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Everyone Is Welcome in Ann Arbor, MI

An inclusive community gives this Eastern Michigan region a competitive advantage.

By Teree Caruthers on December 29, 2021

University of Michigan
University of Michigan

Ann Arbor has long been a haven for international high-tech and manufacturing companies, and along with major learning and research institutions such as the University of Michigan (U-M) and Eastern Michigan University, a draw for talent from across the globe. The region’s welcoming environment and diversity in Ann Arbor have become essential to economic development and growth.

Ji Hye Kim, head chef and managing partner of Miss Kim Korean restaurant, a subsidiary of Ann Arbor-based Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (a collection of specialty food companies), knows this fact firsthand. She was working in insurance and human resources until a chance meeting at Zingerman’s Deli changed her career trajectory. She worked her way up through the conglomerate as a line cook and in kitchen prep and eventually opened her own restaurant through Zingerman’s employee path to partnership program.

“One way Zingerman’s has committed to diversity is by making ownership more diverse through the path to partnership,” Kim says. “Anyone who is interested in becoming a partner can become one, whether it’s in an existing business or by creating a brand-new business like I did. The process is very transparent, which keeps the door wide open for more people to walk through.”

Ji Hye Kim

“It’s important that we diversify in the number and types
of businesses we have, offering different types of products
that may be more appealing to many different types of people.”

Ji Hye Kim | Miss Kim Korean Restaurant

Zingerman’s Vision of Diversity and Inclusion of the Year 2025 imagines a workforce that mirrors the region’s diverse population. Kim, who is also a partner member of the organization’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, says Zingerman’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and employee equity is in line with its core values.

“The organization itself is primed for work like this because we’re a triple bottom line company. Our bottom lines are not just profits, but also food and service — and service not just for our guests but also service to each other,” she says.

University of Michigan

Diversity and Inclusion in Ann Arbor

Like Zingerman’s, organizations across the Ann Arbor region have made diversity and inclusion a priority. The Ann Arbor Entrepreneurs Fund, an initiative of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, launched the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Internship program to connect underrepresented student talent from colleges across the state to high-growth startups and venture capital firms.

“For many startups and even VC firms, running an in-house internship program is often too resource intensive for them to manage,” says DEI Internship Program partner Trista Van Tine, director of the Ann Arbor Entrepreneurs Fund. “We offer the extended bandwidth and support they need to onboard and manage a student intern.”

“Our program seeks to identify and provide opportunities
to students who may not otherwise have had exposure to
or been able to gain experience in tech companies.”

Trista Van Tine | DEI Internship Program

The program hosts a series of monthly leadership training sessions for student interns as well as networking events. Students are also paired with a professional mentor from the community, and participating companies are required to take part in a series of DE&I training sessions to equip them with resources and best practices that they can then employ within their own organizations.

“We believe that talent is broadly distributed; however, opportunity is not, especially in venture capital. We felt that in order for that to change, we had to become actively engaged in creating opportunities for a more diverse group of individuals to learn about our industry,” says Doug Neal, managing director for eLab Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm with offices in Ann Arbor and San Mateo, California.

“Participating in the DEI Internship Program allowed us to hire an amazing intern that helped us achieve some significant internal goals that will have a long-term positive impact on our business.”

Konrad Dixon, a recent graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a degree in mechanical engineering, interned in 2021 with the venture capital firm Mercury Fund. He says he applied for the internship program to gain hands-on experience and a network of mentors to help better prepare him for a career and life after college.

“The program helped give me an outlet of people to have as mentors, but it also expanded my insight into what types of roles and companies exist,” Dixon says. “I learned of new fields to possibly pursue with my degree, outside of the traditional jobs in my major.”

Van Tine says programs, such as the DEI Internship, not only benefit the participants but have the long-term effect of benefiting the entire region.

“Growth and innovation require new ways of seeing the same problems we encounter every day and developing novel solutions,” she says. “To do this, we need as many different perspectives and voices in the workforce and at the decision-making tables as possible.”

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