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CEO Erik Torenberg, who co-founded Rapt.fm at Startup Weekend Detroit in 2012, embodies a new generation of Midwest entrepreneurs. Rapt hosts live video rap competitions and cyphers, where participants rap, watch, vote, and learn. Rapt is also an artist discovery platform – contest winners have won the opportunity to open for Mos Def, Royce Da 5’9– and next month, one winner will get a record contract with Tommy Boy Entertainment.

Rapt is doing what Detroit once did regularly: innovate. Rapt is creating an original way to connect with music; and hopefully, along with startups like it, Rapt will support Detroit with a valuable product and the creation of professional opportunity.

The Rapt Crew. Photo via www.nibletz.com

Which begs the question: can startups sustainably buoy the economy in Detroit?

I am trying desperately to incorporate the trends from this article into my analysis; an article detailing the economic hole that is “The Motor City.” Being a white girl from the countryside of Washington State, I have been privileged with not having to know– the when’s, the where’s, the why’s– which make the reality of this downtrodden city more excruciating. How have I been hidden from such social devastation? I work on the Internet, for Pete’s sake… how has this information not reached me?


My first, emotional drafting of a ‘Detroit’ article was an enormous, lame overview of the rise and fall of the automobile industry. I blamed the problems of the city on miscalculations in big business, and deliberate outsourcing to China. I wrote an article juxtaposing the cultural carnage of Detroit with the entrepreneurial ambition of a new, white generation.  I essentially tried to reproduce the complexity of Chuck Salter’s article, only for Startup Weekend’s blog. It is not surprising that the downfall of an American metropolis is a delicate and complex story, and that I was writing without depth of experience or perspective. My first draft was an insult to anyone who has, or will suffer within the city’s 139-square-miles. I needed to ponder.

I needed to identify with what I knew:  I knew that simply reading about what has happened in Detroit, and the current conditions in which its inhabitants live, is enough to make me cry. I knew that even an elementary understanding of the city’s turmoil inspired me to write a fool’s history of Detroit in one sitting, along with emotional statements like, “Detroit is savable!”

Experts on the subject seem to think that because of what has happened in Detroit, and its ubiquitous reputation for social decay, people are gravitating to the city in hopes of making a difference. Detroit is facing a ‘renaissance’ at the hand of entrepreneurs, interested in what and who originally made Detroit great.

Despite all that I don’t understand, I can confidently say that Detroit needs innovators.