Join Xconomy for an Unconference and Reception Dec. 10

Though it takes less than an hour to travel from Detroit to Ann Arbor, the distance between the two communities can sometimes seem daunting. Gerry Roston, CEO of Civionics and TechTown Detroit’s Executive-In-Residence, refers to the psychological barrier between the two cities as an invisible forcefield buttressed by the economic and social upheavals of the past. Why is there such a gulf between two places in such close proximity—each associated with innovation and civic pride more intensely than perhaps anywhere else in Michigan?

That’s a tough question with a long history and a few different answers. Things have improved in the past few years as the startup communities in each city make an effort to bridge the gap, but the free flow of people, ideas, and capital between the two places is still not as robust as it should be. That’s why we’re hosting another event in our Ann Arbor-Detroit series—this time with an unconference at TechTown Detroit on Dec. 10 that we are opening to anyone who wants to come. Rich Sheridan, founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations, has agreed to emcee this unique, interactive event.

Our friends at the University of Michigan’s Office of Technology Transfer have held an annual unconference for the past few summers, so we decided to borrow and modify their format. An unconference is designed to open up communication by asking attendees at the beginning of the event to suggest small-group discussion topics. (In this case, we’ll discuss different dimensions of—and solutions to—the Ann Arbor-Detroit divide.) The group then votes to determine the most popular ideas, and everybody splits up to chat. At the end of the allotted time spent in small groups, a representative from each session makes a presentation to the larger audience about the contents of their discussion and the ideas generated within.

There aren’t many rules at an unconference, but this one stands out: You vote with your feet. Meaning: If you’re not getting much out of the small group discussion you decided to participate in, you should get up and walk over to a different one. Basically, the idea is to speak frankly about subjects you care a lot about.

We held a private dinner on the Ann Arbor-Detroit topic back in August, and it was great. We had startup founders, entrepreneurial service providers, and investors at the table, and the discussion was lively. But we barely reached the tip of the iceberg, which is why we’d like to try again with a bit more time, more people, and, hopefully, more concrete ideas about how Ann Arbor and Detroit can work together to foster cross-pollination, collaboration, and joint innovations to move the whole state forward.

The event is free, and all you have to do is sign up here. Afterwards, everyone is invited to our annual Meet the Xconomists reception, where we will carry on the discussions, eat, drink, and network. We hope to see you at TechTown on Dec. 10.

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

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