TechTown’s New $5M Fund Only a Baby Step for FastTrac Entrepreneurs

Don’t get Randal Charlton wrong. The executive director at the TechTown business incubator in Detroit is thankful for a recent announcement of $5 million coming his way to help graduates of his FastTrac business training program launch their companies. But, he says, look at it this way: The money, granted by the New Economy Initiative, a Detroit-area philanthropic partnership, is not being thrown at comfortable entrepreneurs. This is, essentially, aid to the unemployed. And, as such, $5 million barely scratches the surface.

Many of the entrepreneurs to be helped by the First Step Fund, the entity created by NEI’s $5 million investment, are not launching startups because it seems like a promising thing to do. They have nowhere else to go, Charlton says. Their former jobs in the auto industry are gone, never to return. Their choices are to leave the state or try to create their own jobs in Michigan.

In the world outside Detroit, Charlton says, the national unemployment rate of 10 percent is a grim figure that conjures images of the Great Depression. Inside the alternate economic universe of Detroit, with a 15 percent unemployment rate, that 10 percent figure would hail a new era. “If we could get down to 10 percent unemployment in the city of Detroit in the next three years, we’d be holding block parties to celebrate,” Charlton says.

So, March’s announcement of a $5 million investment from the New Economy Initiative to create the First Step Fund is just that-a first step, Charlton says.

The companies chosen to take that first step are:

  • Air Movement Systems of Southgate, MI, which develops and sells thermal recovery systems.
  • Current Motor Co. of Ypsilanti, MI, which designs and sells, electric mopeds and scooters.
  • Clean Emission Fluids of Detroit, which designs and sells fuel blending systems for biofuel dispensing stations.
  • NextCAT of Detroit, a Wayne State University startup whose catalyst technology allows for low-cost production of biofuels.

Charlton’s TechTown has been basking in positive international media attention lately as it attempts to fling startups out into the world. Or, as Charlton puts it, each new company is a “bet,” since many … Next Page »

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