As Sam Shapiro, founder of Grounded, a producer of electric camper vans, said of the Newlab facility at Michigan Central, “We’ve had engineering candidates tell us this building is like a candy shop for an engineer because there’s millions of dollars of equipment and machinery and tools for us to use.”
That kind of endorsement is music to the ears of Josh Sirefman, chief executive officer of Ford’s Michigan Central, a 30-acre mobility innovation district centered on the historic train station.
“Oh, absolutely,” Sirefman said about Newlab. “But it’s not just about engineers. It’s about entrepreneurs, the kind of talent to work with entrepreneurs, the resources to surround them, the technical tools, but also a community that provides unexpected interactions, resources, and networking. So it’s all of the ingredients.”
From Startups to Skilled Training
Opened just last April, the Newlab building already houses about 50 startups plus supporting groups, about 350 people in all. And Sirefman said the building is still only at about 30 percent capacity, leaving plenty more room to grow.
Nor is it just startups that matter. The effort at the Michigan Central campus includes skills training for Detroiters in tech arts like maintenance of EV charging stations. Graduates will be able to land jobs in the field making a good income. That, too, is part of the holistic plan for Michigan Central.
The Intersection of Mobility and Society
“The vision is to create a truly world and market-beating ecosystem focused around the intersection of mobility and society,” Sirefman said. “Part of it also is to create an extraordinary place that is a talent magnet.”
Other entrepreneurs who came to Newlab in Detroit echo that.
“I just felt that would be a perfect fit where we have significant historic buildings where they’re aiming to make the equivalent of Silicon Valley just for hardware,” said Rasmus Noraas Bendvold, managing director of the U.S. operations of Norway-based wheel.me, which produces autonomous wheels. “We wanted to be part of it. It fits all the boxes with necessary space, woodshop, 3-D print shop, electrical shop and more. It’s a perfect place to be for a scale-up business like us.”
Like many startups at NewLab at Michigan Central, Shapiro’s Grounded had looked at other states as potential homes but focused on Detroit when they learned what Newlab was offering at the Michigan Central campus.
“At that point it was a no-brainer because of the resources and community that was here at Michigan Central,” he said.
Tenants Make the Best Recruiters
Sharing of resources and ideas is so critical that startups at Newlab become some of the best recruiters. Consider Justin Kosmides, CEO and co-founder of Vela Bikes, a Brazil-based e-bike producer that located here.
“We are looking at convincing more and more operators and brands to move here because we also benefit,” Kosmides said. “There are huge economies of scale that we need to be surrounded by. I’ve been on a mini campaign on my own to get as many other brands and producers here to pool resources together.”
And that, in fact, is what Ford’s vision for its Michigan Central campus is all about.
The December Detroiter tackles the intertwined population and talent crisis that threatens Michigan’s future prosperity and growth. View the latest edition.