Detroit Urban Solutions Seeks to Amplify the Regional Tech Ecosystem

TechTown Detroit, Wayne State University, and NextEnergy have formed a new consortium to advance the Motor City’s tech ecosystem and apply new innovations to tough civic challenges.

Called Detroit Urban Solutions, the consortium will focus primarily on mobility, digital health, civic, and smart city technologies. We called Paul Riser Jr., who is stepping down from his position overseeing technology-based entrepreneurship at TechTown to lead Detroit Urban Solutions, to find out more.

“The collaboration builds upon previous research and work done years ago by the Brookings Institution on innovation districts,” Riser says. “We saw an opportunity to revisit the plan now that the climate has improved over the past five years.”

Detroit Urban Solutions will be located in the former NextEnergy headquarters on Burroughs Street, which Wayne State purchased last year for $6.6 million. (NextEnergy will keep its office and continue to run technology demonstrations there, but it no longer needed the whole building, says Jim Saber, the organization’s CEO.)

Ultimately, Riser says, Detroit Urban Solutions is meant to be a “living lab” that can serve as a physical location where innovators from across the region can connect and collaborate.

“Our work will involve assessing what’s already happening, what stakeholders are doing, and how that can be combined and leveraged,” Riser explains. “There are a lot of great efforts already underway, but they’re not as connected as they could be. We see it as an opportunity to bring those efforts together and uplift and amplify them with resources and cross-vertical connections.”

Riser says it’s imperative that Detroit Urban Solutions retains and elevates the voice of the community. “The way to solve problems is to get as close to them as possible,” he continues. “We’re intentional about staying close to the pulse and needs of the community—of everyday residents, not just those downtown.”

Riser says he envisions Detroit Urban Solutions doing a lot of matchmaking—between startup founders and funders, for example, or companies and potential customers—and catalyzing co-development opportunities, which he calls “bottom-up innovation.” Industry will be brought into the fold whenever appropriate, he adds, and the consortium’s work will also touch on access to education, training, and investment capital.

Riser says members of the private sector who want to get involved with Detroit Urban Solutions’ work should contact him for details. The consortium also plans to have a portal on its website in the future where members of the public can engage.

Riser compares the mission of Detroit Urban Solutions to programs such as UrbanX in New York City or the MetroLab network.

“The United States represents 40 percent of global urban technology investments—a lot of people underestimate urban tech because it’s a buzzword, but there’s a great level of investment and resources,” Riser says. “We’re emphasizing the regional collaboration approach. We want Detroit Urban Solutions to be a place for everyone to connect to reveal what we’re capable of.”

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