20 May

Local Detroit Hackerspace Wins Red Bull Creation Semi-Finals – Heads to New York City for Finals.

FERNDALE, MI, May 16, 2013

Red Bull USA announced that i3 Detroit is a winner in the qualifying round of its Red Bull Creation 2013 contest. I3 Detroit and 5 other teams from around the US, from Maine to Maui, have been selected as Finalists from almost 50 teams nationwide. The i3 Detroit team will be flown to New York City for the final round, a 72-hour marathon creative build on June 13-16.

Red Bull Creation 2013 is the 3rd Annual event which challenges teams of top inventors to design and make something useful, imaginative and inspiring in 72 hours, for a purse of $10,000.

i3 Detroit is a collaborative environment for people to explore the balance between technology, art and culture. We feel the best way to create this environment is to bring together like-minded people who share a common passion for technology, art and culture.

Known as “hackerspaces” sites like i3 Detroit are springing up all over the US, Europe, Asia and Africa. The specific activities that take place at hackerspaces vary between organizations. In general, hackerspaces function as centers for peer learning and pooling of knowledge, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. They typically provide space for members to work on their individual projects, or to collaborate on group projects with other members. Hackerspaces may also operate computer tool lending libraries, or physical tool lending libraries.

The i3 Detroit hackerspace is one of the oldest and most successful in the US, with over 100 dues paying members and an over 8,000 sq ft facility in Ferndale chocked with tools and fabricating equipment of all types, from giant computerized milling machines cutting blocks of metal into useful components, to laser cutters that can cut plastic and wood with surgical accuracy. This collection of tools and knowledge enable their members to make projects like those entered into the Red Bull Creation 2013 contest.

i3 Detroit is an 501(c3) charitable organization. For more information see www.i3detroit.com


10 October

The 5 Reasons Why People Invest

A month ago something rare and refreshing happened in Detroit.

David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect”, imported a vibrant assortment of tech titans into the Motor City for Techonomy. Jack Dorsey, Steve Case, and Tim Draper spoke to a packed audience of entrepreneurs, innovators, and business leaders all seeking to learn more about how technology is impacting the way business is being done today.

In between sessions, I interacted with certified badasses like Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop, and Danae Ringelmann, founder of Indiegogo. Both shared their thoughts on the changes surrounding Venture Capital, The JOBS Act, and the advent of crowd-funding.

A fascinating take-away from my conversation with Ringelmann was learning about motives for why someone participates in a crowd-funding project. It’s much deeper than what you see at face value, and provides greater insight into why people put money or resources into any endeavor. Whether individuals are investing in startups, or investing in a crowd-funding project that sparks their interest, the core reasons why people invest remain relatively constant.

Ringelmann classified these as the 5 P’s:

– For Passion; to create something with true desire.

– For Participation; to be a part of something bigger than oneself.

– For Perks; to receive something of value.

– For Pride; to gain recognition.

– For Profit; to make money.

Sadly, unless Sigmund Freud is your co-founder, psychoanalyzing investors just isn’t feasible (and is generally ill-advised regardless). Fear not, for there is a silver lining. With sites like AngelList, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo on the rise, transparency is just around the corner.

Raising money is never easy but today, thanks to crowd-funding, knowing your audience has never been easier.

5 September

A Modest Proposal to Let People Park in Downtown Detroit

Let me start by saying that I live in Downtown Detroit by choice. I happen to like it. So when I occasionally complain to friends that some element of the whole Downtown situation is not quite up to snuff, I am sometimes rebuffed with the observation that I have made my own bed. That’s not really fair. Wherever you go there are ups and downs. Downtown Detroit certainly has a lot of strong points. But parking one’s car happens not to be one of them.

 I frequently come out of my apartment building on Broadway Street near the Detroit Opera House to find a small crowd gathered at a point close to the middle of the block. If I hadn’t seen this so many times I might think “oh, perhaps a street performer!” or “has someone just lost an earring?” But sadly, I already know that it is neither of these things. For you see, the people in this crowd, whether young or old or fat or thin have but one objective in mind; to pay for parking. And it is a goal that tragically, none of them shall reach.

 You see, there is a single meter on the block and it accepts credit cards and coins. However, it rarely works. Though it malfunctions the screen and menu remain on as a sort of false hope (I suppose it is the card-reader that breaks) and so the unlucky people congregate around it, scratching their heads and one by one inserting their credit cards at various angles and speeds in a vain attempt at appeasement. I have tangled with the thing myself on occasion, mostly out of a sort of sympathetic neighborliness upon seeing a distressed fellow citizen than out of any real hope of success. Usually the next thing that happens is that the multi-pocket search ritual for appropriate loose change goes into full swing. Women dive into cavernous purses, men go through the dark recesses of their coats’ minor pockets and even the kids idly search the gutter for the glitter of coins. Mutinous looks are exchanged, but there is no one present to overthrow, or even to accept responsibility. Together, the thwarted parkers ratchet up a group feeling of frustration as someone cracks the usual, “Well, whaddaya expect, it is Detroit?”

Perhaps this impressionistic little parable is merely anecdotal, an occurrence that is disturbing because it is rare. Not so. The problem with parking in Detroit in many ways echoes the problems of I-94 and the freeway system of Metro Detroit; most of the time there is too much capacity (more pavement than the cars really need), and during peak hours there is too little. This means that Detroit’s commuters, whether for work, Tiger’s games or just enjoying the Downtown ambiance are nearly always put on the receiving end of unpleasant congestion. Such traffic congestion adds substantial travel time and is severely exacerbated by the dearth of an operable street parking system. Usually congestion is a grin-and-bear it affair, but during ultra-peak times where the city plays host to tens of times its normal population, parking capacity can strain to the breaking point.

This too-much-or-too-little capacity problem is exemplified by the perennial conflict between local businesses and parking lots which charge ten, twenty five and even fifty dollars during special events. High parking prices are generally bad for business (unless your business is parking lots), since it either discourages customers or takes money out of their pockets that could have gone towards purchases. But the parking lot owners claim that the high charges are necessary since during non-peak times Detroit can sometimes seem like a ghost town. In short, pretty much everyone loses because people who live in Detroit during non-peak times are actively discouraged from advantaging themselves of the automobility that most of the city’s urban plan requires.

The elephant in the room here is that the City of Detroit actually doesn’t want you to part on the street. The private parking lots pricing scheme is built on a fear of window-smashing and car-theft that has been well-supported by the long-standing activity of Detroit’s prodigious criminal element. That means that during peak times, such as sports games or special events, the City has an incentive to discourage the less expensive street parking in order to reduce the burden on police responding to car theft and break-ins. This was highlighted by a disturbing episode this past January when the now-retired police Commander Kenny Williams actually banned street parking. During the weekend of January 6-8 the Police Department that the combination of the North American International Auto Show, a Red Wings’ game and a popular rap concert, with over 200,000 expected visitors, would pose too great a strain.

While there is a lot of feel-good sentiment about Detroit these days, episodes like this highlight a profound conflict over plans for the city’s future; Detroit for Detroiters versus Detroit for Commuters. To succeed at its stated goals of energizing urban growth and economic development of the Downtown area, city planners must balance the interests of these two groups where they come to loggerheads. This is especially true given all of the incentive programs designed to entice more people to settle in the city as permanent residents.  It should be obvious that the willful neglect of the street parking system does not signal the sort of administrative ownership that prospective Detroiters want to see. People who come to Detroit only for a short while are always commenting on how awful it is to get a reasonable parking spot. That’s not only true for visitors; it makes planning any sort of get-together with car-borne friends a tremendous headache. It is hard to come by hard data on the meter situation in Detroit, but Josh McManus of Little Things Labs estimates that at any given time around 60% of the city’s parking meters may be out of commission. That means, if you park on the street at any given place, you are more likely than not to get a ticket.

For any city, parking matters. Yes, it’s woefully mundane but, like it or not, finding and leaving a parking spot are often the first and last impressions that many people have of visiting Detroit. If a visit to the Downtown area ends in an undeserved parking ticket, well, that just leaves a bad taste. The ticket recipient may be less likely to come to Downtown again, and they are certainly less likely to consider residing in Detroit. Bill Johnson, award-winning journalist and media relations consultant, notes that people react to parking frustrations in Detroit with visceral negativity. It is not merely that meters are broken, he argues, but that they are also chronically over-enforced. The incentive system rewards parking officers for issuing tickets and presumes the guilt of the recipient who must then jump through inconvenient bureaucratic hoops to protest their innocence. In cases where the meter is broken, ambiguity over the legality of parking means that the parking officers often win out, while visitors and Detroiters lose.

Thankfully, there is a simple solution. It is not hypothetical or particularly experimental, but it is innovative and it is exactly what Detroit needs. It is called Parkmobile, and it is an app that lets you pay for parking directly with your smartphone. That way, if a meter is broken (as you can reasonably bet that it will be) the City won’t lose your meter revenue and you won’t get a ticket. As Free Press’s Mark Phelan notes, the system painlessly alleviates the angst of illegal parking and saves you from going back to refill a meter. I first test-drove the Parkmobile system when I was in Washington, D.C. visiting family and can attest that it worked like a charm. For a city like D.C. where street parking spots are worth their surface area in gold and one often parks several blocks from a destination, the ability to re-up for another hour remotely was particularly appealing. The system has been implemented in Ferndale and Dearborn, with both municipalities seeing an increase in meter revenues. Detroit should get with the program. This is a no-brainer win-win.

28 August

Can Technology Redefine Detroit?

Detroit Hosts National Tech Conference Featuring Dan Gilbert, Steve Case, Jack Dorsey.

Credit: Jon Deboer/mymodernmet

What words come to mind when you think of Detroit? Some time ago, we asked this question of our GrowDetroit readership. Some answers reflected total hopelessness, while others conveyed promise and opportunity.

We are inundated with tales of a Detroit turnaround in the National media as of late: debates around whether Detroit can be saved, whether it should be left to die, or even if it’s already on the verge of a comeback have all become common speaking topics. Regardless of your stance on this issue, one thing is clear: The city that 100 years ago epitomized innovation and progress has become the first Western “post industrial city“.

So what is to become of Detroit in the 21st century? On September 12th, an organization called Techonomy will seek to address how a community so deeply entrenched in manufacturing can evolve and grow in an era of rapid change and progress.

“We’re heavily focused on the issues that typical American cities are facing, especially those rooted in a manufacturing background,” says David Kirkpatrick, Techonomy’s Founder and New York Times bestselling author of The Facebook Effect. “The main topics of the event center around US competitiveness, jobs, economic growth and urban revival. And with this, Detroit is a perfect place because it symbolizes the failures of the American economy so starkly. Not that there isn’t hope though, we believe there’s great hope…”

And Kirkpatrick couldn’t have found a better representative for Detroit’s hope than Billionaire mortgage magnate turned tech investor Dan Gilbert, who recently signed on as a keynote speaker at the conference. At the event, Gilbert will share some of the ways that he and his team at Detroit Venture Partners are working to reshape and redefine Detroit. Kirkpatrick himself recognizes a number of undervalued assets the city of Detroit possesses. “The fact that Detroit has a world-class airport, low cost of living and affordable real estate…are all very undervalued assets. I think that’s what Gilbert has been trading on.”

Gilbert’s efforts have indeed been picking up steam as of late — relocating 4,000 Quicken Loans employees downtown and acquiring enough skyscrapers to become one of the largest landowners in Detroit. Through Detroit Venture Partners, startups like Detroit Labs have flourished and produce highly successful mobile applications for the likes of Chevrolet.

If Detroit is on the brink of a revival, it’s technology that is proving to be the leading driver of job creation and economic growth. This is the core of an overarching theme that weaves through Techonomy: Entrepreneurship must serve as the main catalyst of 21st century Detroit’s revival. One of the leading drivers of entrepreneurial activity in the region has been Startup Michigan — the regional implementation of the Startup America Partnership.

It’s appropriate, then, that Steve Case will open the Techonomy conference. Best known as co-founder and former CEO of America Online (AOL), Case has gone on mastermind and serve as the Founding Chairman of The Startup America Partnership — a White House initiative created to accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship across the country. His firm belief resides in that entrepreneurship is not only a core American value, but critical to the country’s long term success and will provide cities like Detroit to harken back to it’s roots as a hotbed of innovation.

“As the Silicon Valley of the early 20th Century, pioneers like Henry Ford put our city on the map by imagining a better tomorrow and then making it happen through entrepreneurial fire.  And with this passion, our city prospered.”

Today, Detroit has the potential to serve as the blueprint for middle America’s economic revival. Midwestern work ethic has a strange habit of breeding success, and nobody hustles harder than Detroit. After all, many of today’s most significant innovators have roots in Michigan.

As one of the foremost innovators of the 21st Century, Jack Dorsey will help close out Techonomy, focusing on how technology and entrepreneurship can transform cities. Dorsey’s passion for urban landscapes is well established as the impetus behind his creation of Twitter, showing us that a kid from from St. Louis, Missouri (or anywhere else) can forever change the way we see the world.

For those in Detroit, there has never been a better time to take action. Those on the outside are taking notice.

“For people that have the desire to learn, anyone who has access to the Internet can do so,” says Kirkpatrick. “They seem to appreciate it more in places like Indonesia and Uruguay. People in the US as a whole don’t seem to really understand that you can improve your lot through technology. Look at what Google is doing with connectivity in Kansas city. Imagine if this idea of making broadband free for an urban community was implemented in depressed areas of Detroit.”

The core theme that weaves through Techonomy is that the Detroit of the 21st Century will be defined by a new generation of innovators: world class talent who reject the east + west coasts to manifest their entrepreneurial dreams in the Motor City.