New Economy

Urban Innovation Exchange has a formula for startups … work together and you’ll win


Detroit is full of innovative people who too often work under the radar on their new businesses … not by choice. They get frustrated. They have big ideas and small wallets and need to smash roadblocks. Do they need consultants? Nope. They need to find other social innovators who will share their experiences on developing start-ups.

Enter the Urban Innovation Exchange, a social network that connects these innovators and helps them work together to accomplish individual dreams. At UIX you’ll meet some terrific people, all working side by side to help one another.

The Hub spent some time with UIX recently and is now part of the group that will showcase some of these innovators. UIX is led by Issue Media Group with Data Driven Detroit, The Civic Commons and a coalition of media and community partners. It is made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Some of the innovators are highlighted on the UIE website.

We met Delphia Simmons, founder of Thrive Detroit. It’s a monthly street newspaper she provides free to the homeless, who become micro entrepreneurs by purchasing the papers for 25 cents each and selling them for a dollar. As you might guess many homeless people don’t have 25 cents for one paper much less for a bunch of papers so the first batch is provide at no cost to the seller. Thrive Detroit gives the homeless a way to earn money with dignity.

At UIX you’ll also meet people like Charlie Cavell, who created the Pay It Forward Initiative. That program partners jobless residents of Detroit with internships at local nonprofits and companies. It’s a 16-week internship program for Detroiters ages 18 to 24. PIF provides weekly counseling sessions, a transportation stipend, financial management and entrepreneurial classes, and wages. There is no cost to the partner organizations hiring the interns. Check out this video where Cavell sits down with DETROIT LIVES! to share how his small startup project is making a big difference.

Halima Cassells is part of the Detroit Mural Factory, a team of artists who collaborate with communities to transform empty lots into public art and gardens. “Who’s responsibility is it to clean (them) up?” she asks in a DETROIT LIVES! Video. “Who takes ownership? … In city like Detroit public art is hugely valuable. On the aesthetic level it can totally transform a landscape. On the empowerment level collaborative public art lets people take a part in it.”

Then there’s Sandra Yu, who co-founded the Detroit Facilitation Guild, which helps organize tools to conduct group discussions that help Detroiters reimagine the city’s future. She also is a recent graduate of the Great Lakes Leadership Academy, a program that connected her with a statewide network of individuals working for a more environmentally sustainable Michigan.

She a program manager at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ) coordinating green training programs and advocating for local capacity building. In her spare time Yu reports out from community sessions for the Detroit Works Project.. She is also one of the drafters of the Detroit Declaration, a manifesto offering 12 principles for a stronger Detroit. It was written in January 2010 and now has more than 15,000 followers and signers.

Mother and daughter artists Mary and Lisa Luevanos run CLAVE (Community of Latino Artists, Visionaries and Educators). Mary, acting CLAVE president and a well-known Detroit artist, is major voice in the campaign to see Latino artists are celebrated equally as leaders in Detroit’s art world. Her daughter, Lisa, is treasurer of the organization and is a photographer and artist.

CLAVE advocates cultural appreciation and using art to create unity among all groups. Perhaps most important, its members are encouraged to teach the next generation.  You can see CLAVE’s work throughout Southwest Detroit in murals, local exhibits and other artistic endeavors.

These are just a few of the innovators working through UIX. It’s proving a lot of people, each doing a little bit and then working together can make a huge difference.

As Rishi Jaitly, program director Detroit, Knight Foundation says, “the momentum in Detroit today is not about moon shots. The movement is about small. The barriers to entry are really, really low. With the internet and all sorts of sources of capital in the country and city there is no excuse to not attempt a small scale initiative.”

At the Hub we are pleased to help.

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