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Open City recapped: 'Every person is a brand'

We all have certain dates carved in our memories--dates representing milestones in our lives. Oct. 23, 2013 is one of those dates for Tifani Jones Sadek. That is when she took "The Leap," leaving a comfortable position at a major law firm to go into business for herself.

Last Monday, Sadek and other panelists gathered for the latest edition of Open City, a forum co-produced by D:Hive, Detroit Creative Corridor Center, and Model D, to discuss "The Leap" -- the moment when entrepreneurs go all in on their business ideas.

The forum, which took place at Cliff Bell's, was the kickoff event for the first ever #DetroitWeek, a celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation in the city.

Sadek, principal of a startup law firm Sadek Legal, was joined by David Anderson, "Strategic Son" at Bamboo Detroit (a coworking space in downtown Detroit) and chief marketing and sales officer at tech startup Backstitch, and Hajj Flemings, founder of Brandcamp University and the newly formed Established Co., presenter of #DetroitWeek.

Amanda Lewan, editor at Michipreneur and "Community Lady" at Bamboo Detroit, moderated the discussion.

Sadek, who launched her firm to provide legal services to other startups, small businesses, and entrepreneurs in Detroit after five years working for large law firms in Houston and Chicago, said that Detroit's entrepreneurial community and its infectious spirit were her main inspirations for making the leap to entrepreneurship.

"I didn't think of myself as an entrepreneur until I moved to Detroit. I kept seeing people who were my age or even younger getting out there and doing it. In Houston and Chicago, I never thought of launching a startup," said Sadek. "Everyone in Detroit is very collaborative compared to the places I've been."

Panelists Hajj Flemings and David Anderson echoed Sadek's sentiments about the entrepreneurial zeitgeist in Detroit.

"When you think of the DNA of Detroit, we've always been creative. Now people have an opportunity to reimagine and rebrand the city," said Flemings.

"It's funny how much the world is looking to Detroit," said Anderson.

Though the spirit of entrepreneurship may be strong in the city, Sadek reminded us that Detroit is still a place of immense challenges for those who want to start businesses.

"We are in a bankrupt city and we know there are high barriers to getting things done," she said. "The cost of doing business can be high and the path to getting there can be opaque."

In addition to reflecting on the opportunities and challenges of entrepreneurship in Detroit, panelists shared some practical advice to entrepreneurs in the audience considering taking The Leap.

"I believe every single person is a brand," said Flemings. "Everyone should be able to articulate what they do and drive people to some sort of digital real estate that represents them."

Anderson told the audience, "Find a virtual mentor. I listened to podcasts non-stop and became a student of what I wanted to do."

Sadek warned the audience not to wait for the perfect time to quit a job to pursue entrepreneurship. The promise of one more paycheck and the security of a job and benefits can sidetrack you.

"There's never a good time to quit a job," said Sadek. "At some point you just have to make the leap."

Open City returns to Cliff Bell's on March 17 at 6 p.m. with "PopUp Detroit: Starting Slow and Small."

Matthew Lewis is a Detroit-based freelance writer and a project editor for Model D.

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