The city of Detroit has gotten a lot of publicity in recent years about opportunities for companies, particularly those in the tech space. Downtown Detroit has become increasingly attractive for entrepreneurs, business owners and startups. In Part 5 of our Detroit blogging series, we’re exploring reasons why having a business in Detroit just makes sense. This guest blog post was written by Gabe Kwakyi, a coworker at Grand Circus and Co-Founder & CEO of Incipia
When it came time to start our brand new app development and marketing business, the initial thought that my co-founder, Gregory Klein, and I admittedly had was to move to California and join the tech rush. Yet, after we took some time to think more rationally about it, we decided instead to move back to Detroit to start our business. Both my partner and I were born and raised in the metro Detroit area, giving us a slightly biased viewpoint on staying in the area. That being said, there are five key reasons, besides being from the area, as to why we love having our business in Detroit.
5 Reasons We Love Having Our Business in Detroit
Reason #1: Detroit is growing into a new type of city with exciting growth opportunities for local companies.
While the auto industry will always have a special place in this city’s past, present and future, other industries are blossoming throughout Detroit. As Detroit emerges as the latest in the silicon city series: “Silicon Garage,” one of the biggest blossoms is technology. Detroit won’t be the next Silicon Valley. But no city really steals the mantle of another (not even New York), rather mixes in trends found in other cities with a city’s own unique flavors.
You can see technology taking root here in many different ways—from the real estate and technology attracting investments of Dan Gilbert and Rocket Mortgage, to the growth of tech teaching communities like Grand Circus and TechTown, to the rise of startup weekends, tech weeks and meetup events like the Start Up Southeast Michigan’s High Growth Happy Hour, to the arrival of tech stalwarts like Twitter and TechStars. For tech businesses, being in Detroit is like jumping into the elevator at the second floor that is fast-rising and bound for greater heights; from my perspective, the ground floor has already been left behind.
Some examples outside of technology include the ever-prominent arts and culture sphere of Detroit (which is actually point #3), the explosion of the hospitality industry (casinos, restaurants and bars), the reinvention of Detroit’s real estate scene, and also intriguing urban farming initiatives.
In talking about Detroit, I would be remiss not to address the elephant in the room: Detroit’s 2008 financial crash-led, precipitous decline. Yet in the years since the crash, Detroit has made significant strides, and posted progress in areas including:
- The return of Detroit to self-governance from its controversial emergency management, now under new leadership of mayor Mike Duggan.
- The filing of bankruptcy, which, as tough as it has been, has set Detroit up to move past its crushing debt obligations.
- The building of a downtown light rail and other improvements in infrastructure.
- The increased attention and investment in public services, such as education, emergency services and police.
- Declining real estate vacancy rates throughout the city and especially in the downtown areas.
Reason #2: Detroiters sincerely want to help one another out.
From companies like Grand Circus, Rebuild Nation, Detroit Venture Partners and C/D/H, we’ve met so many new folks outside of our existing networks who are eager to help one another out. There are no ulterior motives, no egos, no quid pro quo—just people who take genuine pleasure in helping fellow Detroiters achieve their goals.
Strike up a conversation with people around Detroit, tell them what you’re up to and (so long as you’re good people) you will surely come away with one more person who is in your corner advocating on your behalf. This is a wholesome and vital support system for people starting a new venture, in both a personal and professional sense.
Reason #3: Detroit is a hot spot of culture, history and new energy.
Few cities have a history as illustrious as this city—from the soul of Motown to the industry that put America and the world on wheels—this city holds a sense of culture that will never be lost.
This is important for any business because the people who work at that business must feel some sort of connection and enjoyment for the city they live in, otherwise they won’t be happy—which means they won’t work as hard and they will likely leave before long.
Recently we have been interviewing students from Wayne State University, Oakland University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan for our new internship program. (So far we have hired one sharp intern from the U of M.) Most of them said that a big reason they wanted to work with us was to live and work in Detroit. Being located in a desirable area is a boon for any business looking to attract talent and keep attrition low; Detroit is no longer a gloomy spot on the American map, but a place starting to shine again. There are events, traditions and impromptu gatherings happening all the time across this city, from the Slow Roll, to Detroit Soup, to art shows, to sports events, to live music and a whole host of others. Your employees will enjoy living and working in Detroit, which is good for business.
Reason 4: The city is filled with networking opportunities
Detroit is a mix of big city life with a small town feel. Especially in the tech community, it often feels like everyone knows everyone. This can become a vital part of growing a business in Detroit. In many cities, it can take a lot to get to the “who’s who” at companies. In Detroit, however, many of the leadership teams actively participate in networking events, meetups and business gatherings. It makes them a lot more accessible and introduces business owners to people that can help make their companies a success.
Working in one of Detroit’s many coworking spaces also gives entrepreneurs access to endless networking opportunities. You never know who you’ll meet at the desk next to you. For example, our company is now working with a Grand Circus alumni to build our next project. Because we work in Grand Circus’s coworking space, we’re able to connect with developers just entering the field alongside other business owners growing their startups.
Reason #5: Detroit is far more affordable than other cities that have a growing tech scene
Costs matter to a startup business, especially a bootstrapped business. In Seattle I paid $1,100 per month for an apartment, in New York I paid $1,750, in San Francisco I would probably pay north of $2,000. Detroit’s average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is just under $800, according to RentJungle. That means we can run leaner, grow faster and win more, which is good for business.
This is also true for renting office space. Though rental fees are increasing in Detroit, they are often cheaper than other metropolitan areas. In fact, office space rental in Detroit is listed among the cheapest in the nation, according to BizJournal. This cost savings can be huge in the start of a business.
Starting our business off in Detroit was the right decision for us, and we’re happy we did. If you’re an entrepreneur considering the same, I would highly encourage you to join me and all of the other entrepreneurs starting businesses in Detroit.
This guest blog post was written by Gabe Kwakyi, Co-Founder & CEO of Incipia—a mobile development and marketing firm. Gabe leads marketing and business development at Incipia, and previously worked as a search advertising account manager at Microsoft Bing Ads with over 150 clients, including Airbnb, the NHL and Spotify.
Are you looking for a place to build your business in Detroit? Check out our coworking space. Rental starts at just $200/month.