We delve into what it meant to be a “tech entrepreneur” in Detroit. Sadly, for many tech incubators and accelerators, a tech startup was the IP address that came along with it. So as absurd as it is, startups, of which promoting tech to under-served minorities would not be considered a “tech” company to the incubator, because it doesn’t necessarily have the tech infrastructure. From this clash in definition, Dr. Rencher identified the overarching clash that still inundates Detroit’s entrepreneurship environment – The Old, pre-Dan Gilbert and under-served Detroit vs the New, post-Dan Gilbert, and high-tech Detroit. For example, the DTX program at TechTown is very “New Detroit”, because it is targeted towards Millennial students, who receive financial support from their parents. It is not aimed for those who must deal with childcare or the lack of tech co-founders. Indeed, we observed this finding through the DTX interviews. Many had heard about DTX through their school and all teams had tech infused into their businesses.
Because tech incubators are not necessarily focused on the other demographics, the entrepreneurship diversity gap continues to grow. Dr. Rencher further adds that for those who happen to arrive at TechTown from the Old Detroit, they face another struggle. This struggle is about representation in incubator leadership. These folks look for people like them who have made it in the startup world, and take inspiration and develop courage to pursue their business ideas. Unfortunately, we learned most incubator entrepreneurs and leaders portray the opposite of empathy and inspiration – they are often hyper masculine, overcritical, and cold Simon Cowells times five. And for entrepreneurs in Detroit, who must balance full-time jobs, childcare, and lack of access to the tech sphere, they do not need their vulnerable business plan shut down immediately without a chance. Some solutions people put forth for business plans are simply seen as non-problems for others. For example, It is important to understand that a $50 parking ticket might be a big deal for some. And a business solution to tackle this problem might be easily shut down as a non-problem.
After the interview, I realized entrepreneurship in Detroit is something very complex and requires active engagement to promoting diversity. From Dr. Marlo Rencher’s expertise and experience, I began to think critically about the entrepreneurial sphere and the lack of diversity that needs to be tackled.