June 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

Referral service stik.com wins $100,000 Metro Detroit startup prize

Steve Case, second from left, was joined by Dan Gilbert, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Gov. Rick Snyder, and Google's Mary Grove. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

America Online co-founder Steve Case invested $100,000 in a Metro Detroit startup company Tuesday as he launched a four-city tour that will show innovators and entrepreneurs are hard at work in various parts of the nation.

The winner was stik.com, a Facebook-powered referral service that collects word-of-mouth recommendations for professionals like lawyers, accountants and real estate brokers. Co-founders Jay Gierak and Nathan Labenz are both from Metro Detroit. They attended Harvard University and were classmates and housemates with Mark Zuckerberg and the other Facebook founders. They initially moved to Silicon Valley to build Stik.com, which launched in 2010.

“Sixty years ago, Detroit was Silicon Valley,” Case said Tuesday morning in the parking lot next to the M@dison, a downtown building where many startups operate. “It was revolutionary in cars, in retail with Kmart and music with Motown. Now, Detroit really does feel to me like it’s poised for a rebound.”

On hand for Case’s “Rise of the Rest” launch was Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and Google for Entrepreneurs director Mary Grove.

The crowd was mainly young, white and male. And the 10 startups competing for the $100,000 were void of diversity.

Case was among the panelists who heard the companies’ five-minute pitches.

After Detroit, Case is going to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Nashville. In each city, he will invest $100,000 in a business.

Case is chairman and chief executive of Revolution, a Washington-based investment firm that has backed such companies as Zipcar and LivingSocial.