe the genuine interest in the Brightmoor community stems from the type of students attending Ross—a school steeped in social enterprise. Native Detroiter Candace Johnson, grew up playing softball games and tennis tournaments in Brightmoor’s Stoepel Park. Johnson, who came to Ross to “sharpen her business acumen and refine her skills” while pursuing a dual master’s degree from the School of Public Health, says in an email interview the biggest lesson for her from the week was “everyone’s voice matters and feelings are valid.”

Fellow first-year Ross student Florence Noel, after nearly a decade in the nonprofit, social impact, and education spaces, came to Ann Arbor for a change of pace from New York City hustle and bustle, and to round out her business skills.

Her team, which won the seed money with a company named Think BYG after the Brightmoor Youth Garden, produced the kale chips, and took a unique approach to the challenge. They divided themselves into smaller, topic-focused groups ranging from youth engagement to brainstorming to an executive leadership team. Noel served on a three-member executive team that managed the other teams, crediting her section for having two women and one man on the C-suite-style team.

For Noel, the week reinforced her decision to attend Ross. “I’m here to think about how you have a positive organization that makes money and is no slouch when it comes to profitability, but also emphasizes doing good work as a bottom line,” she says.

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