When we found ourselves amidst the cluster of new downtown Detroit boutique hotels Monday night, we couldn't help but wonder — where did all these young wealthy-looking people come from? They somehow seemed even trendier than those we've previously seen milling around the Shinola, Siren and Element hotels.
Then we remembered the email we received earlier in the day from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation — the entity that approved the tax incentives to facilitate all that luxury lodging. "MEDC welcomes Forbes 30 Under 30 to Michigan," it read. (As far as we can tell, however, this is not the name of the event. Rather, it is the "Under 30 summit.")
Yes, the business and investment publication has selected Detroit, Michigan for its annual celebration of young CEOs, investors and celebrities. Day one highlights included a talk by headliner Serena Williams (she sat before a Forbes magazine backdrop declaring her among "the richest self-made women") and a debate by Republican challengers to Donald Trump.
It was an odd scene for the city — the nation's poorest, and a Democratic bastion. But the MEDC and media covering the event all appeared blind to that juxtaposition.
Young upstarts gathered to grow their wealth in a city where about a third of the population struggles to survive on less than $12,000 per year? This was a comeback story, god damnit.
“Detroit is a premier example of what can happen when entrepreneurs, investors, elected officials and entertainers come together to address challenges, create partnerships and reimagine a city’s role on the world stage,” said Jeff Mason, CEO of the MEDC. “Entrepreneurship is in our DNA here in Michigan, and whether its leading the next revolution in transportation through our mobility initiatives to growing a thriving high-tech startup ecosystem in the state, Michigan – and Detroit – is the perfect place to bring the next generation of makers, and doers, together.”
General admission for the summit is $595. That grants attendees access to a music festival, bar crawl, networking session, "immersive Detroit experiences" and an "exclusive pitch day" that matches young CEOs with venture capitalists. There's also a community service component.
There's a fair amount of local representation at the event. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan addressed the crowd Monday. Representatives from Detroit's major teams gave a sports marketing talk, the Hollywood actresses behind a downtown hair drying business discussed how they're "leveraging" their starpower, and a leading local marijuana attorney told people how to get into the weed business in a session called "cannabis capitalism."
The summit returns to Detroit in each of the next two years. The last host city was Boston.