Clumping together in the start-up zone of Webward Avenue means two things to Detroit's entrepreneurs: For one, business is easier to do when you can just pop a few doors over to talk to your graphic designer or engineer.
"There's a lot going on, but it's distributed through miles and miles of suburbs. There's an energy you can't take advantage of when every one of your clients is separated by 20 or 30 miles of driving," Hughes says. "One of the founding principles was to get everyone together. That's not something that necessarily exists normally in Detroit."
But perhaps more crucially, it also means when you're circling the wagons around the center of what is supposed to be a dying American city, you find yourself with a lot more ammo to fight your way out.
"Emotionally, I think there was an uptick in our own personal pride being part of a creative resurgence," Smith says of relocating onto the Avenue. "Everyone upped their game a little bit. We felt a renewed energy. The work we were doing six months ago that was great got better. The days of hanging our head and being ashamed of where we live are over. We're not going to be the punch line any more. We're going to lead that charge back."
Chesnutt says Detroit is catching up to other cities, where start-up energy feeds off itself in bars and social events, on and off the clock.
"Entrepreneurial density and getting everyone in the same spot, that's what leads to success," he says.
You can already see that sense of combatants-in-arms in the popularity of events such as Startup Weekend and tours of the M@dison building, which have drawn capacity crowds. The attendees may be competitors in the business world, but they say their uniting goal is to pick the city up, dust it off and push it back into the ring.
Josh Linkner, a serial entrepreneur who works with Gilbert on Detroit Venture Partners, was born in Detroit in 1970, when the popular conception about the city was already that it was becoming a "wasteland." His parents moved the family to the suburbs shortly after.
"I'm going to be telling my grandkids about this five-year stretch when Detroit got back its mojo."—Detroit VC Josh Linkner
"I'm going to be telling my grandkids about this five-year stretch when Detroit got back its mojo," Linkner says. "I don't think social transformation and profit are mutually exclusive. Our philosophy is that you can do well and do good simultaneously."
People in the Webward Avenue community, many of whom have roots in Detroit that go back generations, talk about the latest attempt at resurgence like they've finally test-drove a reliable truck after years of hearing used-car-salesman hucksterism. But how do they know this is the real deal?
"In the 1990s tech boom, it was irrational exuberance. Now their [hopes] are based on what's already happened," Linkner says. "While there is some hype in the tech space now, it is more rational."
They also say other efforts to revive Detroit have been radically different because they were often led by the government instead of the private sector.
"The foundation that it's built on is more solid," Smith says. "Any thriving city needs to have a couple of key components: Great places to work, to live and to entertain and do things. In the past it's been maybe one or two things now it's all of those things."
Entrepreneurs said they feel like they have a government that finally understands them too. Changes in leadership have "broomed out" rampant government corruption, as one source put it, and the guy in the statehouse is a compatriot: Republican Governor Rick Snyder has an MBA, was president of Gateway computers, and founded his own venture capital company in the late 90s.
As the talent pool grows in Detroit, companies are reaping the benefits.
"If you're launching your start-up in Silicon Valley, where you have Facebook and Google, you're lucky if you get to over-pay for C-level talent," Linkner says. "There are certainly less raw numbers [of talent] but far fewer companies are chasing that talent."
The popular opinion of the city is starting to change too, partly thanks to the energy generated on Webward Avenue.
"When I get a call, we'll often hear that exact same thing: 'Detroit, it's all falling apart,'" Hughes says. "We'll say, 'It's not, why don't you come down and see it?' There's genuine surprise and excitement when they see what the reality is. There's a definite curiosity and a willingness to give it a shot."
In other words, the city's start-up community sees Detroit less like the industrial burnout depicted in Robocop and more like another city's movie champion.
"It’s a story Americans can relate to. It's the Rocky Balboa of cities," Linkner says. "We're the underdog. Now I think the whole country is rooting for us."
Detroit is in its early stages of its revival as a tech center and start-up hub, and entrepreneurs know they've got a long way to go. For one, retail has been slow to return to the area around Webward Avenue, though some say they expect to see that market blossom in the next year or two. It follows a traditional urban-development logic that residential housing follows jobs, and retail follows residential housing.
The next step for Webward Avenue's emergence as a leader in the tech scene is to celebrate a few breakout success stories.
"We are setting the foundation for what will hopefully be a very strong and busting tech hub," Chesnutt says. "We're kind of at that point where we're going to generate a few strong companies that will lead the way. It's that sort of rally-around- the-flag effect."
The other issue is attracting more talent to Detroit: Czarnik says promising graduates often get lured away by high-paying Silicon Valley jobs because they have student loans to pay off. The solution might be in reaching down to the high school level to provide more direct training opportunities.
Even as there's still uncertainty about what the future will bear for Detroit's entrepreneurial avenue, including how many jobs it will create or how broad its scope will be, the excitement around it has chased away the clouds of hopelessness.
"It's not 'What are we going to do?'" Tatoris says. "It's 'wow, I can't wait to see what Detroit is like in five years.'"
For the folks who have seen Detroit rise and fall over the decades, the view from Webward Avenue is one a city on the move once again.
"I just don't know where the tail end of that is going to be," Smith says. "But I'm going to like the ride."
Tim Donnelly is a freelance writer and managing editor of Brokelyn.com. His work has appeared in Billboard, The Atlantic, Thought Catalog, and The New York Post. @TimDonnelly