Techonomy Comes to Detroit – What a Day!

What would you do if you were sitting in on a conference with some of the greatest entrepreneurial minds in the country?

What if I told you that the co-founder of America Online, the vice president of global marketing solutions for Facebook, the creator of Twitter, and Quicken Loans very own chairman were all sitting in the same room, discussing the importance of technology, particularly technology in Detroit? How would you react?

Bare in mind that these are people who have revolutionized the way we communicate globally, receive and distribute news in real time, and keep in contact and reconnect with friends.

Wrap your mind around that for a second. If I could sum up all of the speakers, guests and panel participants in one adjective, the first word that comes to mind has to be “brainpower.”

I’m not even scratching the surface of who was there, though, and quite frankly, I’d run out of space and you’d run out of patience reading all of the names and biographies.

I know what you’re asking yourself, especially if you’re not from the region. You must be wondering why all of these big names were in town?

One word: Techonomy.

If you’re not familiar with Techonomy, all you need to do is read the first couple lines of the Techonomy manifesto: “We believe in the potential of technology to make the world a happier, healthier, wealthier, and more peaceful place. Techonomy’s name embodies our beliefs and our mission – it combines the words “technology” and “economy” because technology has become a central part of the economy in which we operate and the society in which we live.”

So Techonomy came to town to discuss technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, Detroit and keywords (that’s an inside joke for those of you who were there).

I’m not going to sit here and give you a one-by-one run down of the day’s events. There was way too much going on, but I’ll highlight some of the key parts of the day for you and provide some quotes that I thought were tremendous. Luckily for me, my compulsive tweeting will pay off big time for me here.

How about that: live-tweeting at a conference that has the creator of Twitter as the keynote speaker. Isn’t that something?

Entrepreneurial spirit and what it takes to be an entrepreneur was a hot topic yesterday. What better place to have this open dialogue than Detroit, which has been documented as one of the biggest up-and-coming technology hubs in the nation? As a matter of fact, one venture capitalist said that if he were to open  a new technology startup, he’d do it in Detroit as opposed to Silicon Valley, because Detroit gives startups a better chance to shine.

To play off of the Silicon Valley discussion, Josh Linkner of Detroit Venture Partners explained it succinctly by saying, “Detroit needs to stop apologizing for what it’s not and start celebrating what it is,” and that we should strive “to be the Detroit of Detroit and not the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.”

One of the highlights of the event was the energetic Tim Draper from Draper, Fisher, and Jurvetson, as well as the founder of the Draper University for Heroes. A buzzword that Draper kept throwing around was “hero,” saying that “entrepreneurs are heroes because they take long odds for extraordinary outcomes.”

He also had a plea for Detroit. He claimed that Detroit needs to stop relying on the automotive industry, saying that we “need to be more creative.”

While he could be right in the sense that the automotive industry has been the major provider for the city in years past, you cannot deny that Detroit has become dramatically more creative recently. Just look at all of the creative companies that have opened up shop in downtown Detroit buildings owned by Rock Ventures.

Sorry, Tim. I think we’re well on the way to being a creative hub.

Speaking of Detroit, there probably isn’t a better time than now to transition into the discussion about our lovely city than now.

The panel discussion kicked off with Rochelle Riley of the Free Press asking one simple question: What’s the biggest roadblock in Detroit’s way?

Bruce Schwartz, Detroit Relocation Ambassador from Bedrock Real Estate Services, hit the nail on the head by responding promptly with “perception.”

There’s no way of denying it – people perceive Detroit in a generally negative manner, unless they’re a part of it. As Rochelle Riley pointed out, whenever she tells someone that she’s from Detroit, she instantly sees a sense of respect from those who ask.

However, as one spectator said to the panel, “I came up from Atlanta to see what’s going on in Detroit, and I’m blown away” in a good way, according to Detroit 2.0.

You only need to come to Detroit for a few minutes to realize that there’s something brewing here. After all, as Dan Gilbert explained, “If you want to attract the brains, you’ve got to be in a vibrant, exciting, urban core,” which is exactly what he helped create.

Then again, Detroit may not be for any one, and a question that was discussed at length was, “Can you handle it?”

So, can you? Come see for yourselves.

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