Auto show meetings match startups with investors
Detroit is cementing its place in the future of the global auto industry. For proof, look no further than the North American International Auto Show.
The Detroit auto show’s mobility and technology segment, known as AutoMobili-D, has expanded beyond media days and into the first weekend of public days this year on Jan. 20 and 21. Visitors there to see the new cars will get a chance to see some of the industry-changing technology brewing behind the scenes — and they can drop off resumes with technology companies at the show.
Nearly 170 companies from around the world will showcase at the event this year. Nearly 80 of them will meet with venture capital firms, automakers, suppliers and other potential investors. More than 215 meetings in all have been arranged between small companies and bigger players.
That’s affirmation for Detroit, a city that the tech-savvy for years shirked in favor of West Coast cities. Recent developments made public by General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV — and ventures like the recently opened American Center for Mobility, backed by public and private dollars — have kept Michigan relevant as technology transforms the automobile into a self-driving machine that promises to be safer and more efficient than one with a human driver behind the steering wheel.
Silicon Valley has figured out that building an automobile is a lot harder than just writing the code to automate those vehicles, putting Detroit in a powerful and pivotal position.
Organizers of the Detroit auto show want to use that momentum. They have moved to amplify the deal-making side of the show, further pinpointing Detroit as the place Silicon Valley needs to go through to get its technology into functional, trusted vehicles.
“We saw this happening in the industry, and we needed a platform to display that,” said show spokesman Max Muncey. “No decision happens in the automotive world unless someone in Detroit has signed off on it.”
Detroit’s Big Three have helped prove lately that the city isn’t just a place for “metal-benders,” Muncey said.
Chris Thomas, a founder of venture capital firm Fontinalis Partners LLC, said the match meetings are unique because they give newer companies exposure. Deals have always been made off the show floor, but AutoMobili-D and the meetings give companies like Fontinalis, which Thomas founded with Bill Ford Jr. and others, exposure to younger companies with potentially big ideas.
“It’s focused on early companies,” Thomas said. “Here are a couple of guys and gals that can potentially transform how we think about mobility. We’re continuing to extend how southeast Michigan, how Detroit, plays when it comes to autos and the future of mobility.”
But it’s not all about competition with Silicon Valley.
Those working for the state see Detroit’s role in the mobility space as a partnership with West Coast technology companies. “We can work together,” said Trevor Pawl, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation executive behind the match meetings.
Pawl and others said the meetings aim to capitalize on the work done in the past to attract companies to Michigan as a test state of autonomous vehicles. Show planners and the state want to seize the global spotlight the show puts on Detroit, and help out-of-town tech companies as well.
There’s also a benefit for traditional automakers. Just last year, GM, Ford and others acquired or partnered with a number of small companies that make pieces of autonomous technology hardware or software.
“We want to create a platform,” Pawl said. “There’s definitely a need for the more traditional automakers to get the right startups. The biggest want to be part of this was from those traditional automakers.
“Startups don’t have a lot of access. It’s an insular network, and you kind of have to be here to know what’s going on.”
Auto show schedule
The North American International Show is coming, with media days Jan. 14-16 and public days Jan. 20-28. Here are the events open to the public.
■The Gallery of luxury cars, 6:30-11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $250.
■Charity Preview, 6-9 p.m. Jan. 19. Tickets: $400.
■Public show, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Jan. 20 - Jan. 27; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 28. Tickets: $14; $7 ages 7-12 and 65+.
■Tickets and information: naias.com