Tony and our friend Shea at Avalon in Detroit in 2003
CREATING A CITY OF ENTREPRENEURS
By Jackie Victor, guest columnist
Michigan Citizen, Jan. 1-7, 2006
The class in Entrepreneurship beginning on January 21 at Wayne County Community College may be the education that Detroiters have been waiting for.
In 1997, my partner, Ann Perrault, and I embarked upon a visionary adventure: Avalon International Breads, a high-quality bakery in the Cass Corridor using 100% organic flour and following a business model of sustainability and community. While we had many advantages, neither of us had any formal business training or bakery experience. What we had was a rich history of community in Detroit and a vision of doing something bigger than ourselves, of fulfilling James Boggs’ edict to “start businesses that sustain ourselves, shoe repair shops, bakeries, etc.” We took his words literally and Avalon was born.
We started the bakery with three bottom lines: right relationship with the Earth, right relationship with Employees, and right relationship with the Community. (We didn’t discover the fourth bottom line, right relationship with our Checkbook, until six years into the venture). These four principles or aspirations keep us on track as much as possible. They also keep us humble.
What we have received back from the community in loyalty, support and gratitude is immeasurable. Although a tough, taxing and physically demanding business that has aged us considerably, the bakery has been a spiritual boon in our lives while providing a livelihood for ourselves and over 25 other Detroiters.
And since we opened, five small businesses have been started on our block by African American women with similar values!
We focused on quality: food, atmosphere and service. Detroiters are accustomed to being underserved and thus welcome thoughtful, high quality businesses. Their loyalty has been amazing. I can’t tell you how many people thanked us in our first years for opening a place for them to spend their money!
I truly believe that conscious entrepreneurship is the only way to create a real, living economy in our city. Although considerably smaller than 25 years ago, Detroit is still home to over 800,000 people who still need food, clothing, music, books, furniture, home supplies, etc.
The skills that entrepreneurship needs are not necessarily acquired through formal education, but are passed on through family businesses, apprenticeships and work experience. Many a well-trained business owner has failed because they have not followed business ethics or the law or professional advice. Since we have lost a generation of small business owners in Detroit, these mentorship opportunities are a critical part of any entrepreneurial education.
But there is another, more important element. Successful entrepreneurs must have not only the vision and the passion but the tenacity to continue to find new options and work harder and smarter when failure looms. And to continue to improve when success brings complacency. This is the hidden spark, the magic of entrepreneurship, that makes it not only a job but an exciting way of life.
Instead of looking to big business or retail strip malls to save Detroit, we need to envision and create a city alive with independent small businesses that reflect the world we desire, meet the needs of the lives we live, and can sustain us now and in the future. We may not get rich, but what better reward for our lives, than making a living creating a new city!