The Directors Of ‘Generation Startup’ On The Entrepreneurial Spirit That’s Redefining Detroit


“Detroit doesn’t need saviors”

Detroit, once a thriving capital of American industry and ingenuity, has fallen on hard times in recent years. That story, one of urban decay and staggering poverty, has been told. But ever since the city filed for bankruptcy in 2013, a new narrative has begun to emerge, one of young entrepreneurs who are helping to rebuild the city by bringing business and ideas back to Detroit.

A new documentary called Generation Startup puts a spotlight on this new wave of idealistic college grads who are relocating to Detroit and working endless hours in the hopes of transforming new businesses into profitable enterprises. Directors Cynthia Wade and Cheryl Houser trained their cameras on six millennials who, through the fellowship program Venture for America, all head to the Motor City to pursue non-traditional careers.

Over the course of two tumultuous years, we watch as Labib Rahman, an Indian-American from Yonkers, New York, with a degree in biomedical engineering from John Hopkins, leaves his skeptical parents behind to join a two-person company that builds phones and tablets (seriously). There's Dextina Booker, an MIT grad who openly questions her decision to pass up sure-thing opportunities to work at a startup that does not put her skills as a mechanical engineer to use; Avery Hairston, who became the second employee of Banza, a company that makes pasta out of chickpeas; and Kate Catlin, who moved to Detroit in 2013 to work at Grand Circus, a tech startup that threw her headfirst into the world of coding. 

Wade and Houser spoke to us recently about why they chose to focus their lens on Detroit, how the startup world is changing the face of that city, and what they think is the secret to startup glory.

How did Detroit become a subject of the film?
Cheryl Houser:
Venture for America was in 15 cities at the time, and they recruit young college graduates and place them at startups around the country in mostly economically struggling cities. The idea originated with, here’s Venture for America, they’re taking these 22-year-olds, throwing them into the deep end, and wouldn’t it be great to follow that trajectory of a few of these people? Cynthia and I then had to pick what city we were going to follow the fellows in, and that’s when we decided Detroit was by far the most interesting and robust city in terms of what’s going on. There’s a ton of things happening all over the country, but what’s happening in Detroit really is remarkable.

Why focus on just Detroit instead of several cities? What was it about the city that struck you?
Cynthia Wade:
I think Cheryl and myself, we like to go as deep as possible, and environment can often be part of the portraiture and its own character. There were amazing things going on in other cities, and they would have been wonderful documentaries, but when you commit to a place and you really embed in that place, you get a sense of that city. Detroit wasn’t fully out of bankruptcy at the time, it was changing rapidly, and the startups were varied there. It’s already hard when you have multiple characters in a story, so at least you want to be able to bind them into one place and you can really dive deep.

What were your impressions of the city before you went there, and how did they change throughout the shooting process?
I’ve done a fair amount of shooting in Detroit prior to this project, and my husband’s mother grew up in Detroit, and his grandfather had a business in Detroit, and so I’ve been back and forth for weddings and funerals and for work. So it wasn’t a surprise. I knew Detroit, but it was incredibly exciting because every time I went back for an extended shoot, there was always construction, and things were always changing and always opening, and it was such a rapid change over those 17 months.
CH: There have been a number of movies made over the past few years that have dwelled on what’s called the “decay porn” of Detroit, and local Detroiters are really unhappy about it. Aside from our film being beautifully shot thanks to our DP, this footage is about a city that’s alive and a renaissance that’s going on there. We don’t dwell on the decay porn; we have a little bit of it because that’s a reality there, but it really is about the renaissance going on there. Every month when you got back to Detroit, it’s shocking to see a city change as quickly as that city has changed. If you look up the number of restaurants that have opened in the past year or two, or they’re building a whole mass transit line that they’re tearing up the whole city to do, but there’s construction everywhere, and it gives you a sense that it really is changing very quickly.

How widespread is the entrepreneurship boom in Detroit, and how much of it are we seeing in your film?
Had Cynthia and I set out to make a film about entrepreneurship in Detroit, we would have made a very different film. It would have been a lot of local entrepreneurs, whereas the genesis of this film is Venture for America. They’re sending these young kids into these challenging situations, and it is very much a coming-of-age film as much as it is about entrepreneurship. Our characters are all outsiders who are moving to Detroit to build lives and build businesses. But, to answer the question about what’s happening in Detroit, there are incredibly exciting things happening there. There’s something called TechTown, there’s the Build Institute, there are a lot of entrepreneurship organizations, and Pam Lewis, who is in our movie, is part of the new economy initiative, which is funding a lot of what’s going on with entrepreneurship there.

Then you have Kate from our movie, who works at Detroit Labs and whose attitude is, “Okay, so there aren’t a lot of coders in Detroit, but we’re going to do something about that. We’re going to take people—it doesn’t matter if they know anything about coding or not—if they’re smart and want to work hard, we are going to train people from anywhere in this city to become coders.”  

You managed to film your subjects in some pretty intimate moments. How were they comfortable having cameras around?
Sometimes putting the camera down and letting them rest, or letting them have a moment, does so much for them in terms of trusting you as a filmmaker. It shows that it’s a sense of collaboration, it’s a sense of respect, that ultimately, they emotionally give you more because they feel they can draw boundaries if they need it, and they feel also that you are a partner in telling their story, as opposed to somebody just coming in to exploit them.

We also gave them all GoPros and they could video-diary their journals and their experiences, thus becoming collaborators in the telling of their own stories. I think that also helps in feeling like we’re in this together. It’s this line that you walk where you want to tell an honest story and show the tough moments, but you also want to be extremely respectful of the people that you’re working with.

What is the difference between a startup that succeeds and one that fails? And how large or small is that gap?
I think having spent two and half years entrenched in this world and talking and meeting with a ton of other successful entrepreneurs, it’s not really the best idea, but whether you’re willing to work really hard for something and if you have the drive and the determination and just the guts to keep going. It’s so hard, and you fail at every turn and there are so many things along the way that are discouraging, but I think most people just don’t have the grit and determination to carry on. The [two people in this film] who are launching their own companies, you really see they work around the clock and they give it their all.
CW: I think it’s grit. Grit and determination outweigh everything else. I’ve been running my own small film production company, which is like a startup except it doesn’t scale, so it’s not really a startup—it’s a small business. I’ve been supporting my family for 18 years on it, I’m raising two daughters who are watching their mother work herself to the bone on many projects, often simultaneously, and it’s grit. I think that there are things that I’m really talented at and I think there are things that I’m not so talented at, but it’s the grit that carries me through. I’d rather have determination any day.  

Is basing a startup in Detroit an obstacle or a benefit to that company?
I think in many ways it’s easier. Detroit is not big, so you can meet people and get to know people much more easily. It’s a city where I think there is a tremendous amount of support for at least grassroots entrepreneurship, and again, the spirit of, like, we’re all in this together. The one thing that [our subjects] are very careful to say is they never came to Detroit to rebuild it or to save it—Detroit doesn’t need saving. The local Detroiters really resent any hint of anyone coming there to save them. They’ve come there to build lives and to build companies, but I think that also when you’re launching a startup in New York or Silicon Valley, you can get very distracted in the whole scene, whereas in Detroit, they kind of put their head down and just work around the clock and didn’t get caught up in any of the hoopla.
CW: Yeah. I mean, I think that there can be a benefit in being in a community where you run into people and people are really looking out for each other. This is across the board in Detroit—like really looking out for each other, and I think there’s something about weathering those elements that people really pull together and watch out for each other, and then because it’s really cold at least six months of the year, people can hunker down and really focus and work. But there’s opportunity in that too, because you can have these unexpected collaborations and these unexpected moments where people are together. So I think that it has fostered a lot of creativity for the fellows, but it certainly is a city with incredible resilience and history and has fostered creativity from the dawn of time, really.

Illustration by Vivie Behrens

Liberation can come from completion, but then, we are always becoming something new

They say the full moon is about completion. About looking back at the intentions you crowned the new moon with and seeing where those intentions led you. The new moon in Gemini was the pebble that began this cycle, and the full moon in Sagittarius is her echo, the ring getting larger in the water. The new moon in Gemini asked us what we wanted to change about our habits, what we wanted to do with our hands, and our hunger for newness. The new moon in Gemini was interested in the way shifting ideas can give us the freedom to think differently and, in thinking differently, become new people. The full moon in Sagittarius reminds us that we are never not becoming new.

Both Gemini and Sagittarius are mutable signs, they exist in relation to the other and they know how to speak each other's language. But, while Gemini relishes the endless capacity of air (of thought), Sagittarius uses the energy of fire to transform thought into action. Everything Sagittarius touches can't help but change. How can this be completion? The wheel is always spinning, reader. Sagittarius marks the completion of the fire trine. Here, fire is generous and social. It means to gather and teach, to illuminate. Sagittarius lives in the sector of the zodiac chart related to education, philosophy, and the awareness of others—their beliefs and their right to freedom. Because of this, our June Sagittarius full moon is both a completion moon and a moon that reminds us that all endings create space for beginning. The more you leave behind, the more you find. There is no dead end in the universe.

If you are a seeker like me (perhaps you have lots of planets in Sagittarius in your natal chart), you have already come across Jessica Dore's Twitter account. Every day, Dore posts a tarot card and her interpretation of it. It is a gift to many of her readers. Yesterday, she shared The World with us, reminding her readers: "the moments of beauty, belonging & elation that you've experienced up to this point in your life… would still only amount to the tiniest sliver of what this world has to offer in terms of sweetness & pleasure."

I thought about this card and her words all day. The World is, numerically, the last card in the Major Arcana journey—the last card if you don't think about the Fool, who is numbered at 0 and so is the beginning and the end. The World is, therefore, a completion card too, a big echo of a full moon.

This morning, holding the sweet and expansive nature of The World, thinking on Sagittarius people and their love of travel, of reckoning with the edge of an atlas and questioning the map-makers, I pulled the nine of swords from my own Tarot deck. The other side of knowledge is to overwhelm and shut down. Gemini, ruled by Mercury, holds information in her hands. She understands duality in all things. Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter, yearns for the expansion of mind and the illumination of power. The philosopher and the moralist, a Sagittarius at her best can teach anyone to break open a prison. A Sagittarius at her worst can justify any cage. Don't forget that Jupiter was the king of the gods. His lightning bolt was a weapon. Sometimes, we are too exposed to each other. We imagine we know others through the stories we create about one another. We imagine we know the future because we refuse to be humble about how vulnerable we are to the universe's ever-shifting outcomes. We refuse abundance by convincing ourselves that the cage of identity we build for ourselves is our only possibility.

For the next two days, as the Sun lingers in Gemini and we feel the effects of the moon's fullness in Sagittarius, reflect on the ways you have used knowledge. When has your knowledge been a tool of empowerment for yourself and others? When have you shared the beauty of the world and the joy of radical ideas/ways of living? When have you used knowledge to understand and relieve your own suffering and the suffering of others? And, too, when have you used knowledge as permission for self-delusion? When you have expanded so far into your idea of the world and your own work in it that you forgot how to be accountable to your daily life, your body, your friends, and the people you love? You know when Janis Joplin sings "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose"? That's only one kind of freedom, and it's the kind that Sagittarius thinks it knows very well. Freedom can be about nothing, if nothing is what you want. Then welcome to the monastery, friend. Freedom can also be another word for everything you revel in not knowing. Freedom can be about having everything because you are part of everything, even if you can't see the relation, even if you can't imagine yet how what you want also wants you.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

Kat is making me relive my fat-teen trauma

When people say that HBO's new Zendaya-led teen drama, Euphoria, is triggering, believe them. In the pilot alone we're introduced to Rue (Zendaya) and her drug addiction issues via a graphic depiction of the overdose that sent her to rehab. Then, there's the disturbing rough sex scene featuring Jules (Hunter Schafer), a teenage trans girl who has just moved into town, and a middle-aged man she met on Grindr. Oh, and don't forget the unchecked, toxic masculinity of uber-jock Nate (Jacob Elordi); or the body obsession of his sometimes-girlfriend, Maddy (Alexa Demie). For me though, the ultimate trigger came via Barbie Ferreira's character Kat's experience, as she dealt with and internalized a vicious form of fatphobia.

Kat—almost alone amongst her friends—seems self-assured and dismissive of the idea that any high school drama should be taken too seriously. "You just need to catch a dick and forget about your troubles," Kat tells Maddy, following the latter's recent breakup with Nate. But internally, Kate craves male attention, and resents the fact that she's the only virgin she knows; she hints at this when she tells Maddy that she'd "settle for, like, four Corona Lights and some non-rapey affection," from a guy—any guy.

Kat's bravado leads her into a compromising situation at a high school party; she winds up in a room alone with three boys, where she talks a big game about how she's a "savage" who watches porn and has slept with more people than any of them can count. None of this is true, but Kat is determined to become "a woman of questionable morals."

The scene shows the fine line between being an empowered young woman deciding what to do with her body, on her terms, and being a teenager who thinks she's in control but doesn't fully understand the power dynamics at play. Because, yes, Kat is trying to make an intentional decision about her sexuality and how to use it, but she's doing so with a group of boys who don't value or respect her. This reality is made clear when one of them says to her, "You know what they say, right? Fat girls give the best head."

At those familiar words, I melted into my couch and said a silent prayer of gratitude that I wasn't watching Euphoria in the company of anyone else. Onscreen, Kat, too, shrinks ever so slightly into herself, all while trying to keep a poker face about the whole thing. We don't see exactly what happens in the room, but, later, she seems happy when she shares the news with her friends that she's lost her virginity; even though she then lays down, awake, scrolling through the guy's Instagram, seeming altogether less than happy.

Kat's isn't the most violent or necessarily the saddest story line in the episode. But it showed the ways that issues like consent, toxic masculinity, substance abuse, and body image—all of which are difficult to deal with no matter what your size—are further magnified when experienced through the additional trauma of fatphobia. This is something with which I've personally dealt, and so I felt my past experiences rise up inside me when I watched how Kat couldn't build her own sexual identity without being constantly aware of the ways her body exists outside the parameters of acceptable desirability.

My childhood and adolescence are defined by my experiences as a fat girl; it was a time that often felt like a hazy battlefield, when I could hardly navigate which feelings and thoughts were my own, and which ones were the result of outside forces. My body hardly ever felt like mine, and it took years to develop the autonomy that Kat is grasping at as a teenager. Kat, like so many other fat women, has a total lack of support from her peers when it comes to body image and acceptance, and there's a devastating absence of affirmation about her own worth and the importance of her pleasure. Because of fatphobia, Kat is going to be swimming against a strong, but invisible current as she navigates the already fraught social politics of high school. It's one thing to grasp this truth on an intellectual level, but letting those principles guide your decision-making is truly difficult—even for an adult, let alone for a teenager.

Euphoria airs Sunday nights at 10pm, on HBO.

Courtesy of RLJE Films

White-knuckle your way through wedding season with Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid

Maya Erskine might have first come to our attention in PEN15, the hilarious show she co-created and stars in with Anna Konkle, in which they play 13-year-olds in the year 2000, but in the just-released Plus One, Erskine is all grown up and engaging in a very familiar adult activity: white-knuckling her way through wedding season.

Written and directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer—who just so happen to be Erskine's former NYU classmates—Plus One stars Erskine and Jack Quaid as Alice and Ben, two longtime friends who decide to attend a summer of weddings together, and avoid any of the awkwardness that can come with finding the right plus-one. This is especially important for Alice, who is coming off a bad breakup. Of course, as the laws of rom-coms dictate, nothing stays totally platonic. Beyond that, though, Plus One doesn't fall into predictable rom-com tropes, and instead hilariously explores what it's like to spiral into a quarter-life crisis, all while dressed in optional black-tie. Which, we've all been there, right?

"We kind of use the script as its own therapy," Chan told me recently, when I spoke with him, Rhymer, Erskine, and Quaid, about the film. "We were watching friends who have been broken up for a long time get back together at weddings; we were watching people get really sad and get drunk and start crying... they were breeding grounds for lots of emotions coming to the surface."

Courtesy of RLJE Films

And those emotions have the perfect outlet at weddings in the form of toasts and other assorted speeches. Plus One makes good use of that platform by making the wedding speech the hilarious eye of the storm at each of its weddings. These toasts were delivered in the form of scene-stealing cameos—also friends from NYU, of course.

"Almost all of those speeches are based on a real speech Andrew and I have seen," Chan said. "We'd go to a wedding and [we'd think], Yep, that's going in there."

Rhymer adds that they used these speeches as metonyms for the weddings, which made sense time- and budget-wise: "Being an indie film, we obviously produced 12 weddings, but did so kind of cleverly, showing you the rooms or the side rooms where they're rehearsing. We weren't seeing 12 full-blown receptions in all their glory... that would have been, like, millions of dollars."

But perhaps what's most refreshing about Plus One is that it destroys the image of weddings—and, by extension, relationships, and women, in general—as having to be fantasies, as having to be perfect. Because nothing is perfect, and that's what makes life interesting. Erskine, for one, likes being able to show the weirder sides of life, whether as a 13-year-old girl washing a thong with hand soap or a millennial woman who doesn't know what comes next. "There's something really liberating and freeing to show and bear the ugliest parts of yourself—or what society may deem as the ugliest, weirdest parts of yourself—that no one wants to see," she said. "I'm also an over-sharer. So I am drawn to roles that expose more than is typical, and everyone is weird in one way or another."

"I think," Erskine laughed, "it's because I myself am a wacky trash goblin." As it turns out, that's exactly what rom-coms have been missing, until now.

Plus One is in select theaters and available to stream via Amazon now.

PLUS ONE Official Trailer

Asset 7
Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

That's one way to solve a wardrobe malfunction

Cardi B twerked so hard during a performance that she ripped her outfit and had to rock a bathrobe for the majority of her set.

At Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennesee, as Cardi got a little too down and into it, a seam split on her bedazzled body-con jumpsuit only moments into her set. Not one to be set back by a wardrobe malfunction, Cardi B rocked a nude strapless bra with a bathrobe on top, making for a Serious Fashion Moment.

"This wasn't just part of the show," Twitter user Lena Blietz pointed out. "No one performs in a nude, strapless bra by choice." I have to agree there. A strapless bra is the bane of my existence on a slow day, I can't imagine what it's like to have to dance in one on stage.

Honestly, watching Cardi perform in this getup made me a stan for life. Despite it not being as flashy as her jumpsuit, Cardi made the bathrobe work, throwing the shoulders down for drama as she paced the stage during each song.

Bonnaroo attendees couldn't help but agree that a bathrobe and nothing else is a mood we all felt in the very, very hot and sweaty crowd. If she had one in my size to share, I would have gladly changed in a heartbeat.

But, despite loving this comfy solution to a big problem, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate the beauty that was the original jumpsuit. RIP.

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

And launched an inclusive summer campaign showcasing 30 different models

Just in time for swim season, sustainable swimwear brand Summersalt launched an inclusive summer campaign, called Every Body is a Beach Body, and significantly expanded its size range.

The brand's sizes now go up to 24 and 2X—quite a jump from its previous availability, which went up to a size 14. Co-founders Reshma Chamberlin and Lori Coulter told NYLON that the size expansion was a must because "we know that there are countless women out there who are missing out on the joy of summer because they don't have the right suit." They noted that they have plans to expand the brand's sizing even more: "We're excited to continue to add more sizes and be even more inclusive."

For the summer campaign, each suit was fitted on 30 professional and non-professional models ranging in body type to ensure it would look great on as many bodies as possible. "We wanted the models for this campaign to be just as diverse and unique as our customers, and we're proud to show models of different sizes, races, gender identities, and physical abilities," said Chamberlin and Coulter. "We want our customers to see themselves in our models, and know that their body is a beach body, exactly as it is right now."

The new collection includes bright new colorways and styles to rock at the beach or the pool. There are bikinis, one-pieces, and even a swim tunic and leggings for modest fashion wearers.

Check out the campaign and some of the new styles, below, and shop the new collection now at Summersalt.

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt

Photo courtesy of Summersalt