Detroit — A Silicon Valley innovation platform that helps to grow start-up companies plans to open a technology hub in downtown Detroit this spring.

In the latest sign that the city is becoming a tech center, Plug and Play said Thursday it is partnering with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council to provide Michigan companies better access to young companies that are looking to shape the future and bring them to Detroit. It also will emphasize businesses owned by women and minorities.

"We have five locations focused on automotive mobility," said Sobhan Khani, vice president of mobility for Plug and Play. "There's one in Silicon Valley, in Stuttgart (Germany) in Europe, in Japan, in Beijing and Shanghai. In the U.S., we felt one location was missing in the automotive industry."

"Plug and Play Detroit powered by AmplifyD" (Amplify:Diversity) plans to secure space in downtown Detroit for the innovation hub in the first quarter of 2020 to open with its first class by June.

Classes typically include 15-20 start-ups from around the world who apply. Two classes typically are held each year. Plug and Play provides its platform to help these entrepreneurs access mentoring, financing and space to research and develop their technology.

The Detroit hub will be the center for class participants to meet monthly and to hold meetings with corporate sponsors. Its focus will be on the automotive and mobility sector, at least at first. Some startups may move to the city for the four months of the program. Others may travel.

The hub has set a goal to have women and minorities represent at least 40% of each class in the coming years, said Michelle Sourie Robinson, CEO of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. The council hopes its members as companies already established in supply chains can be mentors to participants and eventually investors.

On a trip to the CES technology show in Las Vegas two years ago, Robinson said she was disappointed in the lack of diversity represented.

"We wanted to step back and say how can we help build that voice?" she said. "We came to that conclusion after speaking with members around Michigan and around the world and in other communities that had tackled this that the best thing to do was to create an innovation hub."

To do so, it found a partner in Plug and Play, which has sought to launch its platform in Detroit for two years but lacked an automaker to support its efforts. Late in 2019, it recruited Fiat Chrysler, whose head of purchasing and supply management in North America, Scott Thiele, is poised to become the chairman of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council later this month.

Fiat Chrysler is helping to contributing funds for the creation of the hub, said Fiat Chrysler spokesman Kevin Frazier. The partnership will give the company convenient access to developing technologies.

As automated driving, electrification and connectivity reshape the automotive industry, access to Plug and Play's ecosystem "accelerates FCA's approach to research and development," Mark Stewart, the Italian American automaker's chief operating officer in North America, said in a statement.

Plug and Play expects to welcome additional corporate and automotive partners in Michigan soon. It has worked with more than 10,000 startups and 320 corporate partners worldwide at about 25 locations.

The organization joins other programs in Detroit designed to develop startups and bring tech companies from around the globe to the city such as Techstars Detroit and its Detroit Startup Week. The University of Michigan also is building an innovation center on the site of the failed Wayne County Jail on Gratiot.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble

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