Detroit In Tech: Justins-In-Tech

Justin headshot

This month we’re featuring two millennial entrepreneurs of color, and their work in the Detroit tech industry. Our entrepreneurs are two Justins-in-Tech! From connecting college students to jobs, to providing marketing to increase the sustainability of local companies, these two Detroit entrepreneurs of color are working for more than just their own gain.

Let’s begin with Justin Dunn at Increase Branding & Design:

What do you do when you discover a personal talent? Do you ignore it? Or do you work on it in order to perfect your skill and use it to open other possibilities? Well, that’s just what Justin Dunn did! Read on to learn how to turn your talents into your next career move.

Introduce yourself! What was your background before you began your startup?

I’m Justin J. Dunn, a millennial entrepreneur who has always had a passion for business. Ever since I was a child, I have been putting into action small business ideas. Being exposed to the financial and creative freedom of entrepreneurship became addictive. In college, I ran an online boutique and shortly after dived into internet marketing. All of my entrepreneurial efforts exposed me to the importance of tech in the small business industry, which led me to founding Increase Branding & DesignJustin Dunn.

What does your company do?

Increase Branding & Design is a digital marketing agency that turns average business goals into actionable marketing strategies. We specialize in website design & development, brand identity & graphic design, inbound marketing, social media, full-scale photo & video production, press & media relations, brand consulting, and much more. Our primary customer base is small and mid-size businesses who are unaware of the impact tech and design has on their business goals.

Increase Branding, Detroit

What made you get into tech?

My becoming a techie was a natural evolution. While being a serial entrepreneur in college, web-based platforms were the driving force for my businesses. I taught myself design, coding and marketing skills to enhance my businesses and the results were tremendous. As my technological knowledge grew, business owners became attracted to me. They noticed how strong my websites were and how much it enhanced my business. This inspired me to have an even stronger position in tech and consistently evolve my skills to be considered an expert. Today, my expertise motivates other entrepreneurs who lack the tech skills I have been fortunate enough to master.

Where do you see opportunity for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the tech industry?

I see the greatest opportunity in our youth. It is my goal to inspire young Black males especially to consider careers in the tech industry.  We don’t often see Black faces at-large in tech spaces. I hope that my being in the space is a step in encouraging more youth to understand they have a stake in what’s happening in this country. Tech is the future, but also the present, and it is my goal for all minority young people to be exposed to it.

What is a piece of advice you wish you knew before jumping into the industry? 

I wish I knew that I didn’t have to say “yes” to every project. Every project doesn’t align with your business goals and mission. I learned that you will quickly get burned out trying to be “all things to all people.” It was difficult for me to make that adjustment because naturally I’m ambitious and I want to help every business. However, it was a strategy that I needed to learn desperately for the sustainability of my business.

What role does Detroit play in your company, and why have you picked to work here and not go somewhere else?

I was born and raised in Chicago. My experience as a tech startup would be much different there. It’s a big city with a lot of red tape and not much room for an emerging entrepreneur. Detroit is a breeding ground right now for innovation and entrepreneurship. There is so much opportunity here for new ideas and new faces at the table. It was a no-brainer for me to run my business operations in Detroit.  Being a native Chicagoan, Detroit attracted me because of its focus in the last few years on entrepreneurs and innovation. The resurgence of Detroit has allowed millennials to play a vital part in the entrepreneurial landscape of the city and I am fortunate to be a part of it.

Thanks, Justin! Up next, Justin Cook at Pro:Up:

When you’re passionate about others, how can you expand your reach in order to help as many people as possible? Justin Cook took a brick-and-mortar community resource center for students and put it on their phone. Pro:Up, DetroitInstead of helping a few students in one location, he and his team are able to reach beyond their literal storefront footprint and provide job and intern opportunities for thousands of students in the Metro Detroit area.

Introduce yourself! What is your background before you began your startup?

I’m Justin Cook. Most of my friends today call me Cook. Family and friends from my childhood call me Jay. Yes, I come from the hood, specifically the eastside of Detroit, more specifically an area commonly known as Mack Town. One of the worst parts of Detroit, but that’s where I grew up, that’s home. Humble beginnings made me want to do something to make the city better, safer, cleaner. So, I decided to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club.

Justin CookIt’s funny how one single experience can dramatically change a person’s entire life trajectory. After that first day I quickly learned two things about myself: 1) that I was naturally good at being a role model for the youth I served and 2) I discovered that I really enjoyed it. I had stumbled onto a passion just by deciding to volunteer my spare time. Volunteering led to a job as a Summer camp counselor at the YMCA, which led me to work with another youth development organization, which then led to me working at Kelly Middle school. At this point, I’ve spent about ten years serving as an advocate for disadvantaged youth. I’ve worked with over a dozen different youth development orgs, churches and schools to try and have a positive impact on the lives of young people growing up in communities like Detroit. It’s what I feel like I was born to do.

What does Pro:Up do?

The Pro Up App connects high school students to local educational and career development opportunities –– like jobs, internships, pre-college summer programs and more. All based on a user’s indicated location and interests, we enable them to receive notifications about a variety opportunities that match. This helps students get exposure to the kinds of critical early-career experiences that can totally change their future trajectories. Meanwhile, organizations like colleges and employers can easily notify thousands of local students about their opportunities and programming. On a grand scale, Pro Up acts like an interactive community resource map, allowing a region to track and sort all of the youth development opportunities in their region and gauge their impact over time.

What made you get into tech?

Recognizing two things: 1) Most teens / people in general today are super attached to their devices and 2) regardless of how passionate, talented and loving I may be, there are still very real limits to the amount of impact I can generate as just one person. However, through the use of smartphones and mobile apps, the work of just one counselor can be scaled up to impact hundreds and even thousands of students. What made me get into tech was realizing this and seeing that it was the best way to create an even bigger impact. When I first began brainstorming solutions, I thought of developing a brick-and-mortar resource center where youth and their families could come to receive this type of information. I pitched the idea to my close friend and now cofounder, who helped me realize that building an app would not only be more effective –– it’s way cooler!

Where do you see opportunity for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the tech industry?

I see opportunity in literally every single area within the tech industry. It’s hard not to. I think of sports and entertainment and how not too long ago these two industries were predominantly White. Today, they’re probably the most inclusive and ethnically diverse industries in the world. I like to imagine what’s possible for the world when more Blacks and Latinxs are founders and CEOs of tech companies.

What is a piece of advice you wish you knew before jumping into the industry?

Don’t even try for “work-life” balance––it doesn’t exist for entrepreneurs. Instead your aim should be to fall in love with the journey. I just wish I would’ve known how real it gets. It’s scary, and you start to really see why most startups fail. This route, this path, it constantly pushes you beyond your limits, forcing you to either stretch yourself into a completely new form or tear into pieces. It’s unforgiving. You’re blessed to find people that can relate and empathize because very few can. It will reveal you to yourself in ways that no book or article can prepare you for. You have to have passion for whatever you’re doing or building. It’s the anchor that holds you down when the storm comes. Because the storms do come. Entrepreneurship is all about peaks and valleys. Passion keeps you getting lost. It keeps you moving forward when life throws those punches at you. Without a deep love for my work, I would’ve probably quit by now.  You take on so many risks, you sacrifice, you work until your body aches and your eyes burn. And then you wake up early and do it all again. For years. Before you get any type of acknowledgement, before you can even afford to cut yourself a check.

What role does Detroit play in your company, and why have you picked to work here and not go somewhere else?

Detroit is our home. When people advised us to move to different markets, we stayed because we know we’re needed here. Simple. As we continue to build and scale our company, Detroit will always be home base to us. We’re constantly seeing and hearing news about our struggling public schools and we see first hand how it impacts our youth and their families. It feels like the focus now more than ever is on closing the “skills gap” being more “inclusive” while reducing poverty and unemployment rates. It’s not that these issues are unique to Detroit, but they do seem to have a greater presence here than in other major U.S. cities. What I love about Detroit’s startup / tech ecosystem is that it’s super collaborative. We aren’t trying to crush each other here –– it’s the opposite. We’re rebuilding Detroit together because we know that’s the only way to truly revitalize. So when I see that so and so won a pitch contest, or I hear about that guy’s company having a successful exit, or that girl’s startup getting national attention, I celebrate.

Thank you, Justins!

Be sure to follow us for more blogs focused on diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, as part of our Detroit in Tech initiative. 

The Detroit in Tech initiative’s goal is to diversify the area’s tech industry, and highlight movers and shakers who are making that possible. This blog was created in partnership with CODE2040. 

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