The Big Business Of Detroit Entrepreneurship

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Detroit Ento pitching on stage at the Detroit Policy Conference. Detroit Regional Chamber Photo.

These days it seems that time in Detroit is measured faster than everywhere else. In some cities, five years is barely enough time to open a few new offices or build a couple chain restaurants. In Detroit, it’s enough to assemble a veritable dining powerhouse that is emerging nationally as a food destination – complete with a unique lineup of restaurants that reflect Detroit’s passion, flare and creativity.

The energy is not limited to the food economy and it’s palpable to visitor and local alike. Regardless of what type of business or industry, the momentum in Detroit has one common thread: Entrepreneurship. What was once considered “cute” and “fringe” by some is now a key driving force behind much of the development in the city of Detroit and the entire region.

The rest of the business community has taken notice and is taking action. From banks like JP Morgan Chase with its $6.5 million Entrepreneur of Color Fund and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program to mortgage giant Quicken and its Rock Ventures arm that funds all manner of entrepreneurial endeavors, businesses are supporting local entrepreneurs. Those relationships are laying the foundation for innovation and growth and an exciting new Detroit era.

At the annual Detroit Policy Conference, the Detroit Regional Chamber held its first ever pitch competition featuring four diverse and fascinating Detroit-based entrepreneurs pitching to a who’s who of Detroit business leaders.


The winner – Detroit Ento – took home an all-expense paid trip to pitch for the grand prize in front of “Shark Tank” judge and globally recognized businessman Daymond John at the Mackinac Policy Conference. (The edible insect company is the perfect convergence of the city’s food and ag economy and entrepreneurship.)

In pulling together a prize package it was not hard to find several prominent members of the Detroit Regional Chamber to offer consulting services pro bono to the winner. Varnum Law and Level One Bank (as well as Tanner Friedman and Comcast) welcomed the opportunity as part of their increased focus on entrepreneurs.

Varnum Law is a recent resident of downtown and were pioneers in this arena with their MiSpringboard program. Launched in 2011, it will ultimately provide $1 million in free legal services to Michigan-based entrepreneurs.

The Madison Building (different from the Bedrock Detroit M@dison Building that's often talked about). Daily Detroit photo.
The Madison Building (different from the Bedrock Detroit M@dison Building that’s often talked about). Daily Detroit photo.

Level One recently opened an office downtown in Capitol Park, on the ground floor of a historic building that will eventually house the new Bamboo Detroit headquarters. Bamboo provides among other things; co-working space, workshops, and entrepreneur focused information sessions and is one of many organizations critical to supporting entrepreneurs.

These organizations are not outliers. More banks, law firms and public relations agencies are mixing it up with local entrepreneurs and committing time, money, and resources to create an inclusive environment for startups and small businesses to have a chance to create new businesses and perhaps even new industries. Why? It makes business sense.

This approach will continue to pay dividends for business and the city and region. The more fertile and collaborative an environment we can create for entrepreneurs, the greater the odds of having the next Fortune 500 company here in Detroit.  After all, nearly every billion dollar company today started with a passionate person and a seemingly far-fetched idea likely called crazy by critics.

So here’s to the “crazy” ones. The ones who’ll eat bugs for lunch. The ones who are at the heart of Detroit’s re-invention. Keep it up, and keep looking for partners in throughout the business community – they are looking for you.

This is a guest column from Devon O’Reilly, who is the Manager of Entrepreneurship and Detroit Engagement for the Detroit Regional Chamber. Daily Detroit welcomes guest contributions as a platform for furthering the Detroit conversation. If you have one of your own, get in touch.

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