My love affair with Detroit started 25 years ago watching Barry Sanders and the Lions when I first moved to the US from Germany. It was actually one of the first games I ever watched. About 12 years ago I once again fell in love with Detroit and Cadillacs when I bought my 64 Coupe DeVille. I called him DogDog, like an old friend. My favorite pieces of clothing are a Cadillac t-shirt that I have had for 14 years and a Lions t-shirt that is 22 years old. (I still wear them.) Throughout all these years, I have been linked to Detroit, and have always wondered what it was like.
Of course, in the past couple of years, Detroit has faced many issues if you go by what has been seen in the news, you would wonder why anyone would want to live there. The city filed chapter 9 bankruptcy (debt at an estimated $18-20 billion), large parts of the city are desolate, crime is high, public transportation has been referred to as “decrepit”, schools need a lot of help, and you can’t get a mortgage for many houses even though some go for as little as $10,000 (which sounds weird but when the average net worth of a citizen of Detroit is $250, it’s not as simple as it sounds.)
The people of Detroit built this country. Ford Motor Company was established there, and the assembly line revolutionized the auto industry. They were the first city to pave a concrete road, assign individual phone numbers, and broadcast news radio. They’re the home of numerous sports legends, motown, and of course, automobiles.
Yet the city has had quite a lot of trouble recently. Why? I guess the answer comes from a number of reasons: corruption, mismanagement of money, a shift from an industrial to information economy, the Great Recession , and so on.
Over the past six months I have done over 300 hours of research on Detroit and I admit that the negative stories and statistics far outweigh the positive. However, something drew me to Detroit, and last February, while listening to Steve Case at Startup Grind, the concept for the Innovate Detroit Challenge came to me. I realized it was the perfect way that my company, IdeaMarket could get involved with other entrepreneurs, ones who really wanted to make a difference. We were already hosting ideas from investors and letting entrepreneurs come up with solutions on our platform. Why not make it city and cause based?
We started talking about the challenge as a company right before SXSW, and we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. At least, I didn’t. We just went for it. I had gotten it into my head that we would crowdsource ways to innovate Detroit and bring it back to its glory days - the backbone of the US. We decided to host an Idea House in Austin where people came and put ideas on the wall on talked about how they would innovate Detroit. And people actually came. Almost a thousand submissions later, we had an office full of ideas: homelessness, training the workforce, crime, transportation, education, healthcare, blight, reclaiming wood, micro finance, manufacturing, and dozens of other verticals that sounded like there was room for innovation.
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