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Techonomy visits Detroit tomorrow

Anyone in Detroit involved in the tech scene, startups, or just generally curious about the intersection of business, politics, and everyday life should attend Techonomy tomorrow.

Hosted at Wayne State University’s Community Arts Auditorium & McGregor Memorial Conference Center, this is the third year the conference is convening in Detroit. Speakers include locals like Alex Alsup of Loveland Technologies, David Behen, director of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget and Michigan’s CIO, Josh Linkner of Detroit Venture Partners, Bridget Russo, head of marketing for Shinola, and Rip Rapson of the Kresge Foundation.

Other notable panelists include Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square (and founder and chairman of Twitter), and representatives of innovative startups such as Sisters Code, Big Box Farms, and Uber.

It’s nothing but good news Techonomy is visiting Detroit again. DVoice spoke with Techonomy founder, host and CEO David Kirkpatrick last week on the phone.

In all the positive this conference brings to Detroit, we discussed the very real challenges that lie ahead. Namely in bring the tech revolution to the neighborhoods of the city. Bringing those technology opportunities to residents with less access to education, less means of support, and less understanding of the digital world is the next step in the “tech revolution.”

It’s a challenge that is all too clear along the streets of Detroit, and Kirkpatrick knows that.

Below are some excerpts from our conversation.

Techonomy founder and CEO David Kirkpatrick

Techonomy founder and CEO David Kirkpatrick

What is Techonomy?

Kirkpatrick said Techonomy’s intention is to convene people to talk about change – and the increasing pace of change – and what that means for traditional businesses as well as entrepreneurs.

“As a technology journalist myself, it was become clearer and clearer to me that the pace of change in technology was creating uncertainty in society as to what all these changes were going to mean,” he said. “Processing has brought rapid change, along with the connectivity of the internet.”

“We’re now in a landscape where new opportunities are coming in from unexpected places. People in a garage can start a company, crowdsource design and software of it. You don’t need a lot of money to build a company. You can do things that used to require enormous amounts of capital and bypass a huge percentage of former requirements. For many incumbents, that’s a very jarring reality.”

“If leaders [of all kinds] can embrace technology more consciously, the world can address its problems more rapidly and more effectively.”

“Everyone is a leader in an empowered world.”

Why Detroit?

“We felt there were fundamentally American challenges that would be usefully discussed in a public program. How all economic changes pose threats to existing orders, and on other hand create economic opportunities. Specifically, how they give cities opportunities to reorganize and revitalize. Detroit became most logical place to have those discussions. The needs in Detroit are more starkly obvious than other cities.”

“Detroit is literally a green field. You can try things in Detroit you can’t try anywhere else. There’s an openness to new ideas because the old ideas have so obviously failed.”

What’s changed since Techonomy first visited Detroit in 2012?

“The willingness to rethink how city is restructured and governed has really advanced a lot in past three years. Bankruptcy and a new mayor, along with the state’s role in moving things along. It’s sad that it had to get to that point, but resetting things has a tremendous benefit.”

“But you have to see how bad it is to know what you can do about it. No one knew up to that point.”

“Another change I would point to is the appeal Detroit poses to entrepreneurs has really grown. There’s a flocking to Detroit of young, creative problem-solving types. And it’s a safer place to go than other places. You can make do with less.”

What challenges still lie ahead?

“There’s still one fundamental challenge. That tech-based revival of Detroit is still a center city, middle class kind of renovation. But the giant swath of Detroit is not included in enough of that transformation.”

“Tech-based people have to focus ideas on inclusiveness and bring full population into tech revival. It’s not a miracle until it’s much more broadly participated in.”

“The new tools and sharing economy are going to be engines of the future economy. But I don’t think people are realistically grappling with how they’ll be available to everybody.”

“And to be honest, I’m not sure the answers are there.”

Kaitlyn Buss
Kaitlyn Buss is editorial page writer for The Detroit News. Prior to joining the News, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked in public relations, opinion writing, and ran communications for an association of state legislators. She's a native of Metro Detroit. Follow her @KaitlynBuss.