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Open Co. Gives You A Chance To Get Really, Really Inside Detroit

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In 1822, up on Mackinaw Island, a young trapper named Alexis St Martin found himself on the wrong end of a shotgun blast, fired at close range, that left a hole in his gut. And somehow he survived.

But St. Martin's injury did not heal all the way. Miraculously impervious to infection, his side healed to form a "fistula aperture" or, in layman's terms, a gaping hole. This gave the local military doctor, a fellow named Dr. William Beaumont, a sort of grisly porthole through which he could observe St Martin's digestive tract at work. For the next three years, Beaumont kept copious notes on St. Martin's condition, eventually becoming known as the "father of gastric physiology." Detroit's Beaumont Hospital is named after him.

I tend to think about this story when I'm thinking about Detroit these days; the city has suffered a terrible wound and yet we survive. There's a lot to see and a lot to learn while the city pulls itself together. And like poor Mr. St. Martin's stomach, looking inside might not always be pretty, but it's plenty interesting. As the comedian Bill Hicks used to say, you gotta look.

It's especially worth taking a look now that the city regaining its health in some key sectors; entrepreneurs both large and small have seen the opportunity here and are moving in. People are connecting across disciplines and industries, and across almost every boundary there seems to be a palpable coming together of community in the spirit of opportunity.

One big real-time example of this is Open Co, a two day conference coming to the city on September 11-12 that will give attendees the rare opportunity to get a super up-close look at many of the businesses and non-profits that are changing the city right now. All these companies and institutions are opening their doors and inviting Detroit in.

The project is the brainchild of John Battelle, former editor-in-chief of Wired and founder of Federated Media. He chose Detroit as the fourth city for Open Co, after San Francisco, New York and London, because this city - vs. Chicago, LA, Seattle or Austin - is where he thinks things are happening right now. This is the place where there's cool stuff to see. His team has pulled together an impressive group of organizations across a wide range of disciplines, including the arts, the greening movement, education, communication, banking, marketing, technology and more, all of them sharing what makes them tick.

This is the part of the article where, as a writer, I provide full disclosure on any connections I have with the event and the participants, and I do, lots of 'em, and probably you do too. Almost every company getting press these days, from Dan Gilbert's Quicken to Phil Cooley's Pony Ride to Pashon Murray's Detroit Dirt to Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project, all of them are on board. The suddenly legendary Shinola and the sisters who run Drought and the scientists over at Nextek are a part of it too. And yep, companies and non-profits I'm associated with - Team Detroit & Signal Return - have also signed up. The list of participating organizations is a veritable who's who of the Detroit's resurgence and while not one of these companies nor any of the volunteers pulling it together (more disclosure! I'm dating one of 'em.) stand to make a dime from Open Co, everyone is enthusiastically helping to make it happen. Because the power of connecting and sharing and working together feels like the best way to leapfrog our local economy to a better, brighter future. That's why I love this town right now.

So, it's an opportunity see what these firms are doing, and not in some TEDesque powerpoint forum but there, on the ground floor, in the places where it's actually happening: their offices, labs, and studios. You can learn from their strategies and their executions, glean some insights from their successes, maybe even drop off a business card or two. I think anyone looking for entrepreneurial inspiration would want to sign on. I think anyone interested in business & the culture of commerce would want to sign on. I think anyone curious about what is happening in Detroit right now would want to sign on.

Why wouldn't you sign up? It's free. And it will be a lot more fun than looking inside Alexis St Martin's stomach. I promise.