FAMU students take top honors in Detroit

Pictured left to right: George Spencer, executive vice president of business development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the TMCF, Carlos Rodriguez, team mentor from Ally Financial, Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations office at Ally Financial, Sean “Big Sean” Anderson, Emmanuel Dawson, Nalani Kelley-Marsh, Earl Perry, Livi Grant.
Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Florida A&M University students were in the spotlight yet again.

In a competition to support the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs, five FAMU students took first place against teams from 10 other universities. 

Entertainer Big Sean's Sean Anderson Foundation partnered with Ally Financials, Inc. and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to develop the first-ever “Moguls in the Making” entrepreneurial competition in Detroit – a city known for its entrepreneurial grit.

The FAMU team consisted of five students:  Livie Grant, Nalani Kelley-Marsh, Emmanuel Dawson and Earl Perry and one engineering student, Keishon Smith.

For one weekend, selected students from public HBCUs – FAMU, Morgan State, North Carolina A&T and more – traveled to Detroit to represent their schools and compete against other student entrepreneurs. 

“We wanted to shine a spotlight on kids who are at these universities, the smart thinking that’s there, and the entrepreneurship that exists within them, and so we felt like this would be a unique, very different program,” George Spencer, executive vice president of business development, innovation, and entrepreneurship for TMCF told the Detroit Free Press.

Each team was given one industry such as health and wellness, banking and finance, real estate, etc. to come up with a solution to solve economic inequality within the Detroit area. In addition to two days of preparation to present, the student teams also attended sessions on financial literacy, idea pitching, and building a business model. 

The judges included Grammy-nominated rapper Big Sean; Andrea Brimmer, Ally chief marketing and public relations officer; Anand Talwar, Ally deposit and consumer strategy executive; Tommey Walker, principal of Detroit vs. Everybody; and George Spencer.

The FAMU team tackled the industry of banking and financing. It considered it as one of the more difficult industries due to the preexisting economic inequality in Detroit. However, they saw growth within that industry as well and the need for it in the Detroit area. 

“First we had to understand the socio economic landscape of Detroit, and through that, we were able to discover the greatest thing is small businesses. Then we researched statistics about small businesses, black businesses, and found the National Business League,” Dawson added. “NBL is headquartered in Detroit and makes up about 2 million small businesses around the country which are owned by black entrepreneurs, so that gave us a start to our idea.”

To the panelists, the FAMU students presented an artificially intelligent system called CityCFO. The system essentially would serve as a tool for small businesses to upload documents and files regarding payroll, inventory, stock levels and more to generate solutions or best practices to grow their business.

“For example, if a person wanted to open a food truck business, they can upload their documents to the CityCFO system, and it will provide recommendations on the best locations, suggested suppliers, item pricing tips and ways to grow your business in a year,” Grant said.

After 10 pitches, Big Sean announced Florida A&M University as the winners of the first “Moguls in the Making” competition.

“It was really exciting to see all our hard work come to fruition. We remained confident in our pitch and how we can improve the lives or small business owners through,” said Grant.

Each member of FAMU’s winning team was awarded a $5,000 scholarship, a MacBook Air computer, and an internship offer with Ally Financials.