Serial Entrepreneur’s Website Highlights Detroit’s Hidden Gems

When I was riding in an Uber car the other day, the driver and I got to talking about Detroit and the misperceptions that people who don’t spend any time here have about the city.

He told me about an out-of-town friend who asked him if he worried about people shooting at him as he drove through the city. His friend imagined that Detroit had deteriorated so badly that random gunfire echoed through the streets, even in the relatively heavily policed downtown.

We are a city on the mend, but we obviously have a lot of work to do when it comes to painting an accurate picture to outsiders of what life here is like.

That’s why startup efforts like Core Detroit are so important. Core Detroit, which launched in April, runs a website that showcases what founder Alex Linebrink considers to be the best Detroit has to offer, whether it’s restaurants, bars, or retail.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Linebrink says. “I had been doing social media and e-mail newsletters. I had all this content, and it’s awesome to finally get it online.”

Core Detroit features an interactive map that allows users to filter listings by activity, neighborhood, or details like accepted payment types and parking. The site also has a blog that runs a picture of the day, business profiles (225 at last count), and a Core Shop that sells work by local artists.

“It’s not a review site like Yelp—I have the comments disabled,” Linebrink explains. “It’s a place to find all these places with all this character. There’s a tool to search by keyword, like do they have a patio or accept credit cards, or by what’s close. I want to keep people working downtown here a little longer. There’s so much cool stuff just a block or two from Woodward,” he says, referring to the main street that runs through downtown.

Core Detroit isn’t Linebrink’s first startup. He’s also the founder of Core Merchant, a company offering payment processing services and branded payment portals to businesses. Core Merchant, formerly a tenant of the Dan Gilbert-backed Bizdom incubator, counts Quicken Loans, Fathead, and the Cleveland Cavaliers as customers. Linebrink and his eight-member team run Core Merchant and Core Detroit out of an office in the Ford Building downtown.

Linebrink is also preparing to beta-test a startup called Passage, which he compares to Eventbrite. Right now, Core Merchant runs Haunt Pay, an online event-ticketing system for seasonal haunted attractions (like haunted houses and ghost tours). Starting June 1, he’ll roll it into Passage, which will also be available for non-haunted event ticketing. “Eventbrite is great for selling tickets online, but we have online ticket sales, and a great mobile app, and we allow for in-person ticket sales,” he says. “It’s an all-in-one system, and I think that’s huge.”

Linebrink says Core Detroit is already getting hundreds of visitors per day, and he expects it to grow and would like it to be self-sustaining. He adds that much of Core Detroit is funded by revenue from Core Merchant.

Every Monday and Thursday until May 8, Core Detroit is giving away prize packages to users who register for the daily Biz Profile e-mail. The packages are valued between $250 and $1,000 and consist of assorted gift cards and tickets from Detroit merchants and venues.

“I hope people use the Core Detroit website to find out about cool places,” Linebrink says. “It’s a heck of a lot of fun here.”

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