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Brand Camp University

330 East Maple Road
Birmingham, Michigan 48009

Hajj Flemings

By Tunde Wey
April 24, 2013

Hajj Flemings is doing pretty well for himself. Flemings, a mechanical engineer by training, worked in the automotive industry for a decade until he realized that entrepreneurship was his preferred trade.

Flemings saw startup businesses as made up of a discreet set of challenges solvable with the right tools. He had observed that though a lot of new business owners had good ideas, they were not always well-prepared to be administratively competent. As an engineer with an advanced business degree, Flemings' particular skill set is problem-solving and effectively connecting resources to distinct problems. He brings his expertise to other start-ups through Brand Camp University.
According to Flemings the mission of Brand Camp University is "to change how people build, launch, and grow ideas using technology, whether they are personal brands, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs (employees), small businesses or corporations."  The signature product of Flemings' Brand Camp University is the Brand Camp Conference Series, a concatenation of day-long conferences held in Detroit, New York, Boston, Austin, and Las Vegas that convenes "thought leaders, technologists, influencers and creatives around a discussion on branding, entrepreneurial thinking, and technology."

The Brand Camp Conference Series, which is allied with big-name technology companies like Google and Dell, is well-attended with annual participation in the thousands.
Flemings was born in Detroit, and though he has moved to the more affluent suburb of Birmingham, his work remains Detroit-focused – his most recent Brand Camp Conference was hosted at Detroit’s informal tech hub, the [email protected] Building, and featured a slew of local companies including 313 Energy and En Garde Detroit, among others.
Detroit is an insistent place. It is impossible to work or live here and not feel its tug; the compulsion to do more than for yourself. Flemings feels that tug and he has responded in a manner he knows best.
"We look at the tech space and we see it growing, but we want to diversify the tech space. If you map it back to the demographic of the city of Detroit there is a very strong disconnect because underserved communities are not represented." By 'underserved communities' Flemings is referring to minorities who face widespread structural disenfranchisement, with the tech industry being no different (according to industry magazine TechCrunch, women and African Americans represent 23.8 percent and 1.5 percent of the tech workforce).

So Flemings started Student Ventures as an attempt to address this technology gap between mainstream America and minorities by engaging the most educationally vulnerable.Student Venture, a project to "expose middle and high school students to the world of entrepreneurship, mobile app development, digital technology and STEM education." 

At the Student Ventures pilot event held in the fall of 2012, which was styled similarly to the Brand Camp Conferences, Flemings partnered up with local and nation tech firms including Detroit Labs, a local app developer, and Union Square Ventures, a New York-based venture capital firm, to expose Detroit-area students to the often intimidating inner workings of the tech industry, coaching them on high-level app design and pitching to investors.

For Flemings the importance of Student Ventures is undeniable. He says, "If you want to see the city change and you have all these schools in the city, they are going to need to be tech-enabled and they are going to need to demonstrate to the students that this is a career path.

'We are going to need to be able to expose them at an early age, because if we don’t we are going to have a growing part of our community that is going to be disconnected; we are going to see the wealth gap widen if this technology gap is not closed."
The future is evidently progressing towards a more web-connected and tech-enabled economy. Flemings is telling us that this future is already here, and for Detroit to be competitive we need employees ready for this.
Flemings says, "There are a lot of tech companies locally that say, 'We have job openings that we can’t fill.' If people don’t have the proficiencies in the area they are not going to get the job." It’s a simple but devastating proposition he is trying to reverse. 

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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