Build Institute's new CEO returns to Detroit to tackle entrepreneurial challenges – Crain's Detroit Business


Lee: Why the decision to leave Memphis, Tenn., and come back to Detroit to lead Build Institute?

Campbell: Promoting entrepreneurial equity and inclusion, access to resources, and facilitating new opportunities for Black, minority, and women-owned businesses is Build’s mission. This work perfectly aligns with what has been the primary focus of my career. The core of my work can be summarized very simply: I care about urban communities because of who I am as a black woman. I grew up in Detroit, and I’ve dedicated my career to enhancing and revitalizing the city and other urban communities like Detroit.

Now more than ever, Detroit needs Build to help aspiring and new entrepreneurs launch and grow their ideas into sustainable businesses. Similarly, Build must be able to support the organization’s alumni community and those entrepreneurs’ ability to continue growing their companies. Build has always been a vital resource in the Detroit entrepreneurial region.

Having the opportunity to leverage my global, national, and local economic development experience and continue doing inclusive and equitable work back home in Detroit is really important and a dream come true.

Lee: You left Detroit two-plus years ago. In your opinion, how has Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem changed over this period?

Campbell: Yes, Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has changed, as it has for all markets across the country. The challenges of 2020 have been unprecedented — COVID, civil unrest and a contentious election, all of these have compounded the challenges that small businesses face. When you add all of these elements to this, the ongoing challenge of how difficult it is for small businesses and, in particular, Black-owned businesses to access capital, we certainly have our work cut out for us.

That said, the pandemic has uncovered many inequities that were previously too easy to ignore. The pandemic forced all entrepreneurs to assess and ensure their business operations were sound; in my opinion, that is where the opportunity lies. Access to capital has long been the No. 1 barrier to starting and growing a sustainable business.

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Build Institute exists to help entrepreneurs make sure they have solid operating principles, policies, procedures, and financial statements that ensure they can seek whatever grant and stimulus monies may be available and position them for additional working capital via traditional debt or private investment.

Lee: How has the organization evolved over the years. What are the gaps and how will Build fill those needs?

Campbell: The organization has evolved significantly since its launch in 2012. As one of the successful pilot programs to spin out of the D:hive, Build Institute became a part of the Downtown Detroit Partnership before being incorporated as an independent nonprofit organization in 2017.

One of Build’s tag lines is “For entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs,” which is the organization’s heart and soul. Build has walked alongside its clients and experienced and faced many of the same growing pains and challenges that all entrepreneurs face when growing and scaling a company. Build’s founder, April Boyle, successfully built and led the organization with a vision of “democratizing entrepreneurship for all.” The organization has gained national and international notoriety for its success in incubating and growing neighborhood entrepreneurs.

In 2019, Build expanded through the launch of “Build Cities” in Fort Wayne, Ind., and, most recently, in Bradenton, Fla. Additionally, Build opened the Innovation Hub at The Corner, a fresh, new, modern community space for entrepreneurs that offers classrooms, coworking, pop-up and event space, specifically designed to bring dreamers, makers and founders together with funders and customers to connect, collaborate and create new opportunities throughout Southeast Michigan.

Lee: And what is your vision for under your leadership?

Campbell: It is to simply build what the entrepreneurs of tomorrow need, starting today. I believe now is the perfect time to examine and re-evaluate everything we do. Delving deep to understand what will help aspiring entrepreneurs launch big and bold ideas and help our alumni community grow their businesses is “the work.”

Additionally, I plan to replicate what we did at Epicenter to increase access to capital by launching local funds that meet various industries’ needs beyond the traditional sector of tech. I plan to add energy to reimagine how the nation views innovation, to launch and grow businesses that hire local residents, provide local goods and services that will continue to add to our quality of life.

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Detroit is a world-class brand. I think there is a real opportunity to leverage the cachet of “Made in Detroit” for Build entrepreneurs.

Finally, I plan to continue the work of Build Cities by forming additional new partnerships with other cities to accelerate their efforts to bolster the improved quality of life that robust small business communities provide.

Lee: Nationally, it’s been reported 41 percent of African American businesses have closed since mid-March compared to 17 percent for all small businesses. How will Build address this crisis?

Campbell: Recognizing how Black businesses have been historically impacted during times of crisis, including the multiple crises we are now navigating, we intend to continue offering support and partnership to Black businesses to meet their needs wherever they are, good or bad.

At the same time, we will continue to offer resources and capital to support their ability to launch, scale, and pivot. We co-developed a Sprint program and a fund to invest in businesses during the crisis. I plan to implement similar efforts to provide solutions for our businesses to meet their needs in these challenging times. I have always championed entrepreneurship to drive economic empowerment for women and minorities.

Additionally, we know that the cost of doing business is very different for Black-owned businesses. There’s a new understanding and appreciation for the systemic barriers that Black and Brown entrepreneurs must overcome and how these barriers coupled with limited or nonexistent access to capital create significant barriers to entry and thwart their ability to grow and scale.

Our approach will do more by looking at the whole entrepreneur to provide them with all the support available to ensure their success and sustainability.

Lee: How will the organization continue to evolve its programs?

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Campbell: I genuinely believe that it is essential to identify, design and apply holistic solutions to solve any problem. This is a team sport; therein lies the value of diversity and inclusion, and design thinking. If we involve our clients in every step of design, we can craft solutions that actually work to create the desired outcome of business success.

For too long, we have allowed the traditional hierarchy of the “powers that be” to design and deliver solutions for the people. We now understand the power of design by the people vs. for the people. It is in Build’s DNA; design thinking, by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.

Lee: Nonprofits are being squeezed during this challenging times. How you will navigate these unprecedented times when it comes to funding?

Campbell: To date, Build has operated primarily from local corporate and private philanthropy grant funding, for which we are incredibly grateful. We will now work with our board of directors, the team, and our community to identify new ways to diversify and expand our various funding and income streams.

April did a fantastic job positioning the organization for long-term growth; we are lucky to have sufficient runway and all the right elements in place in terms of talent and a compelling business case, to build on her successful track record.

Lee: Final thoughts?

Campbell: According to NPR, Amazon’s sales jumped 40 percent in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, online shopping during the pandemic helped the company net $5.2 billion in profits as its sales soared to record highs. So please take an extra 5-10 minutes to do the research to buy from a local retailer during the upcoming holiday season.

Finally, do not underestimate the spirit of Detroit because Detroit hustles harder.

Mark S. Lee is founder, president and CEO of The Lee Group, and can be heard “In the Conference Room” at 11 a.m. Sundays on 910 AM. He hosts the “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at leegroupinnovation.com.



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