Detroit used to be the fourth most populous city in the United States. As of 2010, with a population of around 750,000, it ranks 18th. It’s not news that the economy of the city, largely reliant on the automotive industry, has deteriorated significantly.
On our Northern Meetup tour, this was painfully obvious. I didn’t expect the Detroit of the past, but I’d hoped to feel the spirit of Motown, the energy of a city that’s home to sports titans and a major manufacturing center of our country. Instead, I found empty sidewalks and streets and even emptier buildings.
But the startups there, and in neighboring Ann Arbor where the University of Michigan powers the economy, have more talent and determination than most I’ve encountered. And boy, do they have their choice of problems to solve!
Angel Gambino, whose resume can’t fit in an internal clause, sat down with us at the Detroit Meetup at Hockeytown Cafe. She’s worked for major media companies like Viacom, MTV, and BBC, started companies or been a part of startups that have gone on to impressive exits (like Bebo), and is now returning to her hometown of Detroit to reinvest the capital she’s accrued.
In her own words, she’s looking to create a walkable density in the heart of Detroit. But perhaps more importantly, she wants to continue the narrative of the city’s successful past. In fact, she believes this is the remedy for a currently ailing metropolis.
Along with adding specific avenues for funding, mentorship, and retaining local talent, Gambino believes that continuing the legacy of music, automotive, and manufacturing in Motor City is crucial to rebuilding the city’s spirit.
Obviously, her experience with music will help navigate the already cluttered music sector. And where automotive and manufacturing are concerned, she isn’t alone in her effort. Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert is buying up buildings and filling them with workers, along with funding two accelerators.
Plus, Ford, Chrysler and GM are still powerhouses that will invest in automotive-related startups that can make a difference. It’s not like there isn’t a plethora of problems in that industry to choose from.
In terms of manufacturing, the city itself is a golden opportunity. The space is available and cheap and in a town known for its manufacturing prowess.
The renaissance is possible, but someone has to lead before many can follow. John Biggs put it best in his piece: “Go there, live there, and repopulate Hack City.”