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The Entrepreneurial Gold Rush: Why I moved from San Francisco to Detroit

Every week, in a bewildered state, someone asks me “Hey Ted, why did you move from San Francisco to, uh, Detroit? Are you crazy?”

4 min read

Updated to include Detroit filing for bankruptcy on Aug 12, 2013.

“If Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be at the dock.”Arthur Goldberg, American statesman and jurist

Every week, in a bewildered state, someone asks me “Hey Ted, why did you move from San Francisco to, uh, Detroit? Are you crazy?”

I pause, let out a sigh, and respond with:

“Ten years from now, San Francisco will be just as good as it is today. But in ten years, Detroit will be a roaring city once again, defining a new technology hub at the intersection of muscle and brains. Where do you want to be in ten years? Status quo? Or one of the heroes that rebuilt a city?”Ted Serbinski

Almost before I can finish, I can see in that person’s face the transition from bewilderment to excitement, as they realize, I didn’t just relocate to Detroit for a job; I relocated to create a legacy.

Downtown Detroiters, helping to rebuild the city, choose to be here. They are not taking the easy route to one of the coastal cities like New York or San Francisco. They are rolling up their sleeves, getting to work, and making a difference. They are the epitome of an entrepreneur.

And I chose the same. I moved to Detroit to be one of the founding fathers of the startup software technology community in southeast Michigan, aka, Detroit. And from what I’ve seen, Detroit is the ultimate entrepreneurial playground.

I’ve joined forces with Dan Gilbert, billionaire extraordinaire, hellbent on a mission to rebuild the midwest (Detroit, Cleveland, and Cincinnati), and Josh Linkner, NY Times Bestselling Author of Disciplined Dreaming, on a mission to bring creativity back to this world, starting first in Detroit.

Together, as part of Detroit Venture Partners, we are on a mission to shatter conventional wisdom through software technology venture investments. I’ll be writing more about this specifically in a future post.

The common thread that unites us is summed up well by Josh’s article in Forbes:

“Focus on impact more than personal gain. If you’re championing a cause and making a difference, your results will be better and more widespread.”

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

But it’s more than just us.

Detroit is about to get hit by a perfect storm of economical drivers.

  • The Bankruptcy — Detroit filing for bankruptcy finally lets Detroit get out of an overwhelming amount of liabilities. With nearly $18 billion in debt, and only $1 billion in revenue, Detroit is upside down. Nearly $0.60 on every dollar of income is paying down debt. It’s not going to better the city, but rather, pay off decades of past mistakes. The bankruptcy finally restructures this debt so that more of the city’s income can go to improving its own infrastructure and solving issues.
  • The Business TitansDan Gilbert (founder of Quicken Loans, majority owner Cleveland Cavaliers), Roger Penske (owner of Penske Racing and a number of related automobile companies), Mike Ilitch (owner of the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesars Pizza), and Bill Ford (yes, that Ford).
  • Michigan Governor — Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, Republican strategist, former chairman of the board of Gateway, Inc., and one of the first venture capitalists in Michigan.
  • The M-1 Rail — Connecting downtown Detroit to greater parts of Metro Detroit through a light rail/streetcar system.
  • Startup America — With the American economy in a slump, the focus is on jobs. And startups create the most jobs. Startup America Partnership, chaired by AOL co-founder Steve Case is leading the charge.
  • Venture for America — Mobilizing graduates as entrepreneurs, Venture for America is injecting startup thinking at the college graduate level. And Detroit has been a partner from day one, leading the charge with dozens of graduates moving to Detroit.
  • The Biggest Retail Development Companies — Some of the largest retail development companies in the world (unnamed at this time) are circling Detroit, bidding on blocks of the city, and planning for the mega-resurgence of Detroit, rebuilding itself into its yesteryears of being one of the greatest cities in the world.
  • Top Universities in the Country — Some of the top universities in the country call Michigan their home, including University of Michigan and Michigan State.
  • One of the Best Airports in the Country — Detroit Metro Airport was recently rated as the best large airport in the country.
  • The Most Beautiful Place in America — Sleeping Bear Dunes, a short 4 hour drive from Detroit, was named the Most Beautiful Place in America by Good Morning America.
  • The Rising Costs of Coastal Cities — Can you actually afford a wonderful house in a great neighborhood, live in an amazing school district, and not break the bank? San Francisco and New York, not a chance. But in Michigan, you can. In fact, 5 towns in Michigan were rated by Money Magazine as best places to live.
  • Steve Blank said to Start Your Company Here — One of the greatest minds in startups said to start your company in Michigan, not San Francisco. ‘Nuff said.

So, step out of your comfort zone and come to Detroit!

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below and join the conversation


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