Situated in a former church in Lansing’s Eastside Neighborhood, the Fledge is “a radically inclusive ideation space, makerspace, incubator and accelerator on a mission to create opportunities to pursue happiness.”
Jerry Norris, CEO and founder of the Fledge, described some of the dreams the organization has of what it will become. They recently installed an aquaponic system, complete with a few live fish, into the old baptismal of the building and plan to use it to grow vegetables. Norris has dreams of building systems that allow for the building to be run on artificial intelligence as well.
Along with their own entrepreneurial dreams, the Fledge strives to create an environment where everyone feels at home. Instead of focusing on a specific type of person or an area of development, the Fledge aims to attract as many people as possible into its space. “Anyone can come in with an idea,” Norris said. “High school dropouts, children, professors, people with criminal records and recovering addicts are all welcome. We want to help them to switch their entrepreneurial endeavors.”
The Fledge is a launching point for business ideas, but it’s also more than that. The team is dedicated to serving their community. Norris described their dedication as an “extreme ownership” approach. “If someone is getting arrested (in our neighborhood), we’re failing them. So, we’re going to step up and try to help them and then try to influence others to step up and help them as well,” Norris said. “We’re going to take it on as our responsibility and involve those people as necessary.”
Providing for the people around them has become an extremely important part of what the Fledge does. “If someone walks in, we’re assessing (a few things) immediately: Are they homeless? Are they without food? Do they need something medical? Then, we start working on connection, self-esteem and sense of purpose,” Norris said.
According to Dustin Grimes, who assists Norris with running the Fledge, creating community is a key aspect of the resources they make available. A Lansing native, Grimes moved to the West Coast after high school and moved back a few years ago.
“I was really just farting around Lansing and was at a really low point,” Grimes said. “I was looking for something different to do with my time.” That’s when a friend told Grimes about the Fledge.
“Where do young people come together and socialize?” Grimes explained. “Where’s that social circle?” Providing a space for people to gather has helped the Fledge gain attention: “It’s been a big part of why people come out. They need a sense of community.”
The Fledge wants to make resources available that draw both experts in a variety of fields and people who want to learn. “The phrase I’ve been using is ‘community-driven education,’ ” said Grimes. “The crowd of experts aren’t here to learn. (They) want to engage socially around this craft.” Those crafts can range from improv, hip-hop and EDM shows to sword fighting, “Dungeons and Dragons” nights, baby showers and weddings.
Norris also said they’re looking to become a resource for Michigan State University students. “We are very interested in MSU students,” Norris said. “We’re seeing a lot of nonprofits come in, so we have tons of volunteer opportunities. They’re coming to us for volunteers. We’re starting to become a matchmaking (agency) between clubs at MSU and these organizations and filling that gap a little bit.” Norris said they currently have connections with 15 to 20 MSU-based organizations and are looking for more chances to help bridge the gap between campus and downtown Lansing.
To learn more about the Fledge, visit its website at thefledge.com or find it on Facebook.