Since its launch in October 2022, Venture 313 has been laser-focused on supporting founders at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey. An evolution of the annual Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day pitch competition, Venture 313 provides participants with wraparound support “from first idea to first round,” harnessing resources, coaching and capital from the Gilbert Family Foundation, Invest Detroit, TechTown Detroit and the Detroit Development Fund. And as Venture 313 grows, so do the capabilities of the platform and the network it supports.

Recently, some of our Venture 313 participants were offered a unique opportunity with our partners at TechTown: to attend an all-expense paid trip to the innovative SXSW conference. SXSW is widely recognized as one of the biggest global stages for venture and digital creatives with conference tracks and workshops covering advertising, tech, music, AI, workplace culture and everything in between. The goal was to facilitate networking and business-building opportunities for these founders, to get them into the rooms where important and meaningful discussions are taking place, and to show them that they belong at the table. For James Feagin, Director of Economic Mobility at the Gilbert Family Foundation, it was equally important that SXSW attendees meet the Venture 313 founders. He wanted them to know that Detroit is an entrepreneurial hub for talent and promise. It was a win-win.

Feagin was asked to participate in a panel during the conference, Venture for People, through an activation with Midwest House. The panel focused on how Midwest founders are building ecosystems that can retain and nurture talent, with a specific focus on underrepresented entrepreneurs. As Feagin elaborated, “As midwestern VCs, we are all battling the perception that founders have to leave for the coasts to succeed, and that there are no deals or talent here.” Feagin shared how his role as Director of Economic Mobility empowers him to tie threads with investments like the Apple Developer Academy, Venture 313, and Venture for America – all of which drives Detroit talent into the innovation economy. You can watch a recording of the panel, below. [Courtesy of Midwest House].

When we asked the Venture 313 founders who attended SXSW what they thought of the conference, they all agreed: The takeaways were invaluable. “I have so much gratitude for being selected for this opportunity,” said Marc Howland, Co-Founder and CEO of Detroit-based restaurant Breadless. “Before attending, I was unsure of what to expect from the conference as a fast casual restaurant business; however, I see now that the benefit of the experience transcends industry-specific knowledge. It’s about challenging yourself to grow and evolve your thinking, mindset, exposure, network, and even your potential business model.” Crystal Brow, CEO and Co-Founder of Great Lakes Biologics, agreed. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity as a founder and CEO of a startup company,” she said. “Within days, I made more meaningful connections than I have independently in months. It was an honor to be selected and an opportunity that will not be taken for granted.”

Feagin also had some meaningful advice for the founders, which he shared with them during a dinner they had at the conference. “I think it’s really important for the founders to be emboldened with confidence that their visions are valid,” he said.  “Even if their friends and family back home don’t get it. Even if they learn something that makes them pivot and start over. I told them that they needed to use this experience to irreversibly expand their minds, and that they should band together while they were there [at SXSW], so that those bonds can carry them forward on their founder journeys as they come back home.” Most importantly, Feagin said, he wanted the founders to understand that the outside world was waiting for them to bring their ideas to life. “And to always remember,” he added, “that they belong in this game.”