Sidecar Co-Founder Fortino on Why He Chose to Invest in Detroit

Adrian Fortino caught the startup bug early, not long after earning two degrees from the University of Michigan. He had been working at the Van Buren Township, MI-based global engineering giant Ricardo when he jumped into his first go-around with entrepreneurship.

“It quickly failed,” Fortino admits. “But after that, I couldn’t go back to corporate life.”

Corporate America’s loss has turned out to be Detroit’s gain, but it took a bit of a journey to get here. After his first failed startup, he spent a few years in a boutique cleantech consultancy. From there, he co-founded Shepherd Intelligent Systems, an Ann Arbor-based startup that commercialized the “Magic Bus” technology developed at U-M. Shepherd provides real-time fleet management and rider interface services to passengers and managers of bus and limo companies.

Though Shepherd Intelligent Systems was rolling along on a software-as-a-service model, Fortino and his business partner wanted to try launching a sister startup that further innovated transit. They hatched the idea of Sidecar, an instant ride-sharing service that matches everyday drivers with people nearby in need of transportation.

Fortino moved to San Francisco to build Sidecar into the disruptive startup, popular with the Silicon Valley tech crowd, that it is today. (Sorry, Detroit—Sidecar doesn’t serve our market yet.) Fortino says the company was growing so fast that the time came to decide whether or not to relocate his wife and two kids to California.

“We realized the West Coast wasn’t the right fit,” Fortino says. He helped raise $10 million in venture backing for Sidecar so it could continue to expand, and then decided to take a backseat and become non-operational, which meant he was on the lookout for his next Michigan-based project.

“The big thing is, I like to build sustainable companies,” Fortino explains. “I love to do … Next Page »

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