From left, Tom Walsh, Jocelyn Benson, Josh Linkner, Andrew Yang (all photos by Asa Mathat)
Jocelyn Benson (l) and Josh Linkner
From left, Tom Walsh, Jocelyn Benson, Josh Linkner
Dean, Wayne State University Law School
CEO and Managing Partner, Detroit Venture Partners
Founder and CEO, Venture for America
Columnist, Detroit Free Press
States and cities are building toolkits for regional entrepreneurs to smooth the process of company formation. Detroit has a growing ecosystem for local finance and innovation. Las Vegas is undergoing its own unique rehabilitation into an entrepreneurial hub. What elements make a city or state attractive to startups and help it produce jobs and economic growth? Is the excitement about the “sharing” economy justified? Can communities of pooled talent, combined with both government and private resources, kick-start urban and regional revitalization?
Read the full transcript below. (Transcript by Realtime Transcription.)
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Walsh: Greetings. I am happy to be here. I am a columnist from the Free Press. I have been there for a long time.
I will briefly introduce our panelists, and they can talk more about themselves and the programs they are interested in and working on, relating to entrepreneurship in Detroit and elsewhere around the country.
So it’s a great panel, and a great time to be talking about this. A lot of people fret about the jobs situation, why we are not creating more middle-class jobs. And I asked somebody once, hey, technology, productivity has taken away all these jobs, what are we going to do in the future? And he said it’s going to be self-employment in a million different guises. So some of that, obviously, has to do with entrepreneurship, and we will just kind of jump right into it quickly.
On my immediate left, we have Joceyln Benson, who is the interim dean of the Wayne State Law School, and she’ll tell you about a program that she initiated when she started in January to focus on helping entrepreneurial startups in the city of Detroit, and she’s already got some progress to report.
Josh Linkner—whom many of you probably know, especially those of you from around Detroit—was a serial entrepreneur, founder of ePrize, which a lot of folks know around here, and then he went to work with Dan Gilbert and created Detroit Venture Partners, which is spawning all kinds of other cool stuff downtown.
And at the end here we have Andrew Yang, the founder and CEO of Venture for America. Two years into this new program, they have got 108 fellows at different spots around the country, and no place has more of them than Detroit, which has 28 now.
So with no further adieu, we will just kind of launch right in and talk about this, “Everybody is trying to Start Something,” and whatever your city, be it Detroit, Grand Rapids, Roanoke, Virginia—what makes a place an attractive place to do this? Who wants to start? Andrew?
Yang: Sure, I’ll get started. First, I want to thank you, Josh, for the incredible work he’s doing with Detroit Venture Partners. Venture for America would be a very different organization here in Detroit without him and Dan Gilbert. Quicken Loans are our primary supporters here in Detroit.
How many Venture fellows are actually here in the room? Will you raise your hand, if you are here?
All right. So if you want to know, hey, what is the experience of a young person who moves to Detroit, you can ask any of them, and they will tell you. Many of them have only been here for a month.
Venture for America recruits top college graduates, like the fine, young people who just raised their hands, from around the country, brings them to work at startups—like the companies that Josh is giving rise to at DVP—for two years. Here in Detroit, as Tom said, we have 28 people here in Detroit. And they’re going to work alongside existing entrepreneurs, and hopefully help those companies flourish, succeed, expand, hire more people, and then learn how businesses are built so they can do so themselves.
So that’s the work that I am engaged in. And we certainly see a huge level of interest among young people about trying to learn how to build enterprises and become entrepreneurs, but the hard part is finding that pathway. And I know Josh can speak to this too.
I started my first company when I was in my mid-20s, and it was a bit of a dud; actually, it was very much a dud. My investors can attest to its dud-like stature.
So it’s certainly a hard road to go down. In my case, I ended up apprenticing to more experienced entrepreneurs for a number of years before I became, you know, able to, hopefully, contribute something.
So I personally experienced the challenges that maybe even some of you in the audience might have in terms of, hey, I’m interested in this, but how do you get started? What does that process look like, since the road is very much unpaved? It is not even cobble-stoney; it is more like a thicket in the woods. You are not even sure there is a path.
So what we are hoping to do is create a pathway for people to be able to get their first set of exposure to entrepreneurial environments like at DVP and their enterprises, so they can hopefully give rise to the next generation of companies here in Detroit and around the country.
Walsh: Josh, Detroit was always a place where, sort of this classic case of, if you latch on with a big company and/or a big labor union, you’d be set for life. Obviously, that has all sort of blown up over the past 25, 30 years.
So now you got to do this entrepreneurial thing, or you got to create new companies and grow new companies. And what about Detroit and its culture? It wouldn’t have seemed to maybe be the most fertile ground, given that history.
Linkner: I will tell you, I believe that Detroit is the most fertile ground. Of course, I’m biased. But if you think about the ingredients that are needed to form a successful venture, you need access to capital, which we have here. You need amazing talent, which we have here in spades. We have a low cost basis. We have a great central geographical location in our country.
And so all the ingredients are here. I think what we lacked historically, perhaps, is some confidence. And we have lacked some connectivity of those resources. And you are exactly right.
Think about it. A hundred years ago, this was the Silicon Valley of our country. And this is where great entrepreneurs like Henry Ford came and had incredible innovation.
And, unfortunately, our success became our undoing, where we became complacent and had this sense of entitlement like you just spoke about. And perhaps getting knocked down as hard as we did was the best thing, ultimately, to bring us back, and even further.
Now there is the sense of resiliency. There is a sense of Detroit grit that will drive this community forward. I believe it’s going to happen through a diversified economy, to keeping young people in this region, and primarily through the vehicle of entrepreneurship. So it’s an opportunity for people to both drive economic gain and help rebuild our amazing city.
Walsh: And I think part of that, and especially in a city—and we’ve talked a little bit about bankruptcy here earlier today—where you’ve got government dysfunctional in the city, as it was for a while, it’s sort of become incumbent upon the private sector, the universities, and the philanthropic community to sort of rally around and say, okay, how can we get some stuff started?
Jocelyn, you jumped in at Wayne State to say, okay, we got a role here. What are you doing to help make Detroit a more fertile place?
Benson: I think very much the entire university has a critical role to play in being a part of Detroit’s resurgence and really connecting in that way that Josh was talking about with the entrepreneurship community, and with the general ecosystem of the business community, as well, in the city.
So at the law school, we’ve tried to do that by launching a program on entrepreneurship and business law, which actually links our students to help small businesses, entrepreneurs get started.
We see ourselves as working to help realize the next great idea and providing things like free legal research and resources as well as helping draft business plans and some of the startup assistance that folks need in the city to transition from having a great idea to making it profitable.
Walsh: And you’ve got some results to show?
Benson: Oh, yeah. Just in the past year alone—we launched in January—and we have already provided over $200,000 worth of free legal to entrepreneurs. We have helped over 75 small businesses get started. We have a partnership with the U.S. Patent Office, where our students actually help inventors get patents. And we have helped inventors patent 25 new ideas in the past year alone.
And that translates into profit for a lot of city residents who are looking for jobs, the same residents we talked about earlier today. So it’s a great way that the university can play a role in linking our students to the needs of the city as well.
Linkner: I want to make a quick comment. You are asking about, what are the ingredients that are needed to create a fully-formed entrepreneurship? And as Jocelyn was talking, I was thinking, another one is alignment with various stakeholders. And so her program, we are benefiting from that, and we are participating, and we are teaming up with Andrew.
And unlike other areas where it is much more combative and competitive, and one side winning and losing, I feel that we, in this region, are really united in driving the region forward, perhaps, again, because we have suffered so greatly. But there is a sense of community. When we get calls saying, I want to help Detroit, we take those calls. We support it. Not just me. I mean all of us.
Walsh: That’s interesting because one of the people I talked to said, well, we hear that there is this buzz in Detroit, this entrepreneurial thing going on with tech companies starting up, and this and that. But, really, isn’t every city in America trying to be a tech hub?
So I went online, I Googled it, and said, startup hubs. And, honestly, you get everything. You get Tony Hsieh putting $350 million into making Las Vegas a tech hub. Nashville has got a big technology hub effort underway. Roanoke, Virginia. All kinds of places around the country. Everybody thinks that startups are the key to their future. So if everybody is doing it, how do you really stand out?
You mentioned one thing, Josh, about the community pulling together instead of fighting with each other. But what else? What else do we need to do to stand out?
Benson: Well, I think you certainly need educational institutions being a part of helping to bring everyone together and promote that collaboration. But you also need, I think, a strong support for the population in the city itself, whether through investing in building an educated workforce, or helping individuals who have ideas for businesses get started. And I think in many ways that’s what a lot of what Detroit Venture Partners does, certainly what we’re trying to do.
But then, also, we need folks who have a stake in the future of Detroit, who don’t live in Detroit, to invest and be a part of the city as well. And having individuals come to the city from all over the country to be a part of the resurgence, it creates a buzz that I think does help set Detroit apart.
But apart from that, I will just say, also, that Detroit is a unique city in and of itself already. It’s already set apart. We have put the world on wheels. It’s the home of Motown. We’ve got this incredible history that Josh was referring to, also, and that in and of itself, I think, sets us apart from any other emerging cities.
Linkner: Also, I want to challenge the thinking for a minute, because you talk about standing out as if entrepreneurship was a scarce commodity. And, really, entrepreneurship, I think, can flourish and it should flourish in many of those cities. We are not trying to be the Silicon Valley of the Midwest; we are trying to be Detroit. I hope Miami is Miami, and Vegas is Vegas. You don’t need a Silicon Valley ZIP code to launch a very successful tech company.
And in fact, if anything, entrepreneurship spurs more entrepreneurship. The way I look at it, it is not us versus Wichita or Cleveland. The more entrepreneurship we have in this country, we are going to create new jobs, create innovation. We are going to remain competitive on a global basis. It is not one city fighting for another.
Walsh: Andrew, you gave a shout-out to start with, to Josh and to Dan Gilbert and their support of Venture Fellows, but is that—I mean, obviously, you are not having any trouble attracting people to come to Detroit. From the fellows’ point of view, what are the young folks saying that are coming?
I wrote a little column from the first class, and I don’t know if he’s here today—is Scott Lowe out there? I don’t know. But Scott came from Oklahoma, and I was just intrigued. An Okie from Muskogee—he really is from Muskogee—coming to Detroit. He is having a blast. He’s working for one of your startups, Chalkfly, and I think he’s going to stay.
Yang: Yeah, you know, not to put Scott on the spot, wherever he is. I think there’s a good chance he is going to stay, too. My last conversation with him, he was actually calling a very smart friend of his in Oklahoma saying, hey, come to Detroit and join me, let’s do something. So it’s that kind of energy that hopefully we can help really channel towards the enterprises that are going to help Detroit rebuild.
Walsh: You said something backstage earlier about, you know, one of the challenges is not so much creating fertile ground for startup. Lots of people get enthusiastic energy to start stuff up. Finishing them and really growing them out into a fully-formed business is hard work, all the way. And the finishing is harder than the starting. So what do we do to create great finishers?
Yang: I have visited some of the cities you are naming in terms of their starting initiatives to try and attract startups. And it’s hard to start something. No doubt about it.
I was talking to Josh about this backstage just now. In my view, it is actually harder, still, to get that organization, that business, to a point where it’s throwing off no value, it’s feeding itself, it can sustain itself, it’s attracting resources instead of expending them. And the best people that are situated to be able to help with that—and one of the things that Josh talked about, what’s involved in the entrepreneurship ecosystem—he left himself out, he was kind of humble—but the best way to get people to learn how to build something at that point is to have people who have already done that reach back and help them.
Like, mentorships are a really big part of this. And having a number of world-class builders like Josh and Dan at the top of this investment organization is a huge competitive advantage, relative to having organizations that are led—and they exist, trust me—organizations led and funded by people who actually don’t know how to do it themselves. Hopefully someone in some city somewhere isn’t mad at me for saying that. I don’t know. Probably.
Walsh: And Andrew said that Josh is a great finisher because, obviously, he grew ePrize into a nice, big profitable company that got a lot of recognition and hopefully made you a little money. (Silence).
Linkner: Wow, I don’t know how to answer that.
Walsh: But along the way, what were the challenges of growing and finishing that were not there at the startup stage?
Linkner: Yeah, so I’m embarrassed because I’m one of the many, many talented people here; I’m on the low end. We have great leaders like Dan Gilbert and others who contribute to the city.
To me, entrepreneurship is not the glamorous side that most people see. Entrepreneurship is about getting your teeth knocked in, and it’s the sense of resiliency and grit. So early on, when I started my company, you just keep getting back up and fighting, keep getting knocked down. As then as you build your company bigger, you get knocked down even harder.
So to me, the act of entrepreneurship is certainly coming up with an idea. And when Andrew refers to finishing, I feel like you are fighting that battle at every step of the way.
And getting back to competitive advantages, though—to me, we have that here in Detroit in spades. I mean, I always make fun of people on either coast, lovingly, I suppose, about they’re sipping their frappuccinos and getting manicures. And we know how to fight here in Detroit. And to me, that’s an inherent part of what we’ve got going.
So just finishing, I really believe that the soul that we have as Detroiters, the grit, the resiliency, the persistence, the commitment to fighting through adversity is a real competitive advantage and will drive these entrepreneurial companies to the next level, and our city to the next level.
Yang: Another important component is this culture of risk‑taking and acceptance of failure, which some more advanced innovation ecosystems have to a higher advantage than other cities. I think Detroit has a huge edge on that too, because there is intrinsic cultural risk‑taking that is fueling this renaissance that Detroit is experiencing.
Walsh: And how much do you think that word has gotten out? One of the things that I was struck by in this panel is that none of us are—well, I guess Josh is a native Detroiter, but none of us have spent our whole lives and careers here. We all came from other places at one time or another.
I grew up in Chicago. Jocelyn, Pittsburgh, right? And educated in Harvard and other places. And Josh went to school in—on the East Coast and in Florida. And Andrew, you are from out East, right? So these are people who found their way, or their way back, to Detroit.
As you made that journey, what were you thinking when you came back to Detroit? I mean, why did you come here? I mean, I know, Jocelyn, you came here to clerk for Judge Damon Keith, which is not a bad gig.
Benson: Well, I wanted to learn from Judge Keith because he is one of the greatest civil rights jurists of our time and is still on the bench and doing amazing things. But one week in the city, I saw exactly what we have been talking about, this incredible drive and strength and resilience, mired with this recognition that we’ve got to work together to make the city, and this region, this state, be all that it can be.
And I just wanted to be around that. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to learn from the people who are in it, and I wanted to be surrounded by them, because it would help me to be the person I wanted to be. So that’s why I stayed, and I have loved every minute of it.
Linkner: I will just say that people who flock to either coast to blend in and get lost in the shuffle—it makes no sense to me. I mean, the ultimate entrepreneurial act is being a contrarian and taking the less traveled path. And that, to me, is what Detroit is all about.
I don’t know of anywhere else in the country where there is not only such a powerful economic opportunity, but at the same time, you get to leave your fingerprints on a great American city. To me, that is a privilege.
I am a multi‑generational Detroiter, and certainly had the chance to leave, but to come home and make a difference—you know, I think there is a myth that entrepreneurship is about making a lot of money, and money is just a byproduct. I think great entrepreneurs are driven by making impact and changing the world. Here you get the chance to do both, so I think this is ground zero for entrepreneurship.
Yang: Our fellows have a set of preferences they can set in terms of what cities they want to go to. Detroit was, actually, I believe, either the most or second‑most popular city among our fellows in terms of where they wanted to go.
I think it speaks to what Josh was describing about our fellows, that they believed they would have an impact sooner, more quickly, more dramatically here than elsewhere.
Walsh: And I think time will tell us whether that proves out to be true, once you get how many really successful exits and whatnot that you get here. But what continues to puzzle me about the city and the region’s reputation and this national sort of hub thing going on with entrepreneurship is that the reputation here, deserved or otherwise, was, oh, boy, entitlement culture, and you know, just settle for, you know, blending in, and that kind of thing.
Yang: I can’t tell you how much it irks me when I am East and I talk about Detroit, and someone says, Detroit is bankrupt. I feel like shaking them and saying, Detroit’s municipal government is bankrupt, but Detroit is very much alive and well. There’s a lot of money, a lot of excitement, and a lot of activity there.
I think people just have sort of a very quick impression, and they build around, like, a news story, an institutional lens. To me, cities are much more about the individuals and the institutions that they are trying to build on the ground than they are about the large institutions like, in this case, decades of missteps that they’re now, like, making up for.
So I share that, Tom. It’s like you wish that people could see the reality here, as opposed to some of the sort of the mistaken impressions I see.
Benson: I also think that speaks to the need to invest in the startup population here, the entrepreneurial population and ecosystem here in Detroit, because of in terms of changing Detroit’s image, showing its residents and those investing in its residents as developing partnerships to bring the city back is the story that is going to redefine what Detroit is about.
And it’s been the story that’s redefined Detroit, previously, whether it’s Motown, whether it’s the auto industry. So I think it’s very exciting right now to be a part of that community and that resurgence that is going to, I think, reimagine Detroit for the rest of the country.
Linkner: I tell you, that story is going to change, both based on how we win and, also, how we lose. So to the extent that some of the startups in this room and in this community take off, and the next Facebook or Groupon or Instagram comes out of Detroit, that will create not just economic opportunity, but incredible amounts of vibrancy and hope and opportunity. If it can be done there, other people will come. I think it will serve as a beacon to others.
But also on how we lose. The main difference, the main negative that I see here compared to Silicon Valley or other places is how we treat setbacks and failures. And I think while we do have a heritage of risk-taking, we tend in the Midwest to sharply punish any type of failure or setback, whereas in Silicon Valley—
Walsh: But yet we still keep going to Lions games.
Linkner: Indeed, touché. In Silicon Valley, you have someone who has a setback or doesn’t succeed in a startup company—that’s a badge of honor. You’ve learned something, you’ve grown, you can move on. Here, that is not a badge of honor; it’s a scarlet letter.
And so I think so as a community, we need to support entrepreneurs taking risks, the ones that win and the ones that don’t, and instead of sharply punishing it, celebrating the act of creativity, the act of entrepreneurship, and that will change our story.
Walsh: And from a culture standpoint, Dan Gilbert talks a lot about culture and you did too. I have been in sessions where he alluded to this a little bit—talked about the street fighter culture.
On the other hand, we have generations, and I think those of us who have had kids who have gone to college worried, did we spoil them? Are they going out in the workforce thinking, okay, there’s people who are supposed to be fawning over me, like my parents did? But that’s no life for an entrepreneur.
Are today’s graduates—I mean, you see a lot of them, talk to a lot of them, Andrew. Are they ready for this?
Yang: You know what? I don’t think anyone is ready until they actually experience it. I also think that people can be molded based on those experiences. If you put someone in an environment where they can develop those capacities and grow as an entrepreneur, then they for sure have the raw material.
I also say—I certainly didn’t, like a lot of people, didn’t have that stuff until you have actually been pushed down the road for, in my experience, a number of years. So if you have a young person—let’s say your kid, Tom, you’re like, hey, I’m not sure that person has the right stuff, stick next to one of Josh’s entrepreneurs for several years and then check back in a little while.
No one learns these things without doing them. No one learns without being around people being stronger than they are. Entrepreneurship is just like any other activity where you need role models, you need people you can crib from and then emulate, and you need some time. So don’t sweat it if your kids are not, you know—
Benson: I also want to point out that our entrepreneurial population in the city of Detroit is very, very diverse. We have college graduates, we have individuals coming to Detroit, we have young Detroiters. But we also have elderly Detroiters coming to us; for example, we have a disabled Navy veteran—retired, invented a product in her home and is now negotiating to patent it and sell it for seven figures.
So I think we also have to remember that our entrepreneurial community can and should be both young and old, and should capture all the needs of the entire population because there are great ideas at any age.
Walsh: Taking that a step further, as we celebrate some of the growth of the companies downtown and the buzz that’s associated with all that, some folks wonder, okay, what about the neighborhoods? How do we integrate this excitement and this job creation thing that’s going on downtown with people who are coming in from out of town or from the suburbs or from universities? How do we make this work for the whole city?
I don’t know that we are far enough along to answer that question yet, but I worry, coming from Chicago, when they tore the old projects down in areas of the city and gentrified the areas, all they did was push the urban poor into the surrounding suburbs. They just moved the problem around, as opposed to really building a cohesive, vibrant city. Is there a concerted way to do that, and a smart way?
Linkner: I think there are a lot of people who are working hard on that problem. It is a very complex problem. There is probably not one right answer. I think entrepreneurship is one factor of many factors that will contribute to the entire city’s rebirth, not just the core business district.
However, I do think that some things are more obvious than others. First of all, as Jocelyn said, entrepreneurship absolutely should be inclusive. It’s not a race or an age or anything. And in our country there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur.
But at the same time, let’s say there are two University of Michigan graduates that are not native Detroiters that come into the city to build their business here. I don’t think that’s a threat to those that are in Detroit. It’s a good thing, because let’s say the business takes off, creates a thousand jobs, and creates $10 million a year of tax base. In turn, those jobs could be locally based. The tax base supports local restaurants, and, in turn, creates opportunities to provide critical city services, like keeping the lights on and collecting trash.
So as Governor Snyder said earlier, it’s about jobs, and if we can create jobs in the city, I think it will impact all Detroiters, not just a select few.
Walsh: On that note, we do have a few minutes left to take some questions from the audience.
Let’s start over there, identify yourself.
Faralisz: Hi, Nancy Faralisz. I grew up in northern Michigan. I left after college, went to Chicago for 16 years, worked at Kraft Foods, moved out to Minneapolis, thought maybe I would retire with Kraft; didn’t happen. I have always wanted to come back to Michigan, and I ended up coming back after having a baby at 42.
And so now I live in Clarkston; got a great deal on a house, and I spend a lot of time in Detroit.
And I know we talk about Detroit proper, but it is really Southeast Michigan. And I feel like there’s people all over up there that are afraid to come down here, and it pisses me off. It’s like it’s so cool down here, so much great stuff. So how do we market ourselves to get the people surrounding us to hang out down here?
And then I’m a marketing person, so Pure Michigan is awesome, right? But how do you take Pure Michigan and get the same messaging, and get the word out about how cool Detroit is besides getting killed?
Linkner: Well, one thing is, you are down here instead of in being in Clarkston, so that’s a good thing.
Faralisz: I spend a ton of time down here. I promote, promote, promote. People are like, I’m afraid.
Linkner: Events like this are a big deal. The more that we can celebrate—in my mind, it is not Detroit versus the suburbs. We are all part of Southeast Michigan. If Detroit wins, I believe the whole region wins.
Having a vibrant downtown where young people want to come down here after graduation to work, live, and play, impacts Clarkston, Southfield, and Bloomfield and everywhere else.
Yang: They had this issue in Las Vegas and so Tony Hsieh decided to buy and expand this festival called First Fridays, which brought people to that part of town. I pitched it to Dan earlier, so let’s see if it happens.
The plan is a monthly party in downtown Detroit; it moves around, actually. It can go anywhere in Detroit, and then people from the suburbs can come on in and have a good time. So if it happens, give me credit.
Urlocker: My name is Zach Urlocker, with Scale Venture Partners in Silicon Valley. My wife is here. She is from the Detroit area. We have observed that there is a lot of engineering and creative talent from Michigan in Silicon Valley. Is there an opportunity to bring some of that talent back here to Michigan? If so, how do we encourage that to happen?
Linkner: I can take a quick shot at that. That’s happening every day. I mean, it hasn’t happened in mass yet, but the momentum is happening. I get calls all the time, I’m in Boston, I’m in New York, I’m in Silicon Valley, or from Michigan and want to come back. One example, there was two guys from Michigan, they went to Harvard. They were literally on the same floor as Mark Zuckerberg, classmates, one of the first people on Facebook. They moved to Silicon Valley, started their company, got funding from Tim Draper, A+ venture capital firm. And now they decided to move back to Detroit to build their company. We provided funding, and they’re doing just terrific.
So I think as more events like this happen, as more successes come out of Detroit, as capital becomes available, it becomes an attractive place, and we can attract people on a global scale.
Walsh: I think some of the universities have actually done some actual concerted efforts to reach out to alumni. I know University of Michigan has. I don’t know if Wayne State is considering doing.
Benson: We certainly actively engage our alumni. I moved to the city of Detroit 10 years ago, lived on the River Front. There were three cement silos; there was no River Walk. You couldn’t walk around Belle Isle without trying to dodge various different things. But now, I mean, I got married on Belle Isle. I run along the River Front every day, a beautiful River Walk. The Tigers had a losing record when I moved here, and now they are doing quite well. So I am just saying, Detroit is on the correct and right trajectory due in large part to the investment and growth of our entrepreneurial community, but it is going to take all of us working continually and consistently to keep the ball moving forward and not allow things like setbacks, like the bankruptcy and other things, to take us away from redefining the city in light of all the good things that are happening here. So we’re on the right track. And I think for all of us who are saying, why aren’t we there yet?—Just keep fighting to get us there and we will get there.
Walsh: Anyone else? Any more from the crowd? Oh, sorry. Over here.
Barone: Thank you. My name is Frank Barone from Washington, D.C. I am encouraged a lot by what I have seen in Detroit. It is certainly not what I expected to see when I got here. I have heard many of the stories you cited.
I would just like to ask you a question, though. This is the fourth largest exporter city in the United States of America. So we heard earlier. I spent five years living in Singapore many years ago when Singapore was building itself up. What strikes me here is being very interesting. I went through the early Silicon Valley; I am a Berkeley graduate; in the ’60s I was there when that particular elephant spawned, so to speak, and we all know how it is maturing.
The question I would ask you is, in the long run, I recognized all I am seeing here, and I recognize I come from Washington, D.C., and we look at things very abstracted. What I am hearing here is a lot of infrastructure and tools discussions, effectively. What I am really not seeing here, effectively, is the sustainment-end item.
As an example, if this were a drill set, I would say we are talking about electric power in the first drills, transitioning from hand drills to electrical drills. The real drill and the real electric power now have gone back into the infrastructure, just as when we had com-decks, most of that has gone back into the infrastructure. So I will ask you, is Detroit’s future heavily dependent on a regeneration of that kind of tools and infrastructure? Or is it going to invest in what its real, natural wealth is, which is its harbor, since it is the fourth largest exporting city in America? I would propose to you Singapore would be a model that might really want to be understood by Detroit, because that model, effectively, is dramatic.
So my question is, for the community that is developing technology in Detroit, how much of that is focused on supporting the growth and maturity of the export business in the harbor?
Benson: I think that’s a great question; and, of course, we are—one of the other things that makes Detroit unique is our geographic location on this international border. And on the—and, of course, there’s a lot of discussions about how to make that border itself more easily to be traversed. But apart from that, I think certainly part of the discussion both amongst entrepreneurs in the business community and all the government needs to be how do we take advantage of that geographic location and use that to partner with the entrepreneurship communities and address both the import-export benefits that can come from our location on the border.
Linkner: It’s not an or; it’s an and. So tech entrepreneurship will be one big factor but not the only factor. Leveraging our harbor, leveraging our riverfront is another one but not the only factor. A strong artist community is an important factor but not the only factor. So to me it’s a number of things coming together in a patchwork, all forging ahead in the right direction. And I think that will ultimately drive our rebirth.
Barone: I think that’s a great answer. Thank you very much.
Walsh: And with that, we have run out of time. Thank you very much for your questions, for your enthusiasm.