Entrepreneurs brewing renaissance in Detroit

Raji Bedi and others organize Funded by Night to award $100,000 to one awesome startup out of 25

Technology trends and news by Ronny Kerr
April 19, 2011
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[Edits made Apr. 19 at 4:20 PT: Plymouth Management Company, RPM Ventures and Bain Capital are not judging the winners; DVP and Ludlow retain that honor. Credited other FbN creators.]

Silicon Valley. San Francisco. New York. Boulder.

Those are the cities that typically come to mind when thinking of locations breeding healthy and vibrant startup cultures, especially for technology. It’s where one can find the investors and other resources necessary to help a budding business grow.

Now, Detroit, with the Valley-inspired moniker “Silicon Garage,” is on the verge of experiencing its own tech renaissance.

“What I've seen over the past several months has made me more hungry and confident that the area is going to be a model city in the very near future. It is bustling with all sorts of hard working types from entrepreneurs to activists to mechanics to farmers,” explained an exuberant entrepreneur from the Detroit area, Raji Bedi, who I originally met at SXSW a month ago.

“There’s capital, there are smart people, there are entrepreneurs and there are resources available, but the ecosystem is lacking infrastructure,” he went on further.

He’s obviously excited about Detroit becoming a rich environment for the kind of entrepreneurial creativity and energy bubbling in other cities around the country, which is why he, Jordan Wolfe and Jeff Epstein decided to lead the charge in laying down that much-needed infrastructure.

And they’re making that happen with a startup showcase called Funded by Night.

Taking place at the end of the month in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood, Funded by Night will bring in 25 startups--pooled from over a hundred--to compete for a $100,000 convertible note from Detroit Venture Partners and Ludlow Ventures. The winner will be chosen by a panel of VC judges hailing from both DVP and Ludlow.

Presenting startups are listed online here (though right now it’s a few short of the full 25) and, already, you can see the caliber of talent that will be there. There’s Evoz, the mom-baby connection service that demoed two weeks ago as one of the 500 Startups Seed companies. And LaunchRock also made the cut, which isn’t surprising considering how many startups use the service these days to create quick viral launch pages.

Some are funded and some are completely bootstrapped, Bedi tells me, and their development stages range from having sophisticated prototypes ready to having already launched. A little less than half are from Metro Detroit.

That’s what it’s really about: shining the spotlight on local entrepreneurs with solid ideas and businesses, laying a foundation for a new economy in Detroit, a name that the rest of the country directly associates with the struggling automobile industry.

“We can’t rely on those other jobs we’ve depended on for years,” said Bedi.

Notably, the energy driving Detroit in a new direction is burning from the inside, which Bedi insists can be traced to the city’s DIY culture. He first pointed to Detroit Soup, a monthly $5 soup dinner for activists, artists and others to propose small but meaningful projects for the city, like adding more bike racks or park renovations. Then there’s the Kickstarter project for a statue of Robocop, which received $67,436 in pledged support, almost $20,000 over the goal.

The examples might seem a bit elementary, Bedi himself admits, but they indicate a wider-scale shift in the minds of Detroit citizens and the Midwest in general. People are starting to pursue their ideas with more vigor and determination, because they believe the city can and will be more than just “Motor City.”

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