Steve Case, CEO of Revolution LLC and Josh Linkner of Detroit Venture Partners talk to Techonomy founder David Kirkpatrick about the critical role of entrepreneurship in America, especially in cities like Detroit. Read excerpts from the discussion below, or download the full transcript.
Case: I appreciate the fact that Techonomy is shining a spotlight on Detroit. In many ways, Detroit was Silicon Valley 50 years ago. This was the epicenter of innovation. It’s had a tough few decades. But it’s fighting its way back.
It’s really the story of entrepreneurship in America and how it is spread more broadly through the nation than we sometimes realize. Silicon Valley is the epicenter of enormous innovation and tremendous companies—it’s something we’re all proud of. But there are also a lot of companies across the nation that don’t get as much attention. If we’re going to get our economy back as a nation and get our unemployment down, the place to focus is entrepreneurship. We didn’t become the leading economy by accident. It was the work of entrepreneurs creating companies and industries throughout the nation. That it is sort of a secret sauce that built the American economy. We have to double down on entrepreneurship in Detroit and Cleveland and St. Louis and Denver and a lot of other places.
Linkner: We have to scream from the mountaintops that Detroit is open for business. This is a great place to build a tech company. We still have a lot of work to do to get that message heard, both locally and certainly on a global basis.
Detroit specifically was born on the spirit of disruption. Folks like Henry Ford put us on the map. As a result, our city prospered. And then we stopped doing that. Essentially, we built these stifling bureaucracies and became immersed in finger pointing and blame and our city crumbled. But today we’re in the midst of a new revolution, and once again entrepreneurship is alive and well. The digital age has taught us is you don’t need a Silicon Valley zip code to be successful.
Case: There are huge sectors of the economy—education, healthcare, energy—that haven’t really been disrupted that much in the last 25 years. What I think of as the first Internet revolution—getting everybody to believe it was important and get connected multiple devices, multiple networks—that’s sort of been accomplished. The second Internet revolution is how you use the ubiquity and now the mobility of the Internet to transform other important aspects of life.
In some ways everything is now a technology company. But we don’t want people to think we’re just trying to create another Facebook. A company like Chipotle has tens of thousands of employees. It’s worth $10 billion. That’s not only possible because of a good burrito, but also because they use technology.
It’s important to recognize that manufacturing, for example, which is important in this region, is being reinvented because of the juxtaposition of technology and design and the ability to do things in nimbler ways with smaller teams.
Linkner: We’ve got to stop apologizing for what we’re not and start celebrating what we are. We’ve got an incredible university system here in Detroit. We’ve got beautiful tall buildings that are waiting to be filled up. We’ve got terrific roads, wonderful hospitals. We’ve got water, a world-class airport, a talent base. So there are all these assets. We have to get out of the trap of apologizing for yesterday and complaining about the past. Enough. Time to move forward and focus on building great companies here in Detroit.
Case: Washington is fighting a battle around immigration to make sure the best and brightest don’t just come here for education and then get kicked out and forced to start companies in other countries. But the battle for talent also happens at a regional level. How do you get people who did leave Detroit to believe that now is the time to come back? Getting network density around entrepreneurship is when regions really take off.
Linkner: The other thing we really need to develop here that Silicon Valley has is the culture of risk taking. In Detroit, if you fail, that’s like a really negative thing. In Silicon Valley, it’s a badge of honor. What we need to start doing is celebrating creativity and responsible risk-taking When someone stumbles, that’s a learning opportunity.
Case: There are many countries that are being very aggressive in trying to make sure it’s easier for people to move there, from an immigration standpoint—easier incentives around capital, making significant investments in basic research. The good news is we are still the most entrepreneurial nation in the world. The bad news is there’s a rise of the rest globally. If we don’t double down on entrepreneurship as a nation, there is a risk we’re going to lose our way.