Wayne State social entrepreneurship support springboards alum to launch Detroit social venture

Detroit became my learning stage, my playground, my home. Wayne State gave me so many impactful experiences throughout my education. Selecting the School of Social Work and taking advantage of its social entrepreneurship supports gave me the opportunity to keep learning, growing, and applying my knowledge in a city that stole my heart. 

Entering the Wayne State University (WSU) Master of Social Work (MSW) Program was a game changer for alum Brittany Mitchell-Kelley who had spent a decade working with youth of all backgrounds, abilities, and ages at various Detroit non-profit agencies. Seeking to expand her knowledge of how to launch a business with a social impact, Mitchell-Kelley took advantage of the resources and community connections available via the School of Social Work’s Social Entrepreneurship Committee initiatives.

Throughout our history as a profession, social workers have acted entrepreneurially starting new ventures whether they took the form of founding charitable organizations, government programs, or progressive social movements. Social entrepreneurship at its core is about upsetting the status quo, and as such it aligns with social work's fundamental values about social justice and systems change. Co-lead by Social Work Part-time Faculty Member Marijo Upshaw, the Social Entrepreneurship Committee works to promote social entrepreneurship at the School, the WSU campus and the wider community through events, trainings, and collaborative opportunities.

Brittany Mitchell-Kelley in an Earthship structure
Brittany Mitchell-Kelley in an Earthship structure

The early years of Mitchell-Kelley’s career provided a wealth of hands-on learning opportunities and sparked her passion for teaching and STEEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Arts, Match). “I remember growing up on Bill Nye-the science guy and School House Rock, so I had to keep the same energy. Lessons were always hands-on, relatable, and inspiring. Taking Professor Upshaw’s Social Entrepreneurship class really connected the dots for me on how to take that passion and launch a business that benefited my community.”

Mitchell-Kelley started as a student teacher in an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classroom in a Detroit Public School. After completing her undergraduate degree in elementary education, Mitchell-Kelley went on to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Green Living Science teaching and organizing volunteers. “While at Green Living Science, I participated in a grant funded project where I learned to build an Earthship classroom model, a sustainable house made of recycled/reused materials. I also designed curriculum around the sustainable infrastructure of the Earthship for students to engage with the model. I fell in love with their mission to transform Detroit by teaching about waste and recycling.”

Entering the MSW Program, specifically with a concentration in Innovation in Community, Policy and Leadership (I-CPL), gave Mitchell-Kelley the foundation to empower social change at a macro level in her community. “I chose ICPL from my experiences as an educator and AmeriCorps VISTA. I love being an educator but also saw the importance of leveraging community collaboration in students’ learning ecosystems. I knew from the day I applied that I was going to critically look at these systems and see in what ways I could possibly use my experience, knowledge, and skills to create a greater social impact. Weaving together the principles from ICPL and social entrepreneurship prepped me to tackle community issues that were important to me.”

“I began to learn more about the social entrepreneurship supports within the School and attended their annual conference, become the President of the Social Entrepreneurship Student Organization and served as a member of the School’s Social Entrepreneurship Committee.” In winter 2020, Michelle-Kelley participated in the university-wide WSU STEAM Challenge organized by the School of Social Work and Mike Illitch School of Business, which focused on empowering self-defined social innovators from across academic disciplines to develop ventures that address critical social justice issues affecting Detroiters, in particularly disenfranchised and marginalized communities.

“My experience at the WSU SSW has had an incredible impact on my social venture. Participating in these events and building a report with like-minded social entrepreneurs made launching Detroit CHEMpreneurIST an achievable dream. Co-founder Cass Fry and I met with my mentors from the Social Entrepreneurship Committee, Professor Upshaw & Academic Advisor Lawrence Robinson, for feedback on our logic model, business model, and more.”

Detroit CHEMpreneurIST co-founders Brittany Mitchell-Kelley and Cass Fry
Detroit CHEMpreneurIST co-founders (from left) Cass Fry and Brittany Mitchell-Kelley

Founded in November 2020, Detroit CHEMpreneurIST offers community organizations, teachers and students from all backgrounds an opportunity to be empowered, in an inclusive safe space, and excel in STEEAM experiences while collaborating about personal care chemistry and entrepreneurship. “We give participants the tools they need to prepare and explore their passions while also diversifying the STEEAM field to create a pathway for minority owned small businesses to boost our local economy.” Detroit CHEMpreneurIST has provided multiple week and semester long courses to area schools and community organizations. Mitchell-Kelley and Fry have also participated in open resource market fairs at Detroit community churches and hosted  virtual events for community members, parents, and students.

In addition to her role with Detroit CHEMpreneurIST, Mitchell-Kelley currently provides direct education and curriculum development for Detroit youth.  “I authored an activity book Bee Green in Your Own Backyard and created a series of education videos for various organizations YouTube. Working with a variety to clients has really allowed me to explore various ways to share STEEAM standards across channels and learning abilities.” Michell-Kelley also serves at the PE-Nut™ Program Coordinator for Detroit Public School Community District schools and works as a member of the DPSCD Farm to School Collaborative with local school and community stakeholders including WSU, Project Healthy Community and FoodCorps. The group works to establish a local collaborative of school and community stakeholders to improve students' relationship with food by creating a healthy environment that supports local fresh and healthy food purchases, evidence-based nutrition education, and the cultivation of school and community gardens. Mitchell-Kelley also volunteers for the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and Green Living Science.

 Detroit Chempreneurist 4th grade classroom visit
Detroit Chempreneurist 4th grade classroom visit

In support of burgeoning social entrepreneurs, the Social Entrepreneurship Committee has partnered with area organizations to provide two upcoming opportunities for attendees to expand their knowledge and connect with fellow entrepreneurs. 

Forming and maintaining your for-profit, nonprofit or social enterprise and complying with the Corporate Transparency Act will be hosted on Wednesday, April 6, 2022 from 12 – 1 pm EST on Zoom. Presented by student attorneys (under the supervision of an experienced and licensed attorney) from the WSU Law School Business and Community Law Clinic, this presentation will provide easy to understand explanations of confusing legal topics for people looking to better their community through business. Topics covered include a general overview of independent contracting, as well as different entities and the Corporate Transparency Act.

The School, the Social Entrepreneurship Student Organization and the Build Institute are proud to present, Detroit SOUP at Wayne State, a crowdfunding dinner celebrating and supporting creative projects in Detroit on Wednesday, April 6, 2022 from 6:00 – 8:30 pm EST at WSU St. Andrew’s. For a $15 donation (students are free) attendees receive soup and a vote. Each presenter has four minutes to share their venture idea and answer four questions from the audience. At the event, attendees eat, talk, share resources, enjoy art and vote on the project they think benefits the city the most. At the end of the night, we count the ballots, and the winner goes home with $1,000 provided by the WSU School of Social Work to carry out their project. The dinner also features a spoken word artist and WSU alumni MARS Marshall.

I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunities that keep pushing our hard work at Detroit CHEMpreneurIST forward. Presenting at Detroit SOUP provided us with the space to get ourselves out there in the community. When we were announced the winners, I was just in awe of our loved ones and community members that believe in us and our social impact. We took home over $1,000 that has helped us continue educating youth in chemistry & entrepreneurship.

For questions about the aforementioned events and Social Entrepreneurship supports in the School, visit the Social Entrepreneurship webpage or contact Social Work Part-time Faculty member Marijo Upshaw at mjupshaw@wayne.edu.

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