Transforming Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem

The history of NEI: The path to focusing on underserved small businesses

The history of NEI: The path to focusing on underserved small businesses

Philanthropic Commitment


Funders commit $100 million to transform southeast Michigan economy (talent, innovation, culture change)

A collaborative of foundations launched the New Economy Initiative (NEI) to invest $100 million in the transformation of the southeast Michigan economy over eight years

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Ten national, regional and local funders established NEI:

  • Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
  • Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation
  • Ford Foundation
  • Hudson-Webber Foundation
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • McGregor Fund
  • C.S. Mott Foundation
  • The Skillman Foundation

Governing Council was established to create foundational principles and to advise on grantmaking

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The Governing Council, now called the Steering Committee, inaugural membership:

  • Lizabeth Ardisana
  • Susan V. Berresford
  • C. David Campbell
  • Ahmad Chebbani
  • Paul R. Dimond
  • David O. Egner
  • Paula Lynn Ellis
  • Phillip Wm. Fisher
  • Roderick D. Gillum
  • Allan D. Gilmour
  • Ronald E. Goldsberry
  • Carol Goss
  • Steve Hamp
  • Alberto Ibargüen
  • Kate Levin Markel
  • Richard M. McGahey
  • James B. Nicholson
  • Brenda G. Price
  • Rip Rapson
  • Suzanne F. Shank
  • Richard D. Snyder
  • Maureen H. Smyth
  • Sterling K. Speirn
  • Miguel A. Satut
  • Douglas Bitonti Stewart
  • Laura J. Trudeau
  • William S. White
Vision and primary goal established with a focus on preparing, attracting and retaining talent and creating the conditions for it to prosper
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Original NEI Vision:
Southeast Michigan is a prosperous region with high per capita income and low unemployment, where all residents who are willing to learn and work will thrive in the new knowledge economy.

Original NEI Goal:
To speed the transition of southeast Michigan to the new knowledge economy, and to ensure that this occurs in a manner that is as complete and thorough as possible and allows all residents to participate. Preparing, retaining, and attracting talent is key to this transition.

NEI’s objectives developed to focus on training, building an innovation infrastructure, investing in entrepreneurs, and changing the culture to value innovation and learning
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Original NEI Objectives:

Teach and train residents of southeast Michigan so they can lead and participate in the transition to the new knowledge-based economy.

Invest in a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, both for-profit and nonprofit, who will serve as examples of the new knowledge economy.

Build the innovation infrastructure that supports economic growth.

Culture Change
Change the culture of southeast Michigan from entitlement mentality to one that values innovation, lifelong learning, and entrepreneurism.

Values constructed to guide all aspects of NEI’s work

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Guiding Values

Inclusiveness. NEI endeavors to increase prosperity for all residents and communities in the region with an emphasis on expanding opportunity for all. NEI recognizes the historic pattern of economic marginalization of some racial and ethnic minorities and strives to include these groups and all others in the transition to an innovation economy in our region.

Regional transformation. NEI is committed to the fundamental transformation of the region and sustainable regional economic growth.

Entrepreneurship and innovation. NEI encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, broadly defined, in all aspects of life in our region.

Talent. NEI believes that opportunities should be available to all students, workers, and employees so they can assume the responsibility for their skill development and career path for the betterment of the community.

Welcoming. NEI believes our region must be warm and welcoming to creative, talented people of all backgrounds, including immigrants and foreign-born workers.

Collaboration. NEI strives to work with other organizations and agencies in both the private and public sectors that are focused on improving the regional economy to ensure that our efforts are well aligned and mutually reinforcing.

John Austin appointed as executive director


Investment strategies defined

$11.1 million in grants awarded to 10 grantees
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The grants included support for

  • entrepreneur training
  • a system to place 25,000 Michigan college students into Michigan-based internships,
  • a health/life/bio science research project,
  • initiatives around innovation in entrepreneurship,
  • an arts district, and
  • other projects.
Investment strategies defined to support four pivotal areas: creative economy, venture capital building, entrepreneurial support and workforce development
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Investment Strategies in 2008

The Creative Economy, including a place-based strategy to develop a Creative Corridor

Venture Capital Building and support for commercializing research and innovation from universities and the private sector

Entrepreneurial Support, including capital/talent-building projects to commercialize new technology firms and support entrepreneurs, with a focus on BIPOC entrepreneurship

Workforce Development and Education, including efforts to increase the impact of federal, state and local job training resources currently spent in Detroit

Operating assumptions clarified to encompass the key attributes of 1) regional focus, 2) talent and innovation, 3) advocacy and 4) flexibility

David Egner appointed as executive director

TechTown Detroit

Ecosystem Building


Focus on building entrepreneurial ecosystem – TechTown key lever

$22.7 million in new grants awarded to 21 grantees
NEI continued to focus on moving southeast Michigan to a more innovative economy, working to restore the structures and resources necessary for a robust
entrepreneurial ecosystem
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Entrepreneurial Ecosystem approach included:

  • Training and Education
  • Connection to Resources
  • University Technology Transfer
  • Access to Capital
  • Entrepreneurial Culture
David Egner appointed as permanent director


Startup financing, business acceleration, telling the story

$14 million in grants awarded to 23 grantees
Invest Detroit, with a $5-million grant package from NEI, launched the First Step Fund, Detroit’s first venture capital fund; this was NEI’s first investment in a loan fund for high-growth businesses
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The First Step Fund provided access to capital for burgeoning entrepreneurs with high-growth business plans; NEI invested $5 million.
Prior to this, most local entrepreneurs looking to start up in southeast Michigan had to look outside the state for investment.

The First Step Fund was
designed to address the deficit of startup financing in southeast Michigan
and promote economic development by identifying, nurturing, and fostering demand for early-stage, commercially viable businesses that can scale—resulting in job creation and increased tax revenue for the southeast Michigan region.

In an effort to formalize a region-wide collaborative of business accelerators, NEI launched the Business Accelerator Network of Southeast Michigan

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The Business Accelerator Network of Southeast Michigan, a region-wide network for building and retaining new business in southeast Michigan, included the region’s largest business accelerators:

  • Automation Alley
  • Ann Arbor Spark
  • Macomb-Oakland University
  • INCubator
  • TechTown

The Business Accelerator Network of Southeast Michigan, with a $750,000 grant from NEI, announced the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, slated to be the world’s largest business plan competition with more than $1 million in cash awards, plus in-kind awards of services, staffing and software

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Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition was an international business plan competition designed to highlight Michigan as a robust and vibrant venue for innovation and business opportunity. It targeted early stage businesses with proven technology and potential to generate an immediate impact on Michigan’s economy, as well as student concepts with longer-term business viability.

The business plan competition was open to entrepreneurs in Michigan and worldwide willing to establish a business in the state.

Produced and actively distributed 300 stories of successful entrepreneurs in the region as part of a culture change campaign
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NEI launched to be a home and archive for the stories.
NEI invested in programs to assist students at Wayne State University (called Blackstone Launchpad) and Walsh College to transform great ideas into great companies
Diseños Ornamental Iron



Impact tracking began, first mention of inclusion as focus of investment

$12 million in new grants awarded to 11 grantees
Developed intentional social equity strategies and tactics across all NEI activities, moving equitable approaches to the forefront
NEI engaged Growth Capital Network to perform a set of quantitative and qualitative reviews of the full portfolio of grants to track impact and performance
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Growth Capital Network was charged with two primary goals:

  • Deliver data, analyses and stories about the impact of NEI and its role in shifting the local economy
  • Build a performance measurement system for NEI grantees


First grants to organizations working with immigrant, low-income and women entrepreneurs

$13.8 million in new grants awarded to 20 grantees
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Grantmaking enhanced its focus to support for women and immigrant entrepreneurs

NEI partnered with W.K. Kellogg Foundation to fund ProsperUS (a culturally-competent immigrant and BIPOC entrepreneur and small business training program based on a longstanding Minneapolis-based program called Neighborhood Development Center). ProsperUS was framed to serve BIPOC and immigrant new and existing businesses in nine neighborhoods.

NEI made its first grant to Michigan Women Forward to develop a woman-focused entrepreneurship and micro lending program focused on low-income women in the city of Detroit. This was the first of its kind with a sole focus on low-income women, providing training, mentorship, and capital to support business growth.

NEI refined its roles to

  • fund an innovation network,
  • develop a robust evaluation system,
  • convene strategic partners, and
  • support regional infrastructure and data collection
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With this role shift and investment focus, NEI anticipated these results:

  • Jobs and talent among Detroit residents would increase.
  • Detroit-based innovation and new companies would be invested in and developed.
  • Existing investment in “place” would be enhanced and sustained.
  • Socio-economic results, in time, would improve for a diverse group of residents employed by new businesses serving local, national, and global markets owned by diverse entrepreneurs who are supported by a Detroit-based nationally recognized innovation network.
NEI funded and launched the Detroit Regional Innovation Network, an interconnected group of organizations that provided services, capital, talent and facilities to support entrepreneurs
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Detroit Regional Innovation Network’s organizations were primarily concentrated in Detroit’s 3.5-mile Innovation Corridor that runs from Midtown to Downtown Detroit.

Focus areas for investment were in six key areas:

  • Ideas
  • Tools
  • Investment
  • Place
  • Connections
  • Talent
NEI’s work moved into Detroit neighborhoods, to better support underserved neighborhoods that needed entrepreneurs and small businesses to thrive
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Two place-based, neighborhood-specific entrepreneurial programs were granted funds.

ProsperUS provided training in the Cody-Rouge, North End and Southwest Detroit neighborhoods. ProsperUS was a program designed specifically for immigrants and entrepreneurs of color.

ACCESS focused on bringing entrepreneurial training and mentoring to two communities: the Dearborn/Detroit neighborhood of Warrendale that has a high concentration of Middle Eastern immigrants and the city of Hamtramck that includes Yemeni, Bangladesh and Bosnian immigrants. ACCESS also provided a mentor and professional service provider network, a micro-loan fund and resource mapping.

Singing Tree Garden

Small Business Owners


Resident attraction efforts and shift to inclusive small business network building

William Davidson Foundation became the 11th funder to support NEI since the initiative’s inception
$9.7 million in new grants awarded to 31 grantees
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NEI made the first grant to Detroit Economic Growth Corporation to activate the D2D procurement program to identify and match Detroit small businesses with a cohort of 17 large local companies committed to sourcing from local businesses.
NEI’s focus began shifting toward creating an inclusive small business network and entrepreneurial ecosystem, and further from supporting workforce development
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While grant-making continued, NEI spent 2013 reflecting on what was learned and determining the best course moving forward. Although much had been accomplished to identify and develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem, more was needed to ensure its growth and sustainability.

Therefore, it was determined more work was required to support entrepreneurship, small business growth and innovation.

Detroit Business Support Network, with support from NEI, produced The Biz Grid of resources to assist start up and existing businesses with everything from business planning and strategy to real estate assistance, funding, co-working space, and more
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The BizGrid is an interactive online directory and a physical infographic designed to help entrepreneurs navigate the landscape of organizations providing business assistance in Detroit.)


NEIdeas, Neighborhood Business Initiative and passage to NEI 2.0
Surdna Foundation became the 12th funder to support NEI since the initiative’s inception
$12.6 million in new grants awarded to 62 grantees

NEIdeas: Rewarding Ideas for Business Growth launched and awarded $500,000 in direct grants to 36 small businesses to support business growth and retention in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park – all cities with poverty rates over 40 percent

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NEIdeas was started to provide grants directly to existing small businesses across every zip code in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park with ideas for growth. This program had a low barrier to entry for the application process and all materials were translated in five languages.

It not only provided over $500,000 in direct grants to 36 small businesses, it provided an entry point for all 600 businesses who applied to access the growing network of available small-business services NEI had been supporting.

Of the first 30 winners, 73 percent were BIPOC owned, 60 percent were women owned, and 50 percent were both women and BIPOC owned.

NEI 2.0 began with $32 million in commitments from 11 funders and a carry-over of $12 million from the first phase of NEI
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When NEI was formed in 2006, it was planned to be dissolved by the end of 2015. It was clear to NEI leaders that much more work had to be done in building support systems that promote inclusive entrepreneurship.

Thus, NEI 2.0 began, with new support from the William Davidson Foundation and Surdna Foundation.

Grantmaking and programmatic activities were organized into three key areas:

Innovation Network Core Support

New Ideas and Programs

Entrepreneurial Culture and Promotions

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Innovation Network Core Support: Identify programs and administer grants to grow and sustain enterprises from grass-roots to high-growth. There is an emphasis with grantees to form and operate strategic collaborations that will increase efficiency across the ecosystem’s service providers and conduct more outreach to engage BIPOC and women entrepreneurs in the high-tech and high-growth areas. Special emphasis is on supporting sustainability strategies for the Innovation Network portfolio of grantees.

New Ideas and Programs: Identify programs and administer grants catalyzing new or unrecognized approaches to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to Detroit residents. NEI funds grants and programs that address the unmet demand of entrepreneurs and owners of new and growing businesses. The identification of these programs is driven by a diverse business support community engagement process and by assessing the needs of neighborhood-based businesses within the city of Detroit. There is an emphasis placed on organizations to form and operate strategic collaborations that increase efficiency across the Network’s service providers.

Entrepreneurial Culture and Promotions: Design programs and administer grants to promote and grow a vibrant entrepreneurial culture in the region and the city of Detroit. Facilitate the design of activities intended to attract national attention to Detroit in order to draw talent and investment. Lead in forming and implementing programs that provide opportunities to increase and diversify the pipeline of entrepreneurs and investors engaging with the ecosystem.

NEI Street Level began, securing coworking spaces to move its work into the community
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NEI Street Level was initiated to show the organization was accessible and offer neighborhood spaces to host meetings. Spaces were secured at Grand Circus, TechTown, Junction44, Bamboo and Grandmont Rosedale, among others. NEI also did a brochure on all the coworking spaces for entrepreneurs.

To strengthen and grow the number of businesses owned and operated by members of historically underserved populations and increase the investment in place-based community assets that support entrepreneurs, the Neighborhood Business Initiative was developed, with three priority areas

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Three priorities were identified:

  • enhancing business advocacy in the neighborhoods,
  • strengthening the readiness of new and growing small businesses to access capital, and
  • promoting the availability of accessible neighborhood retail and commercial spaces.


Year of the Gazelle (focus on high growth and scaling)

$8.8 million in new grants awarded to 72 grantees
NEI Launched the Year of the Gazelle, a series with partners at Southeast Michigan StartUp featuring the fast-growing “gazelle” companies that were scaling in metro Detroit and helping drive the region’s transition to the new economy
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The series, published at, identified local gazelle companies that were perfecting new and innovative products, creating jobs, and generating lots of revenue. It provided readers a full accounting of each one.

Content included everything from the stories behind the entrepreneurs and the investors that backed them, to the resources they leveraged and the challenges they faced.

As part of the gazelle series, NEI hosted a High Growth Happy Hour event series to cover the region’s entrepreneurial successes
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At each High Growth Happy Hour event, a founder of a successful larger company, such as Garden Fresh or Shinola, shared stories about launching and scaling a company in southeast Michigan; this was followed by an informal Q&A session and networking with an audience of aspiring high-growth entrepreneurs.

NEI’s Detroit neighborhood strategy refined to focus on elements that have proven successful:

  • support for community development corporations
  • support to organizations that provide entrepreneurship training
  • convening a worktable to strengthen neighborhood businesses
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Neighborhood strategy focus areas:

  • Providing grants to three community development corporations serving entrepreneurs in three Detroit neighborhoods: Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation in northwest Detroit, Central Detroit Christian CDC in the North End, and the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance in northeast Detroit.
  • Supporting organizations such as ACCESS, Build Institute, TechTown SWOT, Accounting Aid Society, ProsperUS Detroit, and FoodLab that provide neighborhood entrepreneurs with training and services.

Convening a quarterly worktable dedicated to enhancing business advocacy in the neighborhoods, strengthening new and existing businesses’ readiness to access capital, and promoting the availability of accessible neighborhood retail and commercial space.

Patrick Hines, M.D., Functional Fluidics LLC



First impact report, launch of community development loan fund
With a commitment of $5 million, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation became the 13th funder to support NEI since the initiative’s inception
$6.2 million in new grants awarded to 69 grantees
NEI actively participated in President Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit and sponsored a side event, “The Detroit Story”
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NEI was approached by the U.S. State Department’s Detroit Working Group with the unique opportunity of selecting and sponsoring a Detroit delegation to President Obama’s 7th-annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), taking place June 22-24 in Silicon Valley. With five official delegates including NEI director Pamela Lewis, Detroit was the best represented U.S. city at GES.

In addition to selecting and sponsoring the Detroit delegation, NEI partnered with the State Department to develop and host “The Detroit Story,” an official GES side event featuring panel discussions between entrepreneurs engaged directly in Detroit’s social, food, and mobility sectors. The event, which took place at the Hana Haus in Palo Alto, California, was attended by more than 100 people and provided NEI and Detroit entrepreneurs with exposure at one of the most prominent entrepreneurship events in the world.

Strategy reformulated to focus more intently on supporting businesses in underserved neighborhoods, driving more inclusion in high-growth sectors, and advancing creative storytelling strategies in a way that inspires the development and attraction of more innovative talent
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The 5-year strategy (2017-2021) focused on supporting and growing:

  • neighborhood businesses through expansion
  • high-growth ventures through scaling
  • high-growth firms owned by women and people of color
  • community-driven innovation challenges
  • comprehensive storytelling strategy around entrepreneurship in Detroit and southeast Michigan
  • assessments to determine recommendations for the sustainability of NEI-funded programs and collaborations.
NEI, and partners including the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and Future Cities, established a new loan fund, the BizLoan, for small businesses in Detroit to provide access to capital and technical assistance for women, immigrants and people of color who have been historically excluded from traditional capital sources and business development opportunities
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The fund was placed at an existing independent fund, the Detroit Community Loan Fund (DCLF). The Detroit Development Fund (DDF) manages the BizLoan fund.

DDF is a Detroit based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that has 15 years of experience in lending to new and existing small businesses in the city of Detroit. DDF is responsible for all the loan underwriting and management as well as loan documentation. Potential borrower businesses are identified by nonprofit neighborhood support organizations that are supported by NEI.

Pamela Lewis appointed to NEI director
NEI’s first ever Impact Report was released with key insights about entrepreneurs
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Key Insights:

  • Invest in your assets, not your deficits.
  • Keep showing up. You’ve got to be inclusive from day one and at all levels to impact systemic change.
  • An ecosystem is a complex thing. Don’t try to force it to be one thing or another. Instead, establish and reinforce connections.
  • Need a regional consciousness around the entrepreneurial support work
  • Never declare mission accomplished
  • Focusing on job creation is not enough; focus on how you change culture through economic development.
  • The value of place is important to attracting, retaining, and growing entrepreneurs and talent who will create a better future.
  • Develop environments that not only support entrepreneurs’ business needs, but also those that create a sense of community among entrepreneurs.
  • Entrepreneurs create jobs, wealth, opportunities and positive impact for communities. Their innovations lead to positive social change and improved quality of life.


Focus on building on what works; launch of Startup Story Night
$7.7 million in new grants awarded to 48 grantees
NEI, in partnership with local media outlets, launched Startup Story Night to elevate the spotlight for local entrepreneurs and serve as a forum for inspiration and practical tools for would-be startups


Role solidified as convener, storyteller, network builder; Capital Access Report (asset scan); Detroit Innovation Fellows

$4.4 million in new grants awarded to 95 grantees

NEI’s primary roles evolved to

  • Strategic Grant Maker
  • Convener
  • Storyteller
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NEI’s Roles

  • Strategic grant maker to nonprofits that support entrepreneurs
  • Convener of philanthropic, government, nonprofit and for-profit partners who develop and sustain network of support for entrepreneurs
  • Storyteller that shares how diverse entrepreneurs are creating better future for their communities, and thus inspires other
NEI launched the Detroit Innovation Fellowship to invest in social entrepreneurs who strengthen neighborhoods
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Detroit Innovation Fellowship is a talent-development program that promotes and invests in social entrepreneurs leading projects to strengthen neighborhoods in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

Twelve fellows representing nine projects were selected to participate in the inaugural 2018 cohort. Each fellow received a stipend ($10,000 per project), as well as additional funding for professional development.

NEI and partners launched the Youth Entrepreneurship Learning Initiative
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Youth Entrepreneurship Learning Initiative was actualized to identify strategies for developing effective and accessible youth entrepreneurship programs. For this project, NEI convened a cohort of 11 southeast Michigan programs that piloted projects via $20,000 grants.

Neighborhood Business Initiative Worktable members published the Capital Readiness Checklist, a resource developed by members of the Neighborhood Worktable that business support organizations could use to prepare client entrepreneurs for loan capital

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The checklist details the “5 Cs of Credit” (capacity, capital, character, collateral, and conditions) that lenders use to assess the creditworthiness of potential borrowers, as well as a checklist of to-dos that, if satisfied, demonstrate an entrepreneur’s preparedness for receiving a loan. NEI printed versions of the checklist in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, and Bangla.

NEI and the Eckblad Group published the Capital Access report to examine the array of capital available to new and existing underserved small business owners in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park and with key findings around the resource needs for small business owners
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Capital Access report key findings:

  • There is a continuum of capital available for new and existing entrepreneurs with better access in metro Detroit than in Hamtramck or Highland Park.
  • Resource needs for small business owners are often interrelated, complex, and nuanced. Solving for one area of need, such as capital, requires a view of the business and its owner holistically.
  • For those who come from neighborhoods or communities that have historically lacked access to money, education, or networks of people who can serve as mentors, there are additional layers of awareness, trust, systems navigation, community-building and institutional bias that must be addressed to affect positive change.
  • Among small businesses owners nationwide, 68 percent had outstanding debt in 2017, and 87 percent of small business owners relied on the owners’ personal credit score to obtain financing.
  • The presence of bank branches in a neighborhood plays a role in the ability of that institution to collect informal information that can improve the ability to lend and contribute to more favorable credit terms.
  • Federal Reserve survey results show that the location of a bank’s branches is the single most important factor influencing customers’ choice of bank, particularly in areas with lower incomes.
  • Low-income entrepreneurs have limited ability to either rely on personal sources to fund a startup or use retained earnings to support an existing business.
  • Detroit-area nonprofit lenders and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are critical sources of capital for entrepreneurs along the continuum, particularly for those who are new to credit or in search of smaller amounts of capital.
  • Real estate-based lending options are also important for larger or more mature businesses. A key issue in Detroit is the volume of empty commercial space and blighted residential and commercial buildings.
  • Equity investment is an option for businesses at the larger end of the capital spectrum, but equity investors are often looking for businesses with high-growth potential, strong margins and a scalable market.


  • It is essential that local capital providers support an ecosystem approach to capital access that leverages collaboration over competition to ensure the right type of capital is available at the right time for an underserved entrepreneur.
  • Money alone will not address the resource needs of underserved entrepreneurs who need support building financial and small business management skills, navigating the capital ecosystem, and building trust in systems that were not originally built for them.
  • It is essential to address capital constraints at the macro level, not just at the organizational or neighborhood levels, to overcome structural issues and support long-term success of underserved entrepreneurs.


Community of Opportunity report; In Good Co., Detroit; NEIdeas alumni

$4.4 million in new grants awarded to 45 business support organizations
NEI launched In Good Co., Detroit, a storytelling campaign that celebrated Detroit entrepreneurs and inspired residents to see themselves in narratives of Detroit’s revival
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Each month, the year-long In Good Co., Detroit campaign highlighted a Detroit business owner from diverse industries and backgrounds. In addition to stories, In Good Co. featured a directory of hundreds of business support resources that are available at

Through the site, entrepreneurs could locate service providers dedicated to helping small businesses grow in southeast Michigan. While the resources had been available in the past, the stories provided a more personal avenue for readers and viewers to connect with subjects.

NEI and partners presented the NEIdeas Alumni Growth Series
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NEIdeas Alumni Growth Series was a three-part learning experience designed exclusively for the NEIdeas Alumni, a vital group of 170+ past winners and repeat finalists of the NEIdeas Challenge from 2014-2018.

The series featured three interactive workshops that brought together NEIdeas Alumni business owners and expert service providers around three key topics:

  • Investing in Design to Enhance Growth,
  • Financial Strategies for Growing Your Business, and
  • Accelerating Growth Through Marketing + Promotion.

NEI published independent research, Community of Opportunity, to better understand the resources that make up southeast Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well as the motivations and needs of the region’s entrepreneurs. Among the key findings, the report identified 232 unique entrepreneurial assets operating throughout the region.

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The Community of Opportunity report found:

  • Networks increase the flow of information and enable coordination and collaboration. When Business Support Organizations (BSOs) are aware of peer organizations operating in their region and are well acquainted with their services and specializations, entrepreneurs can launch and grow businesses more efficiently.
  • Southeast Michigan’s entrepreneurial support system is an extensive network of at least 226 unique resources, with dense clusters of entrepreneurship support services forming in the region’s urban areas—Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Flint.
  • Entrepreneurial business support is regional with the potential to impact the region. Though business support organizations tend to cluster in the region’s urban centers, many of their clients come from across the region—not just their immediate vicinity.
  • Referral behavior is the regional connective tissue in the entrepreneurial landscape. A strong referral network will make entrepreneurs’ quest for support more efficient and effective.
  • Inclusion-focused organizations increase the visibility of the broader network of support and raise awareness among underestimated entrepreneurs of their ability to access resources to start and grow businesses.
  • In communities that have faced structural barriers to participation, opportunities for minority, women, immigrant, and veteran entrepreneurs require targeted support to create access to resources.
  • Philanthropy has incentivized inclusive network behavior, and that leads to greater awareness across the board—entrepreneurs’ awareness of resources and BSOs’ awareness of each other. But awareness alone does not lead to coordination. Many business support organizations don’t have a strong grasp of each other’s services and specializations.
  • Advancing the region will require next-level systems behavior. Now that the foundational structure of entrepreneurial support has been established and documented, it’s time to build an inclusive system of business support for the region.

NEI, working with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement, released the Entrepreneurial Reciprocity: The Case for Entrepreneurs Engagement in the Community report with key insights around the relationship between entrepreneurs and community engagement

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The Entrepreneurial Reciprocity report asked the question: How can we motivate and position rising generations of entrepreneurs to give back to the communities that supported them along the way?

Key insights:

  • There is a reciprocal relationship between entrepreneurs and their communities.
  • It takes a community to raise an entrepreneur, contrary to the socially pervasive belief in our culture—often stemming from the traditional American definition of success—that entrepreneurs “make it” on their own.
  • Entrepreneurs circulate in many types of different communities. Some are geographic. Some are based on their business. Some are oriented to a particular subject matter or area of interest. Some are physical, while others are virtual.
  • Entrepreneurs may feel a closer connection to their local community than larger, more established global organizations.
  • There are a range of ways entrepreneurs give back to their communities. Some are financial, but assets like knowledge and networks are also valuable reciprocity opportunities.
  • The concept of reciprocity in community engagement and entrepreneurship can be complicated by the blurred distinctions between for-profit and social entrepreneurship.
  • Remaining closely connected to community is good for entrepreneurs’ businesses. Women are particularly aware of this phenomenon.
  • Engaging in community benefits entrepreneur’s businesses, the entrepreneur themselves, and their communities.
  • There is also interrelationship between entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and American communities. Entrepreneurs create businesses that create wealth in our economy. Philanthropy plays a major role in catalyzing the entrepreneurship ecosystem that keeps entrepreneurs in their community and helps them be successful.


COVID response
NEI worked with its grantees and funders to activate $4.84 million of alternative capital access interventions for metro Detroit small businesses impacted by COVID-19,
especially those led by underrepresented
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Over three months, this effort raised $4.84 million in grants from funders and from NEI’s existing budget to support loan relief, rent relief, practical assistance and stabilization for 2,200 small businesses in metropolitan Detroit. By month four, 96% of loan recipients were still in business.

The interventions included $1.48 million in mini-grants to low-income business owners in six cities across southeast Michigan.

COVID-19 Resource Center for Small Businesses developed and published on the NEI website
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The COVID-19 Resource Center for Small Businesses is an online resource archive around the topics of moving to a new service model; employees and labor; inspiration and mentorship; technical assistance resources; and funding resources and information.
NEI is key leader in launching the City of Detroit’s Detroit Means Business online research hub, created in response to the COVID-19 crisis
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NEI and its network of business support organizations are key leaders in the Detroit Means Business coalition, driving small business engagement along with financial and technical assistance, working with private and public sector leaders to provide information, resources and financial assistance to thousands of Detroit-based small businesses.

NEI partnered with University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study (DMACS) to survey more than 700 Detroiters and published the Entrepreneurship and Economic Opportunity in Detroit market research report to uncover key insights on how residents and entrepreneurs perceived small business in their communities

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Key Insights:

  • The term “entrepreneur” is not ubiquitous. Most Detroiters think of entrepreneurs as people who are self-employed or open a family-owned business or franchise business. Before being presented with a definition, 29 percent of respondents considered themselves to be entrepreneurs, 63 percent did not, and 8 percent were not sure. After receiving a definition, more than 40 percent of Detroit residents considered themselves entrepreneurs.
  • Research shows that 42 percent of Detroiters do not consider there to be much opportunity in the city of Detroit for the average person to get ahead economically. Subsequently, Detroiters see entrepreneurship as a way to make their own opportunity regionally.
  • There is a reciprocal relationship between entrepreneurs and their communities. Most residents (84 percent) think entrepreneurs have a positive impact on the city.
  • Though nearly half of Detroit residents believe that there are some or a lot of resources available from government or nonprofits to start a business, financial security did not feel like a possibility for most.
  • Though small businesses comprise the majority of employers in Detroit, they account for only 14 percent of jobs in the city. Building and supporting the growth of small businesses in the city may be a valuable strategy for leveraging entrepreneurship into employment opportunities for more Detroiters.

What’s next

Follow NEI’s journey, then take your own