Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

July 22, 2011

Johnson joins venture capital company

DETROIT (AP) — Hall-of-Fame basketball player turned businessman Earvin "Magic" Johnson said Thursday joining a Detroit venture capital company that includes Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert is "the right opportunity" to invest in the largest city of his home state.

The ex-NBA star and Lansing native will be a general partner in Detroit Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital firm launched by Gilbert and two others last year that targets technology startups and growing them in Detroit. Johnson said he's "writing a big check" to the firm worth millions, but declined to say exactly how much.

"I tried to do businesses here with the mayors before to bring my theaters here — it didn't work out," Johnson told reporters after a news conference in Detroit. "Now, with Dan, I've now found the right opportunity ... and the right partner." Johnson said he's also looking at buying downtown Detroit buildings with Gilbert through Johnson's real estate fund, which he said has $1 billion in cash.

"This is a tough time for the state, but we're going to make a comeback ... one investment at a time," Johnson said.

Gilbert, who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, has recently bought or plans to buy several properties in Detroit's main business district. Last year, he moved the headquarters of his online retail mortgage lender downtown from a suburb and is actively courting others to follow suit.

Johnson said he will spend a good deal of time in Detroit, but trusts leaving the daily operations to Gilbert and the firm's two other partners, chief executive Josh Linkner and Brian Hermelin.

After speaking, Johnson introduced Mayor Dave Bing, another professional basketball Hall of Famer who started his own successful automotive companies after retiring from the hardcourt. Johnson choked up as he described Bing as his "mentor, hero" and "friend." "The only reason I'm a businessman is because of Bing Steel," said Johnson, whose portfolio has included Starbucks locations, movie theaters, health clubs, restaurants and other retail holdings. "(Bing) knows he's had a great impact on my life." Bing said he's impressed by Detroit Venture Partners' commitment to a city that's drastically lost population and business investment during the last few decades.

"Because of the vision and foresight of these men ... we're going to see something very different in this city," he said.

So far, Detroit Venture Partners has invested in six startups, five of which are based in Detroit or the surrounding area. Linkner said the firm will invest up to $3 million per company and plans to make at least a dozen investments per year.

"We're on a mission to transform Detroit into a tech hub," he said. "This region was vastly underserved from a venture capital standpoint."

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