Visiting Detroit Startups with VFA

September 22nd, 2014 by Miles Leave a reply »

As a new board member of Venture for America, I wanted to meet more fellows and explore one of the destination cities. I recently had a chance to visit Detroit where VFA has the most fellows at ~40.

It was my first trip to Detroit so I was looking forward to getting a sense for the city and the startup environment. I was thankful that VFA fellow Max Nussenbaum picked me up from the airport and gave me a tour to start out.

A key part of the tour was Rebirth Realty. Max and some other fellows are “transforming an abandoned house in Detroit into a communal living and working space for Venture for America Fellows.” The house still a work in progress although you can see the potential. They got the house in a tax auction for something like $8,000 which sounds like quite the deal. Then you learn that the place was missing windows and needed a full gut rehab. Like I said, a lot of work.

I also got to hear about Castle, the SaaS business for landlords that Max started with Tim and Scott. They are early stage although looking for landlords that want in on the private beta. As they put it “We’re making land-lording simple and stress-free, starting with automatic rent payment.” One tip I picked up from Max is that he has the following in his email signature so it looks like a PS on every email he sends. “By the way—I’m working on a real estate startup and trying to talk to as many landlords as possible. If you know one, I’d really appreciate an intro!” What a way to get leads!

The next day, Brian Bosche, founder and CEO of TernPro, was good enough to lead me and some folks from VFA on a tour of a bunch of startup spaces. We got to see some great incubator, co-working, and startup spaces like Grand Circus, Bizdom and Detroit Labs (loved the two story kitchen/breakroom – I think you can see pictures on their website). And I’m sure there were other spots but we went so many it is hard to remember them all.

Alas, I did not meet the founders of the other VFA Detroit startup: Banza as they were traveling on business. They offer first pasta made from chickpeas. Since I’m a recovering pasta addict, I am totally excited for the product. I’ve tried many of the other alternatives to wheat and it is definitely better than black bean pasta, rice pasta, etc.

I had the privilege of dinner two nights with a whole mass of fellows. I must have met 20+. The passion and intelligence of the fellows I met was impressive. It was an amazing group of people and so welcoming of a visitor like me. Without a doubt, it increased my commitment to mission of VFA and I hope you get a chance to meet some fellows, too, some day.