Cities Startup Culture

Why I Love Detroit for Launching a Startup

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time my company LevelEleven launched last fall after being incubated within Pleasant Ridge’s ePrize, I had already planned our business strategy and next steps. And it never crossed my mind to move out of Detroit to build LevelEleven in a more obvious startup market. Why? In part, because this is home. But Detroit also has many characteristics that make it a great place to launch a technology startup.

There’s a lot of noise about entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and New York. But listen closely and you can hear a new buzz coming out of the Motor City. Some of us have always believed in Detroit’s potential. But in the last year, the rest of the country has begun to recognize the business value our city holds. Lucky for us, a lot of it has come about through the launch of innovative and forward-thinking startups like UpTo, Marketplace Homes, HealPay, and hiredMYway.

LevelEleven operates on the premise that promoting internal competition amongst a sales team will drive results for a company. We accomplish this by adding a gamification element to existing sales management software, via integration with Salesforce’s CRM.

Why launch a startup in Detroit? I say there are “Four G’s”:

Good company. LevelEleven is lucky enough to be located in the iconic M@dison Building downtown, and our shared office space is completely unique. The variety of innovative tech startups housed here creates a vibrant working environment, and offers numerous and unique opportunities for collaboration.

Great local talent. There are incredibly passionate, smart people living and working in southeast Michigan. Sure, there is a ton of talent in San Francisco. But I believe the likelihood of actually hiring the best and the brightest in such a crowded market is much lower than it is here in Detroit. In Detroit, you can find “A” players who want to build something great and tap into a pool of professionals who are enthusiastic about doing it in Michigan.

Gritty resolve. Detroit is known for its hard workers and resilience. Though it was hit hard by the auto and housing industry crashes, Detroit has re-emerged with the same strong spirit and renewed energy. Locals know the history of innovation in Detroit dating back to the early 1900’s. We missed that for a couple generations, and this generation wants to grab hold of it again. We’re growing thanks to a booming startup scene that didn’t give up on the city, and it’s inspiring to be involved in this sort of entrepreneurial renaissance.

Generous supporters. There’s incredible support available from local venture capital firms like Detroit Venture Partners. Conceived by Josh Linkner, Dan Gilbert, and Brian Hermelin, DVP invests in local technology startups (including LevelEleven) with dreams of creating something big. To date, DVP has invested in 17 Detroit-area companies. Recent research shows that Michigan is the fastest-growing state for venture capital investments; in an annual analysis of investment activity across the country, Michigan’s ranking surged from 25th to 15th place in 2012.

I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons to consider launching a company in Detroit. Every startup here is dedicated to hard work, persistence, and the chance to be part of getting Detroit back on the map as a hub for innovation. And the city is evolving alongside the young businesses that are fostering its renaissance. We’re on the cusp of something great here in the Motor City, and I encourage you to consider Detroit when deciding where to start your company.

Bob Marsh served in leadership roles at Detroit-based ePrize for over a decade. In that time, ePrize grew to become a leading provider of online contests and promotions for companies ranging from Travelocity to Microsoft’s Xbox live rewards program. While at ePrize, he incubated the LevelEleven concept and took it from idea to paying customer in four months.

This article is published in partnership with GrowDetroit, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping foster Detroit’s emerging entrepreneurial and startup community. Detroit’s emergence as a startup hub will be among the topics discussed at Techonomy’s second Detroit conference, being held September 17 at Wayne State University.

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  • Intele79

    If you like to help Detroit, grant green cards for people who work and start business there. in no time Detroit will come back

    • June Shihara

      That counts muslims out, they almost never bring actual capital with them to start a business. Invite some Chinese Indians polish etc that have some savings.