By Carol Cain
Senior Producer and Host
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit “Michigan Matters”
Michigan needs to break its cycle of relying on big business and monolithic ways of doing things if it’s going to find new traction in the hyper competitive global marketplace. That according to social entrepreneur Rick DeVos who has been pushing the envelope in his hometown of Grand Rapids with community events like 5 x 5 Night and ArtPrize to encourage the creative class. “I’m interested in creating a culture of start ups, entrepreneurs and people trying new things,” said DeVos, 29-year-old grandson of Amway co-founder Rich and Helen DeVos, and eldest son of Dick and Betsy DeVos.
DeVos made his comments during a taping of “Michigan Matters” and appeared with Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and business woman Denise Ilitch.
As the state lost over one million people in recent years due to the struggling economy, many were young adults with freshly minted college degrees who sought jobs in Chicago, New York and other places. DeVos, who attended college in California, bucked that trend as he returned to the west side of the state to raise his family. DeVos has also experienced failure in his young career as he started Spout.com a few years ago where people could find movies. It wasn’t exactly a hit and he sold the company but kept his love of filmmaking. “And it led me to ArtPrize,” he said, explaining he was going to start a film festival in Grand Rapids until changing gears to create one centered around art instead.” “ArtPrize really is a festival of galleries,” explained DeVos.
ArtPrize will enter its fourth year in 2012. The fall time event, which invites the public to attend and vote, is growing as it adds an additional $100,000 juried award to the kitty which is the world’s largest at almost $600,000. “The core goal is to celebrate the individual’s vision and ability to experiment and try new things,” DeVos said. “It’s about taking risks.”
DeVos also created 5 x 5 Night, a community event where ideas are presented each month and the top five are awarded $5,000 grants. It has gained submissions from Detroit and across the state. Those who make the cut must travel to Grand Rapids to present their ideas. “We need to create an eco-system where people can try new things,” he said. “That means being successful and sometimes failing. We’re great at known business models. But we’re not so good at the discovery process.”
On other issues, Patterson talked about the impact Oakland University’s William Beaumont School of Medicine was having. “In its own way the medical school is reversing the brain drain as statistics show most of the people who attend medical school will stay here,” he said. Patterson said the school has received 3,700 applications for 75 slots it has open next fall.
Ilitch, whose family owns the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, talked about Amway which just signed on as the first ever presenting sponsor of the NHL team. “We’re thrilled to have Amway as a part of our team,” Ilitch said to DeVos. Unlike his father, Dick who was CEO of Amway, Rick DeVos never worked at the company but added, “it’s always been a part of our life.” The DeVos’ family owns the Orlando Magic and Rick DeVos said he is thrilled the start of the season is finally taking place this week following conclusion of negotiations between the NBA players union and owners. “I’m a huge fan,” Devos said when asked if he liked basketball. He wasn’t as enthused when asked if he followed hockey: “No, not really.” “Don’t worry. We’ll change that,” Ilitch shot back with a laugh.
Carol Cain is the Emmy winning senior producer and host of “Michigan Matters”. You can reach her at 248-355-7126 or via email.
Watch Michigan Matters this Sunday at 11 a.m. on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit.
>> Archived video, photos and related stories are always available at CBSDetroit.com/MichiganMatters