Talking Ag Tech, Bridging the Ann Arbor-Detroit Gap at U-M Unconference

2/8/13Follow @XconomyDET

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said he thinks the concept of lean manufacturing has to be applied to rural entrepreneurship and ag tech. Manufacturing isn’t cool, he said, but we can’t just be a knowledge-based economy—we need to make things again. He said his company has had great success at its plant in Grand Rapids by getting its employees involved in innovating the way they produce their goods. “We’re not doing what Henry Ford did, pushing two buttons and wasting their minds all day. We pay them for their ideas. Some employees have walked away with $10,000 checks.”

Dawn White of Accio Energy agreed, and said the craft brewing model could be very successful if applied to agricultural entrepreneurship. “There’s lots in common with ag-type businesses,” she said, pointing out that craft brewing has been exploding in popularity and profits. “Right now, there are no tools for these very isolated [agricultural entrepreneurial] leaders. We need pilot facilities. We need an ecosystem.”

Here’s a video of the first unconference held at U-M last June. Story continues below.

The steam engine whistle that marked the suggested end of the first session blew, and after a bit of networking and noshing, it was on to session two. I chose a topic suggested by Rizik: How do we bridge the gap between the Ann Arbor and Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystems? Rizik had to dash out of the unconference early, so that left a small group that included myself, my fellow Detroit-based biz/tech reporter Jon Zemke, Troy-based investor William Raudwerdink, and a young woman who recently moved to Ann Arbor from Philadelphia to work for Swift Biosciences.

In true unconference form, our discussion was heavy on anecdotes, speculation, and even a little bit of gossip. The Philly transplant said she was warned by Ann Arborites not to go to Detroit because it was too dangerous and, besides, they said, Ann Arbor has everything Detroit does and more. She ignored that advice and has since fallen in love with Detroit, and said she spends more time there after work hours than she does in Ann Arbor.

Raudwerdink praised the efforts of Detroit Venture Partners (DVP) and credited them for injecting some much-needed entrepreneurial energy into the city. An older gentleman who has lived in cities all over the country, Raudwerdink’s a fan of Detroit … Next Page »

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

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  • http://twitter.com/dugsong Dug Song

    Actually, Ann Arbor does have an annual 5k Twinkie run https://www.facebook.com/pages/April-Fools-Twinkie-Run/415084645173893 and a local Hash House Harriers chapter. But who’s counting? ;-)

    It’s true, there is a cultural and infrastructural gap separating the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor from the D. One day, I hope to see the hard line at 275 erased by something like http://fwrail.org

  • http://www.xconomy.com/detroit Sarah Schmid

    How could I forget Hash Bash?! That freshwater rail idea is awesome. Might make a good Xconomy story, in fact. Thanks for the tip, Dug!