Why this billionaire believes millennials will be drawn to Detroit’s entrepreneur scene

By January 12, 2018

Detroit has a rich history of innovation, creativity, and hard work. Its citizens are no stranger to these inspiring characteristics, and thanks to the work of billionaire Dan Gilbert, the city may soon see an influx of fresh talent.

Gilbert, the Founder of Quicken Loans, a mortgage lending company headquartered in Detroit, sees Michigan’s largest city as a promising location for up-and-coming talent.

“Everything is about innovation, creativity, newness, trying to keep the culture non-bureaucratic,” Gilbert, said in a phone interview, reports the Chicago Tribune. “To me, that’s how you compete in the world today.”

The veteran entrepreneur believes that creative millennials who apparently “love that Detroit thing,” are likely to be drawn to the city which has a unique underdog mentality and a dirt-cheap cost of living compared with Silicon Valley’s absurd prices.

Gilbert is estimated to be worth $8.5 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and has made large investments in Detroit and Cleveland, where he owns real estate, casinos and the Cavaliers basketball team.

Talent aside, the formidable city has attracted the attention of many startups and VC’s across the country, that are drawn to the city’s flourishing startup scene.

Last year, 54 Michigan startups received more than $222 million from Michigan venture capital firms, a 42 percent increase from the previous five years, according to The Michigan Venture Capital Association’s Annual Research Report 2017.

Those companies had $4 billion total capital under management, with 141 active venture-backed startups, which is an increase of 48 percent since 2011. During this time, the number of VC investment professionals living and working in Michigan increased to 93, up 41 percent over the last five years.

Jordan Birnholtz

One person that understands the potential this rising city contains is Jordan Birnholtz, the Co-Founder and COO of Detroit-based startup PawnGuru,  an online marketplace helping to make pawn shops the local, convenient and reliable alternative to Craigslist and eBay.

“Metro Detroit – the city, the suburbs, Ann Arbor, all of the surroundings – is a great place to build a startup. There’s an abundance of technical and sales talent coming out of the University of Michigan and Wayne State, where we’ve pulled a lot of our team from,” states Birnholtz.

“There’s money from folks like Invest Detroit, who took a chance on PawnGuru early on. There’s growth advice and guidance from companies like Marketing Supply, which has been critical for us. Most importantly, there’s a sense of camaraderie among entrepreneurs. I feel like I can call on a dozen different other people in the startup community for help. Some of them are 19, and some of them are 55. That spirit of cooperation is rare, and it’s the best part of the Detroit startup community,” he adds.

The city has a promising future ahead of it, and while Silicon Valley might be center of entrepreneurial activity, this could easily shift over the next decade.

“In 10 years, San Francisco will be as good as it is today, but Detroit will be a roaring city once again, defining a new technology hub at the intersection of steel and bits,” states Ted Serbinski, a Detroit based entrepreneur, and early-stage investor.

He adds, “When choosing to move to Detroit, a city that has been in a recent state of rebuild, many do so to roll up their sleeves, get to work and make a difference. Entrepreneurs need these attributes, which makes the city’s vibe appealing to early-stage startups.”

The city has given birth to a large selection of startups. From some which look to disrupt some of the nation’s biggest industries, like the Thiel award-winning Lunar Wireless to other smaller startups, such as Detroit Wallace Guitars, which is producing guitars from old buildings. The city is alive with creativity.