Business, Change Agents, Creativity, Events

Forget X Games Detroit. A chat with the “Assemble” team proves they can rise above one defeat

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How did two guys who don’t skateboard or ride BMX bikes become the brains behind the X Games Detroit bid?

1 - menWell, Kevin Krease and Garrett Koehler became the XG2D team because no one else was stepping up to do it. It all goes back to the duo’s mantra, which goes something like this: “Permission not required.”

That’s message that anyone who attended Wednesday’s “Fifty Founders” featuring Krease and Koehler needs to take away from the well-attended event. That if you can think it – and if you can fit it into the Detroit landscape – then you should do it. And you should probably keep watch for Assemble, their summer 2014 adventure.

A little background: Fifty Founders is a monthly fireside chat of sorts launched this summer. It puts people with big ideas together with those who want to either support those ideas or learn from them. It is held at the new co-working space Bamboo Detroit, sponsored by a bunch of great folks like TechTown and Start Garden. And it features pizza and beer. The space was ideal, the hosts more than cordial and the crowd was networking like mad. Win-win.

More background: Krease and Koehler are the founders of Action Sports Detroit, the group that put together a bid for sports powerhouse ESPN’s X Games. They were the brains; the brawn was a cast of hundreds. Although their bid ultimately failed (boo, Austin and ESPN), it produced something much greater.

1 - guysYes, it created a wildly popular video. Of course, there was the prerequisite wave of support. Sure, Dan Gilbert was involved. The real takeaway Wednesday night from their talk was this: The failed bid taught them that you can put something together on faith in Detroit. You can launch an event with no signed contracts – just trust. You can pull together thousands of people through social media, and they’ll give you their loyalty. And that Assemble, when it launches next year, will be something of worth for this city and region.

“It was very much a house of cards of trust,” Krease told the crowd. “It was incredible how it worked out.”

I mention region purposefully. Krease and Koehler understand that although Detroit has the street cred, the rest of Wayne County along with Macomb and Oakland has lots of people and disposable income. And, not to be crass, but if you want to have an event of any kind – nationally known or locally based – you need to have some funds behind it.

And if they waited for a tourist bureau to do it, it wouldn’t get done. If they waited for the money, it wouldn’t have happened. If they had any sense, the excitement of bidding wouldn’t have taken over us all. And if they hadn’t quit their jobs, moved here, brought their lives to Detroit, then we wouldn’t have Assemble to anticipate. Assemble, by the way, hits all the points – bringing young people and smart ideas on how to avoid the “brain drain” to the city. Building entrepreneurism. Sparking groups to work together. But I digress.

Some other tidbits from the night…Krease and Koehler are a dynamic team. Krease is like the brainy big brother, a Grosse Pointe kid that has a good BS meter and the business background. Koehler is the spiritual good guy, warm and charming to the point where the crowd was practically cheering for him. I bring up these descriptions only to say that the two play well off of one another, and they’re practically made for the camera. They get it, and I think larger audiences will get them.

They both have impressive backgrounds and educations. Krease worked in publishing and is into creating businesses that create social change. (Nice.) Koehler – who moved here from his hometown of Chicago in January – is into philosophy and conflict resolution. He too is interested in business formation and microfinance. He noted that his work with startups for lack of a better word in Northern Island and Palestine isn’t that far off from what’s going on in Detroit. (Yup.)

3 - crowdThey are longtime friends. They seem to understand Detroit, its issues and its potential. They are humble yet confident. Assemble, the (promised) annual festival in Detroit, seems to have support as the two mentioned they will have more to announce about the event in mid-September. So let’s keep our collective fingers crossed that the art/music/sports/ideas conference blows up and they get the 100,000 people they hope for in downtown Detroit.

But it could happen anywhere. Detroit is the sense of place that infuses the event with its spirit, Koehler noted, but it’s more about doing great things than just about one city. Sorry, Detroit. Don’t get upset. It’s kinda true.

Yet … this still is a story you can only tell in and about Detroit.

“It is so annoying. People still view this (event-starting stuff in Detroit or Detroit as a whole) as risky. This is the least risky thing. What’s risking is moving to New York City and thinking you’re going to make it there,” Krease said, earning a sincere chuckle from the audience.

In a way, they didn’t mind losing to Austin. Krease’s take: “We decided this might be even more fun if we lost because we might get to build something bigger.”

Oh, and that Tony Hawk thing that happened last Wednesday – the same night they announced Assemble? Total coincidence. Hawk was in town to give some money to a great skate park, and he gave many shoutouts to Detroit for its X Games bid. I’d say having the two come together again last week and on that night is a sign that all of this is in the right place cosmically.

Oh, that sweet ride that was featured in the X Games bid video they did? Typically, it is only in town for 24 hours or less. They managed to get it on the very day that Cobo would allow them to shoot film there. Further evidence of cosmic timing.

Every time they needed something, it showed up. Every time they needed money, it appeared. Every time they imagined help, it was there. Again, this is a bit of an exaggeration. There were hardships and disappointments along the path, I’m sure. But the point is … two guys with no event experience, no X Games experience, no real reputation in this city got it done.

Indeed. Permission not required.

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