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Wayne Law student turns adversity into enterprise, competing in Accelerate Michigan

November 5, 2013

Paul Alonzo Turner III grew from being a child living in a homeless shelter to being executive director of a homeless shelter.

He grew from being an African-American boy without a male role model in his life to being an African-American man who actively seeks mentors and tries to be one for others in need.

And he grew from working in Washington, D.C., fresh out of college, to being a part of Detroit’s comeback through his continuing education at Wayne State University Law School, his seemingly unbounded personal enterprise and his own startup company.

Turner is a full-time, second-year law student and a part-time consultant through his Pontiac-based marketing business, GPS Community Consulting Inc. He’s also readying a new company’s entry into Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition’s collegiate division. His startup idea, Mygotonumber Inc., is for an app that will manage all those stored contacts in your smartphone and back them up in the cloud for easy access, even if you don’t have your phone with you.

The competition accepted his entry – one of 25 accepted out of more than hundreds. He then had to create a three-minute YouTube video and a PowerPoint presentation. Final materials are due by Nov. 8. The finalists will give a five-minute PowerPoint presentation to an audience of investors. A panel of competition judges then will ask questions.

Accelerate Michigan, founded in 2010 by the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan, which includes Wayne State University and other partners in the University Research Corridor, is a global business competition to advance entrepreneurial activity. Since its onset, it has drawn more than 1,100 businesses from around the world and more than 1,000 collegiate entrepreneurs.

The competition offers cash prizes, but perhaps even more enticing is the audience it gathers, said Turner, who has lived in Detroit and all over Oakland County but considers Rochester Hills his hometown.

“There will be dozens of venture capital firms there – big heavy hitters – watching,” he said. “It’s a way to showcase the idea.”

Mygotonumber Inc. responds to one of the realities of cell phones.

“Nobody remembers numbers anymore because of smartphones,” Turner said.

Lose your phone and you’re in trouble – unless you have his app.

Turner formed the new company with five friends from Michigan State University, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and public policy studies. The summer before his sophomore year, he completed an internship with the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, working with the Democratic staff health policy team.

“The work I did with the health team was a catalyst for my interest in the cross-section of law, economics and policy,” Turner said. “The internship experience cultivated my interest in law school and helping disadvantaged populations that are without the resources to advocate for their positions on issues or gain access to affordable health care.”

He worked two jobs while he attended Michigan State, to help his mother and younger siblings, and actively advocated as a student leader for social justice. He was the first director of education policy for the Associated Students of Michigan State University Academic Assembly.

“Instead of proceeding directly to law school after completing my two undergraduate degrees, I decided to work for two years, leveraging my content knowledge and gaining practical professional experience,” Turner said. “I accepted a congressional district liaison position at the Michigan Ninth Congressional District Office for first-term Rep. Gary Peters.”

One of his duties was to communicate with the public about the Affordable Care Act. Once the law passed, Turner took a job as executive director of the New Bethel Outreach Ministry Non-Profit Women & Children’s Emergency Homeless Shelter in Pontiac.

“My mother and I were in a homeless shelter when I was a little boy, and I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I brought as much compassion to the job as I could. I helped homeless women and mothers compete for reasonable employment opportunities, fair housing resources, and enrolled youth in education programs. I am forever a changed man from this experience. The homeless women and children inspired me even more to consider law and social justice.”

So, Turner applied to Wayne Law to further enhance his ability to help the disadvantaged. His life’s course has been plotted deliberately.

“By taking initiative, taking risks and leveraging new experiences, I developed professional competencies across the government, private and nonprofit sectors,” Turner said.

And now he’s learning how to be a lawyer and how to be an entrepreneur with a new invention. He’s a student at Wayne Law, but his new company is also a client of its Business and Community Law Clinic. If his application is accepted, Mygotonumber Inc. will be a client of Wayne Law’s Patent Procurement Clinic, as well.

“Wayne Law has a great business law clinic,” Turner said. “That’s one of the reasons I chose it. I want to be part of Detroit’s comeback. I really want to make a difference in my life and provide practical solutions for people.”

Next up for Turner will be developing, testing and launching his app, as well as completing an internship with the Salvation Army William Booth Legal Aid Clinic this winter.