How Startups Can Restart Detroit


Once upon a time, Detroit was a symbol of the United States’ ability to invent, build and prosper. The American Dream was alive and tangible with a bustling 1.8 million population, 296,000 manufacturing jobs, and the nation’s highest per-capita income in 1950.

On July 18, 2013, Detroit filed for bankruptcy, citing over 18 billion dollars in liabilities, making it the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States.

What else makes this an interesting situation?

  1. Between December 2000 and December 2010, 48% of  manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan were lost.
  2. One-third of Detroit’s 140 square miles is either vacant or derelict.
  3. 47% of residents are functionally illiterate and less than half of the residents over the age of 16 are working.
  4. 60% of all children in the city are living in poverty.
  5. The size of the police force in Detroit has been cut by about 40% over the past decade.detroit stats 

The city’s motto is “Speramus Meliora; Resurget, Cineribus” translated, it reads: “We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From The Ashes.”  

Amidst the urban decay, young entrepreneurs fervently believe in Detroit’s ability to thrive again.

Daniel “Dan” Gilbert is the chairman and founder of Quicken Loans Inc. and Detroit’s biggest cheerleader. Gilbert moved 1,700 employees downtown in 2010, and invested over 1 billion dollars in restructuring downtown Detroit to lure entrepreneurs, making him Detroit’s third-largest landowner.

So far, his plan has worked. With hefty backers and eager entrepreneurs, Detroit’s startup and tech scene should not to be underestimated.  

Don’t believe it? Derived from The Huffington Post “Best Detroit Tech Startups” and Fast Company’s “Detroit’s Hardest Hustlers” below are some startups that are gaining real traction. While it may not be easy, Detroit is on the right track.


Why Don’t We Own This?: A website created by Jerry Paffendorf’s startup, Loveland Technologies, WDWOT aims to ameliorate one of Detroit’s biggest problems: abandoned property. By providing property information in an interactive way that is innovate, WDWOT hopes to increase the sense of ownership and power citizens have in their city.


Picket Report: A web tool for those looking for every possible piece of data on a neighborhood anywhere in the country. Founders, Bryan Kunka and Brian Bandemer, met at Bizdom U, a startup accelerator program that helps entrepreneurs launch, fund, incubate, and grow startups funded by Dan Gilbert.


Motown Initiative: Founded by UMich grad, James Norman who also started Ubi Video, Shift Marketing Solutions, F1RST Motoring Apparel, and now Groupflix, Motown Initiative aims impact media, establish a new profitable business and ultimately  revitalize this historic city.


Detroit Creative Corridor Center: Designed to support the growth of Detroit’s creative economy by delivering business acceleration and attraction services and developing signature programming tailored specifically to creative professionals’ needs. ”DC3″ established Detroit Design Festival to connect Detroit’s  independent innovators and expose their collective design aesthetic to national and global markets.


I Am Young America: Detroit : A social venture that promotes entrepreneurship as a means to combat youth unemployment and boost economic impact in cities. Their mission is to help revitalize American cities by empowering young entrepreneurs to launch businesses, and mobilize citizens everywhere to champion them.

With the recent equity crowdfunding developments and the current foundation of creatives motivated to jumpstart the city, Detroit is running on a different fuel this time: entrepreneurs.

Featured image courtesy Sam Beebe.

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