Thought-Starters

Detroit Venture Partners re-imagines the Madison Theatre building


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In a town used to pessimism, tech start-ups are giving Detroit a reason for optimism. Detroit Venture Partners, led by Josh Linkner, Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, and Brian Hermelin, is largely responsible for this by re-imagining the old Madison Theatre edifice as M@dison Building, housing several of Detroit’s newest start-ups.

Detroit Labs, a web and mobile app developer, is one of the start-ups at M@dison. Founded in 2011 with backing from Detroit Venture Partners, Detroit Labs has already made a name for itself with their award-winning Chevy Game Time app and the Domino’s Ordering app, accounting for a large slice of Domino’s Pizza sales.

What sets it apart from other tech companies in Detroit is what they like to call “Lab Time,” where all employees are allotted 20 percent of their time to spend on personal projects. This boosts workers’ creativity, which is transferable to projects already being worked on for their clients.

LevelEleven CEO Bob Marsh has a similar attitude about boosting worker performance. His flagship product, Contest Builder, is an app within salesforce.com that companies can buy to maximize the performance of their sales team. The app tracks each sales member’s performance and rewards them with prizes for accomplishing new goals set by their manager. Statistics are posted for the sales team to see. “People aren’t motivated because they want the prize. They’re motivated by the salesforce and seeing their name on the leader board,” Marsh says.

For co-founders Jay Gierak and Nathan Labenz, who witnessed the birth of Facebook in Kirkland House at Harvard, building a technology that did what Facebook accomplished was obvious. So obvious, in fact, that they decided to tap into the Facebook platform when building stik.com, a service for people looking for recommendations from Facebook friends about products or services while they shop.

“If you’re looking for a restaurant, and your friend recommends a restaurant in your area, that’s really valuable … more valuable than if a stranger recommends a restaurant,” Gierak says.

Though not based in Detroit, Maker’s Row co-founder Matthew Burnett is a Detroit native with a technology start-up company in Brooklyn, N.Y.  The goal of Maker’s Row is to connect businesses with manufacturers in the United States.

“I wanted to provide a comprehensive resource for domestic manufacturers,” Burnett says. “Usually overseas manufacturing is less expensive, but we’re seeing a sort of change,” he says.

When faced with the problem of not being able to easily find and connect with U.S.-based manufacturers, Burnett saw an opportunity to make his own technology that would do just that by branching out to manufacturers in big cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

O2 Photograph by Bernt Rostad.
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