The NFL Draft and Beyond – A landmark moment for Detroit tech, entrepreneurship, and culture

Detroit celebrated a landmark moment as it hosted the NFL Draft, setting an attendance record with 275,000 people on its first day. This historic event did more than just showcase Detroit’s love for sports; it spotlighted the city’s burgeoning role as a nexus for technology and entrepreneurship, particularly within the Black community showing, that in this moment, it’s deeper than just football.

On Friday, April 26th, the city of Detroit embraced its historic NFL Draft moment not just through sports but by spotlighting the burgeoning synergy between professional athletes and entrepreneurship. The event, ‘Winning Picks: Creating Pathways to Generational Wealth,’ held at The Conservatory at Book Tower, marked a pivotal step in this direction.

This exclusive two-hour event, orchestrated by NFL veteran defensive end, and former first-round draft pick Charles Harris, in collaboration with Black Tech Saturdays founders and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), was more than just a gathering. It was a strategic convergence of athletes, startups, and investors aimed at fostering a rich dialogue on building generational wealth through tech innovation and investment.

As someone who’s walked through Detroit’s evolving landscape, Harris knows the score—not just on the field, but in the game of life where financial success can be as fleeting as fame. This former Lions team captain, fresh from his 2023 season, is well-acquainted with the perks and pitfalls of sudden wealth. It’s one thing to make it, but another to keep it and even more to spread it.

Harris is committed to simplifying this journey for other athletes by leveraging his platform to spotlight Detroit’s burgeoning tech ecosystem and investment potential.

However, the crucial question remains: How can one sustain wealth and foster generational growth, particularly in a city like Detroit? During the panel discussion at the NFL draft event, tech and entrepreneurship were highlighted as key avenues for achieving this. As athletes and local leaders gain financial literacy and explore these sectors, the potential for enduring economic development and wealth accumulation in Detroit grows, promising a future where success is not just momentary but a lasting legacy for generations.

The initiative is part of a broader campaign by state leaders to illuminate Detroit’s dual identity as an epic sports city and a thriving hub for business and innovation. Participants in the event included high-profile figures such as Johnnie and Alexa Turnage, founders of Black Tech Saturdays; Quentin L. Messer, Jr., Chief Executive & Economic Competitiveness Officer at MEDC; and Hilary Doe, Chief Growth & Marketing Officer for the State of Michigan, alongside numerous participating startups.

“If you want something new to happen, you have to first start with getting people in the room,” Johnnie Turnage, co-founder of BTS shared with the Michigan Chronicle. “To get to where we want to be at the level of power of the tech capital, we have to have a lot of people in the room asking the questions and finding solutions focusing on, ‘how do we do this’ so, I am really excited to have people in the room who can make these decisions and push the needle from all over the state in the room.”

The event featured a panel discussion on financial empowerment, tailored networking breakouts, and showcased numerous investment opportunities within Detroit’s vibrant talent pool. “Our whole point was to get the conversation started and our desired outcome was to really help make the connections and help people to see what’s possible and to unlock the mind to see what can happen when we cross-collaborate with the public sector, with our people in sports and entertainment, and with the State of Michigan,” said Alexa Turnage co-founder BTS. “There are many possibilities when the technologies, tech-founders, and investors come together. This event showed the people that it is possible to work with athletes, it is possible for the founders to understand how investors are thinking, and it’s possible for us to all be in the same room having that conversation. We saw the win today.”

Notably, it served as a beacon for other athletes like Harris, who have experienced financial success and are eager to leverage their platforms for community impact and economic growth.

“It’s about flattening the learning curve for fellow athletes and highlighting the vast opportunities within Detroit’s tech ecosystem,” Harris stated.

Dorian Giles, who was a part of Friday’s panel, plays a crucial role as Harris Athlete Manager, focusing on enhancing Harris brand presence in significant cities including his hometown, his college town, and the cities where he plays, like right here in Detroit. “Coming from the Bay area, I know that the connection between entrepreneurs and athletes is a thing there,” said Giles. “That’s what I thought the norm was but then I got out of that bubble and realized that’s not the norm around the country. So, when I came to Detroit I thought, how can I recreate that here because I personally experienced the value that people gain from that ecosystem out there and the first people I was told to connect with back in September when I made the move here was Johnnie and Alexa over BTS.”

Detroit’s tech scene is gaining momentum, fueled by a focus on inclusive growth and significant investment in Black-owned tech startups. Initiatives like the well-known Black Tech Saturdays have been pivotal in this advancement, offering platforms for Black entrepreneurs to connect, learn, and find support. These efforts are part of a larger push to retain and recruit young talent in Michigan, aiming to reverse population decline by attracting a vibrant, skilled workforce ready to engage with the state’s tech and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Doe emphasized the importance of this collaboration, “We are still a top ten state for patents, we’re producing tons of innovations like we always have, we’ve led the world since the beginning, in terms of innovation. But if those entrepreneurs are leaving the state, then we aren’t benefiting. This is why I hope that we can continue to collaborate with BTS more and more, I cannot overstate how important their work has been over the last year.”

Detroit’s dedication to nurturing young entrepreneurs and tech professionals shines brightly through its strategic collaborations with educational institutions and community organizations. These partnerships are designed to create a seamless transition from academic learning, and panel discussions, to real-world entrepreneurial endeavors, a crucial move that Detroit couldn’t afford to ignore. Hosting the NFL draft was a masterstroke for the city, providing a massive platform for local businesses, leaders, and innovators. This event was more than a sports spectacle; it was a showcase of Detroit’s vibrant culture and community spirit.

“I really want the athletes to be connected with the city just in general,” emphasized Giles. “Why? Well because the fans are the community. Is there truly a Detroit Lions team without fans in the arena?”

Detroit is a city profoundly defined by its Black heritage, a fact that’s unmistakably at the heart of its identity. This year’s NFL draft was a celebration of that culture, deliberately aiming to empower the local community by boosting resources and opportunities within the tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem. It underscored the city’s commitment to inclusivity and growth, ensuring that the benefits of such a high-profile event had a lasting impact on Detroit’s own soil.

Friday’s event landed on the precipice of collaboration and innovation. With any thriving ecosystem you cannot have one without the other. To grow opportunities within the state and the city, there must be a sense of partnership. “You have to support the city and the people,” Giles said. “That’s one thing about Detroit, before I moved here, everybody told me not to come here and think you’re going to do everything you want to do, without the people.”

As Detroit continues to evolve, the strategic emphasis on tech and entrepreneurship, particularly within the Black community, is creating new pathways for generational wealth. With the city hosting record-breaking events like the NFL Draft, it’s clear that Detroit is not only maintaining its reputation for athletic excellence but also paving the way forward in tech and business innovation.

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