Discovering and applying new and innovative economic development tools, models, policies, and programs
Creating Jobs and Wealth in Distressed Michigan Communities

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We are no longer accepting applications for innovation fellows

Let’s move concepts to actions through implementing new economic development tools, models, and policies. The REI Innovation Fellows Program seeks to incorporate these tools, models, and policies with topics identified in past Co-Learning Projects putting them into practice in communities around Michigan. REI aims to attract and support top champions in communities and organizations to tackle the tough economic development issues that our distressed communities face every day. REI will support 1-2 fellows per year. This is an exciting opportunity to see how research can be transformed into successful actions within Michigan communities that could use some extra support.

Applications for 2020 have closed.

Past Innovation Fellow Project Examples:

Norman Christopher: This fellowship project built upon a previous MSU REI student led research project, by exploring other viable social impact and social entrepreneurship community investment strategies that are now available such as Charitable Loan Funds, Social REITS, and Opportunity Zones etc. Case studies were examined for best efforts so that other Michigan cities, communities, and neighborhoods can collectively learn what type of social impact investment strategy would work best in their community. Mr. Christopher developed a social impact investment "guidebook or toolkit" to assist foundations and other grant making institutions, community residents, philanthropic donors, social NGOs, as well as local communities and neighborhoods as they seek to increase innovative economic development activities to address specific social impact areas of concern. Visit his project page here!

Samantha Farr: In 2017 Samantha, Founder and Instructor of "Women Who Weld" was chosen to lead an Innovation Fellowship. Women Who Weld is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, based in Detroit, that teaches unemployed and underemployed women how to weld and find employment in the welding industry. Women Who Weld's 6-week welding program is funded through donations and grants and is subsidized for participants. Women Who Weld was founded in 2014 and hosted two workshops; graduating 8 women and helping them find employment. Samantha Farr created a nationwide or international network of female welders, creating a network can offer support and advice for women in the welding industry or those looking to break into it. Today Women Who Weld offers a subsidized 6-Week Intensive Welding Training Program to teach MIG welding and how to operate various metalworking tools and machines and has helped employ over 100 women! Visit her project page here!

Leleah Fernandez: In 2018, Laleah began her Innovation Fellows project, "Network and Digital Media Strategies for Mobilization toward Policy Change." This project focused on a digital media strategy for Southwest Michigan Planning Commission (SWMPC) to improve awareness, consensus building, and action related to current topics of policy importance for economic development. In particular, this project included a network analysis to help optimize the flow of information (e.g. remove redundancy), specify influencers/opinion leaders, and improve communication efficiency based on strength of ties and attributes among stakeholders. The project resulted in a case study research paper and digital media outreach template for other regional economic development organizations. Visit her project page here!

Rita Fields: In 2018, Rita began her Innovation Fellows project, “Exploring the Underground Economy in Detroit.” Economic development initiatives targeting entrepreneurs have found Detroit to be a ripe breeding ground for talent, and for those entrepreneurs who are able to participate in those programs this has been a time of great fortune. The reality, though, is that these programs are not open to all who desire to ascend to the entrepreneurial ranks. For a multitude of reasons that need to be further identified and explored, some aren't able to take advantage of this opportunity. For some entrepreneurs, transitioning from being 'off the books' (or, as referred to in the title, underground) to 'on the books' would result in a significant pay cut due to the costs of conducting business. The research proposed in this study focused on the definition of the underground economy, identification of susceptible participants, barriers of entry that have prevented participants of the underground economy from engaging in standardized entrepreneurial development, an attempt to quantify the potential economic impact of the underground economy in the region and why a commitment to reconnect that effort to the overall impact benefits the region and propose recommendations on how funders can be more inclusive in their funding guidelines. Visit her project page here!

Joel Rash: In 2016, Joel began his Innovations Fellows project, "Flint City Pop-up." This initiative focused on creating a pipeline for entrepreneurial youth with multiple entry points and several outcomes. The education and support program targeted high school students and disconnected 16- to 24-year-olds who are interested in starting their own businesses. Flint City Pop-Up engages the more advanced youth entrepreneurs, as well as start-ups in the community who will benefit from intermediary step of having a temporary space to do business in. The project received recognition and funding from the Michigan Economic Developers Corporation (MEDC) to engage more advanced youth entrepreneurs, who would benefit from the intermediary step of having a temporary space to do business know as Factory Two. Visit his project page here!

Bill Stough: In 2017, Bill began his Innovation Fellows project, "Triple Bottom Line." In regions of the state where entrepreneurial innovation is more established, the emergence of the Triple Bottom Line business model is driving growth of companies that are decidedly place-based, pay better wages and prefer purchasing local goods and services. This innovative business trend implies a shift from the current focus of reducing the negative impacts of economic activity to the deliberate generation of positive impacts. Bill will lead this Fellows initiative to actively introduce and help implement the TBL approach in the East Central Michigan region consisting of: Clare, Gladwin, Arenac, Bay, Midland, Isabella, Gratiot and Saginaw counties. Although not widely described as a disadvantaged community, this 8-county region has an average ALICE rating that indicates 43.25% of the population live below income levels needed to achieve minimal living standards. Mr. Stough collaborated with the East Michigan Council of Governments (EMCOG) to create the Great Lakes Bay Zero Waste Consortium and over the past two years, the Consortium has gained sponsors and members to assist them in encouraging businesses to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recover, as it relates to manufacturers, businesses and institutions in the east Michigan region. The Great Lakes Bay Zero Waste Consortium continues to identify reduction opportunities determined by member needs.Visit his project page here!

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