Hosted by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, TechTown Detroit, General Motors, and the Detroit Parent Network, the maker faire gave local kids the chance to show off their creativity and learn more about entrepreneurship.
Scott DeRue, associate dean and director of U-M’s Sanger Leadership Center, said the Detroit Youth Maker Faire also offered the university the opportunity to highlight its “positive business” philosophy.
Since May, U-M students have been working with residents of the Brightmoor neighborhood, one of the most challenged in Detroit, to get the Brightmoor Maker Space off the ground. The maker faire was also the culmination of Impact Challenge, an immersive leadership development program that brings together the entire incoming class of first-year, full-time MBA students to engage in a week-long business challenge that aims to make a positive difference in Detroit.
At different booths around Eastern Market, kids hawked seasoned popcorn and chips made from kale grown in the Brightmoor Youth Garden.
“Our students had 72 hours to visualize and start making different types of products to create and sell as part of the maker space,” DeRue said. “Most maker spaces aren’t self-sustaining, so we wanted to take our business school students and develop products that can be made at the maker space—that kids could prototype and bring to life. What you see here today is what they came up with.”
The kids also created flower boxes and cutting boards out of reclaimed wood, a project in partnership with End Grain Detroit, to eventually sell online. All proceeds will go toward the Brightmoor Maker Space.
As part of the maker faire, U-M students helped launch Be-Moor Radio, a station operated and managed by Brightmoor youth. DeRue said a music producer named Mike Muse came in from New York and, over the course of a day, wrote and produced two songs with the Brightmoor kids. (Download the tracks here.)
Though Detroit is a place full of makers and doers, there aren’t many maker spaces inside the city limits. The Mt. Elliott Maker Space ran out of funding last year and closed, said Clifford Sanders Jr., an IT specialist for the state health department who helped run the space. Though it hasn’t updated its blog since May 2014, Sanders said OmniCorpDetroit, a hacker space located right around the corner from where the youth maker faire was held, is still going strong, as is the HYPE Makerspace in the main branch of the Detroit Public Library.
The area’s biggest and best-funded maker space, TechShop Detroit, is actually in Allen Park, about a 20-minute drive from the city center. Sanders said a maker space in Brightmoor, a neighborhood far from the downtown anchor of the city’s tech scene, would be a welcome addition.
DeRue said the purpose of the youth maker faire and Impact Challenge program isn’t just to raise money and awareness for the Brightmoor Maker Space: “We want the kids to be exposed to the possibilities and exposed to our campus, and we want to celebrate the work of maker spaces. It’s not just a one-off event—we really want there to be a sustained engagement. It’s part of our philosophy of business as a force for positive change, both economically and socially.”
According to DeRue, more than 50,000 tweets were generated by Impact Challenge and youth maker faire activities; check out #RossImpact to see all the action.