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Detroit’s Watch Startup Shinola Featured In Aol’s “This Built America” Inaugural Episode

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Startups are flocking to Detroit for the cheap space, amazing engineering talent and sheer marketability of the area. Nothing says a company supports “Made in America” stronger than a Detroit address.

Shinola is one such company. The company was founded in 2011 and as this amazing video and story produced by Aol Tech Editorial Director Fara Warner shows, started out hand-building watches and quickly branched out to bicycles and leather goods as well.

Of course Aol owns TechCrunch. That’s not why I’m posting this.

I’m from Michigan. Never left. Born, raised and still living in a now-desolate factory town just north of Detroit. I’ve been critical of Shinola in the past and still find their “Made in Detroit” mantra a bit over the top. But the people at Shinola and Bedrock Brands believe in the good people of Detroit and Michigan, and understand how to make a company successful in Detroit. If this area is to recover, it needs more smart startups like Shinola.

After its founding in 2011, Shinola quickly became part of Detroit. Their watches are status symbols among Detroiters, a fact that’s quickly obvious when attending any startup event in the city. The company also recently installed four street clocks in the city — one was nearly immediately graffitied.

Born out of Bedrock Brands, a privately held Texas-based firm owned by Tom Kartsotis, the founder of Fossil Inc., Shinola occupies a 30,000 square-foot space in Detroit’s historic Argonaut building.

“We would hope that we could build an ecosystem at scale that would allow someone or even ourselves to bring back some of these components to the United States,” Heath Carr, CEO of the private equity firm Bedrock,  which owns Shinola, told Aol. “But when you are pursuing a quality product, not just wanting people to buy something made in America, it’s more difficult. The skill set and training left the U.S. a long time ago and it’s a time-consuming project to bring it back.”

This is the first episode in “This Built America,” Aol’s look at the companies and people trying to rebuild America.

The video content is produced by Man Made Content and I spoke with Justin Bain, Executive Producer. He tells me the idea to feature American companies came about 18 months ago he went to Cleveland where he was inspired by the companies located there trying reinvent the area. Aol seemed like a good fit for the project, he said, citing the company’s ability to leverage its brands and distribution network.

Fara Warner tells me that the plan is to feature companies from 50 states over the project’s 50 week span. They’re heading to Arizona and North Carolina next. Aol started with Shinola because, as she said, “Shinola is small enough to be innovative but large enough to have an impact by creating jobs and sourcing from other American companies.”

Warner lived outside of Detroit for more than a decade and felt Detroit was an obvious place to start.

“I love what the city means to so many people and it’s got a creative heart and soul that I think is really unmatched. Despite what it may look like from the outside, it’s a vibrant beautiful city filled with great people,” she said. That also was core to the Shinola story. I needed to feature people from Detroit who have jobs because of Shinola. I found them throughout this company, so it wasn’t simply about the executives and management but the people who work on the watch assembly line and in bike assembly.”

As a lifelong Michigander, I couldn’t agree more.