Back to Blog October 18, 2016 in

Strengthening Collaboration Between Startups & Automotive Industry in Detroit

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On Dec 11, 2014, Bill Ford introduced Techstars Mobility to the world: the first startup accelerator program in North America to focus on the future of mobility, automotive, and transportation. You can watch part of this announcement here. Since then, we’ve been on a mission to connect the automotive and startup worlds by breaking down silos, building partnerships, and fostering community. And we’re doing this from downtown Detroit, the epicenter of the global automotive industry.

MVCA member, Techstars Mobility focuses on investing in the future of automotive mobility and transportation. We look for startup companies building technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely. We bring together automotive and mobility industry leaders with a select group of the most innovative, emerging startups for a 90-day, mentorship-driven program. We have partnered with Ford, Magna, Verizon, Dana, Honda, McDonald’s, Munich Re, and Michelin to support and mentor these startups.

Techstars Mobility has invested in 22 mobility companies from all around the world. Three of these companies have relocated to Detroit: Lunar (class of 2015), SPLT (class of 2015), and joining them today, Drive Spotter (class of 2016). Combined, they have hired 23 team members and are working closely with Detroit companies including Ford, DTE Energy, Magna,, Matrix Human Services, COTS Detroit, and others.

We’ve also brought two additional high-growth startups to Detroit: Mapbox and Polysync, the latter of which is a Techstars Ventures investment. These companies will be opening their Detroit offices out of the Techstars Mobility space, joining Oblong who opened their Detroit office last year.

One true testament of a great ecosystem is the commitment by companies to relocate and establish a base in that area. It is amazing to see six automotive mobility startups doing just that, all within the last 12 months. I’m convinced that continuing to showcase the burgeoning Detroit ecosystem will contribute to more and more startups relocating to Detroit.

We are continuing our mission to expose more startups to Detroit. A couple weeks ago, we opened applications to bring 50+ mobility, automotive, and transportation startups to the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. If you are a startup and want to be part of this ground breaking event, apply here.


Connecting Startups & Automotive Companies

Techstars Mobility operates at the intersection of Detroit’s two biggest strengths: automotive dominance and entrepreneurial resurgence.

As we watch the shift from manufactured automotive vehicles to mobility services occur across the industry, we’re seeing stronger collaboration between startups and automotive companies.

Just look to CB Insights infographic depicting just that: All the major automotive OEMs are actively investing, acquiring, and partnering with startups. The momentum in 2016 is quite contagious. It’s incredible to see the alignment of Silicon Valley thinking and Detroit’s robust automotive know-how.

At Techstars Mobility, we’re helping to push this collaboration even further. We’ve partnered with 8 leading automotive and mobility corporations: Ford, Magna, Verizon, Dana, Honda, McDonald’s, Munich Re, and Michelin. The 22 startups that have gone through Techstars Mobility programs have developed deep and long lasting relationships with these corporations. On the flip slide, these corporations have learned a great deal about working with startups that operate in days instead of months to get things done. Do more faster indeed!

In addition to the relationships with these corporations, we brought in over 200 mentors from over 50 different automotive related companies– OEMs, suppliers, software companies, and investors. These mentors have come by our office in downtown Detroit to work with and mentor these startups.

What this has created is quite profound: Techstars Mobility operates the most active collaboration of automotive companies and startups, all from downtown Detroit.

The future of mobility is being built in Detroit.

Growth of Detroit’s Startup Community

September 8 was the 2nd Techstars Mobility Demo Day in downtown Detroit. With over 1,000 RSVPs again this year, Techstars Mobility is the first Techstars program ever to have back-to-back demo days with over 1,000 folks. With 275 investors in the audience and over 300 mentors, it’s incredible to watch the startup mentorship network blossoming around Detroit.

You can watch the entire demo day on YouTube by clicking here.

This attendance record is a huge testament to the community around Detroit — both the startup and automotive communities. Demo Day is coming off the heels of Detroit’s first Startup Week, which had over 3,000 attendees, the largest ever for a launch of that program.

To capture this growth of the startup community, coupled with the entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, we’re working with Long Haul Films to develop the documentary Restarting the Motor City. This is a feature-length documentary about the creators, innovators and entrepreneurs who are reimagining Detroit. They are breaking free from the shackles of 20th-century thinking to create a new model for cities across the globe. We anticipate airing the full documentary sometime in 2017.

Two Classes of Successful Mobility Startups

Techstars Mobility has now completed two programs over the last 18 months. We’ve seen hundreds of applications from 52 countries, across 6 continents. For a more indepth look at the mobility and automotive trends we’ve seen, check out this blog post.

Our 2015 class of startups have now gone on to raise over $8M in funding. Lunar, Wise, Elegus, Pitstop, and SPLT have all raised significant seed-stage financings > $1M. The rest of the class is still operating and growing their businesses.

Our 2016 class of startups is on pace to double that of last year’s class. Investors this year have been quite aggressive. Most of the startups have ⅓ to ½ their round committed — some were even oversubscribed before they set foot on the stage at Demo Day — wow!

From the start of the program until now, the current 2016 class has experienced tremendous growth. To see that evolution, check out the company descriptions from 3 months ago and compare to where they are today:

  • Acerta is an enterprise platform that uses machine learning to detect anomalies and predict failures in real time for automotive vehicles coming off the assembly line or being driven.
  • Algocian is an edge computing platform that uses deep learning to make every camera smart.
  • Braiq personalizes the ride experience in autonomous vehicles by teaching artificial intelligence how to better read human emotions.
  • Cargo is the in-car marketplace for the ride-sharing economy. Drivers earn more money and improve their riders’ experience by providing essential goods on-the-go.
  • Donut Media is the media company for the next generation of automotive enthusiasts.
  • Drive Spotter is a machine learning platform that trains human drivers and autonomous vehicles for enterprise fleets.
  • GoKid is a complete carpool solution for schools, teams, and active families, helping parents to carpool with families they know and trust.
  • HAAS Alert is the mobile vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) platform that delivers preemptive notifications to motorists, informing them of the road ahead.
  • Hero is an enterprise platform that reduces insurers’ liability from drunk driving by providing bars and restaurants with a mobile solution that incentivizes customers to get home safely.
  • Rally is a marketplace connecting groups, event-goers, and commuters for crowdpowered transportation.
  • Spatial is a location api that uses artificial intelligence to answer questions only a local would know.
  • Voyhoy is a multi-modal booking platform that helps people save time and money traveling long distances across bus, plane, train, ferry, and rideshare in Latin America.


This blog post originally appeared on To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski