Mendelson Urges Detroit Startup Community to Reach Out, Collaborate

When Jason Mendelson came to Ann Arbor in 2005, he was armed with a list of qualities he thought a city needed in order to foster an entrepreneurial culture: A creative class of people (especially on the technical side); strong universities spinning off people and ideas; capital; management talent; an engaged community with a desire to see each other succeed; a supportive legal environment; a culture of risk-taking and respect for failure, and a history of success.

Last night, he told the crowd assembled at TechTown for an Xconomy Xchange event about nurturing startup ecosystems that he considers himself a “jackass” for ever floating that list. He realized that certain factors like the quality of local universities, amount of local capital, and a supportive legal environment usually can’t be controlled.

Instead, he and his partners at the Foundry Group, a billion-dollar venture firm Mendelson manages in Boulder, CO, have come up with four tenets for bolstering a startup scene: Startup communities must be led by entrepreneurs; recognize that the process of transformation requires a 20-year time horizon; be open to everyone participating even if they’re “crazies and crackpots;” and host regular entrepreneurial get-togethers that aren’t award shows.

“Detroit is really good at this,” he said in reference to the last point, adding that we shouldn’t be concerned if it feels like there are so many events that it’s hard to sift through the noise to find what’s truly valuable. “This is a good sign—eventually, some of this will go away. You just need to ride it out, and it’ll work itself out.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing he said is that he feels Detroit might be doing a better job than Ann Arbor when it comes to nurturing a creative, open community that is conducive to startups. Because of this, he said he thinks Detroit will be the city that takes the initiative in bridging the gap with Ann Arbor, which he recommended. “You’re probably too young to go it alone—you need to collaborate.”

Mendelson was in town to offer his opinions on what Detroit can do to develop its startup ecosystem, and the good news for local entrepreneurs is that Mendelson had a lot of positive things to say about our efforts here.

“I think you guys are doing great,” he said. “In the past, I saw a lot of me-too companies. Now, you’re building startups that are truly unique, which is a really good sign.”

When an audience member asked whether Mendelson agreed with state-backed entrepreneurial funding and accompanying location requirements as a way of keeping … Next Page »

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