To Tell the Story of Innovation in Detroit, Xconomy Needs Your Help

11/20/13Follow @wroush

Whenever I’m describing Xconomy to someone who hasn’t come across our website before, I rattle off the names of the eight high-tech hubs where we have bureaus, in the order we opened them: Boston, Seattle, San Diego, Detroit, San Francisco, New York, Boulder/Denver, and Texas.

At that point, the listener usually exclaims “Detroit! Why Detroit?”

I’ll tell you why.

Because they even have to ask the question.

Because so many people outside Michigan don’t realize that Detroit, despite its fiscal burdens, is a cauldron of social and economic reinvention right now.

Because so many Detroiters are experimenting with new kinds of businesses that build on the region’s strengths and could help to solve its problems.

Because whatever happens to the American automobile industry, Detroit will always be its home.

Because Detroit may not be exactly like the other places in our network, but is innovating in ways the rest of the country can’t afford to ignore.

And for all the same reasons, we need your help now.

While Xconomy’s abundant Web content is free, producing that content isn’t. Like any news operation, we’ve got expenses—a key one in Michigan being paying our intrepid and insightful Detroit editor, Sarah Schmid.

If you care about high-quality coverage of innovation in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and the rest of Southeastern Michigan, and if you want to truly understand what happens when one of the capitals of the old economy tries to reinvent itself for the 21st century, then we need your help covering those costs. And to make it easier for you to help, we recently launched our Detroit Innovation Champions crowdfunding campaign.

As a native Michigander who cares deeply about the future of the region, I’d like to urge you to consider contributing. And it’s not just Midwesterners who have a stake here. The challenges that Detroit is contending with are the same ones facing cities around the country where once-thriving manufacturing economies have collapsed. If the local innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, and policy makers can find a way out of their current predicament, they will blaze a trail for their counterparts around the country, and in so doing help transform the U.S. economy.

That’s why we’re asking for contributions from Xconomy’s entire network of readers—not just from folks in the Detroit/Ann Arbor corridor, but from everyone who believes in the power of innovation to drive economic growth, and who grasps what the region’s successes and failures could mean for the rest of the country.

Here’s the situation. Xconomy pays for our news coverage by finding local underwriters, partners, and sponsors in each region. Mainly, these are large corporations and service providers who support our mission to cover the innovation ecosystem, and who provide us with significant financial support each year in exchange for brand exposure on the website (you’ll notice their logo badges at the upper right), display advertising, recognition at our events, job postings, and other benefits.

When we decided to open a Detroit bureau back in 2010, we knew that it would probably be impossible to fund the operation with corporate underwriters and sponsors alone. So we also sought out support from foundations who care about innovation and entrepreneurship.

That foundation support, for which we are incredibly grateful, was absolutely critical to the launch of Xconomy Detroit. But, alas, it is now nearing its end. And it won’t be a surprise to anyone—given economic conditions in Michigan—that it’s been an ongoing challenge to recruit enough corporate underwriters to continue our operations in Detroit and Ann Arbor. We have some great supporters in Michigan, to be sure: the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Ann Arbor Spark, the University of Michigan, the Michigan Venture Capital Association, GM Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners, and Flagship Ventures. We’re deeply grateful to them as well, and we’re working to add to their ranks, believe me. But it’s time for us to turn to the community for a more direct form of support.

Through the Detroit Innovation Champions program, we’re giving people in Southeastern Michigan and around the nation the opportunity to help sustain our in-depth coverage of high-tech entrepreneurship and economic reinvention in the state. The program offers the advantages of exposure on Xconomy at a dollar amount that’s within the reach of individuals and smaller companies. For just $1,000, as an Innovation Supporter, or $2,500, as an Innovation Champion, contributors are eligible for an array of benefits such as branding via badges on Xconomy Detroit and our national startups channel and invitations to Xconomy events in Michigan. (See the full list of benefits here.) We’ve already gotten a trio of great champions as part of our early outreach—you can check them out here—and we very much hope you will join them.

We mounted a similar crowdfunding effort when we were getting ready to open our Boulder/Denver bureau in the spring of 2013, and it was a big success. An impressive number of entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations stepped up to make sure that Xconomy would get off to a strong start in Colorado, ultimately contributing enough to cover our first year of operations there.

We think there are just as many people who are passionate about the future of Southeastern Michigan, and about understanding the lessons it has to offer for other struggling post-industrial regions. The Detroit Innovation Champions program is your chance to show that you believe in what Xconomy is doing to chronicle the area’s rapidly evolving economy—and help us explain to our audience of hundreds of thousands of innovators and investors around the country and around the world why innovation in Michigan is worth their attention.

We need your help to make sure Sarah is able to keep writing stories like these:

—“Revitalization or Ruin,” a magazine-length analysis and slide show about Detroit Future City’s controversial, 345-page roadmap for reinvesting in Detroit’s infrastructure.

—A pair of feature stories on the Detroit Bus Company, which is competing with the city’s own beleaguered transportation system to connect the suburbs and the central city, and is now taking on an additional mission to serve the city’s youth.

—A profile of Richard Sheridan’s Menlo Innovations, a hive of software innovation in Ann Arbor.

— Sarah’s survey of the mobile sector in Michigan, gathering perspectives on the state’s strengths and weaknesses as a hub for mobile innovation from established organizations like Compuware and new ones like Detroit Labs.

—A thought piece and survey on ideas for bridging the gap between Ann Arbor-based entrepreneurs and Detroit-based entrepreneurs.

—A 1,600-word overview of thinking at Ford about how carmakers can adapt to the information age, the growing density of urban cores, and environmental concerns.

—A piece on the University of Michigan’s recently announced automated vehicle test lab, where researchers plan to partner with companies like Ford and GM to study the performance of connected and autonomous vehicles.

—A look at Mitostem, the regenerative medicine startup and Wayne State University spinoff that won the $100,000 top prize in the 2012 Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest.

The simple reality is that without help from the larger innovation community, we won’t be able to keep paying for this kind of coverage of the Detroit/Ann Arbor area.

So please take a look at the Detroit Innovation Champions page and use the online form there to let us know if you’re interested in contributing. And thanks!

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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