The Motor City is dead.
Go anywhere in the developed world, and that’s likely what you will hear. You may not believe it. You may not agree with it. But it is what you will hear.
For about a year, I was working as an engineer in the automotive industry and living in a city near Cologne in Germany. I knew that German cars were great and that the citizens admired them. I also knew that the people there are interested, to at least some extent, in American politics and culture. What I did not know, is what information they were given, what they thought about Detroit or the American automotive industry, especially concerning what was factual, or what was blanket statements with plenty left to the imagination. But time after time, regardless of where I was, whether that be in the work place, in the kneipe (German for pub), having an evening with friends, or wherever, there was a plausible chance that someone would ask me where I am from, and then decide to remind me that the Motor City is dead. Period.
This argument was obviously not made by 100% of the population, but it was by-and-away the majority of opinions I heard, usually when I didn’t ask. I generally thought this was rather strange near Cologne, one of the major German car cities, whose largest employer was none other than Ford Motor Company. Regardless of this and more often than not, there were no arguments, no discussions, no talking points that would sway opinions. Each and every attempt I had was rebounded with comments regarding ignition switch failures, recalls, or bankruptcy. It was a generally strange occurrence for myself as I was brought up to be proud of being involved with the city that put the world on wheels, the city that provided crucial support in manufacturing during the total war days of World War II as it was nicknamed the Arsenal of Democracy, the city who still produces some of the best vehicles in the world, and the city that has just gone through hell, and is just now beginning the long journey out of it. Time after time, I would attempt to provide examples of new projects, new co-working spaces, new restaurants and distilleries, and then some. The only piece of the puzzle that I couldn’t argue, and that others couldn’t understand, was why all of this information about new technology companies and new industries was filled with excitement, while Detroit was offering mere trace amounts of new and exciting innovations and improvements to the automotive world, Detroit’s own bread and butter. Once I realized this, I figured it was only a matter of time until this concept took hold of local talent, in one way or another.
Well, here you have it. On December 11, 2014, Techstars announced its Techstars Mobility, Driven by Detroit program in order to spur start-ups and innovative young companies to kick-start the cities entrepreneurial and technology talent and resources in the city where large-scale automotive innovation began. The idea is, through partnerships with Ford Motor Company, Magna International, and Verizon Telematics, Techstars will not only be able to provide seed money to 10 selected companies, but will also be able to provide to them three months of engagement with mentors, industry expertise, and an ever-important and much-needed network.
To make things even more intriguing, to the benefit of the city itself, the program will be located in the downtown area of Detroit, which has become a hub of entrepreneurial pursuits over the last few years, with more and more companies as well as venture capital joining the scene.
I, for one, welcome the concept of having the wonderful American automotive industry, here in Detroit, having access to a local network of start-up companies innovating and creating new products, concepts, and ideas that support the OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to show the world that the American automotive industry is still here, it’s not going away, and that when it comes to producing beautiful automobiles, despite all of the recent recalls, the Americans still have some muscle after all.
You can read more about the Techstars Mobility, Driven by Detroit program here: