Last week, Detroit Means Business, a Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) program, hosted its inaugural Small Business Summit, the organization’s first in-person event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelming. About 300 small-business owners and employees were joined by city officials and subject matter experts offering advice on how to meet the big and small challenges of growing a business. The waitlist stretched well beyond 200 people. To say Detroiters were clamoring for networking, support and best-practice sharing would be an understatement.
“It was incredibly rewarding to witness the positive impact Detroit Means Business has for the small-business owner community in Detroit,” said Alondra Alvizo, senior program manager of Detroit Means Business. “The Summit gave business owners the unique opportunity to connect face-to-face with small business service partners, city officials and other support groups – all at one venue.”
The Vella Group proudly helped Detroit Means Business prepare for this event. We got a first-hand look at the power of face-to-face communication and took away three key learnings:
1. 1:1 Access to City & State Administrators Proved Invaluable
To prepare for the Small Business Summit, Detroit Means Business secured the attendance of numerous city and state administrators. Having all these experts on hand allowed small businesses to identify the right office to assist with their questions and access them in one convenient location. If they started out talking to an office that didn’t handle their question, they could easily find and engage the right person. This format enabled them to receive individualized attention and address complicated questions in-person. It saved valuable time for both small-business owners and city administrators, replacing emails and phone messages with short, but meaningful conversations.
Research shows up to 80% of our communication is non-verbal, and this can create significant challenges when conversations occur only by phone or email. Small Business Summit participants were grateful for the one-on-one access to the right city and state officials. Attendees we talked to felt their issues were resolved more quickly and required less running around on their part.
2. Roundtable Discussions Enabled Best-Practice Sharing
The Small Business Summit featured roundtable conversations among the seven largest business segments:
- food and beverage
- retail and grocery
- hair and beauty
- childcare and education
- professional and creative services
- construction and trades
Business owners connected with others in their field to share learnings, best practices and contacts that could help with specific challenges.
The ability to interact in person made all the difference. After all, we make stronger connections more quickly when we’re in person. The stronger the connection, the more we’re willing to help. Virtual roundtables can make it harder to identify the right time to jump in with comments or suggestions. But when we’re sitting directly across from each other, we can empathize, easily share suggestions and help one another in a more profound way.
3. Support Groups Facilitated Networking & Navigating
Beyond navigating city and state regulatory processes, small-business owners face a number of challenges in launching, owning, operating and growing a business. No matter how their journey unfolds, their ability to network with subject matter experts is vital to help them identify solutions and achieve their goals. To that end, Detroit Means Business assembled a variety of critical support organizations at the Small Business Summit, giving small-business owners the perfect opportunity to find answers on important topics.
Experts were on hand to help attendees navigate critical processes:
- funding and financial readiness
- contracting and procurement
- digital business
- business operations
- city and state regulations
By engaging one-on-one with these specialists, small-business owners could quickly brainstorm potential actions, network with contacts and walk away with actionable steps to progress their business.
The success of the Detroit Means Business Small Business Summit was overwhelming. Many attendees expressed gratitude – they learned, they received much-needed help and they made valuable networking connections for the future. The waitlist for this event tells us there is pent-up demand for additional Small Business Summits soon. It demonstrates a real need for small-business owners to gather in-person to resolve issues, make meaningful connections and build a network to help with potential future challenges.