Big IDEA-- Program showcases high school students' imaginations

By Taryn Hartman

Legal News

The second year of the Improving Detroit through Entrepreneurship Advancement (IDEA) program, sponsored by Foley & Lardner, concluded Tuesday, May 18, at the Fort Shelby hotel downtown where participating students from Detroit's Martin Luther King High School unveiled the business plans they'd spent much of the year developing.

One of the program's goals is "exposing students to successful entrepreneurs," Marcus Sprow, head of Foley's IDEA efforts, told the packed conference room. The year-long program divides students into groups, which then develop a plan and proposal for a new Metro Detroit business. Throughout the year, students were schooled in areas crucial to business development such as financing, human resources, marketing and public relations, public speaking and negotiations in five sessions that featured area business leaders.

Before the six final groups presented their ideas to a panel of judges, Foley senior counsel and 1992 MLK graduate Jenice Mitchell Ford addressed "my fellow Crusaders" and spoke of the importance of common sense, staying true to themselves and making good choices as they move forward in their lives.

"Today's talk is a challenge for me, because I've sat where you sit and I know where you're about to go," Mitchell Ford said.

While sharing stories from her time as an undergraduate at Georgetown in D.C., Mitchell implored, "It's important to never say 'no' to you in order to say 'yes' to somebody else."

One of the greatest changes to the program in its second year was the addition of mentors from Foley & Lardner, who each worked once a month with a number of groups on developing their businesses, polishing their presentations and served as support for other academic and personal issues their students were facing.

"This was a great experience for us" and a lesson on "what the city needs, what the city youth needs," said Jennifer Neumann, one of the mentors, as she awarded certificates to her three groups: Thrill and Chill Resorts, which designed a redevelopment plan for the Michigan State Fairgrounds, and finalists The Playground and shoe store True Kicks.

"I look forward to sitting across the table from you in a professional capacity in five, 10, 15 years," Neumann said.

The six finalist groups were selected by a committee of Foley & Lardner attorneys based on the feasibility of the business idea, time that had been put into the plan and the presentation's clarity and organization. A panel of four judges -- Steve Hilfinger, managing partner of Foley's Detroit office; Mitchell Ford; McDonald's franchisee Jon Campbell, and U-M Dearborn Director of Career Planning and Development Mike Callahan, who both spoke at IDEA sessions during the year -- evaluated each group's presentation and fired off some substantive questions following each one. Each member of the top three groups received scholarships provided by Foley & Lardner.

Taking top honors and $1,000 prizes was The Playground, a plan to renovate an old Powerhouse Gym on McDougall St. and start a year-round play facility to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. Second place and $500 scholarships went to Build a Cookie, where kids could design their own cookies based on the Build-A-Bear Workshop model. True Kicks, whose would-be proprietors were some of the most enthusiastic presenters, earned third place honors and $250 scholarships.

The other three finalists were formal dress retailer Precious Gems, proposed teen hangout Kay J. Café, and business support resource Cybergriffin Business Center. Each presentation included detailed explanations of the business' legal structure, budget and financing plans to illustrate what the students had learned over the course of the IDEA program.

Published: Fri, May 28, 2010