Overcoming barriers to success for job seekers and would-be entrepreneurs

The Internet and shared digital economy platforms, such as Uber, Lyft, eBay, Etsy and Airbnb, have provided budding entrepreneurs with an easy ramp to small-business success. Unfortunately, in places like inner-city Detroit, these digital platforms are not as accessible and often pose challenges for would-be entrepreneurs, who lack business and technology experience.

UMSI assistant professor Tawanna Dillahunt has received a $154,925 National Science Foundation grant titled “EAGER: Identifying Technical and Non-technical Feature Requirements to Generate Income-Earning Opportunities for Inexperienced Entrepreneurs.” Her co-PIs are UMSI associate professor Kentaro Toyama and UMSI assistant professor Joyojeet Pal.

Dillahunt and her team plan to work with a non-profit organization in Detroit’s Lower Eastside and community members who want to conduct neighborhood tours to earn additional income. The team will use action-research methods to help the community overcome the technical and non-technical “hidden” requirements to achieve shared-economy entrepreneurship. They will assist with tour content and provide technical assistance and connect them with legal and business advisors. Community members will design the tours, handle logistics and ultimately, deliver the tours. 

Dillahunt has also received a $19,637 University of Michigan Poverty Solutions grant titled “Improving Employability via Physical Crowdsourced Tasks."  Her co-PI is Electrical Engineering and Computer Science assistant professor Walter Lasecki.

Poverty Solutions is a new inter-disciplinary initiative at the University of Michigan that seeks to foster research that informs, identifies and tests strategies for preventing and alleviating poverty.

The goal of the project is to design and create a computational system to help underserved job seekers complete tasks on crowdsourcing platforms to build their skill sets and employability for particular jobs. Too often those in low-socioeconomic regions have low income and limited education and lack the skills to verbalize their qualifications or complete tasks on job websites. Through collaboration with local Southeast Michigan organizations that specialize in job training, investigators will identify real-world tasks and skills that job-seekers need for long-term employment. Results from this project will inform efforts to use existing crowdsourcing platforms to build underserved job-seeker skill sets that are likely to lead to long-term employment and ultimately job creation.

Posted April 13, 2017