Detroit’s Silith.IO Takes Its Mobile Collaboration Tool to Silicon Valley

Brian Clark, co-founder of Silith.IO, is on the adventure of a lifetime. A few weeks ago, he quit his full-time job, sold nearly everything he owned, and headed to San Francisco, his earthly possessions reduced to a suitcase and a laptop.

Clark is in the Bay Area officially representing his company at the NewME accelerator, a tech startup incubator based in San Francisco that is focused on nurturing businesses led by minorities underrepresented in Silicon Valley. NewME hosted a pop-up accelerator and pitch contest in Detroit at the end of May, and Silith.IO won the competition.

Silith.IO came to life last December, when Clark, an IT project manager at GE, was growing increasingly frustrated with his inability to communicate and collaborate with the developers he was working with, whether they were in India or across town.

“We’d send screen shots back and forth, and I wanted to streamline that process,” Clark says.

If he was having this problem working for a big company with lots of resources, Clark imagined how frustrating it was for startup founders working from coffee shops and their parents’ basements, hoping that the mobile app they were pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into turned into a career or even a fortune.

So the team at Silith.IO created AnnoTree, a mobile collaboration tool that allows designers, developers, and project managers to communicate with one another inside the app they’re building. Users can download the AnnoTree widget, which runs in the background of the app under construction, and draw or write notes directly in the app. The annotations are then sent to a centralized, cloud-based platform where team members can see the notes, organize them, and take action.

Think of AnnoTree like Google docs for mobile app development, Clark explains. It’s a feedback aggregator that an entire app development team can utilize. Clark says nothing like AnnoTree exists at the moment, but a few come close: Skitch for Evernote, which he says doesn’t allow collaboration, and Trello, which he says lacks annotation.

Right now, AnnoTree is in beta testing, and Clark is taking full advantage of being in the midst of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors. He arrived in the Bay Area two weeks before his accelerator term started so he could network, and he’s been cold e-mailing project managers at mobile development firms in search of validation.

That good, old-fashioned Rust Belt work ethic—the team consists of two guys from Michigan, one from Chicago, and two from Baltimore—has served Silith.IO well so far. “I’m literally hitting the streets and networking to get customers,” Clark says. “I’ve heard good feedback from users, but some of the VCs don’t understand what the value proposition is. I think it would help if they felt the problem, so we’re working on delivering value in a clear and succinct way.”

Clark once dreamed of becoming an architect, but after connecting with the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) at age 11, he says he never looked back. Now, he just wants to get AnnoTree off the ground so he can eventually build a Detroit-based enterprise software company that creates tools to make the workday easier.

“You don’t see as many people of color in the tech community,” he adds. “It’s really nice having the opportunity to get out here. NewME is opening the door, and now we need to run through it.”

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