Bizdom U, however, is unique in its focus on a single city. “Detroit is completely missing an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Bo Fishback, who is vice president for entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which gave Bizdom U a $500,000 grant in 2008.
Founded in 2006, Bizdom U operates on the principle that entrepreneurs are born, not made. Its program leaders do not necessarily believe entrepreneurship can be taught. Instead, an essential part of Bizdom U’s job is to unearth candidates with a distinct combination of vision, ambition, drive and risk tolerance, and then mold them into business owners.
“We dig deep by reviewing their past activities and behaviors to see if they were often drawn toward entrepreneurial pursuits,” Gilbert wrote in an e-mail message. “Was this the 6-year-old kid who had the most successful lemonade stand on the block?”
In exchange for focused work — often at night and on weekends — they receive laptops, BlackBerrys, a $1,500 a month living stipend and hands-on training from Bizdom U’s five dedicated staff members.
Bizdom U has been likened to NBC’s hit show “The Apprentice” because students are expected to prove themselves in real-world situations. To teach sales and marketing, Bizdom U entrepreneurs must sell memberships to the Detroit Zoo. They engage in “painstorming” exercises, identifying daily hardships that might be alleviated by a new product or service.
“We wanted people to be living and breathing their businesses,” said Ross Sanders, executive director of Bizdom U. “They learn by doing.”
Photo by The New York Times.