Have an Idea to Fix Transportation in Detroit? You Could Win $250K

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their ideas. The winning idea will be announced in January, and the winner will receive up to $250,000 in funding and mentoring toward establishing a startup in Detroit. Idea Market will take a piece of equity in the company in exchange for funding, and Mission Throttle and Invest Detroit are supporting sponsors of the transportation challenge.

“Our vision is, we want to do these Detroit challenges quarterly, with transportation being the first one,” Adelkhani said. “We’re also in talks to do them in other cities. It’s kind of a different model from what we do normally.”

Adelkhani has hired Bill Thomason, a Detroit native, serial entrepreneur, and venture capital veteran, to oversee the Detroit Transportation Challenge. Before moving from Silicon Valley back to Detroit a few years ago to care for his ailing parents, Thomason worked for JP Morgan, Taurum Capital Partners, and Parnassus Investments, among others.

“My job is to make sure, when the idea is selected, that the team will execute what it’s supposed to execute,” Thomason said. “I started my first business as a junior at Michigan State University, and I sold it by the time I was 25. That’s how I got into entrepreneurship. I did everything wrong, but I had some amazing advisers, so I’m trying to bring what I’ve learned back to Detroit—whatever that may look like.”

“This is our beta test,” Adelkhani explained. “We know the model works, but not when it’s social impact or location-based. This is a hybrid between creating impact, profitability, and scalability.”

Adelkhani has become so fond of Detroit that he’s planning to buy a place to live here. “I’m almost in shock,” he said. “The cost of living here is 30 to 40 percent below what it is in San Francisco. What I’m paying for a loft here on Air BnB is what I’d pay for a parking space in San Francisco. The American Dream of owning property and starting a business is possible here. In San Francisco—yes, life is good, but you’re not really getting anywhere. How can you save 20 percent for a down payment on a $1 million fixer-upper?”

Thomason agreed that Detroit has its charms, and it’s become a much different city since he moved away 20 years ago. He sees similarities between the rise of the Bay Area as an economic powerhouse and what Detroit might be capable of.

“San Francisco was a sleepy little coastal town until the gold rush hit,” Thomason said. “Almost overnight, it became a city of a million people. They came to strike it rich, but out of those millions of people, how many actually hit gold? Instead, millionaires were created from service providers. The people making real money were those selling pots, blue jeans, and equipment. That might be where Detroit is headed. You probably won’t see another Facebook here, but there will be something big.”

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