With a local push for innovation, Detroit is becoming known as a startup hotbed in America. Because of this, Chicago’s famous innovation conference, TechWeek, chose Detroit as one of its expansion cities. This meeting of minds included: tech-related speakers, startups, makers, innovators and entrepreneurs.
On Thursday May 20th we set out to see some magic and get served up some education digital style from some inspiring Detroit-based startups.
On a bright and beautiful morning armed only with our spry sense of intrigue our day began with a tour of several recently renovated business spaces in downtown Detroit. One of our stops was the Quicken Loans office where they showed off their social media command center. Their staff works 24/7/365 and are kept in a high-traffic area of the company for maximum exposure. They pride themselves on having live representatives working together to maintain one cohesive voice for the company.
Once we arrived at the Federal Reserve Building, 160 West Fort Street, we picked up our conference badges, checked out the schedule and explored the raw industrial site chosen for this digitalized social. The expo floor was abundant with vendor displays that invited 1-on-1 conversations between the curious and the knowledgeable.
Vendors showcased everything from paying with Bitcoin to an immersive flying Harry Potter Quiddich experience using Oculus Rift. James Kotzian, a Computer Science student at the University of Michigan created the virtual reality game using a Wii Remote to capture the broom motion.
One vendor, YikeBike, required a liability waiver and for good measure. Their carbon-fiber collapsible electric bikes were pitched to us with the sell of larger “inter-office” travel, but are plenty of fun outdoors as well (I almost crashed only 3 times). They’ve been featured in the likes of Time, PCMag and Wired magazines, and held the 2011 Guinness World Record for “Most Compact Electric Bike.” While exciting they were definitely harder to handle than they appeared.
The conference offered a great mix of speakers; from local to cross-country covering topics from the NFL to fashion. One of our favorites were Steve Hannah and Mike McAvoy from The Onion, who spoke about their switch from a weekly printed newspaper to a completely digital platform. When asked about the challenges with such a shift, one of the hardest problems to solve has been figuring out “What is the digital equivalent of the child on a bike?” Creating the content isn’t as difficult as figuring out smart, interesting ways to deliver it to consumers because there isn’t a “digital paper boy.”
Rachel Schostak, founder of Styleshack and Chris Roebuck, CEO and co-founder of Clicktivated, were among a panel discussing the future of fashion technology. Styleshack connects brick and mortar boutiques to ecommerce by making it easier to discover great local fashion, while Clicktivated is enabling online video to be shoppable.
Overall, we had a great time chatting with fellow tech-minded people and were very inspired by the contagious positive energy surrounding the City of Detroit.
In a city that has dealt with highly publicized economic and social issues it was refreshing to see such unwavering determination to revive the soul of the Motor City through digital innovation.