The State of Startups in Detroit from Detroit Policy Conference

By Amanda Lewan on February 27th, 2015 / Comments

Mayor Mike Duggan opened yesterday’s Detroit Policy Conference with a call for collaboration and an excitement for Detroit’s future. Discussions later turned towards entrepreneurs taking a leading role as the collaborators and the “co-creators” of the city.

Duggan pointed out that many businesses are interested in the city for access to talent. A national trend of young professionals moving into urban areas has raised this interest. A survey we conducted showed that our readership of entrepreneurs does share this interest in talent and the low-cost of overhead Michigan’s cities offer.

“There isn’t a day go by that I don’t get a national company come here who tells us the next generation wants to be in a tightly interconnected area. Companies are looking at this environment,” Mayor Duggan said.

“My job is to create the environment of a national trend that’s taking off on its own,” Duggan said. New startups in Detroit are always in need of talent. But are they getting the access and support to stay?

Below are a few highlights we took away from discussions on entrepreneurship throughout the day at the Detroit Policy Conference.

Small business entrepreneurs are important to the culture of a city. When it comes to building a more connected, unique urban area, entrepreneurs like Phil Cooley were cited as examples of creating a sense of place that is unique to Detroit. Cooley’s successful Slows Restaurant has expanded launching to Grand Rapids and soon to Pontiac. Author Peter Kageyama who spoke on the subject of creating cities we love called these entrepreneurs “high-touch” entrepreneurs. They are entrepreneurs that make an impact in communities and should be supported in the city.

Low costs is helping drive immediate access to starting a business. At a later panel we heard from entrepreneurs. Andy Didorosi Founder of the Detroit Bus Company pointed out that there is low rent costs making it easy for entrepreneurs to get started here. His company is headquartered in Hamtramck and serves Detroit residents with affordable transit options. Infrastructure, too, he believes may help drive companies to consider Detroit.  “We have more infrastructure setup here than any other city,” said Didorosi. “Start an internet or light manufacturing company.”

But rent isn’t enough to keep entrepreneurs here. Niles Heron Co-founder of Michigan Funders, a new Michigan focused equity crowdfunding website, said low rent and urban amenities aren’t enough to keep entrepreneurs here. Heron recently moved back from San Fransisco and sited the amount of entrepreneurs and connections in one place as attractive and important to entrepreneurs. He called for a long term plan to retain entrepreneurs coming to Detroit.

“Co-opetition” is prevalent in Detroit.  Another perk for the local startup community is the opportunity for “co-opetition”. Jim Boyle of the New Economy Initiative, a foundation dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, expressed that many companies are working together rather than competiting in the same industries. The panel agreed that there’s plenty of room for all types of businesses and mentoring inside one industry. The more businesses starting up in your area, the more the industry grows as a whole. Many of the entrepreneurs and supporters on the panel stated the importance of this “co-opetition” to helping grow Detroit’s startup community.

Resources are plenty here. Boyle also pointed to over 56 resource providers in Detroit available on the Detroit Biz Grid, a community map for finding support in funding, real estate, accounting, training, and more. Also, Camille Walker-Banks the Executive Directory of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program emphasized that there is plenty of funding to go around. Check out more resources in the Detroit Biz Grid directory.

It was great to hear a call for a more long term plan to retain talent and new businesses starting up in the city. What do you think that would like? What would really attract you to stay?

About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.