Detroit – Staying Active

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Guest Post By Jonathan BarlowSocial Solace (Chief Ambassador)

Home of the Lions, Tigers, and Wings…Detroit is at the center of all discussions. From automotive and tech to arts and fashion, the city’s urban landscape is transforming everyday for the better. With only 800k inside of the city and 2 million in the metro area, there is a dire need for a competitive start-up community? The start-up community needs a boost and Detroit Venture Partners, Bizdom, Tech Town, and Social Solace aims to keep the area competitive. Google located in the Metropolitan Detroit “City of Ann Arbor” keeps activity grounded for the state and Midwest area, but deep inside the streets of Detroit another story is to be told which paints a larger picture as to America’s Metropolitan Cities and their fight to increase “Technology and Innovation” within their youth.

To stay a competitor amongst other vastly growing countries, America will soon face the questions of how to turnaround Urban Youth of today into model citizens of tomorrow with skills to keep them competitive. These questions and more are being answered as an organization that is revolutionizing urban engagement; “Social Solace” has taken on some pretty large tasks to answer these concerns.

Over the last ten years, no single organization has taken the lead at bringing all community stakeholders to the table under one umbrella. Forming an open village table from industry to industry for all ages is indeed a need of both the Internet and society. Damon Horowitz, Philosophy Professor of Stanford, refers to this comprehensive strategy as a moral operating system. In other words how are we going to come together and bridge the digital divide and communication divide within an urban setting. Social Solace has created a social platform to engage citizens through organizations for a more constructive community.

In the beginning of January 2012, the activity began in Detroit where Social Solace started to identify how to train the Faith Based, K-12 Schools, Non Profits and Government to work together on one platform. Phase 1 has begun with High Schools in the Detroit Metropolitan area and soon to be in Atlanta and Los Angeles. In essence, training students and their schools/organizations in the community to use social media responsibly and to incorporate them in their routine behaviors is the goal of Social Solace.

Why is this important?

The tech scene in Detroit is slowly building momentum and America’s tech scene is a bit dis-proportioned. The gap in access to technology is a main component. As the industry leans towards a more mobile/tablet market, forecasts tell us that digital divide will continue to widen. The only way to solve this divide is to start to analyze the technological needs of society and create a round table to solve the issue as best as possible without duplicating efforts or reinventing the wheel.

Ultimately the tech scene in Detroit will not become what it needs to without efforts like Social Solace and others. Those “others” are micro campaigns efforts like Hajj Flemings and the Student Venture High School Days. These all day events are a component of Brand Camp U. Or take for instance the YES! Expo where thousands of students are invited down to witness the upstarts and tech innovations at FORD FIELD “home of the LIONS.”

Social Solace has positioned itself between mainstream media and the community. This space is in need of Social Solace simply because the constructive community information has yet to be centralized and aggregated efficiently enough for equal access. There will be a need for the community to become more knowledgeable of the empowerment tools (apps) our urban areas need for reforming. Similar to the efforts of Code for America, how will a city raise its participation rate to be all inclusive and progressive? Moreover, the High School Dropout Rate in America is understandably one of the priorities of the education system and the reforms thereof. With such a need for turnaround, Social Solace has started to work exclusively with teams of students to tap into the passions of their dreams to spark a desire to stay educated and create start-ups of their own.

What is Project Serve Society?

Project Serve Society is a campaign engaging families through their youth. Targeting High Schools, Social Solace has identified several Beta Schools before launching in Michigan and several states next fall. Enhancing the amount of exposure and collective activity the family has with the school and other organizations, ultimately the branding of Social Solace will go past the school bell. Extending into the community to link non profits and faith based with school service projects is the ultimate goal of Project Serve Society.

Already the initial meetings with teams of students during the lunch hour has started to reveal deep insight as to what it would take for a student group to lead the charge for the teachers, parents, and staff to use social media constructively. Long-term the ability for these groups of students to centralize communications for the institution itself will enhance the community environment. Project Serve Society and Social Solace helps support the lack of funding for IT and Technology support in the schools across America. Additionally it gives students a reason to be engaged and not reprimanded for low attention spans detailed in the RSA Animate talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

Project Serve Society is a start to bringing attention to much needed talks looming in the political realm and the discourse thereof. Government not only needs technology but it is in dire need to birth a generation of technology minded model citizens that will work in sync with government to become the most innovative society it can to stay competitive.

Additional Media regarding School Visits can be found at
or by viewing these links:
King High School –
River Rouge High School –

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Detroit Harmonie’s Get Funded Challenge and Entrepreneurial Community Building

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I’ve gotten to know Zakaria Shaikh through his work at Startup Michigan. I thought his post on his Thoughts on Detroit Harmonie’s Get Funded Challenge and Entrepreneurial Community Building was great and it is reposted here with his permission.

It’s not every weekend that I have the opportunity to be surrounded by entrepreneurs working on transformational ideas in the city of Detroit. Last Saturday, I was invited to judge Detroit Harmonie‘s Get Funded Challenge, a social entrepreneur pitch event with entrepreneurs competing for $50,000 in funding. I have judged a number of university-, corporate-, and state-sponsored business plan competitions and pitches over the years, but this pitch event was distinctly different. This was certainly one of those “you had to be there to feel it” events. Here are my thoughts on the parallels between what I thought DH did right and its application to entrepreneurial community building in Michigan.

As a background, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the lack of a robust statewide, entrepreneurial community in Michigan– primarily the need and how to go about developing one. I noticed many aspects of the Get Funded Challenge that illustrated key, but often overlooked, points to consider in developing a stronger entrepreneurial community.

1. The DH Board did a phenomenal job in engaging a great breadth of stakeholders in Detroit. A representative from the White House’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities was present. The Mayor’s chief of staff kicked-off the event. Detroit-based corporations were engaged as sponsors or as participants. Small- and medium-sized businesses were in attendance. (Ann Arbor-based Zingermans had a great cheese-tasting table there– If you were trying to get to the table, I apologize. I was the one holding up the traffic there, and asking the Zingermans’ rep questions about the cheeses and tasting each one.) There were many students from colleges and universities present. And a diverse group of entrepreneurs were also there- engaged, networking, exchanging ideas about startups and community projects, and just having a good time.

Detroit Harmonie engaged with all stakeholders in Detroit. I bet not everyone understood the organization’s vision from the website, press releases, or executive summary and just showed up for the celebration (more on this below), but I am willing to bet that by the end of the night, after experiencing the pitch event, great food, diverse people, and live music, everyone understood clearly what DH was about, what makes its activities critical to Detroit’s revitalization, and five reasons (five pitches) to support DH.

So, engagement with all stakeholders is critical. If some don’t get it, there’s nothing like some food and entertainment in a great venue to put on some “show and tell”. There are many storied, Michigan-based corporations and family foundations— has the startup community (and I put myself in this boat) engaged with them sufficiently to help them understand what Michigan’s startup universe looks like, its community and economic impact, its challenges, and the types of resources needed to support these job creators? If you are passionate about this, send me a note and I will put you in touch with a kickass group of entrepreneurs heading this project.

2. Another great aspect of the event was its premise. It was very simple, at least in the way that I interpreted it: let’s come together to celebrate entrepreneurs who are making things happen in the city. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something like that? Think about the city-, county-, or state-wide impact Michigan startups are creating everyday. Did a company close a large financing round, expand its facility, and start hiring people? Did a company exit and its alum are now out there investing in or starting up new ventures? We have many such  examples in Michigan. All these activities translate into quantifiable community and economic impact worthy of a celebration. So, pick a reason and celebrate. Repeat.

3. If you are not an entrepreneur (universities, EDCs, incubators, accelerators, VCs, law firms, corporations), listen up. Put entrepreneurs in the driver’s seat. DH’s founders and over half its board are entrepreneurs who are committed to Michigan, community-minded, visionary, and working everyday to build a robust community. There is no substitute for this sort of leadership. If you are a public or private organization that is serious about nurturing a statewide entrepreneurial community and making Michigan a go-to place for entrepreneurship, then go find the visionary, community-minded entrepreneurial leaders (and there are quite a few around the state) and ask them how you can help. And then help them. Have them lead and get out of the way.

This post is way longer that I expected. But hopefully the point is abundantly clear: to nurture a statewide entrepreneurial community, all strata and stakeholders of the city/county/state must be engaged –very few people will turn down food, entertainment, and a great cause; make the intersection of the strata/stakeholders an opportunity to celebrate something– in other words, make it a fun event that appeals to the human element in all of us and not just another boring meeting; and develop/support entrepreneur-led community-building efforts- there is no substitute for it.