Countdown to Michigan 2031: Release The Hackers!

4/4/11Follow @xconomy

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who gather in coffee shops to work on projects for the sheer fun of it. In other words, spontaneous creativity born from informal collaboration.

By hacker, Song doesn’t mean illegally breaking into computer systems, but rather deconstructing software code and figuring out ways to find new uses for existing products. Hackers helped turn Apple’s iPhone into a multibillion platform for third party applications.

Hackers also turned the technology behind Microsoft’s motion-controlled Kinect video game system into a wireless vacuum cleaner, 3D holograms, and animated puppet shows. These things probably won’t make money but that’s not necessarily the point of hacking.

Michiganders tend to work in silos, worried more about competitors swiping ideas than collaborating for the larger good of innovation, says Terry Cross, a prominent local tech investor.

Another big problem, Cross says, is the lack of state support for Internet startups. Cross notes Michigan’s 21st Century Jobs Fund provides money only to companies developing “competitive edge technologies” like advanced manufacturing, clean energy, life sciences, and homeland security/defense.

“If you’re not in one of those areas, then sorry, you’re not going to get any financial support,” Cross says. “The system has fixed the game. The biggest thing they can do is get their minds out of these competitive edge technologies Michigan is stuck in. That’s the kind of stuff that scares away the next Facebook.”

Weiser of RPM Ventures is confident that Michigan is on the brink of something great. All it takes is another big exit or two, he says.

“We’re on a good trajectory,” Weiser says. “It’s just a matter of time. We need a center of gravity, [a big tech company] to put a stake in the ground. We need that big one. We’re sitting on the verge of it.”

I expect a lively discussion on this issue so join me for Michigan 2031 on April 14. To register, click here.

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