With Innovation Springboard, HFLI will work to address the need for increased educational opportunities that improve outcomes for employment and economic self-sufficiency.
“As part of the Detroit Revitalization and Business Club at the University of Michigan, we were honored and excited to volunteer to work with Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI) as part of a community consulting program called Detroit Impact.
We are a group of seven students — five graduate students in the Ross School of Business (with one pursuing a dual master’s degree in the School of Education) and two undergraduate students in the College of Literature, Science and Arts. Although our hometowns are all over the country, we are all interested in companies and organizations doing big and creative things within the city of Detroit, and especially those working in our main areas of collective interest: education, design thinking and entrepreneurship. Getting the chance to work on a project with HFLI leadership was an amazing opportunity, especially once we got to meet the incredible staff and students at HFLI’s Henry Ford Academies. We all agreed, after visiting with the kids and educators, that we wish that we had the opportunities in our high schools that these students have today!
Our main task was to analyze HFLI leadership’s vision to start a youth entrepreneurship program in Detroit called Innovation Springboard. For this project, we assessed a pilot entrepreneurship program (Jumpstart) held at Henry Ford Academy: Alameda School for Art + Design (HFLI’s high school in San Antonio), researched similar entrepreneurship programs in Michigan and across the country, drummed up the names of local entrepreneurs who might be possible volunteers and mentors, and developed administrative tracking and organizational systems that would make the eventual program coordinator’s job much easier.
We decided wholeheartedly that it would be not just feasible but awesome to establish an Innovation Springboard program for high school students in Detroit, one of the country’s most challenging environments for education.
A highlight of our research was visiting Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies in Detroit, where we conducted a round-table discussion with 16 senior students. We did not know what to expect. Harkening back to our own high school experiences, we weren’t even so sure that students would know the definition of “entrepreneurship.” Oops. We were WAY wrong. Not only did the students have a firm grasp on the concept of entrepreneurship, many of them were actually entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs. One student has a company that makes and sells custom clothing; another student had aspirations of starting a business that does detail cleaning on people’s sneakers. We were amazed to see and understand how the design thinking focus of HFLI has made an impact on these students—although they had no formal training in entrepreneurship, they were thinking and (in many cases acting) like entrepreneurs, figuring out creative and thoughtful ways to solve problems they see in the world.
We did an informal poll with the students in our focus group, asking them to show us their initial reaction to the possibility of having an entrepreneurship program available at their school. We asked students to hold up their hands and show us five fingers if they would be ready to sign up immediately (high level of interest), going down to just a fist of zero fingers if they were not interested at all. Immediately, the response was hugely enthusiastic—many students even broke the rules of our little poll by showing us 10 fingers or more, even holding up their toes to express their sheer enthusiasm for the idea. The energy and eager willingness to learn about entrepreneurship was astounding.
Entrepreneurship is a critical concept for students, and especially for students at Henry Ford Academies.
Soon, the upperclassmen will be thrown into an outside world that does not provide the same type of learning environment they experience at their Henry Ford Academy. These students will have a background in design thinking, but they will not necessarily have a way to tie their learnings to the outside world. We think one of the reasons the students became so excited about the idea of learning about entrepreneurship was that it would put together the missing pieces for them: they understand design thinking and innovation and have learned to think creatively. They have big ideas and the confidence to want to pursue them. Many of the students expressed to us that they have aspirations to start their own businesses in fields such as graphic design, technology development and music production.
So, learning about the entrepreneurial process and the business side of things (yes, students expressed a desire to learn about finance and management) allows them to take the design thinking skills they have learned at their Henry Ford Academy and apply them toward their dreams. This is a thrilling prospect for the students, for educators and for the community. What an amazing thing it will be to see these students thrive as they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
Having a program like Innovation Springboard will give them a major head start.
We are excited to see what comes of our research on Innovation Springboard for HFLI — both in the immediate future for the current HFLI students and in the long term, as the students venture into the outside world.
We would like to thank our project mentor, Christopher Patten, HFLI’s Associate Director of Design Thinking, who was a constant support and resource throughout the project, as well as Executive Director Deborah Parizek and the rest of the HFLI staff and students who provided us with a wealth of resources, reflections and encouragement.
And, to Henry Ford Academy students — wow. You impressed us immensely. Let us know when your businesses open—we promise to be the first ones in line at the shoe detailing shop!”
2015-2016 Detroit Impact Team
Sarah Kurtz McKinnon