Living up to a family legacy through a commitment to local change

Adrian Montague’s story starts long before her birth. There is a legacy that continues through Montague and that drives her every day. 

According to Montague, her great-great-great cousin was the abolitionist Laura S. Haviland, who established one of the first stations of the Underground Railroad in Michigan. It was Haviland and her husband who started the Raisin Institute, MIchigan's first fully integrated school. 

They planted the family's roots in social reform in Raisin Township, Michigan—located just outside Adrian, which is, of course, Montague’s namesake.

“We’ve always been drawn to injustice or transformational change,” Montague says of her family. “We’re just carriers of that. My family has always been active in statewide or national change.” 

Another distant relative is W. Edwards Deming, the guru of statistical quality control who revolutionized and set the standard for manufacturing processes.

“Since I was a little girl, I was hearing these stories and was asked, ‘What are you going to do to change the world? What are you going to do to change the city? What injustices do you see that you can play a part in or that you can be a catalyst in?’” says Montague. “It’s a legacy. It’s about leaving a place better than when you came into it.”

Montague, 32, a native of Davison, has embraced that challenge. She is the founder and co-director of Flint SOUP, an organization formed to advance entrepreneurism in Flint. The grassroots venture capital group gathers monthly to share a meal and each attendee donates $5 that combined with all the other contributions will form a micro-grant awarded to the night's winning business idea.

Related story: Feeding startups: Flint SOUP funds $25,000 to entrepreneurs in five years

Much of her early success she attributes to her parents during some very formative years. “My parents were very hands-on since I was very little,” says Montague. She says the family read classic novels together, even at a very early age. 

“They taught me patience, the value of hard work, of investing and saving,” she says. “They would encourage me to dream and to explore what interests me.”

Beginning at age 19, she was a lead analyst for General Motors. She worked on Mitt Romney’s national campaigns in 2008 and 2012 as well as Dick DeVos campaigns in Michigan. She worked in the president’s office at Kettering University, as a program manager for Consumer’s Energy, and also worked on the master plan of the City of Flint with Megan Hunter.  

All before she graduated from college. 

“I saw friends denied jobs for not having experience,” says Montague, who dropped out of college several times before graduating from the University of Michigan-Flint a few years ago. “I really built up a resume in an unconventional way.”

Through her experiences she also had a shift in focus.

“Somewhere along the way of working on national campaigns and seeing at a higher level the impact you have—which is great—I also saw that the local level is where change really occurred. I had to really shift my ideology and my direction … and I said, ‘You know what, Flint is where I’ve been and where I’ve been invested.’”

She then worked at the Flint Area Reinvestment office. “We started hosting meetups and tons of people starting coming out. People started driving in from Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Lansing just to be a part of what we were doing because they loved the community that was being cultivated.”

“I was doing Flint SOUP part-time because that was not my full focus. My focus was building community and finding entrepreneurs and plugging them into the service support providers.”

She also was blessed to experience the community support that is the basis for Flint SOUP and is so inherent to Flint.

Montague recalls her boss at the Flint Area Reinvestment Office asking her how they could engage entrepreneurs in a different way. 

“I said ‘God, give me wisdom!’ and I had this crazy idea to do a pop-up co-working space,” Montague recalls. “All I heard in my prayer time was ‘10,000 square feet and a free month and a half.’” 

She told her boss, who shared it with a group of investors. “One of the investors around the table said, ‘Well, I have 10,000 square feet, but she can only have it for a month.’”

It all started as a vision without a reality and quickly evolved. It turns out that 10,000 square feet was the second floor of the Farmer’s Market—and the idea would later evolve into the Co+Work space in the Dryden Building, which now is a part of the massive entrepreneurial space in the neighboring Ferris Wheel building.

“It’s so humbling that people would allow us into their lives,” says Montague. “We are so honored by that because it takes trust and vulnerability to allow people into that place of dreaming because dreams and ideas are fragile in the beginning, but we love to see it grow.”

So, what’s her dream? 

“My primary dream is to see our community come alive. My dream is to see other’s dreams come to fruition. I love that. That’s the whole goal.

It’s always been the goal. For generations of her family. It’s just that Montague’s goal is here, in Flint.

“My parents always said, ‘Do not forget about this city. Wherever you go, do not forget about this city.’ And I kept this promise.”

Read more articles by Bruce Edwards.