Could Detroit Become the Silicon Valley of Social Entrepreneurship?

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sleeping bag to help homeless people survive Michigan’s harsh winter climate.

Scott, who’s a student at the College of Creative Studies, was inspired by a humanitarian group that visited her classroom to design something with a greater purpose. She had recently learned that as many as 30,000 Detroit residents are homeless—nearly 1 in 42 people. She began contacting homeless shelters to get real-world input on a product that homeless people could use.

“I found out that there weren’t many homeless shelters left,” Scott says. “I found a warming station at Martin Luther King and 3rd, and I naively went there at 8 o’clock one night. I told the group of people there that I needed their help designing something. I ended up going back three times a week for the next five months.”

Empowerment Project's Hybrid Coat

What Scott created is a Tyvek coat with a synthetic wool layer inside. It’s warm, it’s waterproof, and it only costs $10 in materials to make. Since becoming more intimate with Detroit’s homeless community, she has expanded her mission to include a factory of sorts. She and her crew rehabbed a building on Vermont owned by Phil Cooley. She now employs three full-time seamstresses (formerly homeless women whose compensation includes a place to live and a meal plan) and hopes to expand to 25 in the next two years.

Scott says that she was initially “in denial” about the scope and success of her project.

“It took a while, but I think it finally sunk in after the CNN appearance,” she says. “I realized that I employ people now. Suddenly, I have a responsibility. I realized I’m not going anywhere, and I’m more than OK with that.”

Charlie Cavell, who started Pay It Forward, could certainly empathize with Scott’s commitment to improving the lives of the people of Detroit.

“There are two things about Charlie that are insanely great,” says Terry Cross, founder of Windward Associates, a Michigan venture consulting business, and a mentor of Cavell’s through the Blackstone LaunchPad program. “He’s passionate beyond belief, and there’s no end to … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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