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Ripe for Growth: Ann Arbor to Detroit (A2D) Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Ripe for Growth: Ann Arbor to Detroit (A2D) Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Image credit: Green Car Congress

Nine years ago, on June 3, 2011, from my desk in San Francisco, I sent a cold email to Dan Gilbert’s newly formed Detroit Venture Partners. I told them why they needed to hire me and why I wanted to move to Detroit.

I knew long term I wanted to have kids and raise a family. The Midwest stood out: I would be closer to family and in a community ripe for growth.

My friends in San Francisco thought I was crazy. Why would I turn down opportunities at venture funds in San Francisco … for Detroit? Could tech startups even grow there?

I had no idea.

But if it didn’t work out, I rationalized, I could always move somewhere else. After all, I grew up in a military family moving around every 2-3 years.

Fast forward nine years, after living in metro Detroit, I have no plans to move anywhere else. I now have four kids (under the age of 5!) and 70 tech startups in my portfolio.

The startup ecosystem across Detroit and Ann Arbor has grown immensely in the past decade. As we enter this new decade in 2020, it is my observation that growth is accelerating at an exponential rate.

Founder-led initiatives are cultivating this startup ecosystem. They include successful startup exits, tough shutdowns, increased capital, and a growing abundance of new talent.

We’ve seen a healthy cycle of growth and decay. Yes, growth is great, but decay, when put back into the ecosystem, is the fuel for even more growth.

On the growth side, we have seen big exits, including Duo Security and ForeSee Results. Venture funds are raising ever-increasing amounts of capital to deploy. Arboretum Ventures closed its fifth fund of $250M bringing its total to $700 million under management. Renaissance Capital Venture has closed multiple funds and attracted over $1.7 billion in capital to this market.

On the decay side, Techstars Detroit closed its doors after bringing 54 startups from around the world to Detroit. What the accelerator left behind was a new energy in the ecosystem, activating over 600 mentors supporting entrepreneurship across the region.

Detroit’s “fail jail” blossomed into the University of Michigan’s Detroit Center for Innovation. A substantial real estate failure has transformed the region from

Ann Arbor to Detroit (A2D as I like to refer to this region).

When a startup or entrepreneurship program shuts down, many fruits are left behind. When founder-led initiatives cultivate these fruits, we see all sorts of new offspring. I liken this to startup fertilizer. When appropriately used, failure can drive further growth. Growth and decay, when fed into one another, create a healthy, virtuous life cycle.

Over the next decade, I am doubling down my efforts in this growing Michigan ecosystem. From Ann Arbor to Detroit (A2D), I can't wait to see what blossoms next in this region.

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Jamie Larson