“Ida Byrd-Hill doesn’t want to hear anymore nonsense about a “new Detroit.”
A resident for the past 25 years, CEO of Weyn LLC and president of Uplift Inc., she’s proud to recognize the predominantly black community that has historically maintained business and local infrastructure for entrepreneurs like her to build upon – not forget about because of recent tough times.
A female game developer of color, Byrd-Hill finds herself rare among peers, but what she really resents is group marginalization, she told about 50 guests at NBC Comcast’s “Tomorrow Tour.”
“Don’t talk about people rebuilding the city without recognizing the people who built the city,” she said, drawing applause.
Byrd-Hill’s spirited comments at Detroit’s TechTown were consistent with pride and enthusiasm shared by guests at the March 10 discussion and networking event for local visionaries and small business innovators.
Part of Comcast’s mission to support independent entrepreneurs, the “Tomorrow Tour” has made other stops in Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Christopher Wink, editorial director and co-founder of Technical.ly, moderated discussions, calling “Tomorrow” a “reporting series” to help communities better identify their potential for business start-ups. There was a time when protocol dictated local visionaries indicate “unemployed” on formal job questionnaires, due to a lack of regard for entrepreneurship, Wink said.
“Now we have entire university programs dedicated to it,” he added.
Special guest Kelly Hoey, a contributor to CBNC’s “Power Pitch” said she sympathizes with folks like Byrd-Hill, who wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed to Silicon Valley, home of hundreds of start-ups and tech companies. The Valley model was “supposed to be different,” she said, but has taken on the larger, white male-dominant look of corporate America.
“I can say some of these things, too, because I’m a fairly attractive person who can walk into these communities,” said Hoey.
Still, she praised Detroit and Detroiters for making ways to pursue their professional dreams, often with little seed money or career safety nets.
“There’s this incredible, scrappy (energy) … there’s no Plan B,” Hoey said. “You know you have to make this work.”
“You guys are real entrepreneurs here.”
An innovator-friendly atmosphere benefits Detroit business owners, said Stella Safari, who launched the Corktown-based Ponyride business cooperative.
“It’s a maker spirit, it’s a doer spirit,” observed the Congo native. “I never knew of a place where I could imagine, literally, anything I wanted, and make it happen.”
Panelist Jason Raznick, founder of the Benzinga financial media company, said Detroit entrepreneurs tend to look out for their peers.
“We know it’s us against the world and we have to support each other,” he said.
Even for those who stray temporarily, Detroit has a magnetic pull among natives who’ve been influenced by its determination and legacy of contributions to the world, said Niles Heron. Heron co-founded Michigan Funders, a web-based business that raises money for entrepreneurs.
“I lived in L.A. for a few years, lived in San Francisco for a few years, and I couldn’t imagine creating something that mattered, anywhere except here,” Heron said.
“I hate saying ‘bringing the city back,’ but I love saying I’m building in the city I call home.”