Detroit’s Techstars Mobility helps startups

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One startup, Zohr, turns Mercedes-Benz vans into mobile tire stores.

DETROIT – While Sunjay Dodani was preparing for the removal of Silicon Valley for three months and placed his startup in a company incubator, his team of advisers insisted on reconsidering it.

They thought that his young company, which makes sensors that collect detailed information about the health of the tires, can be better served in a Bay Area culture that is tailor-made for small startups.

"But there was something in my stomach," said Dodani, CEO of IntelliTire. "It is a risk to leave the innovation bubble in Silicon Valley for the Midwest, but this is a relationship industry and mobility in its own way is very much about building relationships."

Mobility is much more than the car industry, but Dodani said that the crossroads of those relationships are still running through Detroit. IntelliTire therefore continued with its participation in the Techstars Mobility Accelerator, along with 10 other startups that form the fourth class of burgeoning companies of the organization.

The founders of the companies have over the past three months polished their business plans and established partnerships with heavyweights from the industry, such as Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Bosch during their work in the city. Last week they graduated from the business incubator and placed their company with a crowd of about 1,000 professionals from the industry during an event at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

"I'll skip the traditional car shows now instead of this event," said Reilly Brennan, general partner at Trucks Venture Capital in San Francisco. "The value for me as an investor lies not only with the companies on the podium, but also with the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which includes other VCs, potential founders and also a handful of large OEM customers."

Series of companies

Although nobody confuses the Motor City for Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv, the 11 companies contribute to an emerging start-up culture in Detroit that crosses the borders. From tires to travel, this year's class spans the transport spectrum. Some companies are anchored in the latest artificial intelligence and some are ingeniously simple.

IntelliTire has built sensors that provide data on the health of tires that go beyond tire and tire pressure, including counting the number of revolutions and measuring how individual pits and rough roads affect the life span of a tire. With the use of primer to rise in an age of automated fleets – not to mention the current army of e-bikes and scooters – tires will be rolled faster and fleet managers can demand detailed information about their status.

"The band is the secret sauce," said Dodani, who signed a cooperation agreement with Goodyear during his time with Techstars. "It's the only thing that touches the ground, it's the only thing that translates all that performance, innovation and technology from the car to the road, it will tell you everything you need to know if it's connected."

IntelliTire was not the only techstars participant to wring innovation from where the rubber hits the road. Zohr, from Kansas City, Mo., is transforming Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans into mobile tire stores, based on the premise that drivers do not want to wait for mechanics to repair a flat or run their tires.

Concessions about mobility

Bicycle safety was another important issue, with two companies that wanted to make bicycles less dangerous. One, LaneSpotter, from Pittsburgh, essentially builds a Waze-app for cyclists – which offers crowdsourced information about streets such as bicycle paths and where there are gaps or other obstacles.

At first glance, there is not much that connects cyclists with the auto industry and so & # 39; n app can be built virtually anywhere. But LaneSpotter founder Lynsie Campbell said she found value in spending three months in Detroit.

"Although this city is very motor-oriented, everyone thinks more about mobility," she said. "The talks I had with Ford, Bosch and Honda and the other business partners of the program, it was an open door to see how much they think about mobility in general and the transition from car companies to mobility companies."

Although she returns to Pittsburgh, Campbell says she will probably visit Detroit every month to maintain the relationships she has built through Techstars. That is a small way in which the accelerator hopes to provide economic tailwind to the region.

None of the companies in this year's class come from Detroit, but there are now several who want to open offices here. Sam Zheng, founder of DeepHow, who makes instructional videos for skilled professionals and improves their training, said he plans to move his company here from New York City.

In this way, the program helps import talent and entrepreneurs to southeast Michigan. Of the 44 startups that went through Techstars, only two local and a half dozen were moved here. Managing Director Ted Serbinski said that this is good for the economy in general and traditional car manufacturers in particular.