by Geoff Larcom, Published July 02, 2013
YPSILANTI – Digital Inclusion, a computer refurbishment, technical training program and social enterprise operated by Eastern Michigan University, won second place and a $15,000 prize in this month's inaugural Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.
The contest was launched by Michigan Corps, an organization that helps state citizens connect on social innovations that lead to positive change.
In Digital Inclusion, college and area high school students serve as trainers and mentors to low-income and at-risk youths, selling refurbished computers, installing computers and even monitoring and repairing the computer labs at sites such as Hamilton Crossing, on Ypsilanti's south side and various Ypsilanti Housing Commission locations.
Digital Inclusion was honored in the "Emerging Organizations" category. Fresh Corner Café, a mission-driven health food distributor in Detroit, won the $20,000 first place award. DIIME, an organization that combats maternal and infant health disparities in low-resource settings, received $5,000 for third place.
Digital Inclusion is operated by EMU's The Business Side of Youth, which is dedicated to incubating ideas and projects of youth to foster entrepreneurship. The organization, also called The B. Side, is housed in the University's Office of Academic Service-Learning. Jack Bidlack, director of The Business Side of Youth, accepted the award for the Digital Inclusion program.
Another project with EMU ties also shone at the competition. Michigan Garment District, a business founded by Patty Yagerlener, a master of fine arts graduate from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, won a second place award of $3,000 in the New Enterprise Idea category. Yagerlener's business partners are Maya Chauhan, an EMU graduate student in textile science, and Erica Rodgers, an EMU undergraduate majoring in applied textiles and merchandising.
The garment group's business plan for the startup is to bring Michigan-made goods to market, and provide domestic garment manufacturing for Michigan designers through training and hiring under-employed groups. Yagerlener wrote and made the winning oral presentation.
Other award categories in the social entrepreneurship challenge included Fostering Energy Affordability, Millennial Social Innovation, Community Ventures, and Spirit of Social Entrepreneurship.
Michigan Corps launched the Social Entrepreneurship Challenge in partnership with the Great Lakes Entrepreneurs' Quest and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The event, held at the James B. Henry Center in Lansing, featured pitches from the top six challenge finalists.
"We were very honored to even be among the finalists for this event, the first statewide competition of its kind in the nation," Bidlack said. "Taking second place just validates that we are on the right path, that the need is one that must be addressed both locally and throughout the state.
"We plan is to use these funds to leverage local dollars to open a store front and training center in the (Ypsilanti) community that will provide greater exposure and access to residents of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County."
The organization also plans to open a store on the EMU campus in August in Sill Hall, in The College of Technology.
Bidlack cited two recent Eastern graduates and a current student as crucial in the operation of Digital Inclusion. They include:
The Michigan Corps empowers Michigan's citizens to connect and collaborate on social innovation in communities across the state. The corps has connected business entrepreneurs with mentors, helped students generate ideas for community change, built public policy capacity among social entrepreneurs and launched a variety of social innovations in Michigan.