Fontinalis Partners’ Chris Thomas: Risk Is Part of the Game in the Race for the Next Billion-Dollar Mobility Company

Next-generation mobility is not the future, it is happening now, and Detroit has more attributes than any other place in the world to cultivate the next billion-dollar company. That was the key message Chris Thomas, founder and partner of Fontinalis Partners delivered to attendees during a keynote address at the 2017 MICHauto Summit.

Current advancements are laying the groundwork for the future state of mobility, but to win, companies must have the will to take risks.

“It’s not the future, it’s not something that is going to happen, it’s the present,” Thomas said. “This is an industry that has four major components – everlasting innovation, a global ecosystem, dynamic opportunity, and a chance to move to win.”

Crediting his career to “a little bit of chutzpah” and a kind man, referring to Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford, a founding partner of Fontinalis Partners, Thomas explained to conversation host Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, that taking risks and asking for what he wanted helped get him to where he is today.

Key Takeaways:

  • Automotive technology is just a fragment of a larger mobility picture.
  • Mobility is a dynamic opportunity – one of the largest markets in our lifetime and Detroit has a chance to lead and win.
  • Mobility is broader than we think; autonomous vehicles are only one part of a larger picture that includes all modes of transportation: air, land and sea.
  • Mobility industry trends have created a fundamentally new business ecosystem.
  • Advancements in technology and infrastructure are driving a new age of accessible mobility and fertile ground for entrepreneurs.
  • The expanding nature of mobility presents challenges and actionable white space opportunities for businesses and investors.

Dan Gilbert on Detroit Talent at NAIAS: ‘No Place Else Compares’

Speaking at the kickoff of the 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) on Sunday, Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert said no place on the planet has more talent and drive than Detroit – a key selling point for tech and automotive companies looking to become players in the next-generation mobility space.

“The energy, cooperation and collaboration is here,” Gilbert told an audience of national and international journalists at the opening of the new Automobili-D exhibit. “You can have a great product and service but you have to have the talent … Detroit is that magnet.”

In addressing questions from Bloomberg reporter Betty Liu on what sets Detroit apart from other cities in the United States, Gilbert said he believes giving millennials the opportunity to feel like they are part of something greater than themselves is a major selling point.

Gilbert, a 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference keynote speaker, also reiterated his message of being willing to take big risks and said he is amazed at the number of businesses moving back to the city. Noting that existing real estate in the downtown area is nearing capacity, Gilbert predicted that 10 to 15 high-rise buildings will begin construction in Detroit over the next five years. View the interview here.

Other announcements throughout the day included:

  • Disney’s Pixar Animation Studio offered a sneak peak of its upcoming “Cars 3” film. Flanked by a life-size model of “Lightening McQueen,” the star of the film series, John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, discussed Detroit and the auto show’s impact on the studio’s blockbuster movie. Research and development for the first film began after Lasseter visited the auto show in 2001.
  • Chris Thomas, founder and partner of Fontinalis Partners LLC, discussed Detroit’s role in the future of mobility and encouraged public and private collaboration to keep Michigan at the forefront of transportation as a service. “Detroit has an opportunity to be a global hub for mobility but we have to act now, or it will pass us by,” he said.
  • John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, introduced the Chrysler Pacifica self-driving minivan, which will be on the roads in California and Arizona later this month. He also said Michigan built 100 Pacifica minivans that will be the first vehicles to receive Waymo’s self-driving technology. “We’re not seeking to build a better car,” Krafcik said. “We’re seeking to build a better driver.”
  • Ken Washington of Ford Motor Co., Danny Shapiro of NVIDIA, and David Strickland of the Self-Driving Coalition, participated in a State of Autonomy panel discussion for the last event of the day. The panelists discussed the latest technology, current legislation, major consumer concerns and what needs to happen to take autonomous vehicles from prototypes to mainstream. The panel was moderated by Tim Stevens of CNET’s “Roadshow.”