On Nurturing a Startup in Detroit, Labyrinthine Bureaucracies, and RoboCop: A Conversation with Jerry Paffendorf

Jerry Paffendorf is one of those people who is always up to something cool, whether it’s spearheading a hugely successful crowdfunding project to get a RoboCop statue erected in Detroit, or selling vacant city properties by the square inch on the Web through his social entrepreneurship startup Loveland.com. I met him for coffee recently after making his acquaintance in September at TEDxDetroit, where he told me about my colleague Wade Roush’s excellent 2010 Xconomy profile about him. Since then, his Loveland crowdfunding project had grown, and it seemed to be a good time to check in with him.

“Detroit, in my experience, is not always inviting if you’re trying to do something different,” the San Francisco/New York transplant said. “At the moment, there’s clearly not a lot of money here. If I were doing this in New York or San Francisco, there would be more people jumping in, but it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or impactful as what we’re doing in Detroit.”

And what, exactly, is Loveland doing in Detroit? Paffendorf says they’re “putting a lobster trap in the dark ocean” of the Wayne County Foreclosure Auction process by mapping the Detroit properties for sale during the 2011 auction. Round two of the auction began October 21 and runs through Thursday. They’re also selling land for $1 per square inch in a 50,000-square-inch “microhood” called Hello World after successfully selling all the pieces of their first microhood, Plymouth, to 588 people across the globe. There is also a mapping project designed to make intricate maps of city neighborhoods available as free downloads to the public for fundraising, canvassing, and land-buying purposes. Finally, there is Lovetax, which allows users to offer microloans to selected projects through a voluntary monthly … Next Page »

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