Lately, Detroit has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, but for one recent grad working at a Detroit startup was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

By Caroline Dobbins (Fellow, Challenge Detroit)

I came to Detroit to “live, work, play, give and lead” for one year with little knowledge of the city, its opportunities or its challenges. Today, almost one year later, I don’t know everything but I learn something new every day. I’m Caroline, one of 28 young professionals who took a risk and joined Challenge Detroit in an effort to be a part of the revitalization of one of our country’s most influential cities. As a resident, a startup employee and a women in Detroit, I’ve found myself connecting with individuals, organizations and causes in a way I didn’t imagine was possible. This is my short story of my first year in a city full of potential.

I arrived in Detroit with excitement and trepidation for what my one-year fellowship would hold. I knew I’d be spending Monday through Thursday working for, a technology startup and a Detroit Venture Partner company. Friday’s were a mystery but I knew I’d be working, along with my peers, to help non-profits in the city address problems with creativity and innovation. I looked forward to spending my free time enjoying life in downtown Detroit, living just blocks away from Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers with all of the city’s excitement awaiting me just outside my door.

Little did I know, there was actually no real way to prepare myself for what the year would hold.

A Year at a Detroit Startup

I could write a personal memoir on the things I have learned and experienced in my first year in Detroit. Weekends spent on Belle Isle; workdays spent in a fast-paced tech startup creating a better way for companies to find qualified talent; and, the hour’s in-between spent exploring Detroit. There was never a dull moment.

My year working in a startup has been one full of learning. As many of you could guess the culture of a startup is unlike any other and I imagine that each startup is unique. Most operate very lean and everyone wears lots of hats — is no different.  When arriving in August 2012 I dove head first into new projects, which was exciting. Over the year, our technology has changed, or strategy has changed and in a year later we’ve made tremendous progress. I feel lucky and grateful to have had the chance to experience the startup culture as a recent graduate; I’ve learned lessons in leadership, organization, business, investment, personal relations, determination and just plain hard work. Those are certainly lessons that I will never forget or and don’t wish to trade.

Making Connections

One of my favorite events to attend each month is Detroit’s Women 2.0’s Founder Friday. An evening where women and men come together, network and learn about the personal story of a tech founder in our city. The genuine conversations, thoughtful questions, raw stories and pure accessibility is what motivates me to attend a Friday evening event, even after the most exhausting weeks. The core volunteer group for Detroit’s Founder Friday is a diverse group of talented women, headed up by Emily Hay, a mentor of mine and an individual with what seems to be endless energy and a passion for business, women and Detroit. As volunteers, Emily and her team do a wonderful job of attracting talented and experienced entrepreneurs that so candidly share their successes, their failures and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Working at a tech startup where women can be few and far between, attending Founder Friday gives me the drive to pursue my interest in entrepreneurship and technology. I leave each event with a renewed “I can take on the world” attitude and at least one new connection.  What else can you really ask for?

My year has been filled with new people, new experiences and new opportunities all happening in the city of Detroit. I’ve had opportunities to listen to and speak with community leaders, new entrepreneurs and true Detroiters. Through these interactions, I have been able to carve out a place for me, in a city with so much potential.

As my fellowship comes to an end, I am confidently only looking in Detroit for life’s next opportunity. One year is not enough time to live, work, play, give and lead in Detroit. I want to spend many more years doing just that in a city I have fallen in love with. I want to fully participate in the creation of the next Detroit as I mold myself as a young professional. I’m passionate about business, tech, philanthropy, community and revitalization and I know I can pursue those passions, simultaneously, in Detroit.

I really can’t imagine many 23-year-olds in other cities having the opportunities I have had in Detroit. I came, I lived, I’m staying – a year in Detroit is all it takes.

39f7wqoxexi53khftyvjAbout the guest blogger: Caroline Dobbins is a 2012 -2013 Challenge Detroit Fellow living and working in Detroit. Intrigued by social media, philanthropy, marketing and community development, she’s dedicated to the revitalization of the motor city. Follow her on Twitter @cndobbins