STEEP Detroit program boosts Black and African American women business owners and entrepreneurs

Oct. 29, 2020


STEEP Detroit program boosts Black and African American women business owners and entrepreneurs

DETROIT – Free business incubator will support ventures in STEM sectors; applications open Oct. 29

Detroit business and innovation thrives on the success of diverse ideas and leadership. A first-of-its-kind business incubator called STEM Entrepreneurial Excellence Program (STEEP) Detroit will support the need for greater inclusion of underrepresented women in STEM and STEM-enabled businesses. Fifty Black and African American women will be selected for the free pilot program that is funded by a National Science Foundation grant and serves as a collaborative effort between the Julian C. Madison Building LLC, Wayne State University’s STEM Innovation Learning Center, TechTown and the Midwest I-Corps.


“This is a tremendous and critical time for supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs —especially those from new and diverse communities that will bring another level of innovation to the STEM sector,” says Tonya Matthews, Ph.D., Wayne State University associate provost for inclusive workforce development and director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center. “I’m excited that the National Science Foundation has an interest in deeper exploration of how to engage and include historically excluded communities in this kind of training.”


The 10-month program will run from January to October 2021 and includes a small stipend for each participant. Applications open Oct. 29, and the deadline to apply is Dec. 1, 2020.  A live virtual information session will be held Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. for potential applicants to learn more about the program. RSVP here.


STEEP Detroit acknowledges the unique challenges beyond typical business growth and management faced by underrepresented women in STEM sectors as they navigate the business impact of the intersectionality of race and gender on community, capital and network. The program deliberately and directly addresses these challenges by incorporating frank discussion, authentic navigation tools, strategic network-building opportunities, and preparation for diverse capital investments that provide powerful support for Black and African American female business leaders.


“Many of the types of companies that are perceived as high tech or science-oriented aren’t focused on problems that are most pertinent for Black communities,” notes Marlo Rencher, director of technology-based programs at TechTown. “Black founders that are solving the problems that impact their communities may not fit the established pattern, which means they don’t get the resources … or the respect. We are here to change that dynamic.”


Founded on the idea that most sustainable businesses include some kind of technology, STEEP Detroit defines science and technology as broadly inclusive but not limited to biology, chemistry, agriculture, medical, computer, robotic, data science and advanced manufacturing technology. STEEP Detroit will support traditional science and technology companies of all sectors (think medical and wellness companies, hair and body care, niche science and technology service and product supplies, energy, construction, and manufacturing). The program is also open to application entrepreneurs building tech-enabled companies, established companies that are transitioning to the virtual space beyond online marketing, businesses using technology in innovative ways to improve products or services, and deep tech companies that have begun the process of commercializing new technologies and scientific discoveries, exploring unorthodox technology solutions, or reimagining current technologies.


“This is an initiative long overdue,” concludes Sharon Madison, president and CEO of Madison Madison International, a Detroit-based architecture, engineering, construction management and real estate development firm. Frequently recognized as a trailblazer in her field, Madison has experience with the barriers to capital, training and support networks that STEEP Detroit seeks to lower.


“We have a wealth of talent in Southeast Michigan that is being untapped and under-supported — and the potential of Black female business leaders is a longtime passion of mine,” she continues. “We need all hands on deck to continue to repair and grow our region’s economy.”


The program will include weekly training sessions and up to two monthly networking events or expert presentations. With public health safety in mind, STEEP Detroit has been planned with both virtual and in-person options. The first four months will be conducted virtually, with all trainings and sessions facilitated in a live and interactive online environment. The program directors will routinely review the science of the pandemic and the state of Michigan’s protocols and adjust accordingly. A kickoff event will be held in early 2021, and a two-day boot camp training session will take place in fall 2021.


To learn more, visit For questions or concerns, please email