The Value of Accounting to Detroit and Local Entrepreneurs

Most people who know me well know that my parents were entrepreneurs. They owned a small Chinese restaurant near our home in the Philly suburbs. Not coders hacking away on an app in the garage or MBAs pitching to a VC firm, they were local entrepreneurs — everyday people in the neighborhood who decided to start a smart business to create a living for themselves. Watching them, and countless others like them, drew me to get involved in entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan.

The experience thus far has been rewarding, I don’t regret anything. However, I have noticed a large gap between what I used to consider entrepreneurship and the resources for students on campus. From what I’ve seen, most entrepreneurship programs at Michigan focus on the areas I mentioned earlier — tech companies and startups creating complicated software products. That’s not a bad thing (if you’re into that kind of stuff, more power to you), but I always felt like there was a disconnect between people like my parents and most entrepreneurs.

Let’s back up a bit and talk about my interests.

  • I’m a Philly native and love everything related to Philly culture.
  • I’m a numbers guy and have always enjoyed math related courses (even if the grades don’t show it).
  • I’m passionate about community building and social impact (i.e. a significant positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge.)

I’ve been reflecting a lot on these interests, my experiences, and life goals a lot this past year. I know I want to use my business education to make a social impact, but I’m still figuring the how part out. When the opportunity arose to join the Ross Accounting Outreach team, I thought it fit all of these interests and past experiences perfectly.

My first attempt at graphic design…we can only get better from here (I hope)

The Ross Accounting Outreach initiative is designed to help Detroit small businesses get their financials in order. We meet with small business owners every Friday to discuss their accounting needs. Everything from inventory turnover, developing cost structures of different products, and mapping out growth opportunities is fair game. But why exactly is creating a statement of cash flows or discussing costs of equipment considered social impact?

Well, by helping Detroit entrepreneurs and small businesses, we’re indirectly helping revitalize Detroit. With more small businesses in the community, more jobs are created and the economy is boosted. Retail businesses like restaurants in particular also make use of abandoned buildings and infrastructure. With an economy that has suffered after the Great Recession, this boost from entrepreneurs of all kinds is helping Detroit get back on track.

Local entrepreneurs benefit from our services because:

  • They’re completely free. All they have to do is sign up for an appointment on our website.
  • Having properly organized financials helps businesses communicate important information to different stakeholders such as banks, grant writing institutions, and business partners. Many of the entrepreneurs we work with don’t have a formal business background, and so benefit from simply talking about this with us.
  • Accounting tips and equations can help entrepreneurs see aspects of the business in new ways. Which products are the most profitable and are our marketing tactics the most effective to all of our customers? How long will it be until we pay off our loan? Can I afford another employee while I go on vacation?

Personally as a student, I have come to appreciate accounting more after these few short weeks. It’s been a way for me to learn more about business and get acquainted with what social impact can look like. I’ve also had the opportunity to work more intimately with numbers. Seeing the entrepreneurs faces when they talk about their businesses or when they understand a new accounting concept is by far the most rewarding part. Detroiters have a spirit about them that I’ve only experienced before back in Philly. There’s a tough “roll up your sleeves” attitude that’s ingrained in the fabric of both cities.

There’s a tough roll up your sleeves attitude that’s ingrained in the fabric of both cities.

The genuine love for hard work and refusal to back down from a challenge that I’ve seen from the entrepreneurs is inspiring and has shown me that Detroit’s revitalization is well on its way. It has also shown me that social impact can take many forms — including behind the numbers of a financial statement.


To get more updates on Ross Accounting Outreach, you can follow the Center of Finance, Law, and Policy on Facebook or read up on the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project