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One to Watch: Jake Sigal and Detroit Radio

You know the question I'm actually getting tired of asking people? It goes something like this: “Why are you in (metro) Detroit?”

At first, when this blog started, I made that question a staple. I asked everyone I talked to why they were here or wanted to be here. Now, I'm thinking that is a moot point.

Now, I'm putting words in his mouth, but I'm guessing Livio CEO Jake Sigal is tired of it as well. He did not say that when I once again asked him that question…he is a gentleman, after all. But then I started watching interviews with him with every other news organization that has chatted him up, they ALL ask why the hell he's here.

Really, the rest of this blog post is about Sigal, Livio and entrepreneurship. But I'm telling you and the world now…I'm not asking “Why Detroit?” any more. (I might even start asking “Why NOT Detroit?” It's time, and you readers seem to be saying that as well.)

More on this bright young man and his cool Internet radio company.

But if you really want to know…he's here because he has a house in Ferndale. He doesn't want to sell it (and he might not be able to even if he wanted to…let's be real). But he also likes the talent pool in Metro Detroit, and Ferndale is an easy sell for getting new employees – it's relatively cool and has a good small-business vibe, he said. For a guy under the age of 30, that's important.  The cost of living is great compared to Boston, North Carolina or California. And he can bike to work. And his wife likes to see him now and again, so the five-minute commute works for them.

And if you want to work with car companies, you have to be in and around Detroit. But that doesn't mean Sigal has had it easy; he's worked hard. He just happened to have a great idea and the right people to back him up.

“I think that Metro Detroit has all the right parts to help people make successful businesses but it requires the right entrepreneur to make it in a way that's going to be profitable,” Sigal said.

To Sigal, Michigan is amazing with its business incubators, venture capitalists and overall desire to help the small business get a boost. He loves Ann Arbor SPARK, Oakland County's Automation alley and Detroit's TechTown. He loves the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, which helped him develop his business plan. Or the small-business mentors at SCORE, which gave him tons of great advice.

Everybody around here wants more business start-ups. More original thinking and brain power. More job creation. The next Henry Ford-esque idea. Sigal is the kind of guy that personifies the next wave of entrepreneurship in Michigan – the stuff that will get us noticed in the right way (and not for eating raccoons, general public).

Some about Livio: Sigal's company (he's founder and COO) developed the Livio Radio to let users listen to Internet radio at home without being chained to a computer. The Livio machine also can hook up with Pandora and NPR through some special partnerships Sigal and staff have coordinated. Think of it as a Wi-Fi radio.

“I'm so passionate about music. The music I love isn't available on AM or FM radio. I like this specific electronic music, and I can't find that through mainstream sources. But on Internet radio there are something like 20 choices on this specific type of music.… Having that accessibility to that music is what makes Internet radio so great,” Sigal said.

Livio and its pals also can do “live and local.” So if I upped and moved to Germany, I can still listen to my beloved Roberta Jasina on WWJ-AM every morning, he promised. I just might have to get a little more tech savvy, methinks.

Background: He's from Columbus and graduated from Ohio University. Sigal got was a DJ in college – he loves the music – and got his first gig there. To borrow from his bio: Then he joined Stanton DJ as a product guy and engineer. After Stanton DJ, there was Numark. After Numark, there was XM at Delphi. After XM there was Myine Electronics. After Myine, he started Livio.

Oh, and he's also an inventor. “Prior to founding Myine in 2007, Jake established himself in the world of consumer electronics by launching more than 16 successful products into the market. The innovator of the original USB turntable, Jake is also listed as the co-inventor of the iDJ, an iPod-based mixing console. He worked extensively on XM-brand satellite radio products, including the Delphi SKYFi3® XM® Satellite Radio.” Nice, huh?

“I didn't lead the way – I'm one of many of dozens if not hundreds that focus on automotive based entertainment,” Sigal said. “The lesson learned here is: Don't copy Livio radio. Copy the process. Find a problem and solve it.”

He identified the problem back when he was working for the car supplies and satellite radio dudes. More than 70 million people a week listen to online radio. He saw that as a huge opportunity – but there needed to be a way to make that accessible for people.

“The process that we took is what people can follow. Don't create a technology or solution. Look at what does the world need to make something a little better. Don't look at it as technology products, but something that makes rush hour on I-75 a little better,” he added. (Really, why does the I-75 slow down so much, especially around Oakland Mall? But I digress.)

So what does the future hold for this guy and this nifty product? “We've already been growing. And if we stay at this rate of growth, I'm going to be ecstatic,” Sigal said. He's got Pandora, he's got NPR and now he's got Carmen (it's a portable Internet radio “solution” where with Livo's help you can load up its device with all your favorite stations and plug it into your car for traveling). And he's working on getting all of it to you or the general public through major retailers like Sears and such. Look for it. It will be there soon.

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