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Lawrence Tech and Skillman Foundation help small businesses grow on Detroit’s east side

Release Date: July 9, 2009

Detroit, Mich. - Economists searching for the "green shoots" of a resurgent economy need look no further than the Osborn community on Detroit's east side to find new businesses that are capitalizing on a renewed interest in agriculture and landscaping.

Leslie Huffman of Vandalia Gardens and Edith Floyd of Farming In The City both hope to bring "the country to the city" by providing fresh, locally grown produce while also educating the public on healthy food choices.

Kevin Bingham started his new business, Singing Tree, to keep trees healthy and recycle wood from trees that can't be saved. "As arborists, we provide a quality of life and a connection to the earth through our work," he said.

All three entrepreneurs are recent graduates of the Osborn Microenterprise and Entrepreneur Program that was launched in the fall of 2007 by the Center for Nonprofit Management at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. The program is scheduled to run through fall 2010 with the support of a $257,000 grant through the Good Neighborhoods Initiative of the Skillman Foundation of Detroit.

The Skillman Foundation launched its initiative in 2005 "to transform six Detroit neighborhoods into healthy, safe and supportive environments for children, youth and their families by working directly with concerned citizens and organizations in specific neighborhoods." The Osborn neighborhood is bounded by Eight Mile, Gratiot, McNichols and Connor.

The program employs techniques of entrepreneurship and microenterprise that have been used to produce grassroots economic growth in other countries and more recently in the United States. In May, 14 Detroit entrepreneurs completed the third 10-week training program offered in the Osborn neighborhood by Lawrence Tech's Center for Nonprofit Management.

Other recent graduates of the program have opened three clothing stores, a car seat installation service, a modeling school, a dessert store and a not-for-profit center for Hmong needlecraft.

In all, more than 40 businesses have received support from the Osborn Microenterprise and Entrepreneur Program. They include a real estate management company, a car wash, a catering company, a nonprofit community development office, a church and a nonprofit  teen mentoring service.

Local residents have benefited from basic entrepreneurial training, advanced business workshops and alternative career placement activities.  The program provides business mentoring support, referrals for business start-up loans and personal support services.

Robert Inskeep of the College of Management and the Center for Nonprofit Management at Lawrence Tech is the program liaison, and Ken Gadd, an adjunct professor in the College of Management, is the program manager. Several other Lawrence Tech faculty and students are also involved.

Inskeep said the Center for Nonprofit Management has refined its outreach efforts since the start of the program almost two years ago. "The most important thing is to find people who are ready to go into business for themselves, and we have learned to enlist community leaders to help with recruitment," Inskeep said.

The next 10-week training program begins on Wednesday, Aug. 5. For information, contact Ken Gadd at or (313) 402-0858, or go to

Created in 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy whose chief aim is to help develop good schools and good neighborhoods for children. Though grants are made throughout metropolitan Detroit, most grants are directed at six Detroit neighborhoods - Southwest Detroit (Vernor and Chadsey/Condon), Brightmoor, Osborn, Cody/Rouge and the Northend - and toward innovative and successful schools throughout the city of Detroit.

Lawrence Technological University,, offers almost 100 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes 75 years ago, and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech's 102-acre campus is in Southfield, and programs are also offered in Detroit, Lansing, Petoskey and Traverse City. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.