Two statues representing the University’s desire for academic and athletic excellence adorn both sides of the Michigan Union’s main entrance. However, University alum David Merritt, former co-captain of the Michigan basketball team, wants to show students that it’s possible to bridge the gap between the two.
Merritt visited the University Friday to offer entrepreneurial students advice on how to go about building their ventures and start-ups. Though he was hesitant to call himself an expert in entrepreneurship, Merritt turned his experiences and mistakes in the classroom and on the court into tools students can learn from.
The talk was hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurship as a part of its Entrepreneurship Hour series, in conjunction with the Michigan Engineering Common Reading Experience. Titled “Doing Well and Doing Good,” the discussion focused on doing business while making a social impact.
Originally from Detroit, Merritt earned an academic scholarship to the University and enrolled with the hope that he would be able to play on the men’s basketball team. After two consecutive years of trying and failing to secure a spot on the team, he made it onto the squad as a walk-on and continued to serve as its co-captain until his graduation, leaving the University with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
After his basketball career ended, Merritt said he discovered his passion for education and fashion and decided to start a social venture that would be the confluence between the two. Merit, his charity-focused fashion brand, currently donates 20 percent of all proceeds to help fund college scholarships for students in Detroit.
As the talk progressed, Merritt shared his experiences and coupled them with sports metaphors such as “your defense is your best offense.” For instance, Merritt said his initial defensive approach toward his idea and his lack of trust of others did not allow him to gain perspective and insight from others.
However, when he began opening up his idea to more perspectives, Merritt said he learned that his venture needed a greater focus.
“What has really done good for me is having the desire to learn from people, to not know it all,” he said. “You need to learn from people who have been where you are trying to go.”
He additionally challenged the students in the audience to question “Why?” as they go on to develop their ventures. Merritt presented a video, which displayed a series of statistics regarding education, one of which was that every 26 seconds a student drops out of high school. He cited this fact as his inspiration for working toward entrepreneurship and social change.
Taking his vision further, Merritt began his own education program, FATE, to help academically develop a selected cohort of students in Detroit.
During the lecture, Paul Saginaw, owner of Zingerman’s Deli and one of Merritt’s mentors through the process, came out and spoke of Merritt’s accomplishments. He said he chose to become Merritt’s mentor since he admires character over talent or other accolades.
“I think he lives his life with a lot of life, love and gratitude and he started a business in what I believe is a very pure way,” Saginaw said. “(It was) not to maximize his profits but to give a better life to people who are often left behind.”