Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor Aims to Capture Spirit of Collaboration

As we approach the end of our fifth year in Michigan, Xconomy Detroit is rebranding. We’re calling it Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor in recognition of the ongoing collaboration between the two communities so crucial to the state’s efforts to innovate and diversify—collaboration we hope to help foster.

First, some history: When Xconomy decided to expand its online tech news network to Detroit in 2010, it was a decision that may have baffled some. After all, back in those days—and it seems like another lifetime for those of us living in Detroit, where the pace of change has been fast and furious—Detroit looked like the canary in the coalmine for post-industrial urban America. The city was moving swiftly toward bankruptcy; the mayor was embroiled in a scandal that would eventually land him in federal prison; and the unemployment and crime rates were staggeringly high.

Though the city’s infrastructure may have been broken, its spirit was not. Something special was taking root in Detroit. Young entrepreneurs, many of them Detroit natives who had moved away, were coming to the city in droves to take advantage of a fledgling startup ecosystem and its accompanying resources. Social innovators also began to see Detroit as the ultimate proving ground, and there was a sense from those who sought to stay in Detroit that they were united in trying to bring an iconic American city back from the brink. . The April 2010 article announcing our Detroit launch told the key story. But not long afterward, Xconomy founder Bob Buderi published an essay in the Kaufmann Foundation’s Thoughtbook that explained, perhaps in even more frank terms, why he was investing in Detroit:

“I think that since virtually every fabric of Michigan has been affected by the auto recession/meltdown, the need for innovation is also pervasive—and that people and organizations of all stripes are responding. … If I had to bet on the upside of any place in America right now, it would be Detroit—and, by extension, all of Michigan. I’m not saying Detroit or Michigan will fly the highest and have the strongest economy in America or somehow beget the new Silicon Valley. I am saying the state has the potential to show the biggest gains on a percentage basis. To put it another way, if Detroit/Michigan were a stock, I would buy a bunch of options on it.”

Detroit was not part of Xconomy’s original business plan, Buderi went on to explain, but the aura of transformation was evident even back then, and so Xconomy took a flyer on it. The Kauffman Foundation helped support the launch of Xconomy Detroit in 2010, and Buderi announced his goals for the bureau in an editorial: “We see bringing people together across various disciplines and fields of interest as another way to catalyze innovation. Our hope is to add a different type of spark to this catalysis, both through our role as an independent media company, and by cross-fertilizing our Michigan events and coverage with perspective from around the country.”

Those goals have not changed. If anything, we’re doubling down on them by rebranding Xconomy Detroit as Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. Though Michigan has made tremendous strides since 2010, there‘s still a bit of a provincial attitude here that sometimes results in silos that are hard to break. Because we have a foot in each community, Xconomy wants to help lead the effort to better connect entrepreneurs in Detroit with those in Ann Arbor. Each city offers unique strengths and weaknesses, but as a united region, we’re nearly unstoppable.

Last night, we held a dinner in Ann Arbor to celebrate our rebranding. We invited about 30 of our friends from both Ann Arbor and Detroit. Dave Egner from the New Economy Initiative was there, and so was Ken Nisbet, head of University of Michigan’s tech transfer office.

Also on hand were Renaissance Venture Fund’s Chris Rizik and Paul Riser, who heads technology-based entrepreneurship efforts at TechTown, along with his boss, Ned Staebler. Ann Marie Sastry, founder and CEO of Sakti3, joined us fresh off a trip to Washington, DC, to hang out with President Obama at the White House. Ann Arbor SPARK and Bizdom were also at the table, along with founders from some of the startups they’ve helped nurture. Dug Song, the perpetually in-motion co-founder of Duo Security, was one of the first to arrive and last to leave, as is his wont. (Thanks, Dug—don’t ever change!) It was a great group of really smart people who all want the same thing: to collaborate and communicate better.

We’ll explore some of the issues and solutions that emerged from our dinner conversation in an article next week—we also plan to host a series of dinners and meetups in both Ann Arbor and Detroit (and hopefully other places) over the coming months, and report on them to our readers as well. Until then, join us in celebrating our relaunch as Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor.

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