Business, City Transformation, Job Engines, New Economy, Technology

Techweek conference shows how much the conversation about Detroit has changed

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Recently, I met an impressive young company during the Techweek Detroit conference. After we exchanged the usual pleasantries, I asked the standard Detroiter question: “So, where is your company based?”

This is the moment where you prepare yourself to hear the typical answer of Ann Arbor, Birmingham or Royal Oak. You know that many new businesses will settle somewhere near the investors, the money-making customers and the talent. You see that “313” area code on their company literature, but you know that could be just a ruse. It’s happened before.

Techweek checkinThe answer? A very confident, “Detroit. Right here. In this building, actually.”

It came from Chad Priest, CEO and co-founder of Linkies, a web-based digital marketing company. A company that is set up in Detroit, that is proud to call Detroit home and has the potential to grow quickly within the city. That means jobs. That means investment. That means an upward swing.

Techweek Detroit is an interesting conference that way. Clearly, the point is to share what high-tech companies, app developers and infrastructure companies are doing within the city and the region. But it is more than that. It is a moment to show not only how businesses are growing but to highlight the areas where their collective strength will benefit the city in a myriad of ways.

According to the organizers, Techweek’s mission is to build “a better world through tech entrepreneurship” and “help the innovation ecosystem.” It is week-long event that culminates in a two-day conference where people of all ages gather to talk, network and investigate what’s new in the world. It’s fascinating, even for people such as myself who have to go to their 15-year-old niece for advice on smartphones.

Detroit truly benefits from this kind of an event and the people who attend it. That point came out quite clearly from Olga Stella, vice president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. She noted in her presentation that she shouldn’t be on stage as much as she should be pressing the flesh with the attending tech companies, convincing them to set up shop in Detroit. Why? Because with every new business comes more bodies to Detroit. More taxes. More life.

Techweek 1Linkies is a great idea for a company, in my fine opinion. I don’t know this guy. I don’t know this company before I strolled up to his booth to see what was up with the name. But I liked it the more and more I heard about it. It felt different and innovative.

In a nutshell, Linkies helps businesses set up social-media displays at events, such as a Detroit Lions’ football game. They create a stream of Twitter comments or the like for the company or brand, monitoring what is said and making sure the best of the comments are highlighted in a way that benefits the brand. That screening process is essential to keeping everyone on the same ratings level – think “G” for General Audience in a world where social media can quickly go “R.” Linkies also is working on a program where companies can reach out to people who created great social content and ask for permission to use it more widely. A truly needed change in the way companies do social media, I’d say.

It will be exciting to see where Priest and his co-workers go with Linkies. I have a feeling it will need to hire additional helpers soon enough. Hopefully, they’ll also be proud to be based in Detroit to the point where they rent apartments, buy homes, shop in the nearby stores, explore the city’s wide array of restaurants and get out there to experience everything Detroit has to offer. That is the best-case scenario, and it is likely to happen.

HemingwriteEvery company in the room – whether they were established ones like Verizon or Bizdom or relatively new such as Hemingwrite – had a similar story to tell. They’re working in and around Detroit to try to make it better. To hopefully establish relationships and a community there. To support the city’s turnaround not only for themselves and their dreams, but for the students who need better schools, for the residents who need jobs and high-tech tools such as basic Internet access. To help pay for the safety, streetlights and more that will make Detroit a world-class city in the way it deserves to be.

Much of my thinking this week about Techweek and Detroit was inspired in part by the great article going around social media in National Geographic. A quote within that article resonated with me, and I’d like to end with it because it needs to be on a T-shirt or inspirational poster or tattoo somewhere. I’m hugely impressed with the feelings and thoughts behind it. I hope you are as well.

“This big flourishing,” says Antonio “Shades” Agee, “it’s great! I love it. But most people, they wanna save Detroit. You can’t save Detroit. You gotta be Detroit.”

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