Innovation and Entrepreneurship has always been engrained in the culture and DNA of Detroit. From the creation of novel, soulful Motown music to the conception of the automobile industry, innovation serves as a distinguishing factor and the unique label for Detroit. However, in 2013, the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy, converting this inventive city into one of despair, economic depression, increased unemployment, and dejection. Yet, despite facing this hardship, Detroiters have been motivated to persist and use their innovative DNA to foster initiatives that have the goal of reviving their beloved city. Today, Detroit exists as a flourishing and booming hub for innovative and entrepreneurial startups as they create revenue and job opportunities, slowly reviving the city. Thus, the key source of the change in narrative for Detroit, and the reason Detroit refuses to succumb to depression is innovation—Detroit’s cure.
TechTown and Innovation.
My role as a DukeEngage Detroit participant is to actively listen to the current models of innovative revitalization. One of the manners in which I have been approaching tackling some of Detroit’s current largest issues is by listening and aiding my work partner: TechTown Detroit, with Andy and Xin. Our overarching goal is to aid in this regeneration process by learning about the general principles of innovation and entrepreneurship and applying these to the context of Detroit, by thinking creatively regarding problem solving with TechTown to formulate innovative solutions, by gaining knowledge around the social sector, and by developing community-based solutions. More specifically as an organization, TechTown Detroit is a non-profit technology accelerator and incubator that provides with little means to launch and grow their businesses by providing event space, networking connections, workshops, mentorship programs, and coworking space. More importantly, TechTown serves as a building block for a robust community of mentors, investors, ideators, business and corporate partners. Fostering this community has catalyzed a chain reaction in Detroit’s ecosystem in which emerging businesses become established, creating employment opportunities for thousands of people, causing an influx in capitol and overall opportunity.
My job is to be the person TechTown needs in this moment, to do my best in providing the services they require, and to maintain the mentality that small incremental change leads to lasting, sizable social impact. Specifically, I will be working on three tasks.
Currently there only exists a newsletter that is infrequently sent from TechTown to place-based alumni, providing little communication to these alumni and almost no communication to all other TechTown alumni. Moreover, neither additional events nor networking social groups are available post-program as resources specifically to alumni. This deficiency in alumni programming events may discourage continued involvement with TechTown and future partnerships. This creates a problem that we need to address: our first task. Andy, Xin, and I will examine the needs of past alumni from all TechTown programs, divided by tech startups and local (place-based) businesses through sending two sets of surveys for each respective group. Survey results will be examined to better provide resources for the alumni of TechTown and discover the meaning behind being a TechTown alum. In doing so, we will analyze the type of programming requested and general feedback to formulate programs that facilitate better engagement between TechTown and alumni, as well as among alumni.
TechTown currently lacks a system for effective customer relationship management (CRM), which acts as a medium for interaction among potential and current developers. By implementing a CRM, TechTown can ease the process of pairing software developers with local startups through increasing its efficiency and consistency, with the goal of having these developers potentially become Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) for their startup companies. This creates a second task for us. We will establish a foundation on which a CRM can be developed through interviews with relevant TechTown staff and exploratory research into the criteria that startup companies desire in developer candidates. Potential incentives can be provided to encourage participation within this network. We will also incorporate them into TechTown’s professional service network (PSN) and provide resources to ensure a smooth partnership between the developer and the startup. The matching process will be based on the characteristics that the developers demonstrate, ranging from programming language mastery to software development experience to relevant training in technology.
Our third task relates to the Wayne State University Innovation Studio, a partnership between Wayne State University and TechTown that is serving as a bridge between students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship with TechTown’s resources. The program aims to allow students to transform their business ideas or even side hustles into sustainable, marketable and robust businesses that they can pursue in the future. As students, we offer a unique perspective and are acting as consultants who can give genuine feedback from a student lens. We are recommending events, speakers, topics, and even spaces to catalyze engagement and overall are aiming to inspire students like ourselves to invest their time in innovation.