In a region known for its automotive industry, it is only fitting that a local entrepreneur found a solution while analyzing car parts.
While interning at a manufacturing and factory redesign company in Detroit, Brian Balasia realized that the same techniques used on the product line could help companies use new technology more efficiently. So at the age of 20, Balasia founded Digerati, a process-consulting company with the mission of analyzing and fixing the inefficient use of new tools and methods in the workplace.
Balasia, Digerati's co-founder and CEO, recognized that the way companies implemented new technology sometimes resulted in more lost time and money than before they had the new tool or method.
"When it came to technology, no one thought about return on investment," Balasia, now 31, explains. "People would spend a lot of money on a new tool, but no one looked at where the savings came from from using that tool."
By applying the same sort of techniques and skills engineers use when dissecting and reconstructing machine parts, the Digerati team locates and identifies inefficient processes in companies and advises them on how to fix the problem.
Digerati employees chart painstakingly complex process maps to understand how technology impacts the workplace. The information gathered from these maps is then used to create a new process or implementation of the tool. "We help them to understand how to reorganize operations and leverage technology to make substantial improvements," said Balasia.
Though the company was originally focused on finding technology solutions for companies, its work started attracting attention from a much broader audience. Eventually, Digerati was tasked with looking at ways to improve Michigan's struggling economy and unemployment rate. In 2008, the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (NEI), a philanthropic effort combining contributions from 10 national and local foundations to improve the region's economic outlook, sought out Digerati's services to help stem the flow of college graduates who left the state to find work.
The NEI wanted to understand why so many recent grads were leaving, and look for ways to keep talented young workers in the area in an effort to revitalize the struggling economy.
Digerati discovered that though the widespread belief among college students was that there weren't many career opportunities in the area, there were enough available jobs to lower the state unemployment rate by 2 percent. "Since we are losing a lot of blue-collar workers, there was a perception that there were no jobs," explains Balasia. "But in fact there were still plenty of white-collar jobs for those with four-year degrees."
Balasia and the Digerati team's solution was Intern in Michigan, a system helping employers host internship opportunities for students.
Digerati found that by exposing students to job opportunities while still in school, their perception of the job market significantly improved. "We knew that if we were going to fix the market inequality, we were going to have to expose students to opportunities before they graduated," explains Balasia. "We found that the best way was through internships."
The success of the program brought Digerati's services to an even greater audience. "Now we're being asked to do the same thing in a whole host of states," Balasia said.
His company now employs 30 people, but Balasia's original ambition was to be a crash investigator. He said that his transition into entrepreneurship came about mostly because of his time spent around other entrepreneurs. "I worked for a great entrepreneur at this internship and saw that it was possible," Balasia recalled. "Once you see that if you have an idea and that it could potentially be a business, it's possible to do it."
Now, Balasia is passing on the entrepreneurial bug to his own employees. "Even a couple of my staff have created successful businesses," he said. "They realized that if their bosses could do it then they could do it."
This profile is part of a series featuring innovative small-business owners taking part in The Huffington Post's Entrepreneurship Expo in Tampa and Charlotte, in conjunction with the 2012 political conventions and HuffPost's "Opportunity: What Is Working" initiative.
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