Equity

Four Tips for Launching a New Organization From Four People Who Recently Have

A lot can change in eight weeks. Even more can change in a year.

When the finalists of the inaugural MBK Detroit Innovation Challenge hit submit on their applications in the spring of 2016, they never imagined the journey that lay ahead of them.

At that point, their plans to create opportunities for young men of color in Detroit were still just ideas. But through determination and access to seed funding, they became so much more.

MBK Detroit participants interact with photos on display at the exhibit
MBK Detroit participants interact with photos on display at the exhibit.

After an eight-week prototyping phase, the finalists were selected from among 20 other competing organizations to receive $50,000 to scale their ideas. Over the next several months, the teams worked collaboratively to grow and improve their programs to best serve boys and young men of color. These experiences were expressed through an interactive exhibit held in downtown Detroit during the fall of 2017.

Fast forward to today. The organizations have expanded to serve more youth, supported through additional funding they’ve been able to attract.

The winners of the first MBK Detroit Innovation Challenge sat down with the current 21 semi-finalist teams to share the lessons they’ve learned as well as the progress they’ve made.

Their four big takeaways are:

Your customers (in this case, youth) are the best source of feedback.

The Innovation Challenge alumni emphasize the importance of prototyping and its ability to try out ideas by involving those you wish to serve.

“For us, listening was the most important piece,” said Michael Reyes, co-founder of We Are Culture Creators. “We had to be open to the ideas of the young people that were a part of our group and evolve our ideas based on their feedback.”

Curtis Roach performs at Mo Pop
Curtis Roach, a member of We Are Culture Creators, performs at the Mo Pop Festival in Detroit. (Photo credit: Xavier Cuevas)

After becoming a finalist in the first Challenge, Culture Creators have experienced a tremendous amount of success, largely in part due to the organization’s focus on evolving with the needs of its members. Over the last year, it launched a popular weekly art and music showcase at Foundation Hotel in downtown Detroit to showcase its participants and other local talent. Its young participants have also experienced tremendous artistic and professional growth, including performing on tour with Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’ 9’’, performing at the Mo POP Festival in Detroit, and being featured in an Adidas campaign.

Focus on collaboration, not competition.

While it may be easy to look at the Innovation Challenge as a competition, alumni encourage participants to view it as an opportunity for collaboration. After winning the Challenge, finalists frequently met to check-in on each other’s progress and share learnings.

JOUNi's FREC program
JOURNi volunteers work with young coders at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center

“Connecting with the cohort was huge. I recognized that there were issues I don’t have the tools to address, and building a relationship with the other teams helped provide a better experience for our kids,” said Richard Grundy, co-founder of JOURNi.

Being part of the first Innovation Challenge allowed JOURNi to strengthen their program and secure a partnership with the Ford Resource and Engagement Center, allowing them to serve more youth by providing afterschool and monthly coding programs at this community hub on Detroit’s east side. Participants have also been contracted to build mobile applications for Teach 313 and the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, providing them with valuable work experience.

One opportunity can springboard you to the next.

The Innovation Challenge is also a chance for organizations to network and build connections that can lead to future opportunities.

Our Town participants engage in Detroit's History at the Ford Piquette Plant
Our Town participants engage with Detroit history during a tour of the Ford Piquette Plant

“We told ourselves early on that the $50,000 was a start to leverage more funding,” said Anise Hayes, founder of Atlantic Impact and the Our Town program. “This was just the beginning.”

Following a successful launch from the Challenge, Our Town caught the attention of other funders and participated in the Points of Light Civic Accelerator program. The organization now operates in four schools and has partnered with over 50 local business in the last year alone, providing hands-on local experiences as well as international travel experiences for Detroit students.

You are here for a reason.

Prototyping and launching an idea is a trying time during which one’s skills, commitment, and tenacity is tested. It’s important to remember why you set out on the journey, and to find support in the community that surrounds you.

Developing Despite Distance participants and volunteers bond over basketball at the Joe Dumars Fieldhouse

“Be fearless,” said Tiffany Brown, founder of Developing Despite Distance. “You are here for a reason… ask for the support and resources you need.” Starting with an idea inspired by her own life experience, Tiffany launched the Developing Despite Distance program to provide a support network to young men with incarcerated parents and keep them connected with their loved one. It is through her own fearlessness and the support of her fellow Innovation Challenge finalists that the program is able to provide its participants with the tools needed to express the complex emotions that accompany shared sentences. The program has developed a strong community among participants, with some formally incarcerated parents now helping as program volunteers.

With only a few short weeks remaining until their prototyping phase, the current semi-finalists are preparing to share how their ideas have benefitted Detroit youth of color. Don’t miss their pitches at the MBK Detroit Innovation Challenge Community Expo on February 12 and see which six teams are selected to receive $50,000 in funding to help scale their ideas! Free tickets available by RSVP.

Do you have experience launching a program, organization, or business and have additional advice for our MBK Detroit Innovation Challenge teams — and others? Share it here!

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, the Skillman Foundation works to ensure that Detroit youth have access to high-quality educational and economic opportunities and a strong, broad network of champions that work on behalf of young people’s interests.

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