TechTown in the news

Ned Staebler of TechTown and Wayne State University on challenges to equitable economic growth

The president and CEO of TechTown Detroit and vice president for economic development at Wayne State University, Ned Staebler, talks with host Jeff Sloan about the group’s pursuit of equitable growth, funding and access to opportunity for entrepreneurs. He shares success stories, but also explains the significant challenges to communities that have to occur to draw a talented workforce to Michigan.  
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Program aimed at spurring immigrant-founded startups launches at Wayne State

Wayne State University has officially launched a national effort aimed at bringing more immigrant startup founders to Southeast Michigan. The Detroit-based university said it has partnered with Global Detroit, part of the Massachusetts-based Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence (Global EIR) initiative, aimed at placing foreign-born startup founders at local universities to teach and mentor. The founders, in turn, become eligible for an H-1B visa, enabling them to launch and grow their companies in metro Detroit. As part of the launch at Wayne State, German immigrant and tech startup founder Simon Forster has been named as the first Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the university. “We’re excited to pair Wayne State’s leadership in advancing new technologies with Global EIR’s innovative approach to bringing and keeping international talent in Michigan,” said Lindsay Klee, Wayne State’s senior director of technology commercialization. “We’re equally excited to provide our students and faculty the opportunity to interact and learn from these global entrepreneurs.”  
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Techtown Detroit highlights their efforts to help during COVID-19 pandemic

In this 7 UpFront segment, Techtown Detroit helped keep small businesses and startups from folding during the pandemic. It has been a tough year, but the organization has become a lifeline in Detroit. TechTown President and CEO Ned Staebler, joined the discussion. "Obviously, you know it's been a horrible year medically and emotionally for the community, but our small businesses, which make up more than half of the jobs in metro Detroit and across the country, have really suffered as well. Estimates have shown that, maybe, 25 or 30 percent of small businesses nationally have closed over the last year," Staebler says. "We hopped right in in March of 2020, recognizing that the vast majority of our clients only had two weeks of cash on hand we were able, in the first days of the pandemic, to help over 700 businesses with cash grants totaling more than 1.2 million dollars to help those businesses, which collectively employed more than 2,300 people, stay in business."
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U.S. Department of Commerce invests $754,840 in Cares Act Recovery Assistance to support medical technology innovators in southeast Michigan

Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $754,840 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to TechTown Detroit to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the region’s medical and manufacturing sectors. This EDA grant, to be matched with $249,900 in local investment, is expected to generate $5.5 million in private investment. “TechTown has been helping to build a more resilient and inclusive economy by leveraging this region’s unique assets for more than 17 years, and now we have a partner at the highest level to help us expand our impact,” said Ned Staebler, president and CEO of TechTown Detroit. “With this grant from the Economic Development Administration, we’ll engage 25 regional stakeholders including healthcare systems, local government entities, private investors, universities and economic development organizations to advance regional innovation in medical technology, creating good-paying jobs and helping SE Michigan build back better.” “This critical support from the Economic Development Administration signals a commitment at the highest level to Detroit’s innovation ecosystem,” said Wayne State University President and TechTown Chair M. Roy Wilson. “With it, TechTown will continue to be a leader in driving the region’s economic recovery through the COVID-19 crisis via its MedHealth cluster. Since 2015, MedHealth has played a critical role in convening, educating and connecting medical innovation stakeholders in the Detroit region, and we are thrilled to work with the EDA to expand programs that will further catalyze entrepreneurship and business growth in the region’s healthcare sector.”  
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30 in their thirties 2021

Kelly Kozlowski, COO of TechTown Detroit, has found her place in operations. After working as COO of Automation Alley in Troy and COO for the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Kozlowski moved into the same position with TechTown. “I love the work of a COO,” she says. “I love the work of someone who’s working very closely with a leader, in support of that leader, and in partnership with that leader.” TechTown is a nonprofit entrepreneurship hub that supports businesses in and around Detroit by offering funding, workspaces, and programming. According to Kozlowski, finding startup capital can be a big hurdle. Many people who start a business first attempt what’s referred to as a “friends and family round,” asking loved ones for funds. It’s a route that typically isn’t an option in communities where generational wealth is scarce. TechTown partners with Wayne State University, which has resources and networks that TechTown wouldn’t be able to curate alone. In turn, TechTown can quickly change programming when necessary. Kozlowski’s role is dual-purpose; she’s also assistant vice president of economic development for Wayne State. In this role, she guides the development and execution of the university’s economic impact strategy, serving as a bridge between TechTown, Wayne State, and the community.
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Rick Haglund: Absence of viable regional transportation continues to hurt SE Michigan

Metro Detroit is regarded as having one of the worst public transit systems of any major metro area in the country. The region’s 4.2 million residents are mainly served by two unconnected and inadequate bus systems: DDOT in Detroit and SMART in the suburbs. There’s also the People Mover, an elevated train that rings downtown Detroit, and the QLine, a 3.3 mile-long streetcar that runs along Woodward Avenue from New Center to downtown Detroit. “It’s embarrassing and it really financially hurts us,” said Ned Staebler, vice president for economic development at Wayne State University in Detroit. Last year, voters across the country approved 47 out of 52 public transit proposals on local ballots, according to the American Public Transit Association. The biggest was in fast-growing Austin, Texas, where voters in November passed a $7.1 billion plan that will pay for new rail lines, a bus rapid transit (BRT) network, a downtown transit tunnel, e-bikes and more. An additional $300 million was approved to prevent transit-related real estate development from displacing low-income Austin residents from their homes. “They’re making investments in their future,” Staebler said about Austin’s ambitious transit plans. “If you don’t invest, you don’t succeed. We’re a case study of that.”
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Ned Staebler: How to flip the script on economic development in Michigan

Ned Staebler, vice president for economic development at Wayne State University and president and CEO of TechTown, wrote an op-ed discussing economic development in Michigan. “We've been doing economic development all wrong. It's not hard to see — the results are right in front of our eyes. Over the past four decades, under administrations of both major political parties, Michigan has gone from being a relatively prosperous state to an objectively poor one. Even before the pandemic, more than 43 percent of Michigan households couldn't pay for basic necessities. A host of community, business, government, and economic development leaders have come together in an effort called Rising Income for All. Our call is to reduce this horrible statistic and make rising household income for all Michiganders the new primary goal of state economic development policy. Shifting focus to the economic well-being of Michigan residents instead of GDP growth is the first step. Next, comes the important task of crafting the best set of policies to achieve this goal. Michigan Future Inc. President Lou Glazer and I wrote a recent article for Bridge Michigan where we lay out the tenets of what a new, more effective economic development strategy for Michigan should look like. While there is no magic formula, it's clear from the experience of successful places around the country and the world that we must invest in our existing residents, places and entrepreneurs. We must develop our own talent and local businesses and create places that will retain that human capital and attract more of it.”
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It’s time to invest on Main Street

Ned Staebler, vice president for economic development and TechTown CEO, wrote an opinion piece for the Oakland Press (subscribers only), which also appeared in Michigan Future, about the need to invest “on Main Street” in order to see real economic development across Michigan. Staebler wrote: “We need to support our existing small businesses and to help create new ones. It’s absolutely imperative that we have another stimulus package either at the state level, as Governor Whitmer has called for in the lame-duck legislative session, or from the incoming Biden administration. It’s equally imperative that the stimulus is focused on the mom-and-pop small businesses that employ more than half of America’s workers. In other words, if we want to see real economic development across Michigan, it requires us to invest on Main Street.”
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Amazon adding 100 new tech jobs, 25,000 square feet of space in Detroit

Detroit is one of six cities chosen for Amazon’s Tech Hub expansion and Ned Staebler, president and CEO of TechTown, an incubator on the Wayne State University Campus, says he isn’t surprised. “Our manufacturing industry is heavily tech dependent, as a result, there is a tremendous amount of tech talent here. I think that’s why you’ve seen Amazon today, the Twitters, the Googles, the other tech companies coming to Detroit." TechTown is located on the Wayne State University campus where the number of students at the College of Engineering and innovation majors has skyrocketed. Staebler says continued investments from a company like Amazon helps to ensure Michigan talent stays in Michigan. More than just proof of how far the city has come and a reminder that Detroit is the place to be, Staebler says today’s announcement helps to inspire and encourage Detroit youth who may have an interest in STEM careers. “If no one you know is working at Amazon or Google or Microsoft, it becomes harder for you to envision yourself doing that. Here’s another visual cue and reminder that these are very real possibilities for Detroiters,” says Staebler. From automotive and manufacturing technology to start ups to tech giants like Amazon, could Detroit be the next Silicon Valley? Staebler says no; Detroit will be better. “We’re going to be Detroit and leapfrog them and move into where technology is going to be in the next 20 or 30 years. Then 50 years from now, people will be saying ‘we’re going to be the next Detroit.’”
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Making connections

The world we’re living in today is faster and more connected than ever before. An estimated 4.1 billion people worldwide use the internet, and that number is rapidly growing. No aspect of our lives and our society is untouched by connectivity. In 2018, 95 percent of Americans spent an average 5 hours per week shopping online; last year 81 percent of mobile phone users in the U.S. accessed the internet via their phones. Fulfilling the potential of connected technology requires public officials to consider and address complex matters such as equity, security, privacy, governance and investment. Comcast Business partnered with Crain’s Content Studio to bring together Michigan technology executives and leaders from Michigan’s state, county and local governments for a discussion of diverse communities’ experiences, best practices and possibilities related to smart technology-enabled infrastructure and public services. Rural communities face unique challenges when it comes to implementing Smart City technology. Across Michigan, an estimated 381,000 households lack access to broadband internet; 368,000 of those households are in rural areas. Ned Staebler, president and CEO of TechTown and vice president for economic development at Wayne State University, points out that similar issues present challenges in urban communities. “We’ve found that urban and rural problems often aren’t very different. They may differ in scale, maybe in density issues, but they’re very similar,” said Staebler, who helped launch the Detroit Urban Solutions program between TechTown, Wayne State University and NextEnergy. That initiative has united practitioners to innovate solutions to a broad range of urban issues using IoT technology. “We really feel that what smart cities are about is leveraging technology to find solutions to citizens’ problems,” he added. Staebler pointed out that disenfranchised populations in both urban and rural communities may simply not know the importance of and opportunities inherent in robust connectivity. “They don’t think it’s for them. They don’t know why this would be beneficial. They don’t know why they need it,” said Staebler. “We need to bring them in and include them in this economy. If we’re designing new solutions to help folks in our communities, we also have to make sure that they know it exists, what the benefits are and how to access them, and that they have the devices and connectedness to do it.”