No one will ever mistake the aged hull of a city on the shores of Lake Erie for the gleam of the new glass and steel buildings that freckle Silicon Valley. But according to John Yang of NBC News, a wave of new start-ups powered by entrepreneurs who have returned to their childhood roots, and some who never left, is providing Detroit a kernel of Silicon Valley’s optimistic vision of the possible.
Symbolic of the renewed spark of entrepreneurial spirit are Michigan natives Paul Glomski, Jay Gierak and Nathan Lambert, who are doing their part to reverse the crippling brain-drain that has gripped the Rust Belt as its younger residents have fled for employment in other parts of the country.
Glomski, who earned his masters degree at MIT, founded smartphone app developer Detroit Labs, and in less than two years counts General Motors and Domino’s Pizza among his clients, and expects to nearly double his workforce to 60 employees by year’s end. Glomski told NBC News he may not have had the same success elsewhere.
“We’re not about the sort of big, fancy announcements about what our start-up’s going to do. We just go and make stuff and clients really like that,” Glomski said in a story published on NBCNews.com on April 30.”We definitely have that Midwest work ethic.”
Gierak and Lambert, who are Harvard graduates and classmates, decided that a Detroit base would give their business the edge it needed to get off the ground. So they relocated their website offices from San Francisco, and now work near the suburbs in which both grew up. In Detroit, their professional services referral site has much more potential for growth than it did on the West Coast.
“Detroit has given us opportunities that San Francisco never really presented,” Labent told NBC. “Here we immediately stand out and it’s been a lot easier than it would have been.” Said Gierak, “There’s a ton of talent and there’s not a lot of web companies like us competing for their services.”
Ground zero for the start-up revolution appears to be the 98-year-old Madison Building in downtown Detroit, which now houses more than 24 high-tech start-ups. Seeding for much of this economic activity has come from two major sources, venture capital firms Detroit Venture Partners, and Bedrock Manufacturing. Detroit Venture Partners, which is backed by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, has already invested some $11 billion in Detroit area enterprises.
“The tipping point is here,” Jacob Cohen, Detroit Venture Partners vice president, told NBC News. “The entrepreneurs of Michigan are now staying in Detroit and they want to be part of this story.”
Yang, John. “Entrepreneurs Find Success in Detroit“; NBC News. 4/30/13.