Detroit invests in homegrown talent to forge future of mobility at Michigan Central

The auto industry is in the middle of a massive shift as electric and autonomous cars are no longer a science fiction storyline – they're here and they're real. And Detroit is in a unique position to take full advantage of fresh ideas and young innovators.

As the automotive industry transitions toward electric vehicles and new forms of transportation, Detroit companies recognize the importance of retaining local talent to drive innovation in this evolving sector. A novel fellowship program epitomizes this shift.

Michigan Central in Corktown is witnessing significant developments, not just in size but in the potential impact. The focus is on bridging the gaps identified in current transportation options.

"We believe there is a gap both economic and functional gap between what a bike offers today and what a car does," explained Ilan Penn, a young entrepreneur who relocated his business, Strut, from the West Coast to Michigan, drawn by the state's automotive heritage and community.

"There is a very strong native community, and a lot of that comes back to the roots that Michigan has in the auto industry, especially with what we are doing... ushering in a new generation of mobility," said Penn. Strut has been working towards designing and creating an EV that costs under $10,000 for personal or business use over the last year.

Michigan Central is tapping into this well of opportunities. Clarinda Barnett-Harrison, Director of Skills at Michigan Central, said when Ford bought and revitalized the historic train station, the building became more than an office space.

Michigan Central

"We are a part of the hot neighborhood, and we hope that we are contributing positively to that," she said. "We are the hub of tech innovation, particularly in the mobility space, and our goal is to make sure we are serving not just the new tech ecosystem but serving the community at the same time."

The hub boasts over 100 startups that are expected to benefit from mutual collaboration.

As the auto industry advances, ensuring the success of new companies like Strut is a collective endeavor.

"I ask the start-ups: 'What do you need?' So they let me know specifically what type of talent they are looking for. We curate programs to make sure they have access to that talent," Barnett-Harrison continued, highlighting the targeted approach to empowering startups.

The challenge lies in retaining the local STEM graduates who often seek opportunities out of state. 

"Seventy percent of STEM graduates leave the state for other opportunities because they don't believe that they are here," Barnett-Harrison noted. 

To combat this, Michigan Central is offering Michigan university graduates with a STEM degree the opportunity to apply for a new fellowship program.

"We are looking to select ten fellows, so we are looking to get 50 applicants because there are other companies that are looking for more talent, and we can share those resumes," she added. 

Selected fellows are guaranteed a 15-month job with a $75,000 salary, plus on-the-job training with tech startups.

"It's great to be around people who know what you are going through that are also growing ideas, raising funds, and taking their business to the next level," said Penn, highlighting the collaborative environment. The fellowship, funded by Michigan Central and the state, is an investment in cultivating a skilled workforce.

The fellowship starts this October and ends in December 2025. To apply, check out