From The Schvitz to The Shinola Hotel, Detroit, Inc.'s No. 45 Surge City is experiencing a post-bankruptcy entrepreneurial boom. Come for the nascent Ikea competitors--and stay for the emerging Tesla rivals.
Midtown is "one of the most welcoming areas to the startup community," says Ted Serbinski, managing director of Techstars Detroit. At its heart sits Green Garage, a 1920s auto showroom-turned-co-working space that houses 50 businesses, including FoodLab Detroit and solar design firm Strawberry Solar.
When Gwen Jimmere was ready to graduate beauty brand Naturalicious from her basement, she went to Corktown, Detroit's oldest neighborhood. "It's where a lot of entrepreneurs congregate," she says, noting local incubator Ponyride and the glut of great restaurants. "Brooklyn Street Local is a tiny spot with lots of vegan options, perfect for a let-it-all-hang-out meeting with founder friends."
Dubbed Madison Block, the city's tech corridor takes its name from the Madison Building that anchors it. You can hardly grab lunch without tripping over one of the hundreds of tech workers or coding boot-campers from Grand Circus.
The city's post-bankruptcy rebirth hasn't been without tension. "Here you have a city that was mostly African American, and now you have more gentrification happening. A lot of people have opinions about that," says Meagan Ward, a Detroit native who co-founded women's co-working space Femology. Real estate prices are skyrocketing, putting brick-and-mortar out of reach for many entrepreneurs without resources, says Jennyfer Crawford, founder of the small-business-focused marketing and events platform AskJennyfer.
Where to Talk Shop
Those willing to bare all hit The Schvitz, the city's old-school bathhouse, founded in 1930. The former oasis for Russian Jews, gangsters, and swingers was rebooted in 2017.
Sink into one of the butter-soft sofas that flank the fireplace in the living room of the Shinola Hotel--an offshoot of the Detroit-born watch brand hatched in 2011 by Fossil founder (and Texas native) Tom Kartsotis.
With views overlooking Capitol Park, Eatóri Market offers virtually any version of a meal in any form--from habanero grilled oysters and fried mac-and-cheese slabs to happy-hour absinthe cocktails.
April Jones Boyle seems connected to every corner of the city. On the board of microloan nonprofit Kiva Detroit and a co-owner of restaurant/events space Gold Cash Gold, she started Build Institute in 2012 to educate and support local founders. Since then, more than 1,400 entrepreneurs have graduated from the program and, as Femology's Ward puts it: "April has become this landmark for creating opportunity."
There is perhaps no one more deeply or broadly plugged in to Detroit's booming transportation-tech scene than Ted Serbinski, managing director of Techstars Detroit. The accelerator's four-year-old program has helped its 44 alumni--many of whom weren't local but decided to stay after completing the program--raise over $90 million in funding and pitch their companies to industry professionals.
Amanda Lewan once said her life's mission was "to unite people," and as co-founder of Detroit's first co-working space, she's living it. Bamboo Detroit now houses 400-plus startup founders and nonprofit leaders. "Lewan is the girl you go to if you want to get connected on a major, major level with other brands and businesses," says Bee Brown of PR firm the Bee Agency.
Companies to Watch
Resale marketplace StockX specializes in rare sneakers, handbags, and streetwear. Co-founded by local Quicken billionaire Dan Gilbert, the "stock market for things" has raised more than $44 million, including from celeb Mark Wahlberg.
Watch your back, Ikea: Floyd, a flat-pack furniture startup, has funding from Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, along with the investment arm of La-Z-Boy. When the company debuted its first sofa in October, more than 3,700 people requested swatches.
In February, electric-truck startup (and potential Tesla rival) Rivian announced a $700 million investment round, led by Amazon. The news came just months after Rivian debuted its first two all-electric products, a pickup and a sports utility vehicle, which the company has said will hit the U.S. market in 2020.
Internet security provider Duo Security to Cisco, for $2.35 billion (2018)
$44 million StockX (apparel and accessories resale platform)
$22 million May Mobility (autonomous vehicles)
$20 million Guardhat (IT security and wearable tech)
The University of Michigan has a prodigious number of entrepreneurial alumni, including the founders of autonomous vehicle startup May Mobility, digital health system Fifth Eye, electric battery company Elegus Technologies, IT platform Censys, and medical tech company AIM Tech.
Techstars Mobility accelerator is a font of auto-focused talent, pumping out startups like carpooling app company SPLT, smart motorcycle- light-modulator maker GearBrake, and Spatial, which marries real-time social data with location-based AI assistance.
Historically, Detroit's new grads would truck to the coasts, but that's changed in the past five years as they realize there's plenty of opportunity for those who stay local. "If you're in New York City or San Francisco or Chicago, it's a little harder to stand out," says Jared Stasik, a partner at Detroit Venture Partners.