A Challenge to the Tech Industry


Over 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, and that number is rapidly increasing. By 2050, 88% of the US population will live in cities. Cities are imperfect. As an economic developer, I know that if we could find ways to grow jobs and investment in cities like Detroit we could address many of our challenges. But it may surprise you to learn that I don’t think that economic development is enough to cure the ills facing many urban centers.

During Techweek Detroit, I challenged the tech companies present to think about Detroit and cities like ours as a laboratory, a place that will fuel their big ideas. I suggested that cities could be testing grounds and city residents, co-designers.

I challenged tech companies to think about what they could do in terms of:

  • City systems and sustainability
  • Social networks and basic human needs
  • Products of the future

City systems and sustainability

Think of all the efficiencies that could result if tech solutions were brought to bear on bureaucratic city processes or outmoded customer interfaces. Some already exist in Detroit, like text-to-pay for parking meters; the “where’s my ride” app for DDOT riders; and Loveland Technologies’ parcel and mapping technology that helps the city manage its inventory of blighted properties.

But there could be lots of others: public lighting, street repairs, safety and storm water management, to name just a few.

Tech companies can help city government anticipate what’s coming next and bring together big data, next generation buildings, cleantech, the smart grid, and deployment infrastructure to create sustainable, functional cities.

Social networks and basic human needs

Tech can widen the social networks of those who need it most.

Right now, 26% of Detroiters don’t have access to a car. And 60% of working Detroiters work outside of the city, many taking two bus lines to get to their workplaces. What if there was an app to help these people find others to ride share to get to their jobs outside the city?

Not only would this save time and travel costs for hardworking, low-wage earners, it would offset the cost of car ownership for others.

How about an app to help working mothers organize emergency child care within an expanded social network?

It would save working mothers lost wages and time, at the same time earning money for potential caregivers. Employers may even be willing to pay for the app if it meant reducing absenteeism and turnover.

Products of the future

How better to design the product of the future than to learn from the potential consumers of that product? The US is rapidly urbanizing and its demographics are changing to reflect a majority population of what is currently a minority demographic. Detroit’s current demographics are reflective of that future. What if the consumer was involved in the design process itself? Think about the ingenuity of everyday people, especially people who are trying to solve problems with limited resources — necessity is the mother of invention.

What if we could put a 3D printer in the hands of young street mechanics or problem-solving line workers? What new product, device or improvement might they invent?

I’m not a tech person but I do have an imagination and I do live and work in the city of Detroit. If I can think of these examples just by looking around and talking to Detroiters, imagine what real techies could accomplish if they immersed themselves in our city.

Detroit has all of the stuff the tech industry expects – accelerators, money, cool places to live and work, and talented people. We also have something they don’t expect: a living, dynamic laboratory that can inspire ideas and connect them to future customers.

My challenge to the tech industry: come to Detroit, where you can design the tech innovations that will not just make life convenient for some people, but will make our cities better for all people.

Olga Stella

Chief Operating Officer

Warren Developer to Build in I-94 Industrial Park


In a move that underscores how well positioned the I-94 Industrial Park is to take advantage of the resurgence of the automotive industry, Warren-based developer Crown Enterprises, Inc., recently purchased a 40-acre parcel there from the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to build a 400,000 sq. ft. facility. Crown is negotiating with a logistics company to be the tenant.

Crown purchased the land for $56,000 per acre, or about $2.24 million total. The boundaries are St. Cyril, Georgia, Sherwood and Miller Streets. A number of conditions must be met prior to final approval.

The project will create a significant number of jobs for Detroiters during the construction phase, in addition to 250 new jobs when the tenant is up and running by the end of this year.

Brian Holdwick

Executive Vice President, Real Estate and Financial Services

Detroit-area Startups Win Big in PowerMoves@Detroit Pitch Competitions

warranty-ninjaVenture capital funding is not a typical growth option for minority-founded companies, but that changed when DEGC, Invest Detroit and other partners sponsored PowerMoves@Detroit to give local and nationally recruited minority entrepreneurs the opportunity to compete in pitch events to raise their visibility among investors and vie for $100,000 in direct prizes.

A number of Detroit-area companies won a total of $80,000 in various competitions.

GAPro System, headquartered in Southfield, beat four other companies in the “Morgan Stanley Power Pitch Seed Round Competition” to win $40,000. GAPro System is a cloud-based insurance verification system for contractors and subcontractors.

Warranty Ninja, headquartered in Detroit, competed against 13 other companies to win the $20,000 cash prize in the “PowerUp Boot Camp Demo Day.” Warranty Ninja provides an app that simplifies product registration and warranties of consumer products.

Three other Detroit entrepreneurs won a pitch competition before an audience of judges and members of the public for a total purse of $20,000:

  • April Anderson, owner of Good Cakes and Bakes on Livernois Avenue, earned the top prize of $10,000 with her pitch to include ice cream to accompany the bakery treats at her store.
  • Ida Byrd-Hill, owner of Weyn, LLC, a developer of game apps, was awarded $5,000.
  • Ruth Bell, proprietor of Chugga Bakery, earned the $5,000 People’s Choice Award with a rousing pitch about Chugga’s signature monkeybread.

“With all the enthusiasm for entrepreneurs in Detroit, and our city’s great legacy for providing opportunities for African Americans, this was the perfect time and place for PowerMoves@Detroit,” said Rodrick Miller, DEGC president and CEO. “This event filled an important niche in the broad spectrum of activities that DEGC, Invest Detroit and others undertake to support entrepreneurship in Detroit.”

PowerMoves@Detroit was presented by PowerMoves.NOLA in partnership with Invest Detroit and sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

Tiffini D. Smith

Director – Corporate Communications

Motor City Match – Helping Entrepreneurs Find “The Right Home” for Their Business


Entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their business in Detroit face two major hurdles: it’s not easy to find the right space; and even when the right space is found, businesses and building owners may still have financial gaps to address. The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) is tackling those problems head on through the new “Motor City Match.”

Motor City Match is a two-track program, one for building owners and the other for business owners, that aims to match the right buildings with the right businesses. DEGC will provide grants, loans and technical assistance to both tracks.

Each quarter starting in Q3 of 2015, Motor City Match will provide $500,000 in matching grants to help entrepreneurs and building owners realize their dreams. Additionally, in 2015, Motor City Match will provide an additional $1 million in small business and construction loans and $1 million in support services to help businesses open.

The Building Track is for Detroit building owners who are looking to lease vacant commercial space to a quality business. Applications for assistance will be accepted April 1 – May 1 and August 1 – September 1, 2015.The Business Track is for businesses at any stage of development looking to start or expand in Detroit. Applications will be available June 1 – July 1 and September 1 – October 1 of 2015.

Loans, grants and assistance will be awarded on a competitive basis based on selection criteria for both tracks. For qualified building owners, their buildings will appear on the Motor City Match website. Building owners will also receive assistance in tenant recruiting, design/build assistance and priority permitting. Qualified business owners will receive guidance on finding space, leasing and assessing market opportunities. Businesses that already have a property secured but need help planning for renovations will receive design/build assistance and priority permitting.

DEGC urges everyone who has an idea for a business or has a building that might qualify to visit www.motorcitymatch.com to learn more about Motor City Match.

Motor City Match is a unique partnership between the City Of Detroit, DEGC, the Economic Development Corporation of the City of Detroit and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Michael Forsyth

Business Development Manager

Wurlitzer DBRA approval


The historic Wurlitzer Building is one step closer to renovation as the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority recently approved a brownfield tax increment financing plan for developer HM Ventures Group 6, LLC.

The Wurlitzer was built in 1926 and is on the National Register of Historic Places within the Grand Circus Park Historic District.

HM Ventures Group plans to turn the building into a 100-room hotel with a street-level café and bar, second-floor restaurant and meeting space, and roof-level lounge with direct access from the street. The renovation project is estimated to create 60 temporary jobs and 60 full-time jobs once completed.

Jennifer Kanalos

Director, Brownfield Redevelopment