Immigrant Heritage in Detroit: Edi Demaj’s Story
Meeting Edi Demaj is like what I imagine it would be to meet a young Pierre Omidyar (eBay founder) or Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google). Demaj has a pleasant intensity and exuberant energy about him. He is engaged on every topic of conversation and sees possibilities and opportunities everywhere. At 30, he already is a co-founder of three companies – Rocket Fiber, iziSurvey and Reozom.
Demaj is at his most enthusiastic and optimistic self when you discuss the possibilities of these businesses like Rock Fiber, the next generation fiber-optic Detroit-based internet service provider that Demaj co-founded. According to Rocket Fiber’s website its cutting-edge fiber optic infrastructure will provide internet speeds at 10 gigabits – about 1,000 times faster than the average residential internet connection in the U.S. of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) and 100 times faster than some of the most advanced providers, whose speeds approach 100 Mbps.
Demaj is passionate about how super fast browsing, crystal clear video, lag-free gaming, and lightning quick access to the cloud will make customers current connections feel like dial-up. (Remember those days?)
According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Dan Gilbert (owner of Quicken and the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Rock Ventures (his investment arm) have internally financed the $31 million of Rocket Fiber’s first plans, the heart of which is the underground installation of 5.5 miles of fiber-optic cable around Detroit’s central business district, which is nearly complete. The area that will be served by that cable is bounded by the Lodge Freeway to the west, I-75 to the north, I-375 to the east and the Detroit River to the south.
In short, Demaj personifies the qualities of a visionary high-tech entrepreneur—passion, vision, energy, hard-work. And like Pierre Omidyar or Sergey Brin or countless others, he has an immigrant story. For Demaj, that immigrant experience is closely tied to his entrepreneurial one.
Demaj’s immigration story began in the late 1990s during the Serbian-Kosovo war when, as a teenager, his family had to leave home, fleeing for their lives. They were fortunate to have made it alive and reach the U.S., setting in Metro Detroit. “I fell in love with the city of Detroit very early in my American life; from Detroit sports teams to the history and legacy of the city. Very early on I adopted Detroit as my new home city,” Demaj has said.
Demaj sees his immigration story as an American story. His family came to the United States for safety, for freedom, and to pursue a better life – just like many families before and since. For Demaj, his passion for starting his own businesses is driven by the same DNA and experience that brought his family to the U.S. and it is why so many immigrants are entrepreneurs. (In fact, research from Duke University, UC-Berkeley, and the Kauffman Foundation has documented that approximately 25% of the nation’s high-tech firms started over the last two decades—firms like Rocket Fiber—were launched with at least one immigrant founder or co-founder.)
The immigrant heritage within the walls of Rocket Fiber does not stop at Edi. Rocket Fiber’s Director of Real Estate and Business Development Walter Amicucci’s parents emigrated from Italy in the 1970’s to pursue economic opportunity in the auto industry. From Edi’s perspective, the fact that Walter is the child of immigrants helped give him some of that same entrepreneurial ambition that Demaj shares. Entrepreneurial immigrants like Edi and Walter, and our immigrant ancestors before them, have always and continue to create businesses and jobs for American workers, innovating to propel our economy forward.
June is Immigrant Heritage Month, a nationwide effort coordinated by Welcome.US to gather and share stories of our shared American heritage. We’re sharing Edi’s story to celebrate his and his family’s contributions to metro Detroit. Edi envisions a Detroit where Detroiters of all backgrounds, creeds, religions, and races are working hard to make the city and region a prosperous one with a booming economy. Fostering a Michigan that welcomes and embraces immigrants is one way to get us there.