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Series – Inside Detroit’s Nascent Start-Up Culture

Tim Alberta writes in a new series in the National Journal: “It started as a school project for Veronika Scott, who at age 20 was studying design downtown at the College for Creative Studies. One of Scott’s professors challenged students to create a design that would meet people’s “needs” instead of just following “trends.” So, Scott, a native Detroiter with a tough upbringing, began touring homeless shelters to get ideas. After months of these visits, Scott developed a prototype of a thick, waterproof winter jacket with an interior that unfolds into a sleeping bag. She was convinced her creation could be parlayed into a full-time enterprise. So in 2011, Scott launched a nonprofit organization called the Empowerment Plan. The goal was not just to make coats and distribute them to the homeless free of charge, but also to hire homeless mothers to do the production work. Today, thanks to Scott’s vision and a generous network of donors concentrated in Metro Detroit, the Empowerment Plan churns out 500 jackets per month and employs 18 full-time workers, most of them recruited from local shelters. “And none of them knew how to sew when they came here,” Scott, now 24, says. Scott’s success may be unique, but her mission is not. She is part of a sprawling network of socially conscious young people in Detroit who are earning a livelihood by launching start-up enterprises—either for-profit or not—geared toward rebuilding the community around them…”

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