Collaborative U-M Effort Looks to Launch For-Profit, Social Enterprise in Detroit

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A new Detroit-based startup, aimed at helping small businesses create a social media presence in addition to establishing tech literacy programs for local youth, may launch as early as this summer as part of an experimental program at the University of Michigan's Ross Business School.

"The aspiration is to launch a new business in Detroit, one that is profitable and serves a social purpose," says Brian Flanagan, managing director of Ross' Sanger Leadership Center.

Called Mo'Tech, the business concept was first developed during the 2014 Ross Impact Challenge, hosted last August through the university's business school. The yearlong effort has engaged more than 1,500 students across five academic programs, and is now in the hands of 12 students who will bring the business plan to fruition. The resulting business will not be owned by the university, Flanagan says.

"Part of the process this semester (requires) that student develop a strong exit plan, or exit strategy," Flanagan says. "It may well be that some of the final year students ultimately help launch and run the business, or that there's another entrepreneur out there who's well aligned in this space and interested in working for us."

In the end, the project has been an experiment for the university to further develop the Ross Impact Challenge, which in previous years helped raise more than $65,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as provided a back-to-school fair helping youth and parents get a positive start to the school year.

Now, with this past year acting as a sort pilot program, the challenge calls on students to develop a profitable venture with a social mission in Detroit. In the case of Mo'Tech, the challenge asked for a business that increases the odds that Detroit-area children grow up to become successful entrepreneurs.

"On the business side, the idea is to provide web building services and social media campaigns for small- and medium-sized companies in the city, while using the revenue generated, in part, to fund this program that's working with Detroit youth," Flanagan says.

"We're using this year to lay a foundation to design a process and to really learn from successes and failures, but this is a project that we intend to carry on," says Flanagan, noting that the 2015 program will restart in May. "I think what's most exciting for us is that we've called this the Ross Impact Challenge for a number of years, but this is the first year we've reached as many students as we have. So it's truly Ross, and it's truly aimed at making an impact in the community."​

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