TechTown Detroit

Welcome to the TechTown blog. Our passions live here.

Striking a balance: When to slow it down and when to go full speed ahead

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We can’t continue to say we’re in a crisis and fail to act. This is something you’ll regularly hear me say if you find yourself wandering around TechTown. This mantra grew out of my frustration with excessive discussion, evaluation and planning, which seems to regularly take the place of good old-fashioned action.  

We live and work in a city in need: Detroit. Not only is Detroit a large city (139 square miles, 40 square miles of which are blighted or vacant) that has consistently lost population (31 percent since 1990), but its population is 83 percent African American, and minority businesses make up only 15 percent of all private business revenue in Detroit. Only one in 30 African American businesses have one or more employees, compared to one in three white businesses.  

Detroit has only 27 private sector jobs per 100 residents, compared to 81 jobs per 100 residents in Pittsburgh, 39 jobs per 100 residents in Chicago and 54 jobs per 100 residents in Cleveland. Meanwhile, non-residents hold 70 percent of the jobs in the city. Since 2007, Detroit’s median household income has fallen by $5,000 to $25,000, compared to a national median income is $51,000. 

We have no time to waste when it comes to delivering economic development programs. The needs are critical and the people we serve are growing impatient.  

We don’t have time to plan every step of the way or avoid screwing up a couple of times along the way. We have to have the courage to decide. We have to be bold enough to use our best intellect, experience and due diligence to plan and make movements.

And, sometimes, whether we want to or not, we need to slow down and reflect. We have to really take time to unpack what’s working, discuss what’s not working and think about why? A thoughtful analysis can lead to powerful solutions, community engagement, stakeholder support and may also help us avoid pitfalls.

The secret, the art of the dance, is in the balance between urgency and thoughtful deliberation. How much time do we spend on each? When are we being careless, and does that look different than brilliance?  

I’m not sure we ever really know the answer to that question, but I am confident we know when we’ve struck a balance – when we’re getting important work done and taking just enough time to evaluate, measure and pivot with intent.  

5 questions with Phillip Coleman of COR

Phillip Coleman is the co-founder of COR and a recent graduate of the DTX Launch Detroit program.

What’s your business? 

I am a proud co-founder of COR. We have a patent-pending heart rate monitor that is built to be worn on the ear. We are aiming to have a premier device that’s comfortable, efficient and as accurate as current devices on the market today, if not more so.

Why are you proud of it?

I am most proud of my team. Juan Chen, Kelsey Russell and myself embarked on this project and had no idea that it would grow into what it has become. Throughout the DTX Launch Detroit Program, I watched them both meet and exceed every task that was placed before them. Even when things got rough, as you expect to happen in the start-up world, we all banded together and found a way to persevere. I couldn’t ask for a better team.

What’s your best advice for a fellow entrepreneur?
"Cast into the deep," which simply means don’t be afraid to take chances. Not everything in life is going to be a sure thing. You’ll never be positive that this idea or creation will be the next big thing, but you owe it to yourself to at least try. Even if you cast into the water and only reel in a guppy, just hook the guppy as bait and cast it back out because you can use that to catch something bigger. If you keep trying and learn from your mistakes, one day you’ll hook Moby Dick.
 
What local entrepreneur do you look up to and why?

Josh Linkner is someone I’ve always looked up to. He’s done so much in his lifetime, from ePrize to jazz to helping Detroit as a whole. I remember I had the chance to hear him speak in a very intimate setting at TechTown a few years ago, and he was phenomenal. I actually had the opportunity to speak with him for about five minutes. I told him about a few ideas that I had worked on that didn’t pan out; basically I was looking for some inspiration, and he didn’t disappoint. He said, “Phill, you’re only as good as your last idea.” That has stuck with me over the years and has been my motivation to never give up even if one thing doesn’t work and it has helped me get thus far. Hopefully I’ll be able to thank him to his face in the future.

What do you do when you need a mental break?

Netflix and good food always seem to do the job for me. I just grab a pizza and watch countless episodes of Frasier until the world makes sense again. It makes some of my worst days better. I encourage everyone to try it and I promise that Frasier, Niles, Martin and Daphne will cheer you right up!

Request for proposals: Window blinds

TechTown is seeking bids to supply, fabricate and field install approximately 18 window blinds for the first floor at its 440 Burroughs, Detroit MI 48202 facility.
 
Written bids must be hand delivered to Phoenix Construction no later than 3 pm on Tuesday, Aug. 27. Relevant documents can be downloaded at the link below. This is a sealed bid process.

 
Additional important information about strict bid requirements and dates are included in the linked documents.

TechTown first-floor window blinds RFQ

TechTown IT RFP Documents #1

TechTown IT RFP Documents #2

 

DTX and Challenge Detroit team up for joint event

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On Friday, Aug. 2, the Detroit Technology Exchange (DTX) and Challenge Detroit hosted a joint event at NextEnergy. Close to 100 attendees watched as the eight start-up teams from Launch Detroit’s first-ever summer boot camp presented their start-up ideas and as the first class of Challenge Detroit fellows presented its recommendations to improve Southeastern Michigan’s technology-based entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

This summer, Launch Detroit, a program of DTX, consisted of eight teams made up of college students and recent grads aspiring to launch technology-based startups. Throughout the boot camp, each team worked through ideation, acquisition of resources, customer validation and the development of a funding strategy in order to develop its technology-based business idea. 

Before each team presented its start-up idea, Adrian Fortino, vice president of Invest Detroit, moderated a panel with a team member from SIB Medical Technologies LLC, COR and myfab5. These participants discussed some of the lessons learned during the 10-week program and spoke about their respective experiences.

Then, each team had three minutes to present its startup to the audience, followed by three minutes of Q&A with a panel of experts. The teams were:

  • 313certified
  • College Tour LLC
  • Startify
  • COR
  • Dragaround.me
  • SIB Medical Technologies LLC
  • myfab5
  • SOUP Spoon

Four of the start-up teams and one participant were selected to receive an award based on their work in the program. SOUP Spoon received the “On Your Mark” award for having the clearest understanding of its value proposition, SIB Medical Technologies LLC received the “Get Set” award for excelling in the customer discovery process, myfab5 received the “Go” award for being closest to launching its business, and College Tour LLC received the “Coaches’ Pick” award for having made the most progress during the program. The MVP award was given to Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder and CEO of myfab5, for being the Launch Detroit participant whose positive contributions helped make the program a success.

For their final challenge of the fellowship, the Challenge Detroit fellows worked with TechTown to help metro Detroit’s technology-based entrepreneurial ecosystem better understand the needs of its current and potential tech-based start-up clients, and ultimately improve its programming. The fellows broke into four teams, each focusing on a different industry: health care, advanced manufacturing/engineering, information technology and clean technology/alternative energy. The teams then researched their respective industry sectors, crafted personas of entrepreneurs based on their findings and then designed ideal entrepreneurial ecosystems to support these personas. 

As TechTown and its partners continue to develop and refine programming in support of tech entrepreneurs, they will look to the ecosystems designed by the fellows for inspiration and guidance. 

DTX is a partnership between TechTown, Bizdom, Invest Detroit and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center. It is funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Michigan Strategic Fund.

Five questions with Suane Loomis, We are clay

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Suane Loomis is the founder of contemporary art studio We Are Clay and a recent graduate of TechTown’s Blocks Retail Boot Camp. 

What’s your business?

We Are Clay is a contemporary art studio that offers the best recreational and therapeutic art experiences available anywhere. Founded in 2012, We Are Clay offers creative opportunities that inspire imagination using ceramics, pottery and other art forms. We create artistic possibilities for people of all ages but emphasizing primarily on Detroit youth. We host art classes, activities and special events, all of which serve to release the inner artist of the young at heart.

Why are you proud of it?

We Are Clay is proud to be working with Detroit youth and teaching ceramic arts to many who don’t receive art instruction in the public schools. It is remarkable to see a child radiate self-confidence when he or she uncovers their natural gifts. These children are encouraged to be productive instead of destructive and to channel emotions and feelings in positive ways. They start to believe that they can truly manifest their desires and dreams in life. The mission of We Are Clay is to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being for people of all ages through art, which has a lasting effect on society.

What’s your best advice for a fellow entrepreneur?

One of the best pieces of advice that I am often reminded of by other entrepreneurs is to follow your passion and the money will show up — that’s when you know you’re on the road to success. When I teach a two-hour clay class, I often feel like I haven’t really worked at all. The gifts of partnership and love that I receive from our youth always outweigh the monetary reward.

Another piece of advice is to open your mind. When we focus in one direction, we miss opportunities that come from other directions. Turn around and try a new direction, and see what’s out there. Be open to all possibilities!

What local entrepreneur do you look up to and why?

One of the many local entrepreneurs that I recently began to admire is Rick Robinson of CutTime Productions. A former Detroit Symphony Orchestra bassist, Rick took his talent and love for classical music to the masses when the DSO went on strike in 2010. As a full-time entrepreneur, he now teaches, writes and performs music to audiences who may have had little exposure to classical music. He claims he is really in the “inspiration” business, which is how I feel about We Are Clay.

What do you do when you need a mental break?

A great mental break for me is listening to a 20-minute chakra clearing meditation CD, which I use to calm and center myself. Also, I have been studying energy bodywork, such as Polarity Therapy and Healing Touch, for almost a decade. An hour of yoga at the gym works wonders, and a few laps in the pool are always great. When I grab a chunk of clay and start sculpting, I move into a different zone and let go of the everyday pressures of starting and running a new business. I also remind myself of what is most important and spend playtime with my family and three kids. 

Your core values: Why they aren’t just statements

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Empowered, intentional, bold, creative, courageous and accountable: six core values critical to the creation of our culture at TechTown. They are not arbitrary or cliché but, rather, ideals chosen with purpose and intent to describe who we are and who we always want to be. Ideals that define the way we commit to behave in our daily pursuit of the mission. 

But why have them? Corporations of all shapes and sizes have core values or culture statements that sit beside their mission and value statements, often only to get lost under a pile of business journals, reports and correspondence.

However, there is a missed opportunity when we fail to commit wholly to that defined culture. When understood, communicated and lived, a defined culture creates clarity for your team, your customers and your stakeholders.

A clearly defined and understood culture replaces confusion, politics and dysfunction, which can lead to reduced efficiency and keep companies from achieving excellence.

However, pushing each enterprise decision through your cultural filter ensures consistency and allows every member of your constituency to understand the expectations and commitments of the relationship. There is no room for confusion.

Consider, for a moment, the seating of your team (which, by the way, is one of the most important things leaders do, whether you’re running a startup or a Fortune 50 company). If you’re running a bleeding-edge technology company, do you want team members who are risk averse or uncomfortable with rapid change? A defined core value about change when communicated clearly and used to hire, promote and separate employees will ensure an understanding of that cultural expectation. Likewise, a service-oriented business is not the perfect place for an employee who is uncomfortable talking to strangers. As such, a cultural element requiring outgoing or engaging personas is crucial to enterprise success.

Clarity of culture creates an expectation and a brand, both of which are critical to longevity, relevance and differentiation. Uncover yours. Define it. Communicate it and make decisions with that culture in mind. Everyone involved will be better for it.

TechTown and partners host DTX Showcase

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On Thursday, June 27, 11 promising tech startups from TechTown, Bizdom and Invest Detroit presented their businesses to win a killer prize package full of essential branding services at the first ever DTX Showcase.

myFab5, which is currently enrolled in the DTX Launch Detroit summer boot camp for college students and recent grads aspiring to launch technology-based enterprises, beat out 10 other presenting companies to win the first-place award of $15,000 worth of professional branding and marketing services.

myFab5, which wants to replace Yelp as the place to go to get rankings for local restaurants, has launched a pilot program in Ann Arbor and plans on a full-scale launch of rankings for Detroit restaurants later this summer.

The runner-up was AdAdapted, an Ann-Arbor-based startup that plans to help creators of smartphone apps generate more ad revenue.

Third-place went to Detroit-based Logiksync, which is currently enrolled in TechTown’s Venture Accelerator for tech-based startups. Logiksync has developed a prototype device to keep handguns from firing accidentally or being discharged by children who find them. The device attaches to the gun. If the owner needs to use it quickly, he or she grabs it and a biometric fingerprint reader releases the device immediately and allows the trigger to be pulled.

Fourth place went to SkySpecs, which hopes to market small unmanned aerial devices that can replace humans in inspecting hard-to-reach places like wind turbine blades, oil pipelines or suspension bridges.

Each of those three won $5,000 worth of marketing services. One of those packages was donated by Tim Smith, CEO and owner of Skidmore Studio, who served as a showcase judge.

Other presenting companies were:

  • 1st & Goal Recruiting, which wants to provide services to college football programs to improve their recruiting
  • Guidesmob, which is creating smart-app based city guides for new students at universities
  • Micro-LAM Ltd., which has created a laser-based tool to improve the machining of brittle ceramics
  • Scientifically Proven Entertainment, a maker of video games
  • SKUserve, which provides cloud-based product descriptions for hardware and industrial manufacturers
  • Social2Step, which provides rewards for employees of companies when they serve as their companies’ brand ambassadors on social media
  • Zerebral Inc., another company in TechTown’s Venture Accelerator, which provides a Web-based system of rewards to motivate better student performance

The event drew more than 130 people. In addition the startup presentations, there were two guest speakers, Brad Oleshansky, founder and CEO of M1 Concourse; and Matthew Kruchko, principal and managing director of Applied Storytelling. Judges were Matt Clayson, director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center; Gary Kendra, owner of Kendra Law Firm; Oleshansky and Smith.

The Detroit Technology Exchange (DTX) is a partnership between TechTown, Bizdom, Invest Detroit and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center. It is funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Michigan Strategic Fund. 

Five questions with myFab5

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The myFab5 team with TechTown’s Charlie Moret after winning the grand prize at last week’s DTX Showcase.

What’s your business?

myFab5 is the fastest way to find and recommend the best local restaurants. The company doesn’t use the star ratings and review systems used by other reviews sites. Instead, its users rank up to five of their favorite places in any category (e.g. best pizza in Detroit). As a student team in this summer’s session of DTX Launch Detroit, myFab5 doesn’t currently have a business model in place, but there will be one soon because we’re getting tired of eating Ramen noodles and bologna sandwiches.

Why are you proud of it?

We are proud of myFab5 because it saves people time and money by helping them make the best decision quickly and confidently. We’re also proud that we’ve created a new system that doesn’t need to know which places are bad to know which ones are great. You won’t find people bashing local restaurants on myFab5 - you’ll only find people talking about their favorite spots.

What’s your best advice for a fellow entrepreneur?

Do not raise outside financing too quickly because it can kill your company. You should test and validate your ideas and build a prototype before seeking any outside investment. We have seen startups launch at the same time as us and raise money at the very beginning, only to make the same rookie mistakes we made (we haven’t taken any investor dollars). Nothing feels worse than blowing through hundreds of thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it.

What local entrepreneur do you look up to and why?

We look up to the entire entrepreneurial community in Southeast Michigan. Our community is at a point where everything being done is much bigger than any single entrepreneur. It’s time to change the conversation to focus on the community and what the group is doing to advance our economy and create jobs. It wouldn’t be fair for us to name a person because there have been so many people that have helped us so far. Organizations like TechTown, Spark, TechArb, the University of Michigan and dozens of local entrepreneurs have had an impact on us and helped us get to this point. We look up to all of them.

What do you do when you need a mental break?

It’s nearly impossible to take a mental break. We find ourselves thinking about myFab5 24/7. Yes, that includes our dreams. However we do take “physical” breaks, where we stop working and do something else with our fingers and mouths (instead of coding and talking to our users and potential customers).

While not working on myFab5, we enjoy working out, playing sports, grilling, fishing, gardening, rapping and trying out new restaurants we discover on myFab5.com. 

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