By Jada Simone Fisher
Lansing Mosaic got the opportunity to speak with local entrepreneur, Jerry Norris. Norris is one of the founders of The Fledge in Grand Ledge and is relocating it in Lansing, MI this month.
Lansing Mosaic: Can you tell us a little about your business?
Jerry Norris: The Fledge is a hyper-inclusive, ideation makerspace, incubator and accelerator. The hyper-inclusive, as much as it means something to use from a diversity perspective, it also means something from a project perspective. We want skilled trades as much as we want high tech. We want people of all colors, ages, and economic backgrounds. We look at diversity in a way where we’re all making each other better and stronger.
LM: What prompted you to found The Fledge?
JN: I saw way too many people graduating from college, getting stuck in a career that they hate and being subjected to some job or some person to pay some student loan debt. I just felt that’s not the way that we should be living. We should be living to be happy, not to be paying off a debt and not doing all these things that people tell us that we have to do. People are scared to deviate from that and I wanted to give them a safe place to come in and see that they can deviate from that traditional mindset. A lot of the time they fail at that because they don’t treat what they’re doing as a business and I have the skillset to teach them how to treat it like a business. I also have a desire and an obligation to get people out into the world and doing things that they love.
LM: According to your website, you focus on project innovation. How does this work?
JN: One of our goals is to disrupt accredited education. We believe that you should be educated with project based learning and innovation and that you should focus on skills and interests as much as you do STEM. We really want people turning their passion into their careers. We will get people involved in a project and then people involved start gaining a new interest or skill and apply those skills elsewhere, through another creative outlet. Or they get an idea to create their own project or their own business. Or they may not know what they want to do when they come to The Fledge but when they find out what they want to do, we can help them prototype it, and then once they have the prototype, we can help them find a customer, then once we find the customer, we help them grow so they can have multiple customers.
According to Norris, The Fledge has already helped to start around 28 businesses using project-based innovation. Below are some products created by “fledglings,” as Norris calls them.
In addition to their current opportunities, Jerry also says they will be adding a dark room photography center and a community soup kitchen among other additions to the Lansing location. Below are some of the resources that The Fledge currently offers.
LM: Why did you choose to refurbish a church for the Lansing location?
JN: It wasn’t that we went out looking to purchase a church but it was opportunistic, so it became available. So when we went into it, it already had the kitchen and rooms that could be partitioned into little training centers. It had seating and the venue and the lofts. We’re community based so a lot of what we do is to help the community while we’re helping ourselves. While there is a selfish aspect to us where we’ve got to sustain and stay alive, we do that by making sure everybody arounds us benefits. So it’s symbiotic. With the church being designed to also help the community, it became perfect. We didn’t expect that but when I walked in for the first time, I just knew.
LM: When will your grand opening take place?
JN: We’ll be closing our first location in Grand Ledge before we open this one, but the open house will be on May 15th. There’ll be spoken word, a speech from myself and a couple of our sponsors, musical performances, and food and beverages. We’re actually calling it an open house because we will be continuously fixing things and adding services long after we open in May.