Some may look at Larry Brinker, Jr.’s vocational life and label him an entrepreneur, investor, mentor or CEO of his family-owned and operated Brinker Group construction service company with more than $4 billion in construction projects. All of those titles would not do justice to explain or describe Larry Brinker, Jr. in 2023. Today he’s not only all of those titles but he’s become, most prominently, one of the City of Detroit’s greatest business evangelists.
Brinker talked with BlacFinance to share his undying passion for business growth in Detroit and why he continues to be so bullish on a city that still has many barriers keeping it from thriving.
BlacFinance.com: We’ve seen a huge population shift in recent decades with Detroit residents moving to the suburbs. Why are you still bullish on the city?
Brinker Jr.: We have a slogan where we say we were in Detroit before it was cool, and a lot of our business competitors are coming to this city now. The feedback we’re getting is the government is better than in the past and is more able to help businesses function in the city. Authentic Detroiters have been committed to this community for 30 years. At Brinker, we put our business in an enterprise zone, making sure we can not only succeed but help beautify the community we’re in. Now we’re seeing a new movement of people migrating back to the city.
BlacFinance: A few years ago, we saw many entrepreneurs tied to the automotive market or developing energy drinks. Where are we now?
Brinker, Jr.: We’ve seen some big changes in the entire Detroit ecosystem in the past few years, with a tremendous amount of technology companies coming here. We’ve also had new interest from bio-medical companies and healthcare services with new cancer research developments. Entrepreneurs in this city have moved away from energy drinks and podcasts and are now working in and investing in areas ranging from cyber tech and fintech to real estate and healthcare tech.
BlacFinance: So you’re happy with the level of diversification of industries in Detroit?
Brinker, Jr.: I am excited about Detroit’s potential growth and roadmap because we’re finally getting away from success being tied solely to the Big 3. We’re seeing more and more businesses that aren’t associated with automotive come to Detroit. The diversification of industry in Detroit puts the city in a good place going forward where we can scale new businesses.
BlacFinance: What do you think prompted the momentum in the city?
Brinker, Jr.: A lot of it started with Dan Gilbert (Quicken, Rocket Mortgage, Bedrock) and what he launched. In the past ten years, we’ve seen that effort grow and now people are more apt to come and not only work but move to Detroit because they feel they have an opportunity to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. We’ve seen new Angel and venture capital dollars that have fostered this community for new tech start-ups.
BlacFinance: With all that’s apparently going on in Detroit from an entrepreneurial standpoint, why are we not hearing about it nationally? Regarding positive minority entrepreneurial environments, we hear about cities like Houston and Baltimore, Memphis and Atlanta. Why not Detroit?
Brinker, Jr.: We do have a ways to go, starting with access to resources. Opportunities for minorities and resources in Detroit look different than in other places in the country. One of my focuses is to promote and push the conversation of equalizing career opportunities in Detroit. Often when you see C-Suite ad mid-level manager positions here, you don’t see a lot of diversity. For people on the lower end of the employment spectrum, we’ve found there’s a huge decline in career opportunities within those companies to provide additional levels of diversity. That situation is relatable to entrepreneurship in Detroit. A lot of times, what happens is if you don’t have that business savvy and no access to capital and networks to build the best teams, those companies will not be successful. Unfortunately, it’s a ladder we climb up every day in Detroit. I feel it looks very different than Atlanta, D.C., Baltimore or Houston. Those cities are more welcoming to minority businesses.
BlacFinance: What do you attribute to your personal success, and what are your thoughts about this generation coming up?
Brinker, Jr.: I love to network and am a people person. I really love connecting with people and learning about people. What I’ve noticed is that over time 99% of people can relate to each other in any shape or form. The more you network, the more genuine you are in meeting people. My son is a Gen Z and they never talk on the phone; they Snapchat and text. There’s a transition in communication going on between what we’re accustomed to and what they’re used to. The advantage they have is dynamic when you look at the cultural connections they make. No matter where you come from, they do tend to be more connected. When they learn to communicate better, they’ll have even larger networks than we have. We all need to have genuine relationships.