Detroit has an open-door policy, and it goes something like this: What you see is what you get.
There is no slick skin, no artifice. Thankfully, some people get us. They understand what it means to operate simply and honestly. It’s how we make the sausage, so to speak. It’s messy and it’s complicated and it’s necessary. And that’s what makes this city work.
So it makes sense that OpenCo would bring its “inside out” business festival to Detroit. On Sept. 11 and 12, a group of small- and medium-sized companies will allow the outside world to come inside, if only for a new minutes. Rather than meet together at a hotel-conference room, the public and the private will meet right there, inside the office spaces where ideas, products and services are born.
It’s a strange idea for a business conference, sure. That is exactly how organizers Brian Monahan and John Battelle want it. They’re the ones finding host companies and the like to let the public find out firsthand how these groups are changing Detroit for the better.
So who is invited? Everyone. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a student, a job seeker or a hanger-on or an admirer of the change happening in the city. You are part of the community that is now and probably will forever be known as Detroit 2.0 (for lack of a better nickname; that one just has some legs). Thus, if you have a question or a concern, chances are it will be answered and then some.
According to Liz Boone, who is helping to create this inaugural Detroit event, all of the companies and hosts selected to participate in OpenCo exhibit the same attitude: They believe in open collaboration, open communication and open communities.
“The name OpenCo embodies the spirit of it,” said Boone, who works with Battelle at Federated Media Publishing. Boone also is the co-owner of Nora, a one-of-a-kind smart retail store inside the Auburn on Cass in Detroit. “These are the best and brightest of Detroit’s emergence. They embody the same values (as OpenCo).”
These companies are the glitterati of Detroit: Shinola. Detroit Soup. UpTO, Curbed/Eater Detroit. Detroit Labs. Model D. Ponyride. Detroit Dirt. Hatch Detroit. D:hive. Atomic Object. Detroit Denim Co. MOCAD. Library Street Collective. Quikly. This is only a partial list; there are many, many more. These organizations and their leadership, if you’ve had the pleasure to meet them already, ooze sincerity and dedication to improving Detroit’s future.
Sure, they might be snarky at times, and they may point out the obvious contradictions and conundrums that define Detroit. We’re not egoists here; if we were, we would have moved to another big city by now. So we can take a little honesty – and if you haven’t be criticized or confronted by one of these companies by now, you probably need to be…I’m just sayin’.
Battelle, co-founder of the festivals, brought these lines of communication to other cities including San Francisco, New York and London in recent months. And he was able to get a tour of Detroit via Boone, given that the two have worked together for some time now. And Boone happens to be a Detroit business owner and supporter for longer than some hipsters have even roamed this great green city.
Everything about OpenCo is free – the idea is to get people in the doors, not to make a bunch of cash. At the events, participants will have unlimited (within reason) access to the owners, founders and executives of the HostCos, who will be doing hourly presentations outlining how they got their start, where they are now and where they want to be in the future.
As background: The founding partner is American Express OPEN Forum, with Yahoo! and IPG Media Labs as sustaining partners. The advisory board for our OpenCo reads like a who’s who of Detroit. Members include: Josh Linkner, CEO and managing partner of Detrroit Venture Partners. Dave Egner, CEO of the Hudson Webber Foundation and director of the New Economy Initiatiave. Toby Barlow, the celebrated novelist (have you seen the reviews for “Babayaga” yet? You should!) and chief creative officer of Team Detroit, Ford Motor Co.’s global advertising agency. Sue Mosey, president of Midtown Detroit Inc.
So if you are open to hearing new ideas…if you are open to collaboration…if you are open to exposing the messy side of starting and operating a business day to day…then OpenCo is for you. If you just want to see the end result of Detroit’s longtime struggles, then you better stay back where you feel comfortable.
Boone says she hopes people feel inspired when they leave the event. That they become a part of the changes going on — real changes — in the city. That they form relationships with both the business and the owners there. That collaborations are formed. The goal is to build that excitement about these companies and the ones to come.
Me, myself – I’m open to some honesty and to meet the best minds at work in the city. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure we have an amazing time ahead of us, and OpenCo is just one more chance to confirm what we already know…Detroit Hustles Harder. And that’s not just an awesome cliché. It’s damn true.