Lately as I’ve thought about Detroit’s transition to the new economy and D:hive’s role in that transition, Saturn has come to mind.  Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system—a celestial sphere outstanding in its own right.  But what would Saturn be without its trademark rings?  From 850 million or so miles away, the rings bear a sleek and symmetrical beauty.  Upon closer examination, however, the astronomer finds that Saturn’s glorious halo consists of billions of particles ranging from microscopic dust to larger matter of various shapes and composition.

Returning to Earth, Saturn’s rings are instructive.  This phenomenon of collective symmetry comprised of chaotic and varied parts offers a nice cosmic metaphor for Detroit’s venture into the new economy.

As Detroit’s economy transforms, a diversified pool of globally competitive firms with high tech, life sciences, health care and communications offerings will represent the core of its economic portfolio—the celestial sphere.  But a critical mass of small, local ventures, such as those coming through BUILD, D:hive’s business and project planning course, will ultimately shape Detroit’s halo—the rings that set it apart.  These businesses vary in shape, size and personality, and their ability to flourish will determine Detroit’s economic future.

These businesses are so important because they do two things.  First, they make a direct contribution to the local economy.   When successful, they generate income for the entrepreneurs, create jobs for employees and pay taxes.  Second, they animate the city.  They occupy unexpected spaces in unexpected ways and offer unexpected things at unexpected times.  They charm pedestrians and surprise visitors.

We often hear about the great collisions of ideas that occur in great cities.  These collisions happen as talented people with diverse backgrounds and complimentary skills encounter each other in quirky coffee shops, dining on unfamiliar food, browsing unique goods and simply occupying and sharing interesting spaces. These are the venues that our BUILD entrepreneurs offer to Detroit.

BUILD takes Detroiters with ideas, talent, and a passion to start something and provides them with eight weeks of education about business fundamentals while giving them face-to-face exposure to consultants and funding sources.  All of this takes place in a supportive environment in which participants can tinker with their concepts, confront doubts, test viability, and gain confidence to go along with the talent they bring to the table.

Our BUILD entrepreneurs come to us in no particular pattern.  A food entrepreneur may sit in class between a furniture maker and a home goods artisan.  A fitness consultant may exchange insights with an African drum instructor and craftsman.  A photographer may interface with an entrepreneur whose idea still defies easy explanation.  On the surface there’s an apparent randomness to all of it, much like the randomness of shape and composition found among the components of Saturn’s rings.  Like Saturn’s rings, however, the seemingly random parts combine to create something purposeful and powerful: an economic tapestry full of color and excitement that not only makes a direct contribution to the local economy, but also feeds the larger economic drivers by creating a stimulating, dynamic cityscape that gives interesting, talented people a place to explore.

Jeff Aronoff is the Executive Director of D:hive, a physical hub of information, connections and key tools to help people to live, work and engage in the city. D:hive is located in the heart of downtown Detroit, at 1253 Woodward Avenue. D:hive is a project of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, with support from the Hudson-Webber Foundation, Quicken Loans/Rock Ventures, Model D Media, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and others.