I drove to TechTown this morning in thick fog that seemed likely to obscure Detroit and its challenges for most of the day. As I turned off I-94 onto Woodward and then the Burroughs entrance to TechTown, this was obviously not a normal Saturday morning.
Even through the swirling mist I could see that the car park was filling up and people were banging on the main door of TechTown anxious to get in the building. Inside, 70 people were milling about waiting for the action to start. This was Startup Weekend, an event designed to bring entrepreneurs together to swap ideas, come together in teams and develop new business plans – all over a long weekend.
One visitor had flown in from Hawaii, and several from out of state including a group of students who had driven from Bowling Green University, in Ohio and Donald Desantis, a volunteer facilitator from Seattle. The ideas for new businesses were flowing as fast as the coffee-and Brandon Chestnutt, the local organizer was roaming TechTown to make sure that every group working on a new business idea had a conference facility to get to work.
One group was working on an internet application for car pooling, another on a Boredom box to connect people who are home alone with nothing to do, another on a biometric security device and another on an application to help parents organize fun things for their kids .
The participants will pitch their ideas on Sunday evening and the winners will earn a $5,000 prize. There are at least 14 similar Startup Weekends in progress around the world in places as far flung as Lebanon and Brazil. It will be interesting to see which country comes up with the most interesting new business ideas. One thing I know, the group in TechTown has so much energy that they are already effecting the climate in the city. When I stepped out of the building after an hour, the thick fog around the building had cleared and the sky was shining brightly. The electricity of Start-up weekend was heating up Detroit.