Countdown to Michigan 2031: Release The Hackers!

4/4/11Follow @xconomy

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collaborate on open source platforms to upend industries, says Dug Song, a prominent local entrepreneur and co-founder of Arbor Networks.

Song, who now runs Duo Security, is a featured panelist for Xconomy’s Michigan 2031 event. The forum, on April 14, brings together some of the state’s best minds to brainstorm what the state’s high tech economy will look like in 20 years.

With the U-M and a stable of venture firms, Ann Arbor is the closest thing Michigan has to Silicon Valley, even though Austin, TX and Boulder, CO, might offer better comparisons.

When a friend first suggested to Ben Kazez that he move his startup from Minnesota to Ann Arbor, the Mobiata founder’s immediate reaction was “Why?”

To his pleasant surprise, Kazez says Ann Arbor had a wealth of resources to support cash-strapped startups, including cheap office space.

However, he thinks finding talent can be tough since the U-M’s best grads often leave the state. That’s a big problem for Mobiata since the company, now owned by Expedia, is expanding rapidly and aggressively hiring local software engineers.

Michigan has struggled to staunch the exodus of local talent. The state lags behind its neighbors in the percentage of college-educated workers it retains, according to a 2008 report from Michigan Future Inc.—a non-profit organization that aims to push for a knowledge-based economy in the state.

The study, called “Young Talent in the Great Lakes: How Michigan is Faring,” found that 11.2 percent of Michigan households are young professionals compared to 16.6 percent in nearby Illinois and 15.6 percent in Minnesota.

Michigan needs to create the kind of Web 2.0 startups that helps keep young talent in the state, says Josh Linkner, CEO of Detroit Venture Partners, the new tech fund founded by Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert.

But local techies are not programmed to start their own firms, preferring instead to work for big companies, Song says, especially in Michigan where the tradition among multiple generations of families is to work for Big Auto.

More importantly, Song says, the local tech community lacks Silicon Valley’s informal networks of hackers, … Next Page »

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