Once and Future Entrepreneurs

Christopher Ilitch, Doug Rothwell give advice to UM students
Christopher Illitch and Doug Rothwell speak to the Entrepreneurship Club.

Christopher Ilitch and Doug Rothwell speak to the Entrepreneurship Club at UM's Stamps Auditorium. Some things never change – no one likes to sit in front.

It’s hard to know how many of the 200 or so students who attended Friday’s Entrepreneurship Hour lecture will become entrepreneurs. Maybe not the ones playing video games on their laptops or texting on their cellphones – but you never know.

Those who were listening to Christopher Ilitch and Doug Rothwell gleaned a fair bit of advice on what it takes to succeed, and on what some community leaders are doing to support entrepreneurs in southeast Michigan.

Ilitch is part of the family that owns Little Caesars Pizza, MotorCity Casino, the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and several other holdings that generate nearly $2 billion in revenues. He outlined lessons he learned from his parents, Mike and Marian Ilitch, who started their business empire by opening a single pizza store in 1959. Their success, he said, depended on “a clear set of values and an awful lot of hard work.”

Students attack the post-lecture appetizers by Kimberly's Catering.

Students dig into post-lecture appetizers by Kimberly's Catering.

He cited the importance of dreaming big and setting goals, of creativity and innovation, perseverance and commitment, humility and character, and the importance of giving back to the community. His family’s story, he said, is “truly proof that anything is possible.” He then asked the students: “How will it start for you?”

Rothwell, president of Detroit Renaissance and former head of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., spoke about his group’s efforts to bolster Detroit’s “creative economy” – an umbrella that includes design, advertising, marketing and architectural firms, among others.

They’re branding the area with the slogan Detroit Make It Here, have launched a website and developed an “asset map” identifying companies that are already doing business here. They’re trying to make Woodward Avenue a “creative corridor” – a distinct place with public art, buildings that are architecturally distinctive and increased mass transit. Detroit Renaissance also plans to form a business incubator to provide support services for startups in these fields – Rothwell says they’re close to identifying a location for that. (Ilitch is one of several high-powered board members for Detroit Renaissance, a group that includes UM President Mary Sue Coleman and Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon.)

The Entrepreneurship Hour, held by the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship, meets every Friday from 3-4 p.m. at the Stamps Auditorium on UM’s North Campus. The Oct. 17 speaker is John Osher, an inventor, Broadway producer and philanthropist.