Within the walls of a once abandoned train station, a quiet brainstorming session is taking place.

The daylong #MCSChallenge workshop united young entrepreneurs to participate in a design thinking challenge exploring ways to grow an inclusive tech ecosystem while re-imaging the potential of MCS and the surrounding Corktown community.

Powered by Ford Motor Company and Venture Catalysts, community organizers and representatives from Ford Land are hosting a panel of influencers to discuss ways in which Detroit might be primed to become the next hot spot for Tech.

Photo: Twitter/@AndrewHump

Moderated by Shawn H. Wilson, Manager of Multicultural Community Engagement at Ford Motor Company, the panel included: Niles Heron, Founder Principal, Simple Machines Consulting;  Zafar Razzacki, head of product, May Mobility; Monica Wheat, executive director, Venture Catalysts; James Norman, CEO, Pilotly.

The audience benefited from the experience of seasoned panel of tech entrepreneurs who shared insights on everything from the limitless nature of innovation to the many avenues of securing seed funding.

Photo: Urban Content Studios

The panel discussion, which spawned engaging conversation and Q&A throughout the room, found itself visiting one recurring question: While the future of Detroit looks promising, how can the city brand itself as a true tech ecosystem to keep and attract young talent? Panelist Zafar Razzacki offered some insight.

“Silicone Valley has been it at a little longer, but with the right combo of people, money and hustle, Detroit can become that next Tech city,” Razzacki said. “All it takes is talent, vision and resources.”

The consensus of the room suggests that young Detroiters are not necessarily interested in seeing their city become the next Silicon Valley, but they are interested in learning and building from the successful business community to create their own Midwestern gem.

The Midwest is a perfect spot because the work ethic is world class here,” Norman said.

“There is a high propensity of success, which allows you or anyone to build a great company.”

Photo: Urban Content Studios

So, where do we begin in this journey to create a thriving tech ecosystem in Detroit? How do we retain young talent in the city? When you combine the state’s heavy concentration of engineers and educational institutions graduating top notch tech majors with the work-ethic and hustle that is bred into the Midwestern value system, there is no reason that Detroit can’t claim it’s stake as a major tech hub.

Wheat believes one way to nurture young, in-state talent is to teach computer science and technology at a young age.

“There are several programs that help the youth,” she says. “One way is to ask corporations to make a commitment to come here and give their time teaching valuable tools in order to have that successful start-up.”

Photo: Urban Content Studios

Nile suggested that while it’s ideal for the city’s young talent to stay in Detroit and never leave, sometimes leaving is inevitable.

“The key is you gotta come back,” he says. “There are going to be challenges. We don’t want another Silicone Valley. We need to build something here. Go where you can win, but come back.”

The day-long visioning session produced unlimited ideation culminating with a pitch competition allowing groups to present their highest “moonshot” for designing an inclusive and dynamic MCS.

As each group presented their vision, Ford Land chairman and CEO, Dave Dubensky, gave valuable feedback and shared encouraging words with the young tech leaders.

Photo: Kirk Pinho/Crain’s Detroit Business

“I love having the opportunity to hear everyone’s ideas,” Dubensky said. “I hope when MCS opens in 2022, some of you all can come back and say, ‘that was my concept or I helped with that.’

We want to include the community in this process.”

The #MCSChallenge represents one of many ways in which Ford is elevating community voice and inviting local stakeholders into the process. It’s an exciting time for Corktown and the city of Detroit. We look forward to continued engagement to come!  


Read Next: Two Legendary Detroit Graffiti Artists Make Their Mark On Historic Train Station



The Ford Resource and Engagement Center (FREC) is a client-directed community center where people can learn new skills, obtain needed services, develop new talents and celebrate community. Made possible by grants from Ford Motor Company Fund, The Ford Resource and Engagement Center brings together non-profit partners to serve the surrounding community. 

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