TechTown and the Rocket Community Fund have partnered to shine the spotlight on business owners and ecosystem service providers who responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we count down to the end of 2020, we will share the stories of these “Innovators” in an effort to elevate the ingenuity of Detroiters and lift spirits.
For our third Innovator Series spotlight, we spoke with Dave Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative office of DTE Energy, Detroit, about Detroit Means Business.
Q: Why do you do what you, and how long have you been doing it?
A: We know that small businesses are the backbone of Detroit’s economy. These businesses are the primary drivers of our city’s job creation, accounting for 50% of jobs in Detroit. That’s why – during the onset of COVID-19 in Michigan – a coalition of organizations mobilized to position our local businesses, and economy, to survive and thrive.
DTE joined more than 60 organizations to create Detroit Means Business (DMB) – an online hub that offers access to resources, information and experts to ensure businesses have the knowledge and tools they need(ed) to safely reopen and successfully operate moving forward.
Detroit Means Business offers a variety of resources to help small businesses safely reopen, recover and thrive:
- Reopening guidelines and playbooks focused on safety and cleanliness
- Free one-on-one coaching and consultation
- Informational webinars
- Access to relevant financial resources
- Contact information for suppliers of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, sneeze guards and face shields
Q: How did you adapt or pivot what you do since March?
A: The DMB team adapted daily to identify and communicate the ongoing changes local businesses needed to make to safely reopen and continue their operations. The DMB website was continually updated with the latest news and reopening guidelines based on regional requirements and direct feedback received from businesses and key partners.
Additionally, our Expert Guidance team met regularly to discuss the challenges and opportunities they were hearing from business owners – and to share insights and resources to better serve the business community. While our focus initially was on Detroit’s small businesses, DMB quickly became accessible to all businesses regardless of geography through the webinars, reopening playbooks and online informational resources we made available.
To better understand the small business space, DMB conducted an extensive search to identify a Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) that consisted of 10 small business owners with a vested interest in seeing Detroit recover from the pandemic, and ultimately come back stronger than ever. The group provides experience from members’ respective focus areas and insights related to small business owner needs. SAG members offer feedback and input to ensure the DMB program is relevant, effective, accessible and socially sensitive to Detroit small business owners who employ fewer than 50 employees. They also provide the leaders activating and managing elements of DMB access to experiential experts with deep understandings of small business needs and daily experience managing small businesses.
Q: What surprised you the most about how people reacted to the changes you made?
A: While not necessarily surprising, we found financial support was the resource requested most often by small business owners; we also found most businesses wanted help if offered, especially with navigating the health requirements and financial resources available to them. Also, despite being impacted by the pandemic, SMBs were excited by the opportunities the pandemic presented to evolve their business models.
While small business owners generally understand the importance of a strong online presence and marketing to retain and attract customers, many lacked the knowledge and tools to execute. The DMB team is navigating these digital demand requests as one of its top priorities to ensure small businesses have the support needed to compete in an online marketplace.
One of the most surprising themes uncovered was the reluctance of some businesses to trust the support offered by large corporations. While DMB was eager to help entrepreneurs, we quickly realized the team first needed to build trust with the small business community by showing real wins that benefitted them.
Q: What has been the impact of your response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: To date, thousands of SMBs in Detroit have been helped through the DMB website and contact center, which have connected them to reopening guidance and expert coaching. While most sectors have reopened, SMBs require ongoing support to recover from the pandemic-driven crisis and to reimagine their businesses to build resilience to future crises.
DMB remains committed to building a robust ecosystem that provides capital, mentorship and policy reform to support SMBs and contribute to the economic development of Detroit. Furthermore, our long-term vision includes creating pathways for inner-city minority youth to launch and grow businesses in sectors that offer short- and long-term opportunity and value.
Through its partnership with DMB and other key organizations, DTE is committed to continuing to live its mission to be a force for growth in the communities where our 10,000-plus employees live and serve. We pledge to continue to support Michigan’s businesses and communities during these uncertain and critical times – and to continue to lift up small businesses, which are key drivers of job creation and employment in Detroit and beyond.