The Entrepreneurial Spirit Burns Bright In Detroit John Hughes thinks his parents had it easier when they were his age. "If you want to make something of yourself in this day and age, you have to hustle," he says. His proposed business would help not just himself, but other local businesses.
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The Entrepreneurial Spirit Burns Bright In Detroit

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The Entrepreneurial Spirit Burns Bright In Detroit

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Burns Bright In Detroit

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This month were reporting on young people trying to start their lives in the worst economy theyve ever known. Most of them are happy just to find jobs. A few are trying to create them by starting businesses - hard to do even in a good economy. Now think of one place in America where it would be really tough to be a budding entrepreneur. This is an easy one, and thats where guest correspondent Judy Woodruff found this story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A cynic might brand Detroit as a place where big things come to an end, cars, and companies, and big ideas, all shutting down or drying up. So its a pleasant surprise to eavesdrop on something beginning.

Unidentified Man #1 (Caf� owner): I like the concept, just initially what Ive read, I like it.

Mr. JOHN HUGHES (Entrepreneur): Was there anything that stuck out to you that you didnt understand or

WOODRUFF: This young entrepreneur and his partner are pitching their idea to a caf� owner. Its a customer loyalty card for local stores and restaurants. Spend $100 at this caf� that might get you enough points for a free meal or a discount at the bookstore down the street. Its a way to get people to buy locally.

Mr. HUGHES: What do you think, like, a reasonable price for a transaction would be for

WOODRUFF: Thats one of the business partners John Hughes. He hopes to launch his idea in a few months.

Mr. HUGHES: Thanks for sitting down with us. We appreciate it.

Unidentified Man #1: Im happy you guys are doing this. I think its what we need in the neighborhood, especially in todays economy you have

WOODRUFF: Especially in todays economy John Hughes plan is ambitious. Hes 25, which is roughly the same number of years that his father worked at GM. From their home in the suburbs his family watched as Detroit slowly ran out of gas. If he can help resident buy locally, he says, it will be like giving the city its own stimulus package.

Mr. HUGHES: And thats really - allows me to get really excited about the idea. Whereas if I was just opening up another real estate company or doing something like that, I dont know if Id be as excited about it, because its just like, okay, I can make money, but is that all Im going to do at the end of the day?

WOODRUFF: Your idea, how much research and testing have you done to see whether its really viable or not?

Mr. HUGHES: Weve done lots of research. We work in the office eight to twelve a days and we work weekends. I mean theres not a time off. I mean thats one of the most stressful parts is like even when you want to go to sleep on a Saturday night youre still thinking about this business.

WOODRUFF: He says hell need up to $200,000 to launch his business which may sound impossible for a first time entrepreneur in a bad economy in a battered city. But John and his partner have help.

Unidentified Man #2 (Bizdom University Advisor): When you pull your financials back up, I mean there is a couple of points to

WOODRUFF: Help from Bizdom University, a nonprofit that teaches people how to start businesses and gives them money to launch them. It sounds like a pretty good deal except not all ideas get launched and those that do get pummeled into shape first.

Unidentified Man #2: As usual, there are parts of this that I absolutely love, and there are parts of this that I absolutely hate.

WOODRUFF: Heres a Bizdom student asking his advisor how he can push his product in a crowded market.

Unidentified Man #3 (Bizdom Student): How can we get out there as a nobody and become a somebody?

Unidentified Man #2: I wouldnt view that as a handicap. You may start with zero credibility. That doesnt mean that you cant build up credibility.

WOODRUFF: In a few weeks John Hughes will stand before a Bizdom panel PowerPointing his way through his own business plan. Its taken a long time to get here. He applied for Bizdom a few years ago when it just started. He didnt know much about it then. Nobody did.

So did you feel this was a risk you were taking at all?

Mr. HUGHES: Not really, no. One of the biggest motivators for me is thinking that Im going to regret something when I look back. I knew if I looked back ten years from now and didnt take the chance, I would regret it.

WOODRUFF: But this was, at that point, a brand new thing, no it didnt have much of a track record. You said it had one page on the Web site.

Mr. HUGHES: And I think to the average person it might be like, oh, I dont know if Im going to do this, but I mean, if youre an entrepreneur thats what youre looking for. You look for those new things where you can make your mark in it.

WOODRUFF: John knows that most new businesses fail. But he wont dwell on that. He says hes learned to be an optimist from his parents, a trait that came in handy a few years ago as Detroit fell into a recession. His father took an early buyout from GM. His mothers real estate business took a dive. At the same time, John had been accepted at the University of Michigan, but there was a problem. Heres Johns mother Patrice Hughes.

Ms. PATRICE HUGHES (Real Estate Broker): The real estate industry in the metro Detroit area changed drastically, so our finances just werent there. So two weeks before he was to leave, we told him we wouldnt be able to help him.

WOODRUFF: The cost of room and board at the University of Michigan would have tugged too hard at the family budget.

Ms. HUGHES: I mean Im telling everybody my son is going to U of M. Hes had his going-away party from work and yeah, initially its like, wow, how did that happen? I was momentarily devastated, and I know it was devastating to him. And I asked him how he felt about that. And he looked at me and he said, well, you know, you have to do what you have to do. Basically, you have to make the best of the situations that youre dealt with in life.

WOODRUFF: John ended up at a nearby college so he could save money by living at home. In fact, he still lives at home.

Mr. HUGHES: I mean its hard to be 25 and live with your parents.

WOODRUFF: How often can you go out to eat or on a date or go out and do anything social?

Mr. HUGHES: I choose not to date at all right now, cause its not a good situation. I mean, cause first, Im strapped for time, so I wouldnt have time to commit to a relationship. Second, Im strapped for money, so I couldnt take anybody any place nice. And then third, I live with my parents, so

WOODRUFF: John says hes talked with his parents about what it was like when they were in their twenties.

Mr. HUGHES: Like, my parents, you know, you got out of college, you could get a decent job. Now you might just make the same that you would have made without going to college at all. So I think its just made us more creative, more hardworking.

WOODRUFF: Do you think I mean do you see that in your generation, among the people you know?

Mr. HUGHES: Yeah, because of the economic times, theres no choice. If you want to make something of yourself in this day and age you have to hustle.

WOODRUFF: Especially in a place like Detroit. Yes, John wants to base his business here, but he also has to. Its required by his backers at Bizdom University. Their goal is to create jobs and a spirit of enterprise in a city that could use a lot of both.

Do you ever worry about your own sort of reality check here because Detroit is going through a really hard time, maybe the toughest in this entire country right now. Do you ever think, ugh?

Mr. HUGHES: Probably on a daily basis, yeah. But its if by some crazy chance I go down with the ship, I go down with the ship and I start over. You know, Im still young, you know, and Ive read a lot of articles who say people are starting businesses because its just at a point where its just like, you know, theres no where I can get a job, so I might as well start a business.

WOODRUFF: John jokes that Detroit needs more people like him, smart and stubborn enough to try to revive a dying city in a sick economy. Think of it this way, he says, if a new business can succeed right here right now, its golden.

For NPR News, Im Judy Woodruff.

MONTAGNE: Recessions can be a good time to start a business. Thats what some research says, and you can read about it at Tune in this evening to the News Hour with Jim Lehrer to see more in the series Generation Next.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.


And Im David Greene.

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