At the beginning of the last century, Detroit was America’s “Silicon Valley.” That is to say, it was the center of innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation. The last decade has been particularly brutal on the Motor City, but in fairness its decline was long in the making as entrenched conglomerates turned to protectionism rather than disruption as their business model of choice.
Today, with the economic slate wiped clean, for better or for worse, the city is rebuilding itself and technology entrepreneurship is at the heart of the movement. With some 15 plus VC firms in town, the region is evidence of the technology narrative will be written in middle America
The latest resident company to sport a funding badge of honor is enterprise gamification and CRM startup LevelEleven, which today announced a $1 million Seed funding led by Detroit Venture Partners with participation from local tech company ePrize. The concept behind LevelEleven was originally incubated inside ePrize as “Sales Contest Builder,” but has since been spun out as a standalone venture intent on developing additional enterprise gamification tools.
Launching at Dreamforce in September 2011, LevelEleven (then Contest Builder) allows companies to motivate sales teams based on activity within Salesforce. Real time leaderboards are used to track and reward calling activity, appointment booking, completed sales, and other metrics set by management. Notable companies using Contest Builder include Comcast and the Detroit Pistons, making it the most popular gamification app on the Salesforce AppExchange.
The Contest Builder app was developed to motivate ePrize’s own sales force, which itself sells Web and mobile user engagement solutions to Fortune 500 brands. The tool taps into the competitive nature of most salesmen to incentivize desired behaviors. One can only imagine what the movie “Office Space” would have been like if Lumbergh had access to Contest Builder to reward filling out the infamous TPS reports.
LevelEleven’s CEO is former ePrize SVP of Sales Strategy Bob Marsh, who was joined in recent weeks by ePrize VP of Engineering Kevin O’Hara. Detroit Venture Partners CEO and Managing Partner Josh Linker joined the LevelEleven board as part of the financing.
Detroit Venture Partners is playing a large role in the entrepreneurship-fueled recovery taking place in Detroit. The firm founded in 2010 by ePrize founder and chairman Josh Linkner, Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert, and Rockbridge Growth Equity founder and chairman Brian Hermelin, has completed nearly 20 investments to date. The trio were joined in 2011 by NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson who has proven himself a cable successful investor and community advocate in similar urban gentrification projects around the country.
LevelEleven is a startup born in a city known long for its corporate giants. That it’s an enterprise facing product, focused less on deep technological solutions than on innovation and driving efficiency through behavior modification, is therefore not surprising. Detroit will never again be the same titan it was during the industrial era, but that’s likely a good thing. It’s time now that smaller, more innovative companies drive the local economy.
[Image source, Familywings]