Idea: Detroit

Ryan's Recipe for a Detroit Comeback: Be Weird

Method Co-Founder Says City's Entrepreneurs Need a Mission

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During his opening speech at Idea: Detroit, Method Products co-founder Eric Ryan apologized for being a prodigal son.

"Part of the reason I'm here is to offload some of that guilt about leaving," Mr. Ryan said, joking. "I'm sorry for leaving."

Eric Ryan
Eric Ryan

Turns out the Grosse Pointe native first headed off to San Francisco for an advertising job, ironically enough, with General Motors.

Mr. Ryan was the first among 14 featured speakers at the Idea: Detroit conference, produced by Ad Age and sibling Crain's Detroit Business. (For more coverage, go here.)

Mr. Ryan's advice to the 400-plus attendees who filled the College for Creative Studies' A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design in downtown Detroit was that people shouldn't just start a business; they need to start a cause.

"Having core social missions are behind any good entrepreneur," he said.

Method's products are now in more than 25,000 retail locations in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia. National retailers for the privately held company include Target , Bed Bath & Beyond and Whole Foods.

San Francisco has many Detroit natives, Mr. Ryan said, and "many bars show Red Wings games." But with all the exporting of Detroiters to other cities, including San Francisco, he said, people here need to understand one thing: Detroit needs to recognize that it's a blank canvas.

"I've found it remarkable how my great-grandfather came to Detroit to find jobs and success," Mr. Ryan said, "and my generation was the one that left."

Mr. Ryan has said before that he thinks Detroit can become great again. But the people in San Francisco knew how to build upon ideas and bring creative people together, he said.

"Anything can be done here, and Detroit needs to come back again," Mr. Ryan said.

"Our model at Method is that being weird and different is good. Weird changes the world, and Detroit could use a little more of weird in terms of creative ideas."

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Shawn Wright writes for Crain's Detroit Business.

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