In anticipation of the Techonomy Detroit conference on September 12, we profiled six Detroit tech startups driving the city’s re-emergence as a center of innovation.
Detroit has become notorious as a symbol of the decline of American manufacturing, but in recent years the city’s tech start-up scene has quietly started to generate renewed optimism. Investors like Detroit Venture Partners have sought to rebuild the city through entrepreneurship, financing successful tech-focused efforts, including Detroit Labs’ web, iOS, and Android applications. Detroit has also become home to an outpost of TechShop, the Silicon Valley innovation incubator where people of all skill levels can use industrial tools and equipment to build their own products. Meanwhile, entrepreneurship accelerator Bizdom offers seed funding to help grow innovative, tech-based local startups.
PicketReport.com, a website that aggregates information about neighborhoods and towns, is one of the latest tech startups in the Detroit area to garner attention. The site serves people relocating to unfamiliar areas, curating information about schools, crime, and income levels. It even pinpoints the nearest grocery stores and cafes. I spoke with Brian Bandemer, Picketreport.com’s co-founder and COO, about how his company is part of Detroit’s renewal.
What was the inspiration for PicketReport.com?
We were trying to come up with a Carfax report for the house—to get everything regarding the house and everything in the area, in one report. Similar to how you want to know everything about a car, where it’s been and all that stuff. But once we started to dig deeper, we decided that there was more of a need for a neighborhood research tool. People could go and use certain sites for finding information about the house, but where they struggled with getting information was in knowing what the area is like. Who lives there? What are the schools like? Where are the nearest grocery stores, restaurants? Realtors aren’t allowed to share that information because of the Fair Housing Act.
Did you build the website with Detroit in mind, or were you always hoping to expand nationally?
We had always hoped to expand nationally, and we’ve gotten a lot of interest from Canada, and some European companies. International, I’m sure, is far away, but that would also be somewhere we would like to expand to.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in launching the site?
Some of the biggest challenges are just getting the right software down, finding the right information that people want, and displaying it in a way that gets them to interact. Money is always a problem with startups as well. One of the things I know Detroit has struggled with, especially now that there is kind of a tech startup boom, is keeping software development talent in and around Detroit. This is starting to shift as more people are starting to jump aboard the train. But trying to get people who would take working in Detroit over San Francisco has been a challenge for us and for a lot of other companies.
Describe the atmosphere for tech startups in Detroit in this boom, as you call it?
It’s exciting. We’ve been in Detroit for two years now. When we first started, Detroit Venture Partners wasn’t around yet, and there weren’t a whole lot [of other startups]. When we used to go down to Detroit, there weren’t many things going on, and there weren’t many people. Now you hear about all these new different startups, and you see people out, going out for drinks or restaurants and it’s kind of like a close-knit family. And more and more startups keep coming and being a part of this family. We all see articles written on each other, and there’s a lot of excitement—a lot of cool tools that are happening and a lot of buzz going on. So its been nice to be a part of watching all these companies grow and succeed and get investment and get huge deals. Everybody is kind of on the same team in trying to see Detroit get back to where it once was.
Why should the rest of the country keep its eye on Detroit?
The leaders and the startup talent in Detroit is —I don’t want to say that they’re not well known, because they’re starting to get more traction—but there are extremely bright people down there. You know, it’s like “Detroit Hustles Harder,” one of the catch phrases about Detroit, is really true. These people, not only are they smart, but they are extremely hard working, and everybody is doing what it takes to get their company to succeed. That’s why I would say, don’t count us out. I think there are a whole lot of bigger and better things yet to come from Detroit.
For complete coverage of the September 12, 2012, Techonomy Detroit conference, click here.