Group is giving Detroit a business boost

Who wants to be an entrepreneur?

The Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Foundation has launched a $9.25 million initiative to find 800 Detroit-area people this year with the ideas, talent and drive to start businesses that could help the nation's struggling auto capital develop a new economic base.

A "cattle call" for hopefuls is set for Aug. 18. It's the third and final session in the first year of Detroit's FastTrac to the Future program.

"This program has the potential to create thousands of jobs, spur growth of small businesses, help auto suppliers diversify and make sure minority businesses fully participate in the new green economy," White House auto recovery czar Ed Montgomery said in a statement when the program was launched.

Kauffman spearheaded a similar program in New York City in January. The Detroit-area program, launched in June, offers entrepreneurial training and is scaled to the area's huge economic challenges, said program organizer Judy Johncox, director of business services for Wayne State University's TechTown business incubator.

Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate, at 15.2 percent, and has hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers looking for a way back into the work force.

"We really need to reach for the stars here in Detroit and give people some opportunity," Johncox said.

A big problem Michigan faces in overhauling its economy is a mismatch between people with ideas and skills and those who know how to put them into effect, experts say.

"What we need is the management talent," said Stephen Forrest, the University of Michigan's vice president for research.