Did you know MSNBC’s popular morning talk show, “Morning Joe,” was broadcasting from the Motor City today? I did, because my father, who lives upstate in Lansing, started sending a barrage of text messages urging me to tune in starting at 6 a.m.
Much as I may have wanted to, I couldn’t sit in front of the television all morning because I had an early meeting with the folks behind the newBamboo Detroit co-working space in downtown Detroit. It turns out Bamboo is doing exactly the kind of economic revitalization, community building, and startup growth work in Detroit that is currently such a hot news topic. “Morning Joe,” after all, just devoted three highly trafficked hours to how to rebuild Detroit.
The story of Bamboo begins with two metro Detroit friends who knew each other through their fathers’ businesses. Michael Ferlito’s family is involved in commercial real estate development, while Brian Davis’s family does construction work.
“We teamed up with them to renovate two clinics in 15 days, which was kind of amazing,” Davis explains. Davis and Ferlito began dabbling in other real estate deals, as well as a startup website that would connect homeowners and construction professionals.
Meanwhile, Davis met Bamboo’s third co-founder, Dave Anderson, at a “lean startup” conference. They clicked, and Anderson suggested they work together on starting a co-working space that very early stage startups could afford.
“It dawned on me that Mike had a building downtown,” Davis says. He feverishly began texting and calling Ferlito once the revelation hit, despite the fact that it was about 1 a.m. Ferlito liked the idea and soon met with Anderson. The two got along so well that Ferlito estimates their first meeting went on for four hours. Anderson suggested the name Bamboo—“grow fast, grow strong”—and, after some renovation and clean-up, the co-working space officially opened in July.
Bamboo provides coffee, wi-fi, and is open 24 hours, accessible by key card. For 9-to-5 access to a shared desk, it’s $89 per month. For 24-hour access to a shared desk, it costs $99 per month. For 24-hour access to a dedicated desk, the cost is $400 per month.
“Our goal with Bamboo is to have partnerships with everybody—we’re not competing,” Ferlito says. “We want Detroit to be the Midwest’s tech hub, but we can’t do that without collaboration.”
So far, Bamboo has 18 tenants working on a range of projects, including one that implements President Obama’s health prevention initiatives on a neighborhood level; Southern Tide, a clothing retailer; and Hell Yeah Detroit andMichipreneur, two local digital-media companies. Anderson is also developing an app called Health Crunch at Bamboo.
Michipreneur’s Amanda Lewan acts as Bamboo’s den mother of sorts. Davis, Ferlito, and Anderson call her “the boss,” and she does the bulk of Bamboo’s marketing and outreach work.
Lewan says Davis sends a text to his Bamboo partners every week asking, “What are we doing for Detroit?” That sentiment is kept in mind as Bamboo fulfills its mission of supporting the startup community, Ferlito says. “We’ll go balls to the wall when someone here comes up with an idea,” he explains. “The founders are here every night until midnight or 1 a.m. We want to combine our skills and resources to give [tenants] actionable steps.”
Recently, a big tech company from San Francisco contacted Bamboo about paying top dollar for six dedicated desks in the space. Bamboo’s founders say they turned them down, even though that money alone would have paid the rent each month, because they’re so serious about fostering collaboration that they didn’t want one company to dominate the space and distract other tenants.
“I’d like the focus to be on the community,” Davis adds. “The environment we have at Bamboo is like a family.”