Commentary: TechTown’s Leslie Smith Leaving For New Gig in Memphis

I got the news that Leslie Smith, TechTown‘s CEO since 2011, was leaving for a new gig in Memphis through an invitation to her going-away party. I was promptly crushed. Not only has Leslie been a great source who’s always good for a no-b.s. quote, she’s also a person who has worked tirelessly to better Detroit and its people.

Leslie was the first person in a position of power from the local entrepreneurial ecosystem who spoke to me frankly about the same ecosystem’s glaring lack of racial diversity. Before her leadership tenure, TechTown floundered a bit when it came to defining its mission and place in the ecosystem. Under her guidance, TechTown became known for venturing deep into “the neighborhoods” of Detroit, where other entrepreneurial incubators feared to tread, to spread some of the tech and startup opportunities flooding Detroit.

She also oversaw a massive redesign to the TechTown space that transformed it from an average office space to one that could compete with the often-praised Madison Building downtown in terms of decor and amenities.

As Amy Haimerl at Crain’s said in her farewell post, Leslie has a keen sense of knowing when someone is “all hat and no cattle,” and she had no problem telling reporters—often on the record—exactly who and what were full of crap. (I also realize, by reading Haimerl’s post, that Leslie has a special gift for making journalists feel like members of her inner circle.)

Before starting at Xconomy, I knew Leslie on a superficial level from a previous job, but I really came to respect and admire her vision while reporting on Detroit’s growing startup scene. I know she’ll bring the same fearlessness and tirelessness to her new gig leading the Entrepreneurship Powered Innovation Center, a public-private initiative in Memphis, TN, to create 1,000 entrepreneurs and 500 companies by 2025.

Happy trails, Leslie! We’ll miss you in Detroit.

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