Countdown to Michigan 2031: Release The Hackers!

4/4/11Follow @xconomy

Something is brewing in Southeastern Michigan, and it smells more like innovation than beer.

Inside a former brewery in Ann Arbor, MI just northeast of Kerrytown, a group of techies and recent college graduates stare at computer screens, sustained by a copious supply of Diet Coke and fruit juice boxes.

There are no leases or assigned workstations in the Tech Brewery, a co-op for tech startups. Just drop $50 a month via PayPal, and grab any available desk.

In downtown Detroit, the mostly empty David Madison Theater Building awaits its first tenants. The building’s upper floors will host incubation space for Internet startups, the centerpiece of an ambitious plan to transform Woodward Avenue into a high tech corridor.

The entrepreneurs moving into these rehabbed buildings are nourishing dreams to launch new companies in digital media, software, and IT but they are nevertheless building on a strong foundation.

From casual college town co-ops to ambitious big city real estate projects, there is no shortage of efforts to build a vibrant cluster of Internet-based startups here.

And why not? The University of Michigan boasts a world class computer science program that attracts recruiters from Google, Hewlett Packard, and Facebook. Google co-founder Larry Page and Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky are Michigan natives.

And thanks to its auto industry, Michigan enjoys plenty of talent in manufacturing-based information technology, including cloud computing and mobile software applications.

The region also recently witnessed a couple of nice exits: Expedia’s purchase of mobile travel app maker Mobiata and TekTronix’s acquisition of Internet security firm Arbor Networks, a U-M startup, for hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We have a tremendous amount of young talent going into this space,” says Marc Weiser, managing partner of RPM Ventures in Ann Arbor, which invests in tech startups. “There’s a younger generation of software engineers building into other verticals,” starting with security and gradually moving into social media and mobile devices.

Michigan, however, lacks the resourceful “hacker” culture of Silicon Valley, where programmers often … Next Page »

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