The Power of Community: Startups Drive NFL Draft Week in Detroit

Published On: April 26, 2024Categories: Community Impact, Founder 2 Founder, Investors

By Pete Martin, Head of Connection at Michigan Founders Fund

Fly Over, Miss Out is the new FOMO.

This week, Detroit didn’t just play host to an attendance-record-setting NFL Draft (over 275,000 people!); it showed the world how much the city and state has grown into its new role as the #1 emerging startup ecosystem in the western hemisphere. We saw a series of tech activations brought together by a host of organizations to celebrate both Detroit and the broader Michigan community. The energy in Michigan’s startup scene is off the charts and was on full display this week! If you hadn’t been paying attention to what’s happening in the state, now is the time to get onboard.

Michigan Founders Fund Pitch Competition Winners on stage

MFF Pitch Competition Winners Kim Gamez of Sober(ish) and Ashton Keys of Athlytic on stage at the Sports, Tech, and Venture Summit.

MFF pitch contestants sitting on a couch

From left to right: Evan Anderson, Pearl Edison, Tiffany Cartwright, G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs, Finn Gomez, Detroit Salsa Company, Kim Gamez, Sober(ish), Valerie Obenchain, AIRS, Lanna Last, AIMA, and Ashton Keys, Athlytic.

The whole week was chock-full of startup events, including the Motor City Tech Forum, the Sports Tech Trends Talk, a full day of events on the State of Female Founders, and Thursday’s Sports, Tech, and Venture Summit, capped off with Friday’s Players & Investors Luncheon. If there was a place you wanted to be this week as a founder or investor, it was Detroit.

MFF was fortunate to host Thursday’s pitch competition, kicked off by Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, which featured seven Michigan-based companies each with the opportunity to share their stories in front of a crowd of hundreds of their founder peers and investors from across the country. Congratulations to Kim Gamez of Sober(ish) on her first place win and $10,000 prize! Kim also received a memorable bonus—a football signed by NFL legend Peyton Manning, courtesy of a surprise gesture by Rally from Indianapolis. Following closely was Ashton Keys of Athlytic, who secured 2nd place and a $5,000 prize for his NIL platform connecting students and brands. All of the pitching companies were absolutely incredible, with attendees getting to see and sample products from Finn Gomez of Detroit Salsa Company, Tiffany Cartwright of G.L.A.M. Body Scrubs, Evan Anderson of Pearl Edison, Valerie Obenchain of AIRS, and Lanna Last of AIMA! I highly encourage you to check out these companies – they’re a great example of what’s being built in Michigan, across the state, across industries, and by people of all backgrounds.

THANK YOU to the teams at Ann Arbor SPARK and Kapor Center for helping to sponsor the pitch competition prize, and to Charles Harris of the Detroit Lions, Shalanda Armstrong of 100KM Ventures, Tom Zheng of The Players Company, Jarrett Irons of Omada Ventures, and Jared Stasik of Detroit Venture Partners for taking on the difficult task of judging the pitches!

Pearl Edison pitching at the Sports, Tech, and Venture Summit

Evan Anderson of Pearl Edison pitching to a crowd of hundreds at the Sports, Tech, and Venture Summit.

From the onset, Detroit and Michigan’s spirit of collaboration shone through. Organizations from across the state and beyond joined forces, drawing hundreds to events throughout the week, with even greater numbers flocking to Thursday’s Sports, Tech, and Venture Summit. Fittingly given the state’s sports history, it’s this team spirit that is pushing Detroit and Michigan’s startup scene to new heights, with venture investment climbing to all-time highs even while investment across the globe dipped 35% year over year. We are grateful to the wonderful people at Milestone Growth Capital Institute, TechTown Detroit, Newlab, Plain Sight, Midwest House, Techstars Detroit, Union Heritage, Song Foundation, and so many others that came together to celebrate what is being built here.

Protein Pints team posing for a picture with Pete Martin

MFF members Protein Pints stopped by to serve their protein ice cream at the Sports, Tech, and Venture Summit!

Community is what has gotten us here. Founders helping founders, organizations coming together to support and celebrate founders, and investors showing up to provide fuel to founders’ fire. This week simply would not have happened if it weren’t for the groups of people that came together to do something special. Community is what will take Michigan to even higher heights. It’s at the very core of what is happening in the state, a competitive advantage over other regions. And it’s this community that will be on full display this fall at Michigan Tech Week (2024 dates coming soon). I hope to see you there!

There’s room for everyone in our community. Come join us! If you’re a founder going down the path of high-growth, we’d love to see you join MFF. If you’re an investor, we’d love to connect you with some impressive, venture-backable companies. Don’t let yourself get FOMO 😉 .

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