Ford, Magna, Verizon Help Launch Techstars Program in Detroit

If you’re looking for further validation that Detroit’s tech ecosystem is gaining respect in the eyes of the world, here it is: Ford, in partnership with global auto supplier Magna International and Verizon Telematics, will announce today that it is helping to bring the esteemed Techstars startup accelerator to the Motor City.

Techstars Mobility will focus on nurturing companies that are developing innovative transportation technology—whether that means advances in public transit, the latest in automated and connected car features, apps to help people park or share rides, or even the next Uber. The goal, according to Ford, is to bring to market new technologies and approaches in transportation that incorporate mobile devices, wireless connectivity, and cloud computing.

“Mobility is meant to be broader than just cars,” says David Brown, president and managing partner of Techstars, which is based in Boulder, CO, and has locations in Austin, TX; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; New York City; and London. “It’s anything related to transportation.”

Techstars Mobility is backed by $2 million in funding from Ford, Magna, and Verizon. Fontinalis Partners, Detroit Venture Partners (DVP), and Renaissance Venture Capital Fund will also support the launch of the new Detroit accelerator. Ted Serbinski, who relocated to Detroit from Silicon Valley in 2011 to help run DVP, will be the managing director of Techstars Mobility.

The Techstars Mobility program is similar to those in other Techstars cities: Ten startups will be selected to participate in the program, which will be based in downtown Detroit. Companies will each receive $120,000 in funding, plus three months of intensive mentoring in business development, customer acquisition, and executive recruitment. Brown says the application process opens today and the first class of Detroit startups is expected to begin their accelerator residency in June. The program will run for three years with a new class of 10 startups each year.

In recent years, Ford has tweaked its strategy to acknowledge that younger generations are increasingly less interested in owning a car in favor of ride-sharing, public transit, and services like Uber and Zipcar. At a 2012 conference in Dearborn where Ford outlined the major trends influencing its product offerings, integrated mobility—the blend of car ownership, public transportation, and things like car-sharing services—was at the top of the list.

Ford has already responded to the mobility trend by establishing programs to bring outside innovation into the company. It has partnered with companies like Zipcar, which rents cars by the hour in cities and college towns, and has acquired infotainment startups like Livio. In 2011, Ford collaborated with the TechShop maker space to open a location in Allen Park, MI, to help local inventors develop and commercialize new technologies.

As for why Techstars chose to locate in Detroit now, Brown says, “We’re very proactive and excited about coming to Detroit. Helping entrepreneurs there and working with Ford is a great and noble cause. Everybody in America has a soft spot for Detroit, and people want it to succeed. If we can contribute to that even in a small way—it gives me goosebumps.”

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