A Whole New D: Detroit’s Tech Boom

“When you see what is happening now there's no really better place to start a business than Detroit.”

Detroit is and always will be the Motor City. Car companies and the people who worked for them built Detroit to it's peak. As the city hopes to reinvent itself for the 21st century, young entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the Wild West mentality in Detroit. So much opportunity, so much space, so much available for brave businesses to capitalize on.

“While you will also have the vibrant powerhouse automotive industry these other industries like food and IT put Detroit on the map and that's only going to continue,” says James Martinez of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The blue collars are mixing with the white. Torque wrenches replaced with hard drives and keyboards. Detroit is quietly building toward a major tech boom.

“We saw what Josh Lightner and Dan Gilbert were doing in Detroit and we wanted to be part of something great and they were looking for great companies and great people and we came down here and said this is what we want to do,” says Andrew Landau of ChalkFly.

Three years ago, Dan Gilbert and his partners took the Madison Building, renovated it with the hope of it being the hub of Detroit's tech boom. It first started with one company, UpTo but has grown to more than 15 companies with over 150 employees, each hoping to make Detroit the Silicon Valley of the Midwest

“Working at the Madison Building is unbelievable its like a dream come true. You are surrounded by other like-minded entrepreneurs but also you have some of our lead investors here in the building so you have just an incredible amount of support enthusiasm but then just being here in the heart of Detroit you have the feeling of being a part of a new company but part of the renaissance that's here in the city,” says Greg Schwartz, founder of UpTo.

The Madison Building was just the beginning. It has already grown into the Madison Block.

“Detroit has this unrivaled sense of entrepreneurship and spirit that you are really seeing resonates you're seeing a young demographic just graduating really flooding the city,” says Martinez.

Schwartz hopes to revolutionize the way we share and use our calendars on our phones with his UpTo app.

Landau's ChalkFly is an award winning web site that offers teachers an affordable and easy spot to buy school supplies.

Itai Ben-Gal created iRule an app that allows the user to control all household devices from one phone or tablet.

Each of them created and developed right here in Detroit, right where they want to be.

Landau says, “We made a decision to move back to Detroit to base our company in Detroit to be based in Michigan because it is a good business decision so not only is it fun but its the right business decision there's great talent there's no other place we would rather be.”

“To be honest I was part of the brain drain that left the area, going to school in Ann Arbor then heading to the East Coast to work and I never really thought about coming back to this area or living or working down in Detroit but seeing what is happening and starting to hire people out of these universities that are excited to come and not only work but live down here and go out down here eat down here its been really exciting and just the couple years we have been down here it definitely exceeded our expectations,” says Schwartz.

Ben-Gal adds, “A few years ago they looked at you like you were crazy now there's a lot more people doing it there's a lot more good press good vibe and people really start to look at Detroit as the place to be.”

For the tech world, this rush downtown is not just a “cool” fad. It is a logical and smart business decision that will not only help their companies but also the city they now call home.

“If we were in a suburb we would be next door to a doctor or a dentist or a lawyer and its hard to collaborate with people like that, being around other start ups and people going through the same struggle, the same excitement, going through the same things is really great.”

Tune in next Wednesday, February 26 for Part 3 of Eric Lloyd's Special Report, A Whole New D.