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Detroit: A Global Startup Destination for ‘Unicorn’ Companies

Expert voice in the cybersecurity industry Dug Song, co-founder and general manager of Duo Security at Cisco, led his startup to a $2.35 billion acquisition, the largest exit ever for a Michigan-based software company. Through building his company, Song gained a unique perspective on what it takes to create and participate in a thriving startup ecosystem.  

In his discussion with Detroit Public Television host Christy McDonald, Song explained how the region’s startup culture contributed to Duo Security’s success, aligning with the company’s values.  

“Here in the Midwest, we have this unique advantage of being fairly grounded,” Song said. “There’s a lot about that that I deeply appreciate – the strong work ethic, it’s very egalitarian. When you’re trying to build a team to accomplish something great together, you need that.” 

Song explained the importance of the entrepreneurial ecosystem’s grassroots development. He noted that entrepreneurs and businesses need to lead and uplift the startup community. While mentorship and corporate support play a role in nurturing startups, what’s essential is sponsorship – providing access and opportunities.  

While these factors are pillars to the region’s entrepreneurial success, there is still room to grow. Song emphasized improved connectivity, infrastructure, and education as essential elements to bolster Detroit as a global entrepreneurial ecosystem.  

“If we don’t connect this region – the people, opportunity, and dollars – through infrastructure and transit, what are we really doing?” Song said. “We have to help foster the next generation of what happens here.” 

Similarly, he identified a “missing middle”, the disconnect between corporations and the lived experience of entrepreneurs on the ground, as another challenge to sustainability in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Giving entrepreneurs from more diverse industries and expertise the chance to get started will change the game for the region. Economic diversity is strength, he said. 

“We need more turns at bat. We need to learn by doing. We need to create the opportunities for more folks to try and do so safely,” Song said.  

Finally, on the legacy of Duo Security’s historic acquisition, Song focused on paying the success forward. 

“Being first means we have a responsibility to lead; we have a responsibility to reach back and help others follow.”  

Thank you to Delta Air Lines for sponsoring the session.