Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures founder and chairman Dan Gilbert talks about the brain economy at the Rise of the Rest Road Trip with Steve Case. Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Building a business network between Ann Arbor and Detroit was among many points raised during a session Wednesday afternoon that was part of tour of tech start-ups in the Ann Arbor area led by venture capitalist and AOL co-founder Steve Case.
Participating in the Rise of the Rest road-trip chat at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor were billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert; J.D. Vance, author of the memoir “Hillbilly Elegy”; and Mary Grove of Google for Entrepreneurs.
Following the chat, eight companies were scheduled to make pitches to win $100,000 of Case’s personal money.
The national tour is part of an effort to highlight factors that make it easier for start-ups to launch and create jobs in places like Ann Arbor, not just in Silicon Valley.
Case, who is now the CEO of Washington-based venture capital firm Revolution, said investors on the coasts should be aware that there are great opportunities for investment in start-ups in the middle of the country.
“Not just Ann Arbor,” said Case. “Thinking about Detroit, thinking about Grand Rapids, trying to tell the Michigan story. We’re trying to figure out ways to shift the perception of the Rust Belt.”
Earlier in the day, Case and his team visited area start-ups and local companies and facilities, including: Mcity, Duo Security, A2 Engage, FarmLogs, NutShell, CaHoots and TechArb.
Vance said during the tour he heard concerns from businesses on how to brand themselves in relation to Detroit. “The more the world sees Detroit and Ann Arbor as part of the same ecosystem is the better things will be,” he said.
Grove said Michigan can become more attractive to start-up investors if Ann Arbor and Detroit build connections.
Case said what they’re seeing in Ann Arbor is the slowing of the brain drain. Twenty-five years ago, people may have graduated from the University of Michigan and then left the area.
“It’s become more of a boomerang town,” he said. “People who left are deciding to come back.”
During the chat, Gilbert spoke on Detroit’s pitch for Amazon’s second headquarters. He admitted the race would be tough. But he spoke optimistically when touting the city’s international border with Windsor. That’s something other cities can’t offer, he said.
“I really do think we really have a good shot,” he said.
Grove offered advice to entrepreneurs, some who sat in the audience.
“Never underestimate the size of your addressable market,” she said. “Take advantage of the online world.”
Other stops during Case’s Rise of the Rest road trip are: York, Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Indianapolis; Columbus; and Green Bay and Fox River Valley, Wisconsin. The competition stopped in Detroit in 2014.