Detroit: Startup City


Over the last two days, I’ve been hanging out with some of the brightest young minds in a growing startup community, talking about strategies for growth, ways to strengthen the local startup community, ways to connect different silos of entrepreneurs, and much more.

And the best part is I did it all in the shadow of the home of winners of the American League Pennant.

Reports of Detroit’s renaissance have been premature before. The Motor City has gotten a lot of bad press for decades in the wake of crime, unemployment, widespread poverty, and more. This visit, though, has made me optimistic about the future of the city. While the auto bailout has helped turn around the seemingly endless string of bad stories coming out of Southeastern Michigan, another part of the economy is adding jobs and building community.

Detroit has always been an entrepreneurial city. The United States has an auto industry because Henry Ford had an idea and revolutionized manufacturing here in Michigan. Today, startups are taking root in Downtown Detroit like never before.

I met many local entrepreneurs yesterday at the M@dison Building, across the street from Ford Field and Comerica Park, where we gathered for Brand Camp University run by Detroit Entrepreneur and Engine collaborator Hajj Flemings. Flemings also joined Engine in June for Startup Day on the Hill. Brand Camp was a day packed full of interesting chats with a diverse group of entrepreneurs including Brad Feld, Boulder’s venture capitalist extraordinaire, Startup America COO Kathleen Warner, content strategist C.C. Chapman, myself, and others. Through all of the presentations based on the theme of “Build, Innovate and Grow Detroit,” young Detroiters gained insights and asked really excellent questions about how to start businesses and contribute to the city’s success.

I also had the opportunity to meet with many of the next generation of Detroit entrepreneurs this morning at the Startup Ventures event on the city’s East Side. More than 175 high school students focused on science and technology gathered at the UAW-GM facility along the Detroit River for a wide-ranging discussion of entrepreneurship, the importance of education in STEM fields, building business in a strong Detroit, and more. It was a powerful experience to be surrounded by motivated young minds keen to learn, many of whom pitched me on some great business ideas.

Overall, I’m leaving Detroit tomorrow with one pervasive thought: that this city, so long on the brink, has a road back to prominence. And with entrepreneurs taking the lead in building a new, stronger Detroit, they’re in good hands along the way.

Photo Courtesy of Patricia Drury.