TechTown spent 2012 with a keen eye toward building upon past successes, learning from experiences and thoughtfully integrating our work into the entrepreneurial landscape to address market gaps. We expanded our role as thought leaders in the innovation marketplace, evaluating national and international best practices to further refine programmatic offerings and exit work when we were duplicating other regional efforts. We committed to delivering dynamic, impacting programming, workshops and events, as well as professionalizing enterprise processes from the top to the bottom in order to position TechTown for its best year yet.
Partner with purpose
In 2012, TechTown was laser-focused on the cultivation of critical partnerships and pipelines, which expand the potential economic impacts of regional entrepreneurial programs that support emerging high-tech and place-based businesses in Southeast Michigan.
We worked in partnership with Wayne State University and NextEnergy to develop a Lighting and Microgrid Technologies Proof of Concept Centerat TechTown; the MotorCity Innovation Exchange partners Ford Global Technologies, AutoHarvest and TechShop to identify game-changing commercialization projects; and InvestDetroit and Bizdom to create a Detroit Technology Exchange platform to support Detroit tech businesses from a portfolio perspective. We also became a member of the growing Southeast Michigan photonics and advanced manufacturing cluster.
Place-based programming to support economic development strategies at the neighborhood level has been refined and improved through our work with organizations such as the Brightmoor Alliance. While partnerships with D:hive and Hatch Detroit are helping us to more effectively serve our city’s retail enterprises.
We also welcomed three extraordinary entrepreneurs from the Maghreb region of North Africa to Detroit for three-month incubation exchange. The pilot program, called Partners for a New Beginning’s North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (PNB-NAPEO), was executed in partnership with the U.S. Department of State.
As a founding member of the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan (BANSEM), a region-wide collaborative effort dedicated to attracting and retaining businesses in Southeast Michigan, TechTown worked closely with Automation Alley, Ann Arbor SPARK and Macomb-OU INCubator, to share best practices, leverage funding to grow local businesses, support business plan development and host events focused on regional issues.
One of BANSEM’s most successful projects is the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The business plan competition is the world’s largest, fueling innovation-based business growth by uncovering the best and brightest new business concepts from local and global entrepreneurs, exposing those opportunities to potential investment capital and fostering their growth within Michigan.
TechTown also pressed to ensure that our work was understood and supported at the international, national, state and local levels during 2012. We hosted White House Economic Council Advisor Gene Sperling for a roundtable with a diverse group of entrepreneurs, and partnered with the White House to host an economic forum focused on urban small businesses and their common challenges. Lorraine Hariton, special representative for commercial and business affairs for the State Department, also visited us for a roundtable discussion in honor of Global Economic Statecraft Day.
Thought leadership and best practice evaluation
Throughout the year, TechTown hosted, sponsored and participated in national and international panel discussions designed to communicate, discuss and debate best practice standards in economic and community development, incubation and acceleration, and the development of productive and novel innovation ecosystems.
Highlights include presentations at the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer, Entrepreneur-YOU Conference, Living Cities and the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.
In early June, TechTown also was invited to participate in the working group on business entrepreneurship at the Clinton Global Initiative America Conference in Chicago. While there, we were able to interact with national thought leaders on developing solutions to economic development challenges affecting cities nationwide.
Flexible, focused programs
In 2012, TechTown graduated a significant portfolio of clients with blended business expertise in both the technology and microenterprise verticals. Additionally, a unique cohort of food entrepreneurs went through a practical, hands-on business development program designed to hone the skills needed to launch a successful food business in the city of Detroit.
We also launched our SWOT City business stabilization and development program in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. Through a close partnership with the Brightmoor Alliance and a grant from the Marjorie S. Fisher Endowment Fund of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, we’re able to serve Brightmoor businesses through “Tune Up” sessions, one-on-one coaching and full SWOT analyses (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).
Fully supportive of diversity in entrepreneurship, TechTown hosted a variety of events, which support the unique needs of our portfolio constituents, including baby boomers, women, African Americans and immigrants.
As part of our ongoing plans to expand programming to support emerging high-tech companies, TechTown continues to focus on developing, funding and delivering critical technology-based economic development programs. In 2012, among other tech-partners, the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX), an organization representing Boston’s digital marketing, media and Internet technology community, selected TechTown to host the first MITX Up Detroit, an event that paired four of our startups with veteran Detroit marketers for a free two-hour mentoring session.
Proof is in the pudding
TechTown’s Thrive business incubation and acceleration program celebrated many milestone successes in 2012. A few of them are highlighted below:
- Rippld, an online professional network for creatives, closed on a $50,000 Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund microloan. The IT-based startup worked with both TechTown and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center to expand its online platform for creatives to network, post their work, and collaborate to secure talent and job opportunities.
- Life sciences company MitoStem, the first resident of TechTown’s novel Great Lakes Stem Cell Innovation Center, secured the top prize at the Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest, a $100,000 SmartZone Award. Additionally, Automation Alley named Dr. Jim Eliason of MitoStem as a finalist for its Entrepreneur of the Year award.
TechTown also hosted a Biotech Demo Day for four biotech startups seeking funding, partnerships and resources:
- Dr. Soaud Rouis, founder of BIOtechHealth, and PNB-NAPEO TechTown Incubation Prize winner
- Andrea Dickson of ENT Biotech Solutions
- Dr. Martin Bluth of Genome Dynamics International
- Dr. Jim Eliason of MitoStem
TechTown clients continue to make an impressive showing at Accelerate Michigan. This year, five were selected to compete as semifinalists: ENRG Power Systems, ENT Biotech Solutions, NextCAT, Blue Water Bioproducts and Protean Payments. Protean, an Ann Arbor-based startup led by three 20-somethings, won the $25,000 product and service sector award for Echo, a reprogrammable card that can turn into any payment, loyalty or gift card of the user’s choosing with a touch of a button. Echo syncs wirelessly with Protean’s mobile wallet app, enabling users to securely and conveniently store and access an unlimited number of cards (say goodbye to your overstuffed wallet).
Prepare for magic in 2013
I’m so proud of the work our team has accomplished to differentiate, right size and professionalize this extraordinary organization. Of course, I can’t thank our stakeholders and partners enough for their support.
We have developed and will launch and/or expand in 2013, a set of distinct, inter-related and impactful programs developed to address key elements of our mission.
Labs at TechTown: Highly competitive venture and student accelerators, as well as an executive-in-residence program for technology-based businesses
Blocks at TechTown: Boot camps for retail and wholesale enterprises in the city of Detroit
SWOT City: Business stabilization and development program within the neighborhoods of Detroit. Executed in partnership with local community and economic development organizations.
Next month, we’ll launch a new logo and website, both developed by the brilliant creative team at Skidmore Studio in Detroit. And, lastly, we’ll officially break ground on our first floor, a space designed to create a more open, collaborative environment for our entrepreneurs, along with a best-in-class conference center to serve the expanding need for sophisticated and flexible meeting space.
The TechTown team has been blessed with the opportunity to do amazing work in an extraordinary city. We have learned, adjusted, grown, contracted and expanded as needed to target our efforts. Through it all, we’ve remained committed to being an indispensible participant of an entrepreneurial ecosystem working tirelessly to catapult Detroit into a vibrant future filled with opportunity and promise.