The Great Entrepreneurial Migration, Part I

The Great Entrepreneurial Migration, Part I

Entrepreneurs and startups decamped from the East and West coasts to relocate in Detroit at a steady pace this year. Pictured here are Shawn Gellar, founder and CEO of Quikly, who came from Philadelphia, and Nathan Labenz and Jay Gierak, co-founders of Stik.com and Friends of Zuckerberg, who left the Bay Area to join Detroit's burgeoning tech hub. “Over the last few years, San Francisco has almost become too dynamic,” Labenz told us earlier this year. “It’s challenging for a new company to build a core team there and keep it together.”

Credit: Leah Moss

The Great Entrepreneurial Migration, Part II

The Great Entrepreneurial Migration, Part II

Not only are startups moving to Detroit, but people who grew up here and want to be a part of the city's rebirth are coming back and launching innovative startups. Jenile Brooks left a film production career in New York City to found Harvest Express, Detroit's first online grocery delivery service.

Credit: Jenile Brooks

The Madison Building Tech Hub Opens

The Madison Building Tech Hub Opens

I'm not so worried about Dan Gilbert snapping up downtown skyscrapers like they're on sale three for $1 if they're all going to turn out like this stunning office space. Housing tech startups like UpTo, Flud, Texts From Last Night, and Detroit Labs; venture firms; and anchor tenants, the Madison would be right at home in Silicon Valley with its mod furniture, technicolor decor, and nerdy young men shooting nerf guns and playing ping-pong. What is has that Silicon Valley doesn't is a breathtaking view of Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, from its chic rooftop deck.

Credit: Quicken Loans

Twitter Opens an Office in Detroit

Twitter Opens an Office in Detroit

In April, the social media giant announced it would open an office inside the Madison Building to chase Big Three ad dollars. The move put an instant stamp of legitimacy on the Motor City's tech scene.

Credit: Jonathan Adams/The South End

Silicon Valley Officially Notices Detroit

Silicon Valley Officially Notices Detroit

This year, Detroit became a popular place to host an event. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey was here as part of the annual Techonomy conference, held at Wayne State University in September. TechCrunch sponsored a big meet-up in Detroit, Women 2.0 launched a Founder Friday chapter here, Astia came to recruit startups, and Steve Blank told a sold-out crowd that Detroit "is the world’s best renaissance story. You’re seeing the leading edge of what VC and entrepreneurship will look like for the rest of the century. You’re doing it first here in Detroit, and you should all feel proud of what you’re part of.”

Credit: Techonomy

TechShop, Ford Partner to Drive Innovation

TechShop, Ford Partner to Drive Innovation

The California-based DIY paradise hooked up with Ford to open a TechShop location in Allen Park, a few miles from downtown Detroit. With its proliferation of hackers, engineers, and garage-workshop tinkerers, TechShop CEO Mark Hatch said Detroit was a natural fit. Ford has continued its campaign of encouraging outside innovation through TechShop, offering discounts to employees and making itself available to nurture and license technology the automaker finds relevant.

Credit: Will Brick

Flagship Ventures Doubles Down on Local Tech

Flagship Ventures Doubles Down on Local Tech

Cambridge, MA-based Flagship Ventures, a $900 million fund that specializes in the medical tech space, decided to open an outpost in Ann Arbor after it found success in Accuri Cytometers, a homegrown medical device startup that was later sold for a reported $205 million. Mike Johnson will head up the local office, which is set to open soon, to better take advantage of what it considers unique opportunities in Michigan. Yes, the office is in Ann Arbor, but something else happened this year: The gap between the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Detroit and Ann Arbor shrank dramatically.

Credit: Mike Johnson

Civic Pride, Detroit Style

Civic Pride, Detroit Style

OK, Chicago doesn't really suck, but this spontaneous public declaration does express a feeling that state government officials are conveniently trying to highlight to young professionals: Detroit has plenty of urban amenities and low barriers to entry. In Detroit, it's easier for people with good ideas to stand out. Detroit also has a collaborative entrepreneurial community to help propel those ideas forward in a way that doesn't happen in other cities. Those two factors were cited over and over again this year when we asked startups why they chose to locate in Detroit.

Credit: Jerry Paffendorf

Late December is the time for media reflection, so let me officially say in this space that Detroit has had a hell of a year. A breakthrough year, just as I hoped it would when I wrote the 2011 wrap-up piece last December. In 2012, Detroit’s nascent tech scene finally gained recognition and legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world, particularly Silicon Valley; 2012 is also the year that the international narrative about what our city has become and where it’s going finally started to change a bit. (Though, with an entire city full of restaurants, we’re still tired of reading about Slow’s in every article, no matter how much it’s done to revitalize Corktown.)

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, there was plenty of bad news to go around in Detroit this year, too. The specter of bankruptcy continues to hover over the City of Detroit, and if it comes to pass, it will be the largest American municipality by far to fall prey to it. I saw a statistic recently that found one-third of all Detroit properties are behind on their taxes. Add to that number the one-third of Detroit properties that are owned by the government, churches, or banks—never mind all the people who aren’t paying parking and blight tickets—and you can see why the city has a revenue problem.

Crime and gun violence also continue to be completely out of control and law enforcement underfunded, to the point that Detroit police offers were passing out flyers warning people to enter Detroit at their own risk outside Comerica Park just weeks before we hosted the World Series. The streetlights still aren’t on and the busses still don’t run on time, but both of those things may soon be remedied thanks to regional authorities created during the lame duck legislative session a few weeks ago.

I suggest that anyone struggling to understand the current state of Detroit read a piece by a local filmmaker, writer, and activist named dream hampton that was published on Dec. 20 in the Detroit News. Her essay, built around her complicated feelings regarding what’s become of her childhood home on the east side, is the recent history of Detroit in miniature. It’s brilliant and heartbreaking. It’s also hopeful, in the form of dream herself.

Hip-hop fans know dream as the former editor of Rap Pages and the author of seminal profiles of Tupac, Biggie, and a host of other rap-related topics. In 2011, she co-authored “Decoded” with her bestie Jay-Z. All this to say: With her talent and access, she could live anywhere, but she chooses to make her home, and raise her daughter, in Detroit.

This year, she helped turned her birthday celebration into a weekend-long event where journalists from prominent national outlets were flown to Detroit for the weekend and shown that “Another Detroit is Happening.” Plenty of people—myself included—complained about the way out-of-town journalists were telling our stories. dream actually did something to show the storytellers how narrow their perspective was.

The fact is, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people like dream in Detroit. People like Jerry Paffendorf, who moved here from San Francisco and has spent the past two years crusading on behalf of Detroit’s vacant properties and the people who want to buy them on his website, Why Don’t We Own This. People like Andy Didorosi, founder of the Detroit Bus Company, a metro Detroit native who had a nice gig writing for the car blog Jalopnik until his frustration with Detroit’s transportation woes led him to create an alternative bus line fueled by social media.

Now that a new Detroit has firmly taken root, the next challenge is to shine the light of opportunity on the “old Detroit.” Some won’t be interested, but many more will be, as evidenced by TechTown’s recent foray into the rebounding Brightmoor neighborhood. The Internet has democratized information and technology in a way never seen before. Combine that with Detroit’s natural hustle and resilience, and we could—I believe we will—have a very dynamic, post-industrial city on our hands in a few years.

So it’s with great optimism that I head into 2013, and everyone rooting for Detroit should feel free to join me. Take a look at our slideshow for further proof, as we run down the major signposts signaling that Detroit has officially turned a corner. Is there something we missed? Let us know.

Cheers to a new year!

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com.

  • Michael Khoury

    Sarah, you are right. Detroit will come back and entrepreneurs will lead the way. The people of Detroit and the region are great people, and deserve the best.