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Detroit Convening

Walking the Detroit Riverwalk

Matt Cullen with Peter Reiling

On the roof of the Madison Building

On the roof of the Madison Building

Biking the Dequindre Cut with Wheelhouse Detroit

Blight panel

Over 200 people participated in the Forward Cities Detroit Convening which took place over a 4 day period from June 23 through June 26 of 2015.  Of these, 69 were local leaders and donors from New Orleans, Cleveland, Durham, Washington DC and New York City.  And the rest were from Detroit (approximately 140 different local Detroit leaders participated). 
For a complete set of bios on everyone that participated please click on this link

For photos from the event, click here

View the 4 min. video below recapping the entire event.  


Day 1 - Tuesday, June 23, 2015:
Majority of the out of town leaders started to arrive on the night of Tuesday, June 23 and stayed at the Greektown Hotel and Casino which is a beautiful high rise building in the heart of downtown with spectacular views of Detroit and with access to the People Mover.  The first evening these visitors were treated to a Wine and Cheese Reception at the Julian Madison Building downtown which was hosted by local African American business leader, Sharon Madison, who owns the building, and the Bamboo Detroit team which is headed by Brian Davis. These out of town leaders got a presentation of Bamboo’s work in Detroit plus they got to meet some of the local entrepreneurs and innovators that they work with. 
Day 2 - Wednesday, June 24, 2015:
At 8:15 AM on Wednesday, everyone from out of town (50+ people) met at the Greektown Hotel lobby and walked or took the People Mover to the Madison Block for a Detroit Incubator tour.  The Detroit Incubator Field Trip included guided visits led by local leaders/ entrepreneurs to key incubators and organizations working with the city's most exciting business entrepreneurs and social innovators, namely:  Bizdom, Detroit Labs, Grand Circus, and Detroit Venture Partners. After this the group got on a bus and went to Midtown Detroit to visit with Jean Redfield, President and CEO of NextEnergy, and with Regina Ann Campbell, Managing Director of Placed Based Innovation at TechTown Detroit. At TechTown they got a presentation from Andrey Douthard of Paramita Sound, Regina Gaines of House of Pure Vin and Jocelyn Harris of UpSouth Foods, business entrepreneurs and social innovators working in some of Detroit’s most distressed neighborhoods.  
Following the NextEnergy and TechTown visits, the group hoped on a bus and went to the Detroit Eastern Market where they ate lunch prepared by a local food entrepreneur, got a presentation from Dan Carmody- President of the Detroit Eastern Market, and Anika Grose - Director of Detroit Kitchen Connect, on the market’s history, current programs and its role in the city’s revitalization.  After this everyone enjoyed a Pop Up Market Demonstration by April Boyle, Executive Director of the Build Institute and Davita Davison, Co-Founder of Food Lab.  The Pop Up Market demonstration included the following local entrepreneurs who spoke and presented their products: Quinn Hamilton of Firebrand Candle Co., Roslyn Karamoko of Detroit is the New Black, and Elias Majid of Eli Tea.  These are entrepreneurs that have gone through the Detroit Food Lab and Build Institute programs. 
After lunch and the pop up market demonstration, the group heard a brief talk on the making of the Dequindre Cut Greenway given by one of the leaders spearheading this work, Tom Woiwode.  After this the group got on bicycles and rode down the Dequindre Cut Greenway to the East Jefferson neighborhood which is located east of downtown, along the river.  At the end of the Dequindre Cut bike ride, the group joined the SWOT team from TechTown for a walking tour of East Jefferson neighborhood where they met Penny De Vaull of Ville de Twah, a local minority business owner who is transforming an abandoned building into a restaurant.  After this, they met and walked along the river with Mark Wallace, President of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy who talked about their work transforming the city’s riverfront and their vision for the work that still remains. 
Day 2 ended with a reception, talk and buffet dinner for out of town guests and Detroit VIPs on the rooftop of Dan Gilbert's Madison Theater building.  Approximately 100+ people attended this cocktail, talk and dinner.  The program included a fashion display by local designer and immigrant entrepreneur Dijana Bucalo followed by an interview of Matt Cullen, President and CEO of Rock Ventures by Peter A. Reiling, Executive Vice President at the Aspen Institute.  The evening concluded with a City by City presentations moderated by Christopher Gergen, Forward Cities Co-Founder and a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute
View a video of the Matt Cullen Interview by the Aspen Institute here:

Day 3 - Thursday, June 25, 2015:
Day 3 began very early with a closed door leadership session for all of the city teams with Peter A. Reiling, Executive Vice President at the Aspen Institute and this took place at One Woodward, a landmark building in Detroit designed by famous architect, Minoru Yamasaki, and located in front of City Hall and along the riverfront downtown.  
After the 2 hour Aspen Leadership session for the teams ended, approximately 100+ guests arrived, including our out of town Forward Cities visitors and a very diverse group of Detroit local leaders, entrepreneurs, social innovators, university students and donors for the program panel sessions which included the following:
Food Entrepreneurs - A Strategy for Neighborhood Revitalization  - The Moderator was Christopher Gergen, Forward Cities Co-Founder and Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow. And the panelists included the following leaders from each of the cities:  Davita Davison/Co-Founder of Detroit Food Lab, Mansfield Frazier/Owner of Vinyards of Chateau Hough in Cleveland; Emily Egge/Executive Director of SEEDS in Durham and Phyllis Cassidy/Executive Director and Founder of Good Work Network in New Orleans. This panel explored the following questions:  How is the food economy helping to provide economic opportunity in your city?  What are specific examples of trends that you think hold the greatest opportunity?  What are specific examples of programs and/or entrepreneurs that represent the promise of the food economy in your city/neighborhoods? What are existing challenges to accelerating the growth of food entrepreneurs? What are potential solutions to addressing these challenges?  

View the food panel discussion here:

Working with Women Entrepreneurs and Social Innovators  - The Moderator was  Jennifer Bradley, Director of the Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation.  And the panelists included:  Carolyn Cassin/President and CEO of Michigan Women's Foundation; Reka Barabas/Director of Bad Girl Ventures & Young Entrepreneur Institute in Cleveland; Sherryl Waddell, Program Director of Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network in Durham; and Andrea Chen, Executive Director and Founder of Propeller in New Orleans. This panel explored the following questions: How do we develop a growing and vibrant talent pipeline of women entrepreneurs? How do we ensure that this pipeline is diverse/inclusive? What are examples in your city of what’s currently working (or if you are a woman entrepreneur, what has worked for you)? Where are the challenges? What are opportunities for improvement? 
View the Women Entrepreneurs panel discussion here:

Teaching Entrepreneurship in Our Schools – The Moderator was Jean Claude Brizard, former Chicago Superintendent of Schools, President of UpSpring Education Group, and Aspen Institute Pahara Education Fellow. There was a special appearance by Detroit’s most successful child entrepreneur, 12 year old Asia Newson who runs Super Business Girl ventures. And the panelists included: Thanh Tran/Founder of Kidpreneur in Detroit; Deborah Hoover, President and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation in Cleveland; Christopher Gergen, President Forward Impact and Founder of Teach House in Durham; and Josh Densen/CEO and School Leader of Bricolage Academy in New Orleans. This panel explored the following questions: How do we use our public schools to develop a growing and vibrant talent pipeline of next generation entrepreneurial leaders/problem solvers? How do we ensure that this pipeline is diverse/inclusive? What are examples of what’s currently working in our K-12 system? Where are the challenges? What are opportunities for improvement? 
View the education panel discussion here:

Lunch included a presentation on Local Data Partner Research and the IBM Report which was delivered by Kathryn Pettit, Senior Research Associate, Urban Institute, and included local research partners: John Killeen/Manager of the Neighborhood Compass Project in Durham, Erica Raleigh/Executive Director of Data Driven Detroit, and Merissa Piazza/Research Associate at the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State.
After lunch the out of town visitors hoped on a bus and did a Northeast Detroit Loop Tour with Jerry Paffendorf, President of Loveland Technologies, whose team has mapped and collected extensive amounts of data on all of Detroit’s properties.  Loveland is working with key city leaders and funders to figure out how to manage and transform all of Detroit’s blighted properties. Needless to say this tour was an eye opening experience for all involved because it went through some of the most devastated parts of the city. It gave everyone a better idea as to the magnitude of the problem, and the challenges that local leaders have to tackle if all of Detroit is to come back.
After the Northeast bus tour, the group went on walking tour of Southwest Detroit the part of the city known as Mexican Town and where most of the city’s Latino population lives and works. This guided walk was led by Hector Hernandez and Kimberly Faison of Southwest Solutions. It included a stroll through the main commercial corridor, a visit with a local minority woman business owner who runs a beauty salon, and visiting a bike shop that employs local youth. The group then had a cafe con leche break at the Latino bakery on the corner.
Day 3 ended with the Forward Cities and Goldman Sachs Cocktails and Dinner at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony, and located on Woodward Avenue, in the heart of Midtown Detroit. The evening program for the dinner included the following:
Goldman Sachs 10K Small Businesses Panel on Small Business Growth in Detroit – The Moderator was Ned Staebler, Vice President for Economic Development at Wayne State University and President/CEO of TechTown. The panelists included some of Detroit most exciting small business ventures to graduate from the GS 10K program such as: Jill Bommarito/Founder and CEO of Ethel's Edibles Gluten Free Baking Company; Carla Walker-Miller/President and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services, LLC; Michael Antaran/CEO of Marvel Apps LLC; and Markeith Weldon/President and CEO Weldon Enterprise Global

View the Goldman Sachs panel discussion here:

After the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business panel Forward Cities Donors were recognized by the leaders of Forward Cities, Christopher Gergen and Denise Byrne. And this was followed by a brief presentation by the SBA Regional Administrator for Region V, Marianne O'Brien Markowitz who spoke about the SBA’s work in the Detroit area.
The last part of the evening’s program was A Conversation with Maurice Cox, City of Detroit Director of Planning and Development. Maurice was interviewed by Suzanne Malveaux, CNN National Correspondent & Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow. Maurice Cox, has only been on the job about 4 weeks when this interview took place yet he has one of the most daunting jobs in town, namely: figuring out what to do with all of the blighted property that the city now owns. Maurice talked about his vision for the new Detroit. His interview was conducted masterfully by Suzanne Malveaux. It was both eye opening and inspiring. 
View the Maurice Cox interview here:

Day 4 - Friday, June 26, 2015:
Very early on Friday, the out of town leaders hoped on a bus for the Cody Rouge Field Trip. The group drove through Cody Rouge, a neighborhood in the northwestern part of the city which has a large Middle Eastern population. The tour was guided by Hassan Bazzi Manager of the Access Growth Center. This drive through ended with a very heartwarming and emotional visit with Imad Morad, Owner of My Computer and Phone, and an Iraqi immigrant entrepreneur who came to the US after escaping from Iraq where he was captured and tortured by the Taliban. Imad is a successful immigrant entrepreneur that seeks to expand his cell phone operations to other parts of Detroit. He is now an American citizen, is raising his family in Detroit, and is an anchor in the Cody Rouge neighborhood.
After the Cody Rouge field trip, the second day of panel discussions began at TechTown, located in the heart of Wayne State University area in Midtown Detroit. Approximately, 80 people participated in the last day of panels which included the following:
Blight - The Current Challenge and Innovative Solutions – The Moderator was Kristin Gisleson Palmer, former City Council Member in New Orleans and Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow. The panelists included: Jerry Paffendorf/President of Loveland Technologies in Detroit;  Jim Rokakis/Vice President of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy in Cleveland; Napoleon Wallace/ Executive Staff at Self-Help in Durham; and Allen Square/former IT Director for the City of New Orleans and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Posigen. What is the extent of the blight challenge in your city now? What are specific innovative examples to address blight?  As communities rebuild, where are there specific entrepreneurial opportunities in the fight against blight? Where are there still challenges and how should we address them? 
View the blight panel discussion here:  

Developing Immigrant Entrepreneurs in their Neighborhoods  - The Moderator was Jean Claude Brizard, Aspen Institute Pahara Fellow.  The panelists included:  Hassan Bazzi/Manager of the ACCESS Growth Center in Detroit; Radhika Reddy/Partner of Ariel Ventures and Ariel International Center in Cleveland; Luis Pastor/President and CEO of the Latino Community Credit Union in Durham; and Nam-Thu Tran/Program Coordinator for VEGGI Farmer's Coop Mary Queen of Viet Nam CDC in New Orleans. Everyone on this panel, including the Moderator, were immigrants and successful entrepreneurs themselves. The questions that were explored during this panel session included the following: How do we develop a growing and vibrant talent pipeline of immigrant entrepreneurs? What are examples of what’s currently working? What are the biggest challenges to growing a strong immigrant entrepreneurship/small business community? How do different support structures need to be tailored to best support the immigrant entrepreneurial population? What are opportunities for improvement? 
View the panel discussion in working with immigrant entrepreneurs here:

Social Innovation "Born" in Detroit – The Moderator was Christopher Gergen, Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow. And the panelists included: Pashon Murray/Co-Founder of Detroit Dirt; Gina Reichert/Director of Power House Productions; Sebastian Jackson/Owner of the Social Grooming Club; and Andy Didorosi/Founder and President of the Detroit Bus Company. The questions explored during this panel session included the following: Why in Detroit? How has it been helpful/not helpful to start an enterprise in Detroit? How has Detroit changed in the last five years? What are some of the challenges the city is still facing? What does the city’s entrepreneurial future look like? How do you think the city gets there? 
View the panel discussion on Detroit born social innovation here:

After the Social Innovation panel session, all of the Forward Cities donors were invited to a special lunch and program for donors only, which was organized by NEI at the Detroit Athletic Club and which included a moderated conversation by Peter A. Reiling, Executive Vice President at the Aspen Institute and Jennifer Bradley, Director of the Aspen Center on Urban Innovation.
The remaining Forward Cities team members participated in a one and a half hour leadership session with Christopher Gergen.  And, Denise Byrne took the remaining out of town visitors to lunch at the Zenith Café located in the Fisher Building which was described as the most beautiful building in the world when it was first built at the beginning of the 1900s. 
This was the conclusion to a very successful and meaningful Detroit convening.  
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