Inaugural Starter Fest to Encourage, Promote Entrepreneurs


Hajj Flemings and Delane Parnell are setting out to reshape the state’s entrepreneurial culture, with an event this fall aimed at promoting career opportunities, attracting and retaining top talent in the area, and increasing visibility for the people, products, and companies within the state.

“We’re building this event to be comparable to any other entrepreneurship or technology conference in this nation,” says Parnell, co-founder of Established Co., a company with offices in Detroit and Royal Oak that provide resources and support to entrepreneurs across Michigan.  “We expect that this will be the heartbeat of what makes Detroit and the entire state of Michigan unique.”

Called Starter Fest, the event is scheduled for Sept. 18-19, and Parnell says it extends beyond the traditional conference setup to also include a statewide awards show (categories include “Best Coffee Shop and “Entrepreneur of the Year”) and an exhibitor marketplace of Michigan-based companies and products. Related events will also take place throughout Detroit the week of the event.

Thus far, the Starter Fest has confirmed 14 speakers, who Parnell says have collaboratively founded 15 businesses, raised more than $50 million in venture capital funding, invested in more than 120 startups, sold companies for $3.8 billions, and have an accumulative Twitter following of 1.7 million people.

Starter Fest’s intended audience includes more than just start-ups. Parnell says he expects an attendance of more than 500 entrepreneurs, creative, developers, and employees/founders of late-stage or public companies. Topics covered may include how to get traction for a startup, how to raise funding, and lessons learned by other entrepreneurs, he says.

Flemings and Parnell say they tested the festival concept earlier this year with Detroit Week, a multi-site event dedicated to uniting the region’s entrepreneurial community. “That event took 16 days to organize and promote. We had about 1,500 people come out to eight events, four workshops, and one office hours session,” Parnell says.

With the addition of Starter Fest comes the exit of Brand Camp U conference, which will continue to take place in Boston and New York, Flemings says. “(At last year’s conference), we looked listened to the community, and we found they were looking for something more,” he says.

Flemings adds that Starter Fest is just the beginning for the Established Co. “This is just one piece of the puzzle. We don’t want to be only known as event guys. We want to help build this ecosystem, create some opportunities and some actual businesses,” he says.

For more information about Starter Fest or to secure the limited two-for-one ticket offer, visit