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4 Takeaways from Round One of the MBK Detroit Innovation Challenge

How will you create opportunity for young people of color in Detroit?

That is the question at the heart of the 2018 My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge. Now in its second iteration, the Challenge is a call for community members to submit their best ideas to create and support opportunity for young people of color in the city. The first edition of the Challenge attracted submissions from Detroiters across the city, with a small group of finalists ultimately receiving $50,000 to grow and develop their vision.

With the support of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, JP Morgan Chase & Co, and the Ford Motor Company Fund, we launched the second edition of the Challenge earlier this year and it attracted over 600 submissions from across the city. New to this year’s Challenge was a My Sister’s Keeper component for ideas focused on girls and young women of color in Detroit.

As we reviewed the first round of applications, we were impressed by the variety of submissions and the wide range of people who applied. Throughout the review process, there were a few key takeaways that emerged among the strongest ideas submitted:

Youth entrepreneurship is not just important, it’s essential.

As Detroit’s economy continues to grow and evolve, finding ways to connect the city’s young people with these opportunities was a popular focus for many applicants in this year’s challenge. Several ideas proposed innovative ways to introduce young people to the basics of entrepreneurship, professional development and financial literacy. This is a positive sign that Detroit’s economic resurgence can be accessible to youth and these experiences can help prepare them to be the next leaders in the workforce.

My Sister’s Keeper excels in its first year.

In only its first year, the My Sister’s Keeper component of the Challenge attracted more than 270 submissions. While this number was great to see, we were also surprised by the wide variety of ideas that focused on girls and young women of color. Submissions ranged from afterschool STEM clubs to mentoring initiatives and even a female-run urban farming program. With such a strong showing in its first year, the My Sisters Keeper component identified a large number of Detroiters ready to create opportunity for girls of color.

Detroiters make it happen.

The sense of hard work and dedication Detroiters are known for really showed in this year’s Challenge. Many of the applicants who have already begun work on their idea or organization have done so using their nights and weekends while working a full time or part-time job. Others have a plan to incorporate elements of their past professional, educational, or life experience into their idea. Regardless of where their idea is in development, many applicants to this year’s Challenge demonstrated that they are experienced, determined and passionate in their pursuit to create opportunity for Detroit’s youth of color.

STEM ideas are preparing youth for the future of work.

Across both the MBK and MSK components, we also saw a large number of ideas centered on creating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) opportunities for youth. Several applicants expressed the importance of getting children involved in STEM-related activities early in life and ideas ranged from coding workshops to video game development. These ideas where additional examples of how Detroiter’s are helping young people connect to the city’s growing economy, and more importantly, prepare for new and evolving career opportunities.

The first round of this year’s challenge attracting some fantastic submissions, and we appreciate the creativity and dedication shown by all of the applicants. With the help of Skillman staff and community partners, the 600+ round one submissions were narrowed down to the top 150 applicants, who then submitted an in-depth follow-up application expanding on their idea to benefit youth of color.

The next step in this year’s Challenge is for a group of community leaders from across the city, including youth, to review the second round of applications and decided on a collection of 20 teams to receive $5,000 in funding to launch their idea. This group of semi-finalists will be announced in early September.

Visit for more information on the Challenge and for the latest updates on this year’s application process.

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