It’s a scene that fits most people’s image of Silicon Valley, not the Motor City: young engineers taking a break with a ping pong game, a business meeting in bean bag chairs, and rows and rows of 20-somethings intently studying computer code on screens.
The setting is two floors of downtown Detroit’s Madison Building, which was built in 1917 — just four years after Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with the assembly line. It’s now home to more than two dozen high-tech start-ups backed by two venture capital firms.
And it could be the home of Detroit’s economic resurgence as these companies try to rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit of men named Ford, Olds and Chrysler who helped make this city the center of the automobile industry more than a century ago.
“The tipping point is here,” declared Jacob Cohen, vice president of Detroit Venture Partners. The firm, whose backers include Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, has invested more than $11 million.
“The entrepreneurs of Michigan are now staying in Detroit and they want to be part of this story,” Cohen said.
‘Detroit has given us opportunities’
After getting his master’s degree at MIT, Michigan-native Paul Glomski moved to Detroit to start his company, Detroit Labs, which makes smartphone apps. Clients include GM and Domino’s Pizza. In less than two years, the workforce has grown from four to 32–and is expected to hit 60 later this year. The company has already outgrown its workspace and is moving to a new location.
Glomski doesn’t think he would have had the same success somewhere else.