When I hear Detroit boasted as the new “Silicon Valley of the Midwest”, it’s easy to imagine an alternate reality, where Detroit’s neighborhoods bustled with silicon chip innovators and manufacturers. Where companies like Hewlett-Packard originated on Wayne State’s campus. And a giant apple logo rested on the top of the Renaissance Center. But, it is not in Detroit’s identity to be a “Silicon Valley” of anything. Though Microsoft moved from the suburbs to Campus Martius downtown, and tech-startups revitalized parts of the city, I must stress the difference between Detroit’s culture and people and that of Silicon Valley. For example, 79% of Detroit is black while 2% of Santa Clara County is. Startup incubators aren’t immune to this difference. At TechTown Labs, Black and Latino/a founders make up 31% of clients, while at Combinator Y in Silicon Valley, this value is at 7.7%. Other staggering statistics show that 14.2% of Detroiters own a bachelor’s degree or higher, while this number is at 65.7% in Mountain View, California. Making Detroit a tech hub means more than just recruiting tech startups and big tech companies into downtown and midtown, it is about bringing individual neighborhoods into the tech sphere.
The numbers only provide a glimpse of Detroit’s people and culture – the experience and stories of Detroiters provide wider view. Though downtown and midtown have made great strides, many neighborhoods in Detroit still suffer from crime and poverty. When I talked with two DTX students from an under-served neighborhood, they stressed to me though they were excited about the technology, it is especially difficult to recruit entrepreneurs from where they're from. For TechTown or any tech incubator to be successful in growing Detroit, they must not be afraid to recruit in unfamiliar spaces. Furthermore, they described the importance of role-models in inspiring and spurring entrepreneurship and tech in African American youth.
Perhaps Detroit’s tech revitalization will achieve the diversity Silicon Valley could not achieve. Perhaps it will reach out and build a tech world with its communities, rather than pockets of wealthy neighborhoods and pockets of under-served ones. Perhaps Detroit’s entrepreneurship will deviate from the gender-based discrimination the tech sector suffers from. Per The Guardian, 60% of women working in Silicon Valley face unwanted sexual advances. While difficult, it is not impossible for Detroit to overcome these challenges. And at TechTown, I want to help as much as I can to support a diversifying and gleaming entrepreneurial sphere in Detroit. Compared to flawed Mountain View or Silicon Valley, truly there ain’t no mountain high enough and ain’t no valley low enough to keep Detroit from getting to the bright futures ahead.