Business, Change Agents, City Transformation, Creativity, Events, Technology

‘Fifty Founders’ events promise to bring the best and brightest high-tech minds to Detroit


Delane Parnell had an idea: Bring tech-savvy entrepreneurs to Detroit, host them in a “fireside chat” format and let the conversation and connections flow from there.

ParnellSo what would any 20-year-old guy do next? Find a name. Find a venue. Find some sponsors. Take his idea from conception to reality. Because Parnell, like any native Detroiter, knows that if you don’t do it yourself, it will never get done.

As you can tell, this is no normal guy. And Fifty Founders has the potential to be a must-attend event in Detroit. And that’s saying something considering how many see-and-be-seen events this city has nowadays.

Fifty Founders will hold its inaugural event from 6-9 p.m. July 26 at Bamboo Detroit, a members-only co-working space on Brush Street. Its first speaker is Brian Wong, co-founder and CEO of Kiip, a mobile-rewards network. Impressive, sure. But add on that Wong and friends started it about three years ago and has raised more than $15.4 million in funding over that time. Now that’s a topic Detroit needs to learn more about. (And did I mention that Wong is 22?)

Parnell aims to make Fifty Founders a monthly get-together. This first one has awesome sponsors: Core Detroit (presenting the event), Bamboo Detroit, Detroit Venture Partners and Bizdom (you didn’t think Dan Gilbert could escape being mentioned, did you?).

And because he has seen what happens when you try to run an event on a small budget, there is a fee to get into the meeting. Plus, when you pay for something, you tend to pay a little more attention. And there is little advertising for Fifty Founders by design; he’d like to ensure those who attend want to be there…rather than just stumbling onto it through a random Facebook entry.

coredetroit-1.pngMainly, Detroit needed a Fifty Founders kind of thing because it serves to give this city something is needs, Parnell said. We are at a disadvantage here in the Midwest, and it’s known as geography. We’re unattractively far away from California, specifically Silicon Valley. So we tend to be overlooked to some degree when people are thinking about starting a business or coming to speak to an audience.

Thankfully, Parnell has been working with guys like Hajj Flemings and Josh Linkner, so he knows a few things about branding and high-tech startups. As a result of these relationships, Fifty Founders will be able to get some of the “Big Names” in venture capital, app development and the like. (I would try to name some of them for you, but the extent of my knowledge is just the two guys who created Mindcraft or Angry Birds.)

But there is a democracy to Fifty Founders. “The whole idea is to create a self-sustaining monthly event; the community will pick who they want to hear from and we’ll go out and try to get that person,” Parnell said. “Every event won’t be someone from Silicon Valley or New York. We’ll have some great local people as well. There are a lot of great, successful people here.”

Parnell originally based Fifty Founders on Founders Stories, a popular TechCrunch feature by Chris Dixon. But instead of just doing an interview online or on paper, this one will happen live. And although the format will be like a fireside chat – giving the main speaker the majority of the floor time – there also will be an open discussion period as well as a question-and-answer session.

Plus, there will be beer and pizza. And everyone knows that if you want a receptive and attentive audience, just offer them food.

bambooEventually, Parnell sees this initial offering growing. There will be Brand Camp in October to contend with (he is one of the partners there with Flemings). But there also could be dozens of other events in a similar vein – weekenders, summer camps, etc. This pipeline of activities is the spark; Detroit is the powder.

As things always seem in Detroit, you have to go beyond the headlines. You need to hear it straight from the original source. You need to challenge their ideas with your own. You need to find out what their successes were and how they created them. You need to get an education via osmosis, by sitting in the same room together, by sharing a slice of pizza.

We need a central hub to meet offline. There needs to be room to network – better yet, to really talk like real people. That is what Parnell wants Fifty Founders to provide.

“It won’t be just a business-card exchange. You’ll get actual knowledge,” Parnell promises.

Oh, the name? He just liked the sound of it at first. Then, he liked the idea of having at least 50 speakers, because that would give the event longer legs. Then, when he decided he didn’t like the name and would change it, it just sort of stuck. So there you are. (And here you could be — register for the event through this link.)

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