On the Ground: Youth entrepreneurship in action

Many big things got started in garages -- companies like Hewlett Packard, Apple Computers, all launched from the place where most Americans store their cars. Henry Ford, perhaps the world's most famous garage tinkerer, built his first horseless carriage, which he called the quadricycle, over the course of two years in the garage (carriage house, to be precise) behind his Detroit home at 58 Bagley Street. What he made there was the prototype he showed to investors to convince them to finance the Ford Motor Company, a manufacturing concern that would revolutionize modern existence in the 20th century.

The Brightmoor Woodworkers, a 21st century manufacturing concern, also grew out of a garage. A few years ago, a group of Brightmoor youth were engaged in a summer employment program that was tasked with the creation of Johannes Treedome Park on Dacosta Street when some of the students noticed an abandoned garage next to the work site.

Kyle Baker Jr., Mariah Davis, Lashay Pearson, and Tanay Floyd (all students at Detroit Community High School at the time) decided to transform the garage into a workshop. Bart Eddy, founder and community liaison at Detroit Community Schools, helped guide the youth and establish a formal group, the Brightmoor Woodworkers, which became a student-run business specializing in making hand-carved wooden signs customized to order. Their signs, which can be found at businesses and public spaces around Brightmoor (and now around Detroit), cost about $10 per hand-chiseled letter -- and the money goes directly into the pockets of the student workers.

The Woodworkers quickly outgrew their original garage space and moved operations inside of Detroit Community High School's art studio, which they utilize on Saturdays when school is not in session. In recent years, other student-run businesses have popped up within Detroit Community Schools under the umbrella of a program called "Entrepreneurship in Action."

Brightmoor Bikes and Trailers is the moniker under which students build and repair bicycles for sale using salvaged materials. Lately, this group has begun repurposing and customising industrial tricycles donated by the Ford Motor Company after being used on their factory floors. Bart Eddy tells us they have just received a donation of 100 tricycles from Ford. A recent order called for a customized trike coffee cart that will soon be servising downtown Detroit. DCS Apparel is another student-run business that specializes in creating customized silk-screened apparel.

The Brightmoor Woodworkers, Brightmoor Bikes and Trailers, DCS Apparel and Detroit Community Market Gardens are part of Youth Entrepreneurship in Action, programs that are based out of Detroit Community High School and operate throughout the year.

With all of these businesses sharing the same space, the time has come for an upgrade of facilities. Detroit Community Schools are located within the repurposed factory of the Kux Graphic Company on Burt Road in Brightmoor. On the grounds exists a 3,200 square foot garage that has not been utilized for years.

Now the Brightmoor Woodworkers and other student-run businesses at the Detroit Community Schools are looking to take things back to the garage (though a much bigger one) by renovating the facility at Detroit Community Schools. A sign reading "The Bagley Quad Shop" already hangs over the door, referencing the garage where Henry Ford got his start in automotive manufacturing.

But the garage is not yet a functional workspace. Today, the Detroit Community Schools are launching a Kickstarter campaign in partnership with TechTown's SWOT City program to raise the funds necessary to renovate the garage so that it can become the Detroit Community's entrepreneurial incubator -- a single roof under which several student-run businesses can work and grow together.

The goal is ambitious -- to raise $50,000 to add to funds given to Detroit Community Schools by the Ford Motor Fund and the United Auto Workers. The Ford money paid for the rebuilding of a wall and asbestos remediation within the garage. The money from the crowdfunding campaign will pay for a new garage door, insulation, a heating system, new plumbing, and new electrical wiring.

A $50 pledge gets you a photo of the Woodworkers creating one of their pieces. A $100 gets your name burned into the wooden plaque on the wall of donors within the workshop. $500 or more gets your name hand carved into a wooden plaque on the wall of donors. Pledges of $1100 get you a custom-made 16 letter sign, and $5,000 or more gets you a custom sign with up to 40 paint filled letters with custom coloring and a custom finish coat.

Go to Facebook and Twitter for more information on the launch of this crowdfunding campaign.

This is a cause that Model D is proud to support. After all, who knows what world changing invention or company will come out of this garage unless we fund it?

Maybe even more important than the products and innovation that will emerge from the Bagley Quad Shop are the effects that participating in student-run businesses and master craftsmanship can have on kids. The four founders of the Brightmoor Woodworkers have all gone on to college, and their experience in youth entrepreneurship has played a role in them getting there.

"The skills I’ve developed from being a Brightmoor Woodworker, I feel, will stay with me forever," says Kyle Baker, co-founder of the Brightmoor Woodworkers. "I’ve become a true entrepreneur, and along with my friends, run a successful small business...I have set myself on a path to success in life, and I have gained the necessary skills needed to get there."

Matthew Lewis is project editor for Model D's On the Ground series.
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Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative.