Detroit has recently earned a new nickname: Comeback City.
Just four years ago, Detroit came out of bankruptcy. We remember that day vividly because it was the same day we announced the first Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program in Detroit: Techstars Mobility. We saw potential in Detroit, that it could take deep industry knowledge and become a hotbed of innovation for both corporations and startups.
Over the past four years, we’ve partnered with local corporations to gain their expertise and help them grow their innovation muscles. We’ve activated the Detroit startup ecosystem through the Techstars mentor network, facilitating over 10,000 meetings between startups and successful entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, and government organizations. We’ve brought 44 startups to Detroit from eight different countries, spanning industries including automotive, transportation, city infrastructure, travel, manufacturing, and materials, who have raised over $80 million and are valued at over $215 million. The Demo Days for these accelerator classes have become huge events for the community, attracting over a thousand attendees each year. Techstars Startup Week Detroit attracts thousands more to its annual celebration of entrepreneurship. And, just last October, Detroit joined in the 2nd annual national Techstars Startup Weekend Latinx in Tech.
Our next step: Techstars is investing even more in Detroit, and transforming Techstars Mobility to Techstars Detroit.
We started with mobility—the industry that everyone knew Detroit could do and that Detroit itself knew it could do. That was four years ago: today, Detroit does that and so much more. “The word Mobility was becoming too limiting,” says Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Detroit (and MD of Techstars Mobility for all four years). “We knew we needed to reach a broader audience of entrepreneurs who may not label themselves as mobility but are great candidates for the program.” Techstars Detroit is still looking for startups who identify as mobility innovations, but is also looking for startups that associate with industries such as manufacturing, IoT, and more. They’ll benefit enormously from working with Techstars corporate partners for the 2019 program: Ford, Honda, AAA, USAA, Nationwide, PlanetM, and, new for 2019, Lear. These partners know just how crucial it is to partner with startups and keep innovation top of mind. Detroit has seen what happens when you don’t.
Techstars Detroit is the natural evolution of all the work we’ve done previously, from Techstars Startup Weekends, to Techstars Startup Weeks, to a mobility accelerator, and now a broader accelerator—this is the arc of a successfully maturing startup ecosystem. Startup ecosystems have natural biorhythms; they evolve. What Detroit needed four years ago is different from what it needs today. Every community has a vertical or an industry that they excel in, but to move beyond that is a sign of maturation. Detroit can now support a wider version of entrepreneurship.
Chris Heivly, Techstars Entrepreneur in Residence and serial entrepreneur (MapQuest cofounder), is obsessed with the hows and whys of entrepreneurial ecosystem development. “Startup ecosystem development is all based on success through a thousand nudges,” Chris says. “Growing a startup ecosystem takes a long series of positive nudges—and Techstars Detroit is another really positive nudge.”
After four great years, we’re so glad to provide yet another nudge to the startup ecosystem of the Comeback City. Four years in, our engines are revving and we’re just getting started.