Applications are now open for the 3rd Techstars Mobility program in Detroit.
We’re excited to announce that we’ve opened applications for the 2017 class of Techstars Mobility. We are looking for startups building technologies that impact how people and goods move around across all modes of transportation (including pedestrian). This encompasses a wide range of industries including automotive, transportation, smart city, energy, logistics, supply chain and travel. Technologies include software and hardware using artificial intelligence, machine/deep learning, VR, AR, robotics, autonomous, electric, shared, and connected. You can apply online here. Applications are open through April 9th.
We’re also excited to welcome next47, Siemen’s new corporate venture unit, to our consortium of corporate partners. This new partnership will further help us support companies in the smart city and mobility verticals. Learn more about the partnership here.
In early January, Techstars Mobility partnered with The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to bring startups from all over the world to Detroit to showcase their innovative mobility technologies as part of AutoMobili-D, a dedicated startup expo.
This was the inaugural year for the AutoMobili-D exposition which featured 120 exhibitors, including a global mix of automakers, suppliers, tech startups from around the world, all showcasing and discussing the future of mobility.
It attracted nearly 40,000 auto and tech industry executives, designers, developers and analysts from 2,274 companies and 27 countries.
The partnership was formed as part of Techstars Mobility’s ongoing mission to connect the automotive and startup worlds by breaking down silos and forming partnerships. Watch our keynote from the show to learn about the program.
The 44 startup companies that attended were able to experience additional exposure through media coverage, events and networking including an Automotive and Startup Innovators reception hosted at the Techstars Mobility Office, in conjunction with Dykema, that attracted nearly 200 industry experts and entrepreneurs.
“It was an amazing way for our company to not only get access to top players in the automotive industry but to actually talk with the top-level decision makers.” — Jordan Warzecha, CEO & Co-Founder, Backstitch, Techstars Sprint Accelerator 2016
“Amazing opportunity to engage with leading automotive executives. We were amazed by the quality of the meetings.” — Stefanie Lemke, CEO & Co-Founder, GoKid, Techstars Mobility 2016
“It was a cream of the crop event. You can network more in four days at AutoMobili-D than in four years through other channels.” — John Mohyi, CEO & Co-Founder, Mohyi Labs
What’s Techstars Mobility?
Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit, focuses on the rapidly changing mobility and transportation industry. We’ve partnered with leading mobility corporations including Ford, Verizon, Dana, Honda, Munich Re, Michelin, next47. Over the past two years we have invested in 22 mobility startups from all over the world. Collectively, they are valued at over $100 million.
We are interested in startups changing the future of mobility and how people move around across all modes of transportation (including pedestrian). This encompasses a wide range of industries including automotive, transportation, smart city, energy, logistics, supply chain, and travel. Technologies include software and hardware using artificial intelligence, machine/deep learning, VR, AR, robotics, autonomous, electric, shared, and connected. Techstars is committed to operating this program in Detroit, the birthplace of mobility.
To apply for the 2017 Mobility program, click here.
Check out additional videos below from live sessions hosted at NAIAS featuring our alumni, corporate partners and mentors:
2017 Program Dates
- Jan 9 – Applications Open
- Apr 9 – Applications Close
- May 16 – 17 – Final Interviews
- May 22 – Notification of Selection
- Jul 24 – Program Starts
- Oct 18 – Demo day
Sign up for Office Hours / Events with us:
- Feb 7 | Ann Arbor / University of Michigan
- Feb 9 | Clemson University
- Feb 20 | Pittsburgh
- Feb 21 | Flint Kettering University
- Mar 1 – 2 | Chicago
- Mar 3 | Detroit
- Mar 6 – 7 | New York
- Mar 8 | Boston
- Mar 14 | Toronto / Waterloo
- Mar 15 – 17 | Boulder
- Mar 31 | Chicago
RSVP for our 2017 Webinars + Live Q&A:
Techstars Mobility has partnered with the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) to bring 50 global startups to Detroit in January 2017 to showcase their innovative mobility technologies as part of AutoMobili-D, a dedicated startup expo.
This partnership is part of Techstars Mobility’s ongoing mission to connect the automotive and startup worlds by breaking down silos and forming partnerships.
The startups that will be participating come from all around the globe, including the U.S., Canada, Dubai, London and Portugal.
They will showcase a wide-range of technologies, ranging from artificial intelligence and machine learning, to autonomous and connected platforms, to infrastructure communications and security applications.
Out of the 50 participating startups, 19 are Techstars alumni.
Now in its 29th year as an international event, the NAIAS is among the most prestigious auto shows in the world, providing unparalleled access to the automotive products, technologies, people and ideas that matter most – all from downtown Detroit, the heart of the automotive industry.
This is a pivotal time for the automotive industry, as tech and mobility are becoming more integrated. Through the AutoMobili-D showcase, this will be the first time an auto show will include a dedicated startup expo.
Techstars Mobility is the first North American accelerator focused on the future of transportation and mobility. Headquartered in downtown Detroit, Techstars Mobility has invested in 22 mobility startups from all around the world over the past 18 months. They are collectively valued at over $100 million.
Applications for Techstars Mobility 2017 program will be opening January 9th. Startups can apply here.
Here is a list of the Techstars companies that will be attending:
Acerta Systems Analytics (Mobility ‘16) – an enterprise platform that uses machine learning to detect anomalies and predict failures in real time for vehicles coming off the assembly line or being driven.
Algocian (Mobility ‘16) – an edge computing platform that uses deep learning to make every camera smart.
backstitch (Sprint ‘16) – helps organizations to deliver more relevant, accessible, and actionable communications to employees, clients, and partners.
Classics&Exotics (Mobility ‘15) – a new marketplace that connects owners of unique vehicles to pre-screened, highly qualified renters, allowing them to offset the high cost of ownership.
Donut Media (Mobility ‘16) – a digital media central for the next generation of automotive and motorsports enthusiasts.
Drive Spotter (Mobility ‘16) – a machine learning platform that trains human drivers and autonomous vehicles for enterprise fleets.
GoKid (Mobility ‘16) – a complete carpool solution for schools, teams and active families, helping parents to carpool with families they know and trust.
HAAS Alert (Mobility ‘16) – the mobile vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) platform that delivers preemptive notifications to motorists, informing them of the road ahead.
HERO App (Mobility ‘16) – a platform that reduces insurers’ liability from drunk driving by providing bars/restaurants with a mobile solution that incentivizes customers to get home safely
LaaSer (Atlanta ‘16) – solves the deadly problem that when you call 911 from a mobile device, they don’t know where you are.
LISNR (R/GA ‘15) – an ultrasonic inaudible technology; a communication protocol that sends data over audio.
My Dealer Service (Mobility ‘15) – empowers automotive service departments with mobile connectivity and workflow management, elevating efficiency and creating an unprecedented customer experience.
Pitstop (Mobility ‘15) – a predictive maintenance platform that uses big data to detect vehicle issues before they happen.
PolySync (Ventures) – products and services that simplify and accelerate the development, testing, and deployment of self-driving cars.
Revio (Mobility ‘15) – a telematics hardware platform that uses connected devices to make power sports safer and more secure.
Spatial (Mobility ‘16) – Artificial intelligence location platform and API that enables vehicles to answer location questions only a local would know using real time social data.
SPLT (Mobility ‘15) – a company focused on moving people efficiently and sustainably in urban and suburban areas. Its team is devoted to improving mobility in cities and reducing our collective carbon footprint with innovative transportation solutions.
Super Dispatch (Sprint ‘16) – a platform that enables automotive logistics companies to eliminate paperwork, manage loads, drivers and billing all in one place.
TEQ Charging, Inc. (IoT ‘16) – a company catalyzing the growth of the electric vehicle market by increasing the accessibility and affordability of charging infrastructure.
If you’re a developer with a great idea for a new mobility app…or if you’re an entrepreneur, with a great idea for a product, service or business that help solves mobility challenges — then Detroit wants you!
Ford Motor Company is kicking off GoDetroit, an innovation challenge designed to stimulate new ideas and find ways to better connect Detroit communities using innovative transportation and mobility solutions.
To help Detroit residents get access to the transit options they need, Ford is asking startups and app developers to create new apps that help residents get around efficiently and safely to all the places they need to go—school, work, healthcare appointments, entertainment venues, parks, and everything in between.
Startups can submit ideas designed to improve the safety, access and availability of transportation solutions throughout Detroit. This innovation challenge is designed to stimulate new ideas and find ways to better connect Detroit communities using innovative mobility solutions.
Semifinalists will then work with Ford mobility experts, Detroit stakeholders and me (Ted Serbinski, MD of Techstars Mobility) to refine submissions. Semifinalists will present their solutions to a panel of Ford experts and city representatives who will select six winners. Winners will receive cash rewards totaling $60,000 to bring their idea to life.
Thanks again to our partner, Ford, who is consistently finding new ways to engage and support the startup community in Detroit!
Community info sessions begin Wednesday, December 7. REGISTER HERE.
For more information, or to participate in the Go Detroit innovation challenge, visit GoDetroit.
On Dec 11, 2014, Bill Ford introduced Techstars Mobility to the world: the first startup accelerator program in North America to focus on the future of mobility, automotive, and transportation. You can watch part of this announcement here. Since then, we’ve been on a mission to connect the automotive and startup worlds by breaking down silos, building partnerships and fostering community. And we’re doing this from downtown Detroit, the epicenter of the global automotive industry.
Techstars Mobility has invested in 22 mobility companies from all around the world. Three of these companies have relocated to Detroit: Lunar (class of 2015), SPLT (class of 2015), and joining them today, Drive Spotter (class of 2016). Combined, they have hired 23 team members and are working closely with Detroit companies including Ford, DTE Energy, Magna, Service.com, Matrix Human Services, COTS Detroit, and others.
Today, I’m also excited to announce we’ve brought two additional high-growth startups to Detroit: Mapbox and Polysync, the latter of which is a Techstars Ventures investment. These companies will be opening their Detroit offices out of the Techstars Mobility space, joining Oblong who opened their Detroit office last year.
One true testament of a great ecosystem is the commitment by companies to relocate and establish a base in that area. It is amazing to see six automotive mobility startups doing just that, all within the last 12 months. I’m convinced that continuing to showcase the burgeoning Detroit ecosystem will contribute to more and more startups relocating to Detroit.
We are continuing our mission to expose more startups to Detroit. Today, I’m excited to announce that we’re opening applications to bring 50+ mobility, automotive, and transportation startups to the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. If you are a startup and want to be part of this ground breaking event, apply here.
Connecting Startups & Automotive Companies
Techstars Mobility operates at the intersection of Detroit’s two biggest strengths: automotive dominance and entrepreneurial resurgence.
As we watch the shift from manufactured automotive vehicles to mobility services occur across the industry, we’re seeing stronger collaboration between startups and automotive companies.
Just look to CB Insights infographic depicting just that: All the major automotive OEMs are actively investing, acquiring, and partnering with startups. The momentum in 2016 is quite contagious. It’s incredible to see the alignment of Silicon Valley thinking and Detroit’s robust automotive know-how.
At Techstars Mobility, we’re helping to push this collaboration even further. We’ve partnered with 8 leading automotive and mobility corporations: Ford, Magna, Verizon, Dana, Honda, McDonald’s, Munich Re, and Michelin. The 22 startups that have gone through Techstars Mobility programs have developed deep and long lasting relationships with these corporations. On the flip slide, these corporations have learned a great deal about working with startups that operate in days instead of months to get things done. Do more faster indeed!
In addition to the relationships with these corporations, we brought in over 200 mentors from over 50 different automotive related companies– OEMs, suppliers, software companies, and investors. These mentors have come by our office in downtown Detroit to work with and mentor these startups.
What this has created is quite profound: Techstars Mobility operates the most active collaboration of automotive companies and startups, all from downtown Detroit.
The future of mobility is being built in Detroit.
Growth of Detroit’s Startup Community
Today is the 2nd Techstars Mobility Demo Day in downtown Detroit. With over 1,000 RSVPs again this year, Techstars Mobility is the first Techstars program ever to have back-to-back demo days with over 1,000 folks. With 275 investors in the audience and over 300 mentors, it’s incredible to watch the startup mentorship network blossoming around Detroit.
If you’d like to watch the fun, click here to watch the live stream. This will start at 2:30p ET and run to approximately 4:45p ET. If you missed the livestream, you can go to the live stream page to watch a video of the entire demo day.
This attendance record is a huge testament to the community around Detroit — both the startup and automotive communities. Demo Day is coming off the heels of Detroit’s first Startup Week, which had over 3,000 attendees, the largest ever for a launch of that program.
To capture this growth of the startup community, coupled with the entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, we’re working with Long Haul Films to develop the documentary Restarting the Motor City. This is a feature-length documentary about the creators, innovators and entrepreneurs who are reimagining Detroit. They are breaking free from the shackles of 20th-century thinking to create a new model for cities across the globe. We anticipate airing the full documentary sometime in 2017.
Two Classes of Successful Mobility Startups
Techstars Mobility has now completed two programs over the last 18 months. We’ve seen hundreds of applications from 52 countries, across 6 continents. For a more indepth look at the mobility and automotive trends we’ve seen, check out this blog post.
Our 2015 class of startups have now gone on to raise over $8M in funding. Lunar, Wise, Elegus, Pitstop, and SPLT have all raised significant seed-stage financings > $1M. The rest of the class is still operating and growing their businesses.
Our 2016 class of startups is on pace to double that of last year’s class. Investors this year have been quite aggressive. Most of the startups have ⅓ to ½ their round committed — some are even oversubscribed before they set foot on the stage at Demo Day — wow!
From the start of the program until now, the current 2016 class has experienced tremendous growth. To see that evolution, check out the company descriptions from 3 months ago and compare to where they are today:
- Acerta is an enterprise platform that uses machine learning to detect anomalies and predict failures in real time for automotive vehicles coming off the assembly line or being driven.
- Algocian is an edge computing platform that uses deep learning to make every camera smart.
- Braiq personalizes the ride experience in autonomous vehicles by teaching artificial intelligence how to better read human emotions.
- Cargo is the in-car marketplace for the ride-sharing economy. Drivers earn more money and improve their riders’ experience by providing essential goods on-the-go.
- Donut Media is the media company for the next generation of automotive enthusiasts.
- Drive Spotter is a machine learning platform that trains human drivers and autonomous vehicles for enterprise fleets.
- GoKid is a complete carpool solution for schools, teams, and active families, helping parents to carpool with families they know and trust.
- HAAS Alert is the mobile vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) platform that delivers preemptive notifications to motorists, informing them of the road ahead.
- Hero is an enterprise platform that reduces insurers’ liability from drunk driving by providing bars and restaurants with a mobile solution that incentivizes customers to get home safely.
- Rally is a marketplace connecting groups, event-goers, and commuters for crowdpowered transportation.
- Spatial is a location api that uses artificial intelligence to answer questions only a local would know.
- Voyhoy is a multi-modal booking platform that helps people save time and money traveling long distances across bus, plane, train, ferry, and rideshare in Latin America.
This blog post originally appeared on on Ted’s blog. To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski.
This blog post originally appeared on tedserbinski.com.
As we enter week six of Techstars Mobility, I thought it’d be fun to analyze the data from sourcing startups and reading applications since launching the 2016 Techstars Mobility program.
We read a ton of applications and met a lot of great founders from all around the world. These conversations led to fascinating insights and trends. Check out this infographic for the top three global trends in applications to Techstars Mobility.
The worldwide response for Techstars Mobility has blown us away.
Applications to Techstars Mobility came from 52 countries across 6 continents. This represented a 26% increase in international companies compared to 2015.
The Top 10 locations to apply to Techstars Mobility in 2016 were:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Canada and India [tied]
- Germany and Russia [tied]
- Mexico and Israel and France [tied]
When we drill down further, we see that only 19 startups from Michigan applied to Techstars Mobility. Put another way, we saw more applications from Eastern Europe than we did our own home state, the center of the automotive world!
While surprising in comparison, in my opinion, this is actually a great observation.
The demand of high quality automotive mobility startups wanting to be in Michigan is much greater than our own supply.
This is great signal that the rest of the world wants to build their future mobility solutions right here in Detroit. The entrepreneurial gold rush in Detroit is quite appealing.
Trends in Mobility Startup Applications
What’s most fascinating is the type of technologies and businesses these startups are building.
When a sector as hot as mobility and automotive emerges, we often see copycats and imitators emerge. Our data is insightful because it shows:
1. What areas of the automotive mobility industry have the lowest barriers to entry?
2. What problems still exist without widespread adoption of solutions?
3. What are the gaps in the automotive and mobility market that startups aren’t pursuing?
Looking at our 2016 applications, here were the most common themes in order:
1. Ride sharing — Getting from point to A to point B. Automobiles, vans, buses, bicycles from local, city-to-city, and even long distance. Lots of new and innovative models.
2. Customer Experience — Everything around the experience of car ownership and the entire lifecycle: buying/leasing -> maintenance -> selling.
3. Safety / Distracted Driving — Lots of innovative ideas in this space, for both consumer and enterprise fleet management.
4. Journey Planning / Navigation — There are still a lot of fundamental problems with planning trips, whether local, long distance, or international. Different modes of transportation and siloed data sources still make this process harder than it should be.
5. V2X / Connectivity / Urban Environments — The density in urban environments enables all sorts of new technology and businesses. Connecting vehicles to X things around the vehicle (other vehicles, parking, infrastructure, etc.). Maintaining connectivity when underground or blocked by tall buildings is of huge importance as well.
6. Personal Mobility — Fun new ways to get around from electric scooters to personal hyper loops!
7. Electric Vehicles — Electric vehicles radically transform the way vehicles are built and operate. Lots of innovative ideas in this sector.
8. Logistics / On Demand — Using big data and analytics to improve last mile delivery and logistics.
9. Trucking — The backbone of the American manufacturing economy, we saw a lot of innovative ideas tackling the trucking industry around efficiency and fleet management.
10. Manufacturing — Lightweighting and new technologies to improve the manufacturing of vehicles.
11. Drones — And just missing the top 10, but still on the list, the wonderful world of drones.
Insights and Takeaways
What we learned was just as fascinating as the conversations we had with founders throughout 2016.
- The lack of autonomous and self-driving startup applications was surprising but can easily be explained. Building a self-driving startup is hard. Very hard. From artificial intelligence to deep learning to sensor design, this is complex stuff. Fortunately, we were able to select a couple startups in this space including both Braiq and Algocian.
- Many startups are incorporating artificial intelligence and big data to tackle all aspects of transportation. Transportation is a complex system, it’s great to see that startups are using cutting edge technology to start to solve a variety of transportation problems.
- Startups were embracing Tesla as a platform. This was quite fascinating. Because of Telsa’s entirely different model in both building and selling their cars, startups were using this as an opportunity to exploit new business models. I expect we’ll see more of this when GM unveils their Bolt this fall.
- Following the electric vehicle trend, we noticed there were many startups building their own electric vehicles. When you go from a combustion engine to an electric engine, a lot of the mechanical complexity goes away. Startups were embracing building an electric vehicle as they would a software company. Similar in approach to how Telsa builds their vehicles. This is the edge of the oncoming personalization and 3D printed transportation vehicles that we will see much more of.
- Startups were also embracing new business models and transportation services targeted towards Millennial and Gen-Z owners. With the rise of the sharing economy and growing urbanization, new businesses will emerge at the intersection of these mega-trends.
- There is a huge demand from mobility and automotive startups that want to come to Detroit and build their companies here. This is evident through conversations with 100s of startups and 96% of applicants being outside the Michigan region. It’s quite reassuring that Techstars Mobility is on to something here by operating at the intersection of Detroit’s biggest strengths: its automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence.
The startups we chose for our 2016 class were primarily focused in these 4 mobility themes: connected, shared, autonomous and electric. Check out the full list of the 2016 Techstars Mobility companies here.
And if you’d like to attend our demo day on Sep 8, in downtown Detroit, and meet these companies, send me a note. We’re expecting over 1000 individuals from 50 different automotive and transportation companies and investment funds like we did for our 2015 demo day. See you there!
This blog post originally appeared on tedserbinski.com. To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski
Today, I’m excited to introduce the 12 companies that are part of the Techstars Mobility Class of 2016. These startup companies are building automotive mobility technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely. On September 8, 2016, we will be hosting our second annual demo day, where we expect over 1,000 people to come see and meet these 12 startups.
The quality of teams and companies applying this year has been incredible. We saw a world-wide response with applications from 52 countries across 6 continents. There was a 44 percent increase in mobility-focused companies. Most impressive, 50 percent of the 2016 companies include founders with diverse backgrounds.
Techstars Mobility operates at the intersection of two of Detroit’s greatest strengths: its automotive dominance and entrepreneurial resurgence. We are on a mission to connect the startup and automotive worlds, by breaking down silos and working across the industry to build partnerships.
To do this, we’ve partnered with eight global corporations leading the automotive and transportation industries. These partners include Ford Motor Company, Magna International, Verizon, Dana Holding Corporation, Honda R&D Americas, McDonald’s, Munich Re, and Michelin. Additionally, over 150 mentors across 38 different automotive and transportation companies are active mentors in the program. And just recently, we partnered with the Detroit Auto Show to bring another 50+ mobility startups to Detroit in January 2017.
The 2016 class comes from all around the world, including Chile and Canada, building solutions in the autonomous, connected and shared vehicle mobility spaces. Here is the 2016 class:
Acerta: Machine-assisted anomaly detection & root cause analysis.
Algocian: State-of-the-art video analytics for security and autonomous vehicles.
Braiq: Personalizing the self-driving car.
Cargo: Data-driven general store for the ride-sharing economy.
Donut Media: Automotive enthusiast video content for Millennials and Gen Zs.
Drive Spotter: Real-time video search for fleet management.
GoKid: A complete carpool solution for busy families.
HAAS Alert: Connected car and autonomous driving notification platform that warns when emergency vehicles are approaching.
HERO App: Rewarding safe behavior and helping impaired drivers get home safely.
Rally: Community mobility platform that powers pop-up mass transit with high occupancy vehicles.
Spatial: Dynamic, human-driven layer of social intelligence for maps and navigation.
This blog post originally appeared on tedserbinski.com. To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski
Pitch Karaoke Detroit
April 23rd, 2015
We are still in awe of how awesome all of our pitchers did at this event! For those of us who had a front row seat to the madness, I think we can all agree that we cannot wait to eat some Weed Tacos that were delivered by Trans Global hot air balloons, on our Soar Board while wearing our Princess Tutus, drinking our White Beer, while our lawns our fertilized with Green Chemicals, and we wrap up all that awesomeness with a fresh pretzel from our trusty Pretzel Bicycle!
We kicked off the event with a half-baked icebreaker in which the audience shouted out random words as our organizers furiously scribed on a white board. Little did the audience know these words would be used to craft their first ever improv pitch….
Once audience members had a chance to pick two words from the half-baked list we kicked off the pitches.
The pitch deck contained ~18 slides which advanced after 20 seconds – participants were encouraged to sing and dance if need be to use the time most effectively, some actually did. However, beyond knowing their two words participants had no idea what the pitch deck would prompt them with. We are benevolent hosts, so participants were prompted with questions that would help them take their two words into a “viable” business concept.
We had some epic ideas let me tell you! And the groups favorite pitchers were given free tickets to our upcoming Startup Weekend for Social Entrepreneurs this May. Group favorites were: Weed Tacos and Princess Tutus. But, since these pitches we SO awesome, we ended up giving out two more prizes to Trans Global and Soar Boards.
We did also have a pitch coach on hand, Jay Rayford is a local social entrepreneur and he wrapped up the event for us with some words of advice on how to pitch — how he kept a straight face while doling out advice to these pitches is beyond us.
Check out some of the pitches from the evening:
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Overall, we had a great time and we think everyone there did as well. Stay tuned for the next round of Pitch Karaoke Detroit… and from the legendary words of one of our very own pitchers Bub, remember:
the first ride is free.
As a millennial that grew up in Detroit, its hard for me to imagine a time before Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, or Michael Jackson.
Berry Gordy’s frustration with pop culture pushed him to create one of the most successful African-American owned and operated businesses in the U.S. He envisioned a world where the music he wrote didn’t just live on the local radio stations but would ride to the top of the pop charts. With an $800 loan from his family, Gordy founded Motown Records.
As I look at the recent tech diversity workforce reports, I see data that reflects the current dominant tech culture. To be Black and be a part of the tech ecosystem means that you might have gone to a college or university where you were amongst the 3% who were Computer Science majors according to the Computer Research Association. Recent research also shows that weak ties in your social network might be more diverse than that of your White counterparts, and pattern matching by VC’s could prohibit you from getting funding for your new startup company.
On January 12, 1959 in Detroit, after writing songs for other record labels, Berry Gordy must have at some point asked himself, “How might we create a place where African Americans can create pop hits and own their publishing?” Today, I ask the question, “How might we create fertile ground for the African American community in Seattle to grow with the city’s current tech boom?”
Motown was a place-based solution that provided training for songwriters, focus group events for performers to hone their sound, and physical space in the form of Hitsville, USA on West Grand Boulevard. Thanks to support from community leaders, engaged citizens, Startup Seattle, Crosscut.com, and companies like Google, the Central District, an historically African American neighborhood, has “Hack the CD”. It is a collective of self determined social innovators reliant on the community for sustainable and equitable growth in the Central Area of Seattle, also known as Africatown.
The students also had a pitch workshop from public speaking professional, Toyia Taylor of we.app. Ten of the students received a Coding Dojo Junior Green Belt which shows their exceptional level of mastery.
Games are usually a big hit with kids. In May, two Middle Schoolers took first place at the University of Washington Startup Weekend with their game that teaches kids to code. It is important that this generation learn to be creators and not just consumers of technology. Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence Insights show that 73% of Whites and 67% of Hispanics believe Blacks influence mainstream culture.
As the Central District community of thinkers, hackers, and makers grows, they’ll need events to apply their knowledge and skills. Hack the CD is organizing the Central District Startup Weekend hackathon event on September 26 – 28. During this weekend, Garfield High School will open its doors to a 54 hour entrepreneurial jam session with software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and creatives young and old. No high school or college degree will be necessary to pitch an idea, form a team, and build a venture. There will be coaches covering a wide range of fields from community organizing to growth hacking. They’ll have an after party following the demo of the new products, in honor of the local pioneers that came before, like Manuel Lopes, Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix.
“Imagine a place where people of one community share resources. Imagine life without competition and instead replaced with collaboration. Imagine a collective society. Imagine our very own Central District possessing these qualities; building each other up instead of dragging one another down. Wouldn’t that be some place? Who wouldn’t yearn to live in that world?”
– Addisalem Gebremedhin and Solomon Welderfael via Central District News
What if there are more coding bootcamps and hackathons in our neighborhood? What if the young coders built apps for local businesses? It gives me goosebumps when I close my eyes and imagine what an “Africatown Innovation District” could look like in just the next five years if the teams that start businesses at the Central District Startup Weekend continue to collaborate.
An Innovation District is what the Brookings Institute defines as a synergistic relationship between people of a community, anchor businesses and the built environment that facilitates idea generation, but also spurs productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development.
Just like Motown had Hitsville, Africatown will need physical space that not only incubates social innovation but communicates collaboration. In her book, “Weaving a Tapestry of Resistance,” Sharon Sutton, the first African American woman in the United States to be promoted to full professor of architecture, says that the physical environment can be understood as a system of three-dimensional, hieroglyphic symbols – a text that conveys information about the social, political, economic, and cultural relations of a society. What will our environment read?
Compiled by Claire Topalian and Lauren Sauser.
Natalia Petraszczuk and Stephanie Dionne are the founders behind Visionboards.co, the startup idea that lead them to become the champions of the 2013 Global Startup Battle’s “Innovation Circle” and the winners of Startup Weekend Detroit (November 2013). Since then, Visionboards has become much more than a concept: the two founders have met with mentors, high profile advisors, gone to LAUNCH festival in San Francisco, and have intrigued potential investors along the way. We decided to catch up with Natalia and Stephanie amidst the chaos of their newfound entrepreneurial lifestyles to learn about the highs, lows, and learning experiences of their journey.
Share a bit about your company and some of the highs/lows associated with your entrepreneurial journey — biggest learning curve?
Natalia: After brewing the idea of Visionboards.co in my mind and on paper for over 6 months, I decided to pitch the idea at Detroit Startup weekend. I happened to catch a local news story about Startup weekend, and realized it was an opportunity to make this concept a true reality. At some point, you need to take the plunge.
Stephanie: As it happened, I had been setting the groundwork for several months prior to open an Ann Arbor-based marketing agency focused on (surprise, surprise) helping technology startups define their brand, develop a business plan, and take their product to market. November 15 was my last day at my former employer, and I left my office and drove straight to downtown Detroit to participate in Startup Weekend as a potential networking opportunity. Out of 50 pitches, Natalia’s concept immediately resonated with me because of my background as a sports coach and a huge proponent of visualization techniques. With two other people, we formed a team that worked 54 straight hours to bring the idea to fruition, then went on to take first place.
Natalia: Through winning the competition, we were connected to support from local Detroit organizations like Grand Circus (a Google Tech hub) which gave us 2 months of co-working space, branding consultation from Lowe Campbell Ewald, and a meeting with the Director of the Michigan Women’s Foundation – who also serves as a managing director for a local VC firm. Other forms of mentorship and support have followed, and it’s truly been a significant help in this process. We also went on to compete and win the Up Global “Innovators Circle” Start Up championship, beating out over 200 cities worldwide. We were the only US City to win one of the global contests (awww yeah, Detroit!).
Since Nov. 15, 2013 (Startup Weekend), we formally founded and established a C-Corp and are poised to go-to market by April 2014 with over 1,000 people registered for our beta product line. Furthermore, we have cultivated a variety of prospects for a first round of seed funding – ranging from the First Step Fund in Detroit, to heavyweight Angel investors and VC firms. Finally, we have garnered a variety of endorsements and testimonials from all market segments we intend to approach – most notably, NBC’s Biggest Loser – Pete Thomas, and NFL Wide Receiver, Glen Earl.
The highs from their journey:
- Winning Detroit Startup Weekend / The .Co Circle for Global Startup Battle ‘14
- Making Crain’s News (twice) and a variety of other press
- Winning a .Co sponsored trip to Launch Fest and being able to showcase our Alpha website to the public with great response.
- Speaking to Mark Cuban at Launch festival, who gave Visionboards.co invaluable insight on our business model and expressed an interest in investing.
- Meeting a slew of new people that are committed to entrepreneurship in America – and offering to help Visionboards.co succeed.
- Being able to follow through on my personal vision and watch it actualize.
- Meeting my Co-Founder, who’s my new partner in crime and life-long friend.
- Feeling – for the first time in my life – I’m truly living to my fullest potential (which might just be as good as it gets).
- Having such a passion for my work – and a belief in my product, that 12 hour work days don’t even phase me. Knowing that my product is meant to – and will – inspire and uplift the world.
Beside the Detroit Startup Weekend/Global Startup Battle wins —
- Being selected to represent .CO as one of its top up-and-coming startups at LAUNCH Festival – we scrambled to finish key updates to our alpha product, which were deployed right around the time the demo floor opened so we didn’t even have time to test it before the first visitors came by (thankfully, no issues!).
- Becoming a part of the fabric of the Detroit entrepreneur community and being able to participate in what I think is the most exciting story in startups. It’s almost unbelievable what has been accomplished here in just a few short years, and we’re committed to contributing as much as we can to making southeast Michigan a global growth and innovation center.
- Walking up to Mark Cuban to introduce myself and realizing I wasn’t the slightest bit nervous because I was so thoroughly confident he would “get” our concept immediately. (He did, but not without wanting to see at least 20 changes. :P)
- My 8-year-old son was the very first tester of our alpha product! Watching his face light up as he browsed through the photos and started to verbalize his dreams (“I want to be president! Is there a picture of a president?”) – that was the exact moment that I realized the true potential VisionBoards has to make a global impact on human potential.
…and the lows:
- Navigating the new realm of entrepreneurship quickly (particularly due to the contest winnings and press) and without a full understanding of “how to” execute a business.
- Having to deal with people that want to “cling” to your rising star, without adding value.
- Not having enough resources (human or capital) to move as quickly as you need/want.
- Figuring out when, how and with whom to raise our first round of seed funding, and develop the equity structure, vesting, dilution, etc. (YUK!)
- No longer having a balanced life – I barely work out anymore and I’m fairly stressed (though I’m not complaining).
- Regrettably, this success did compromise a couple personal relationships, which has saddened me deeply.
- As a mom, I can without a doubt say my low point was when I realized my kids felt my stress & absence much more keenly than they let on. In the early stages it was easy to convince myself that the chaotic pace was temporary, that “we’ll be able to come up for air as soon as [insert next big deadline].” What I soon realized is that achieving that next big deadline opened up doors to five more big deadlines, and so on – and in the meantime, my kids were lost in the mix. My biggest priority now is making sure that I’m available as much as possible between 5-8pm, even if just to help them with homework and schedule cuddle time. It helps us all to stay more centered as a family – even if it means I’m still up another 6 hours working.
- After years of being an independent consultant or managing corporate departments, it’s been a struggle to get used to the constant state of controlled chaos – including that unnerving “cart-before-the-horse” feeling that there are 100 things you should have done to prep for something but lacked the bandwidth or the resources.
- The 48 straight hours of no sleep preparing market data for a do-or-die deadline was not a high point.
Biggest learning curve?
Natalia: There is a lot of enthusiasm and support for entrepreneurship in America. There are many resources and programs available to help people succeed if their ideas and work ethic are intact. Many people are likely not aware of all of this momentum, I certainly was not.
Another big learning curve is just the ins and outs of setting up a company. C Corp vs. S Corp? Equity structures, shareholders, vesting – investor negotiations. Again, I feel lucky to have received good mentoring, but at the end of the day – you have to make your own decisions, which can feel daunting.
Stephanie: My biggest learning curve has most certainly been having to adapt my typical approach and methodology as a leader and strategist for the high-stakes game of tech entrepreneurship. Your strategy at 10am may very well not be what it is at 2pm and you have to get used to constantly modifying, refining, or full-on pivoting based on the opportunities & metrics that get thrown at you. Being a founder of a startup is not for the weak-willed or easily offended: you have to get used to failing – a lot, and in spectacular fashion – then moving on to the next decision before you even have a chance to dust yourself off.
Most exciting moment?
Natalia: Honestly, I can’t boil it down to just one moment – we have been on a roller coaster ride from the very moment we won Detroit Startup weekend and there have been many, many – mind numbingly exciting moments since (if I had to name a few):
- Walking into Grand Circus co-working space the Monday after winning Detroit Startup with a “Welcome Visionboards.co” sign
- Making the cover of Crain’s business along with other high profile press
- Getting the call that we won the .Co “Innovator’s Circle” for the Global Battle Championship
- Billionaire Dan Gilbert acknowledging our twitter we cc’d him on
- Billionaire Mark Cuban talking to us at Launch Fest with an expressed interest to invest
Stephanie: All the above, plus:
- Earlier this week we had the opportunity to spend several hours with one of our biggest supporters, Pete Thomas (most successful contestant of NBC’s Biggest Loser), filming footage for our upcoming Indiegogo campaign. Watching the production process from sidelines and hearing him talk about how he believes VisionBoards will help the individuals achieve even their boldest, most dream-worth goals – it was part out-of-body-experience, part validation that we’re on the right track.
When did you first self-identify as an entrepreneur?
Natalia: Honestly, I’m still getting used to the title. For the record, I’m extremely proud and pumped to be considered a tech Co-Founder. It might just be one of the best feelings in my entire life. I’ve always, always admired entrepreneurs. I was just invited to speak at my high school this week for career day, to inspire the kids to consider “entrepreneurship” as a career path. That helped solidify the self-identity.
Stephanie: I’ve considered myself an entrepreneur since I was 16 years old and I started my own side business teaching piano lessons. Since then, I’ve lived by the mantra that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day of your life. Even though this experience has been stressful and exhausting – I keep forgetting that this is not some fun side project but what I get to do now with the rest of my life.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in entrepreneurship?
Natalia: I actually think we have a leg up. There’s a huge commitment to closing the gender gap in tech entrepreneurship. If anything, I don’t want doors opened just because of my gender – one, of course, always wants to make headway due to the quality of the idea. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that more women need to know how much infrastructure and support exists to help them take the leap to entrepreneurship.
Stephanie: Being involved in the technology sector has afforded me a unique perspective — At my last employer, I was the only woman to work for the company for the majority of my four years there. Even as far back as high school, I was the only girl in any of my programming classes and I remember my teacher offering me a transfer in case I felt uncomfortable. While the gender gap in STEM has closed somewhat, I still believe there’s a lot to go encourage girls and young woman to go into science and technology fields, that it shouldn’t be something they have to “brave.”
Have you had one particular mentor that inspired you or helped you get to where you are today?
Natalia: I was extremely lucky to have worked under Lana Pollack – former President of the Michigan Environmental Council, and State of Michigan Senator – right out of college. Lana is one of the strongest and most poised women I ever met. Her work ethic, determination, and lack of fear was mesmerizing to watch. She made time for me, and cultivated my skill sets. She would set large goals for our organization without batting an eye – and then developed strategy to move forward. It was a no nonsense approach to get things done. I also learned about the power of networking, and cultivating a strong team of leaders/partners to delegate work to achieve success. She’s undoubtable one of my heroes.
Stephanie: Without a doubt I can say my mother. Even from a young age, she always encouraged me to take every challenge head on and to explore every potential passion and curiosity to the fullest. When I graduated from Michigan and was selected as the commencement student speaker, that advice was the central pillar of my speech:
What have you read that has inspired you?
Natalia: If there’s one book every human should read, it’s “The Mastery of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s not strictly about romantic love in any way. It’s based off of the ancient Mexican Toltec’s understanding of human nature, which they have passed down for thousands of years. It’s profound. It changed my life. It’s a short read – so you have no excuse.
Untether Soul by Michael Singer is another good read. Mr. Singer was the CEO of a fortune 500 company that hit a financial scandal. Though he was not involved, much of the blame was put on him unrightfully so until 6 years later when he was vindicated. The book speaks to his ability to “lean away from drama” and remember his soul in this worldly experience. It’s a deep, hard read and a mind altering book.
Finally, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and The Master Key System by Charles Haanel – the original “law of attraction” books. Napoleon Hill was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie to discover how the “rich” think differently from everyone else… go figure, turns out they just have a clear “vision” for their success, and fully believe it will happen.
If you could offer one piece of advice to your younger self, or to other emerging female entrepreneurs, what would it be?
1) Know you are more powerful than you realize. The only thing that can get in your way of success is yourself.
2) Write down and visualize your goals. Make it a habit. Your thoughts and energy are much, much more powerful than you realize – not one human is exempt.
3) Life is meant to be happy. And happiness is a choice. You should not look outward for your happiness, it’s always within you. Find gratitude in every day. Choose to be happy. This can seem daunting at first, and it was for me. But with a little discipline, it becomes second nature – and then world… watch out.
Stephanie: It’s okay to fail. Actually, not only is it okay, but it’s absolutely essential to the process if you’re going to truly successful. The more time you spend looking backward at the mistakes or missteps you’ve made along the way, the less time you are looking forward at ways to innovate and stay ahead of your competition. Fail early, fail quickly, and take those lessons with you to the next set of challenges. That said, I’m still mortified that I got tongue-tied during one of our earlier radio interviews and it’ll take me a while to get over it.
More about the Co-Founders:
Natalia Petraszczuk – 35 years old. Born and raised in metro-Detroit. Of Ukrainian descent. Michigan State University (James Madison College), BA – International Relations 00’. Worked in Environmental non-profit arena for over 10 years – state lobbyist -major donor fundraiser – volunteer coordination. Free lance journalist, and on-air talent for local and online outlets. Passionate about self-awareness and self-improvement. Certified Life & Spiritual coach/ Motivational speaker. Creator and originator of Visionboards.co and newly established tech Co-Founder (hurray!). Loves the outdoors, being active, the arts, being social and learning about the power of your inner self.
Stephanie Dionne – 37 year old. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada; grew roots in the Detroit area after graduating from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor (B.S. ’01). At Michigan I was very involved in organizations working toward improving women’s health and ending domestic violence (led V-Day College Campaign, served in Americorps for 2 years). Went on to develop a career as a marketing & business strategy consultant for over 15 years, particularly in the technology & sports management spaces. I was also a student athlete at Michigan; after graduation I coached for ten years at the elite level in the much-maligned but highly competitive world of synchronized swimming (collegiate & junior national levels), leading clinics around the country where visualization and mental imagery was a key component of my approach. I’m a married mom of 2 beautiful kids (8 & 11); a recent obsession is participating in obstacle races such as Tough Mudder, and pushing myself to the limits of what I thought was impossible.