The GM Renaissance Center, a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers.

By Rosalie van der Maas
Economic Affairs, Startups, Netherlands Consulate General in Chicago

We introduced you to the new and improved Detroit area in our last blog, and outlined its development as a hub for everything mobility.

Since the metro region is not only Detroit, but also 11 counties and several other cities, we would like to dive into their individual sectors, market demand, and resources to better acquaint you with the area and help you focus on the opportunities for your business.

Meet Ann Arbor (it’s a place, not a person)

A short drive west of Detroit you’ll find Ann Arbor, a college town that doubles as a massive talent and intellectual property factory because it houses one of America’s largest research universities, the University of Michigan.

While life science, especially biomedical and pharma, has been the main focus for a long time, this has broadened in the last five to seven years.

The University of Michigan is now working with 70 industry partners in manufacturing, engineering, automotive, mobility and software as well. The security element in software and technology especially has gained traction due to the strong computer science program, its importance to autonomous and connected vehicles, and the company Ann Arbor Networks.

While it is home to an EPA testing facility and already has a cutting-edge testing ground to validate new tech in connected and automated vehicles in a real environment (MCity), the region is planning to make additional resources available to further strengthen the mobility cluster.

If these tech clusters, as well as accesible talent, sounds appealing to you at all, you should consider getting in touch with Ann Arbor SPARK. SPARK is the center node in the entrepreneurial ecosystem for the greater Ann Arbor region and is a great resource in getting you connected, settled in and focused on growing your business.

If you want to hit the ground running in an accelerator program, the Desai accelerator may be something to look at closely. This program is well connected with the university, its alumni network, other support organizations, financers and local businesses. Because of this, it taps into everything Ann Arbor has to offer for startups.

A warm international welcome in Oakland County

A short drive north of Detroit we find Oakland County, a soft landing place for more than 1,040 international companies, both big and small. As such it provides a customer base of tech companies in the space of connected vehicles, robotics, cybersecurity, IT/software, E-health, mobile technology, game development, digital media, health care and advanced manufacturing. The military is a big potential costumer for autonomous automotive and robotics technology as well.

New innovations that are launched here are typically in the space of automotive, mobility, IT, medical device and life sciences, many of them cutting across these sectors. Since the area has the largest concentration of advanced manufacturing and robotics nationwide, Oakland University developed an exceptional (industrial) robotics program.

It is one of the few universities working with Amazon (on mobile packaging) and Google. It focuses on creating collaborative robots and the implementation of cloud technology, smart web manufacturing, and artificial intelligence.

It has formed an advisory board of top robotics companies and gear manufacturers such as GM, to advice on their curriculum and their autonomous robotics cluster is supported by the US army.

OU INC, the incubator affiliated with Oakland University, is especially focused on energy, medical device, and IT. Energy is perceived in a broad way; they are looking for new ways of moving, cleaning and heating water, innovative energy solutions in agriculture, IT and medical devices, as well as energy management in buildings.

OU INC, like the university, is interested in collaboration and is well coordinated with local industry by aligning its focus with regional strengths.

If you feel that your product fits the market and that your company could leverage the talent and academic excellence available in the Detroit region, Automation Alley, located in between downtown Detroit and Oakland County, should definitely be on your shortlist of local contacts.

We found that Automation Alley offers a complete and comprehensive program with great support services, education, network access and tech consultants covering everything needed to grow a company in the Detroit metro area.

Downtown and midtown Detroit, connect with the urban core

While there is an active effort to diversify the economy, a clear synergy around everything automotive remains. It’s in the DNA of Southeast Michigan. The region is the epicenter of the North American auto industry and the densest cluster of automotive design, engineering, R&D, and manufacturing on the planet.

Aside from pure automotive and manufacturing, downtown and midtown Detroit are growing their cloud computing, IoT, mobility, cybersecurity, software and IT clusters. Quicken Loans is also boosting FinTech while Little Caesar’s and Domino’s are doing the same for IT. Wayne State is found to be a hub for medical devices and therapeutics.

Most demand from this region can be found in the space of lightweight materials, industrial IT, autonomous and connected vehicles, replacements for the car in any form, and everything else related to personal mobility.

If you are a flexible and creative entrepreneur who enjoys being part of rebuilding a city from the bottom up, downtown and midtown Detroit could be the place for you.

Here your business can visibly impact your surroundings and help shape Detroit’s future. If this sounds like your speed, be sure to take a closer look at TechTown. Founded by GM, Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital, TechTown is the most well established startup hub in the city of Detroit. If you are not only looking for a soft-landing space but also a test bed to fine-tune your tech to fit the American market, NextEnergy may be able to provide what you need.

Stronger together

To make optimal use of opportunities in the Detroit metro area, you should not confine yourself to either one of these hubs. Together, they form a complete ecosystem where innovation can thrive. By tapping into their resources simultaneously, your business can thrive as well.

Read more on the business climate, VC investment per sector and the talent base in our next blog.

Can’t wait for the next post or have questions? Contact us! We’re here to help.