Detroit – not exactly the first city that comes to mind when you think of innovation.
TechTown Detroit aims to change that. Operating from a renovated industrial building that used to be home to Chevrolet Creative Services (where the Corvette was designed), TechTown offers business acceleration services and a collaborative workspace for new entrepreneurs.
“When I originally came back to Detroit, I was looking for a place that would be well-suited to run our business,” said one entrepreneur who has been in the space for almost four months. “TechTown has been the best resource I could ask for.”
“But TechTown does more than just run a collaborative workspace. TechTown wants to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.”
The opportunity to interact with investors, other entrepreneurs, and community leaders is what sets TechTown apart.
“The real value is building a community and having people be able to support each other more organically,” said Isaac Gilman, a project manager for TechTown. “We have a diverse community – everything from a 3-D printing company to social media companies to an attorney.”
Part of this is thanks to Junction 440, a business that runs the coworking space of the TechTown building. For a monthly membership fee, entrepreneurs can have 24/7 access to a dedicated desk, office, and conference rooms. This allows new business owners to have benefits like mail service and meeting rooms that would not be possible otherwise.
But TechTown does more than just run a collaborative workspace. TechTown wants to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. They hold monthly networking events to encourage connections among business leaders in Detroit.
TechTown also wants to provide mentors that can “assess businesses, develop strategies, and offer advice, lessons learned and industry best practices to help each of our entrepreneurs succeed in the marketplace.”
Gerald Roston, an executive in residence, has been at TechTown since it first opened in 2004. He has seen many different people and businesses pass through the space, but he always tries to get to know them and give advice from his years of experience building several tech-focused startups.
“I think that’s one of the differentiators,” said Roston. “TechTown is more focused on the community.”
TechTown is trying to branch out into Detroit as well. “There is a lot of economic development that happens in the core of the city. So we decided to take our business acceleration to the neighborhoods and help them,” said Marielle Temkin, TechTown’s marketing and communications coordinator.
TechTown’s SWOT City program engages Detroit neighborhoods and aims to help them with economic development, health and safety, and civic engagement. So far, TechTown is involved in six neighborhoods – and hopes to expand as time goes on.
The goal? To create “a liveable and walkable community with the support infrastructure necessary for businesses and residents to thrive in the place they call home.”
TechTown Detroit may be just what the Motor City needs to jumpstart its economy and regain its glory.
Daniel Huizinga is a columnist for Opportunity Lives covering business and politics. Follow him on Twitter @HuizingaDaniel.