As the 2013 Techonomy Detroit conference approaches on September 17, we are profiling Detroit startups that show how the city can re-emerge as a center of innovation.
Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 10.08.49 AMDeclaring bankruptcy this July did nothing to help Detroit rehabilitate its image. For many, the city is a symbol for a lost era of confidence in U.S. manufacturing and economic might. But based on our conversations with them, Detroiters still believe that a street fighter’s mentality gives them an edge. The city’s scrappy, can-do spirit is invigorating an emerging tech startup scene.
Also rising from the ashes is an infrastructure of new institutions to bolster the city’s entrepreneurs. Accelerator Bizdom offers seed funding to help grow tech-based local startups. Venture investors including Detroit Venture Partners are financing tech-focused efforts. An outpost of the Silicon Valley innovation incubator TechShop gives Detroiters of all skill levels access to industrial tools and equipment. And Venture for America has pumped a steady stream of young ass-kickers (often armed with impressive degrees) into the city’s startup ecosystem.
Launched in 2011, Detroit’s Glocal offers users a tailored local experience via online community forums. It aims to counter a loss of connection with local community that many see as a negative effect of the global hyper-connectedness driven by social media. Techonomy spoke with Glocal President Lincoln Cavalieri about the importance of zooming in on what’s happening in your own neck of the woods.
How does Glocal work?
It’s a hyper-local community forum for over 150 cities around the world. Members of a local community create categories and forums, write articles,  post videos, and link to local deals, restaurants, events, and such. We also have classifieds, so you can sell your bike and your boat. The community defines what’s important to it, and moderators make sure all content is appropriate.
Where did the idea come from?
Glocal comes from the word “glocalization,” which means to think local but act global. One of the driving forces behind Glocal was the idea of staying connected with your community, making it a more social environment for users to share and interact with each other. If you want to be heard at the local level, you can publish an article on Glocal and get it seen by people in your community. The local online space, especially the hyper-local online space, hasn’t really been cracked. But there’s always a need for local information and for staying connected with your community. We think we have the best platform to do that.
Why should publishers put their videos and photos on Glocal instead of sites like Youtube and Vimeo?
If I’m submitting a lot of content about my hometown, Detroit, and my friends are from Syracuse, they’re getting all this news about Detroit, and no one really cares. Now I can share interesting articles and videos about Detroit on Glocal with a local community that’s interested in the content I’m sharing.
What is the atmosphere for tech startups in Detroit?
The biggest advantage is that you’re not paying ridiculous rent so you have time to evolve your product. You have a longer runway than in a city like New York or Chicago. However, it has been difficult to get feedback on Glocal because Detroit has a small—if growing—community of tech enthusiasts. Early on, the feedback defines your product. That’s been one of the challenges.
Where do you see your company headed?
Our focus right now is on making sure the web platform operates to the best of its ability and that our online communities keep growing. Over the next few months, we hope our mobile application will come to fruition.
How can Detroit reverse the tide and become more than a symbol of American manufacturing decline?
Our governor knows that Detroit has to be strong for Michigan to be strong. There’s a lot of really smart people in the city who want it to succeed and are doing whatever it takes to make that happen. I wish that there would be a lot more national attention on Detroit. Detroit just doesn’t get the type of national notoriety and attention that it should, that it needs. It’s great to have leaders like Dan Gilbert [of Rock Ventures] and Josh Linkner [of Detroit Venture Partners] turning the ship around. They’re solid leaders to look up to. I just find them so inspiring, especially for the type of challenges they have to undertake; it’s amazing to see them go full force and do the things they do.