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Leadership

Five questions with the leadership team of TechTown Detroit….

 

Leslie Lynn Smith, president & CEO

What brought you to TechTown and what is your favorite part of working here? 

Detroit is home. Detroit is awesome. Detroit sucks. Detroit can lead other American cities to a new, powerful and shared reality. By having hard discussions, facing the truth and eliminating the structures and mindsets that divide us, we can create one Detroit where there is economic and social justice for all of her residents and a future rich with potential. Being a part of that is what gets me out of bed each day.

What’s your favorite restaurant in Detroit? Why?

Eastern Market food trucks during Tuesday market day.

If you could start a business what would it be? 

A manufacturing company. We need to make more stuff here. Innovation is directly tied to making, so are middle-class jobs. Americans with middle-class jobs consume products and services in America, thus creating more middle-class jobs. It’s simple really, we just stopped paying attention to it and let a lot of those jobs go.

Describe yourself in 10 words or less. 

Doing what I can to be the best version of me.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs? 

Take the first step.

 

Derrin Leppek, managing director, place-based entrepreneurship

What brought you to TechTown and what is your favorite part of working here? 

I was part of the Big 3 downsizing in 2008. A local VC told me about TechTown, so I did some research and found it to be the perfect place for me to exercise my creative side, which had atrophied after nearly 14 years on the assembly line. I started by volunteering in 2009 then infected the place like a virus.

What’s your favorite restaurant in Detroit? Why?

I can’t answer that. I’ve helped many of the city’s restaurants launch, stabilize or grow, so it would be akin to asking me which of my two children is my favorite. Although, I have developed quite the affinity for soul food…

If you could start a business what would it be? 

My partner and I currently operate an e-commerce website that sells motocross-related parts and accessories. If I had to start a new business, it would be related to coral reef exploration or palm tree farming – only because you can’t do either of those in cold climates.

Describe yourself in 10 words or less. 

Father.  Husband.  Risk taker.  Easy going.  Motocrosser.  World-class napper.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Dream big.  Execute intelligently.  Apply heavy doses of passion and commitment.  Stay up late.  Get up early.  Repeat.

Oh, and understand the workings of the financial engine that powers your business.  From cost of goods sold to net profits – know what’s going on under the hood.  This is by far the biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make and it also is the number one cause of business failure in the U.S.  Nothing will handicap your business faster or more completely.

 

Michael O’Rourke, managing director, real estate programming & operations

What brought you to TechTown and what is your favorite part of working here? 

I was referred by a friend who thought it might be a good next step in my career. I like working with all sorts of different people.

What’s your favorite restaurant in Detroit? Why?

Slows BBQ. They have the best brisket outside of Texas.

If you could start a business what would it be? 

A brew pub. I’ve always wanted to be a brewmaster, or at least a taster.

Describe yourself in 10 words or less. 

Down-to-earth. Unfancy.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Starting a business costs money. Make sure you have enough for the first year or two.

 

Paul Riser, Jr., managing director, technology-based entrepreneurship

What brought you to TechTown and what is your favorite part of working here? 

I would have to say an intersection of preparation and serendipity brought me to TechTown Detroit. My favorite part of being at TechTown is the unique opportunity to help write a remarkable chapter in Detroit’s history — one entrepreneur, one business and one neighborhood at a time.

What’s your favorite restaurant in Detroit? Why?

Baker’s Keyboard Lounge at Livernois & 8 Mile. The variety of quality selections, the unique atmosphere and rich local and national history is enough to identify this as my favorite, but I also have a different affinity to the restaurant. I’m the product of a family that is enriched with world-renown musicians that have arranged, produced and played with the most profound musical talents in the world. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, being just blocks away from where I was raised, was a place that musicians in my family frequented and thereby developed their talents, while enjoying superb meals that can best be described as “soulful.”

If you could start a business what would it be? 

I actually did start my own business over 10 years ago with a focus on the delivery of information technology professional services, such as managed infrastructure and support and IT project management, as well as enterprise systems architecture design and implementation. In another vein, since my early 20s, I have always had the desire to create and operate a successful international commodity trading business that would also teach metro-Detroit entrepreneurs about the opportunities within import / export markets and international trade.

Describe yourself in 10 words or less. 

Husband, father, philanthropist, visionary, knowledge-seeker, optimist, focused, appreciative, techie, connector.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

With relentless and unapologetic passion, identify, own and pursue your destiny in life. Be better than you were yesterday, seek and embrace wisdom from mentors that earn your trust and always deeply appreciate the opportunity to be entrepreneurially great. Work hard, play hard (in that order), think globally and allow your faith to help you sustain an incomparable level of fortitude.

 

Michelle Welsh, managing director, marketing & communications

What brought you to TechTown and what is your favorite part of working here? 

I wasn’t even looking for a new job — I just came across the opportunity randomly, and I’m happy I did. We’re a small but fierce team and we push for the best. It can get crazy at times, but at the end of the day, our work makes dreams come true. Not everyone is lucky enough to say that. 

What’s your favorite restaurant in Detroit? Why?

Xochimilco in Southwest Detroit. Chips, chips and more chips!

If you could start a business what would it be? 

A beach bar — I could oversee the business while working on my tan and sipping margaritas.

Describe yourself in 10 words or less. 

Kind. Silly. Bossy. Perfectionist. Worrier. Mommy.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Think about marketing and branding early. I always recommend that our entrepreneurs reach out to schools with respected marketing and design programs to find a senior (or even a recent grad) looking for some freelance work. It’s a win-win. You’ll get polished materials for a fraction of the cost, and the student will have a strong project to showcase in his or her portfolio.