LANSING — The Michigan Economic Development Corp. Entrepreneurial Services Bus Tour concluded in Houghton last week at Michigan Technological University’s Advanced Technology Development Complex.
Houghton marked the final stop of the tour, which spanned five days and 15 stops throughout Michigan. The one-time-only tour targeted university communities and entrepreneurs to highlight over 20 state programs available to help early stage technology companies. MEDC dedicates over $25 million in programming each year to assist business growth and job creation in Michigan. MEDC has been in existence since 1999 and has seven strategic initiatives to create job growth in Michigan. They work with SmartZones, which are partnerships between state universities and incubators. With a roster of over 34 programs, MEDC representatives outlined about 20 programs during the presentation to a full room. The information is intended to help high tech companies cross the chasm from start-ups to successful, thriving businesses. MEDC programs include: Great Lakes Entrepreneurs Quest helps very early stage Michigan ventures connect with support resources through a business plan competition. The competition is open to students and requires little preparation. During the process, which includes one-on-one coaching, teams create necessary business documents, which may prepare them for higher caliber business plan competitions such as Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Upstream from GLEQ and with one million in cash prizes, Accelerate expects participants to have a strong concept, EIN, prototype, etc. At this year’s Accelerate Competition, over 50 angel investors were on-site.
The federal Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program makes over $2 billion available nationally to fund R&D being done by small, technology-based companies each year. Thanks to a statewide Michigan Assistance Program funded by the state and managed through BBC, an entrepreneurial training and consulting firm, training and one-one-one proposal assistance is offered at little or no cost to Michigan technology companies and entrepreneurs. Companies that receive assistance from BBC are funded at two to three times the national average. To assist in the growth of energy technologies in Michigan, non-profit NextEnergy involves Technology Validation and Research & Development programs, focusing on energy storage, vehicle electrification, Smart Grid, renewable energy and more. Over 18,500 square feet of lab space helps with the rigorous testing necessary for this complex industry. Technology Commercialization and Assistance Program is based on University of Michigan’s model to foster the proactive transfer of new technologies to existing businesses. Jim Baker, Executive Director for Industry Engagement at Michigan Tech, works closely in this effort locally, identifying community mentors to assist with tech transfer at Michigan Tech. Universities frequently share mentors. Another example of university collaboration resulting from the TCA program is the New Venture Competition, a joint effort and business plan competition between Michigan Tech and Central Michigan University. Michigan Tech student teams fared well at the recent competition, taking home first and third places and over $40,000 in cash prizes, largely due to support from MTEC SmartZone.
Other university programs account for $6.8 million of MEDC funding. These programs include Tech Transfer Talent Network (T3N), Michigan Corporate Relations Network (MCRN) and the Michigan Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MIIE). Michigan Tech participates in all three programs. The MIIE works to strengthen ties between all 15 public state universities by funding joint projects, entrepreneurship education and technology commercialization. The state-wide program has funded $5 million to 90 projects to date. Local start-ups CPR Mattress and GreenSand Corporation participated in MIIE programs. Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) provides low-to-no cost business counseling, business education and secondary market research. Participants gain access to capital, resources and strategic planning. John Diebel, of Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Industry Engagement, is a local SBTDC counselor. A new MI-SBTDC pilot program is the Business Accelerator Fund administered through SmartZones, including MTEC SmartZone. The purpose of this program is to move companies forward utilizing service providers in business consulting, legal assistance, technology consulting and commercial assistance. MTEC SmartZone Program Director Jonathan Leinonen is the local Business Accelerator Fund contact. A collaborative effort between all Michigan SmartZones is the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. The Fund supports emerging high tech companies with access to early-stage capital — investments and loans — between $50,000 and $250,000. The capital is expected to be paid back with a return, reimbursed over a two year period, resulting in a very stringent application process and low approval rate. Participants find the most success when they work with a SmartZone to apply. The Michigan Angel Fund focuses on start-ups requiring $1 to $3 million who do not fit the venture model. This fund is industry agnostic, permitting most types of companies, except lifestyle and franchises. The goal of Michigan Angel Fund is to create high return with limited funding.
The Michigan Venture Capital Association aims to grow and sustain the venture capital community in Michigan. Research shows that many Michigan venture capitalists are investing on the Coasts, even though investing in Michigan results in a better Return on Investment. By 2016, the MVCA also hopes to bridge the entrepreneurial management talent gap currently plaguing Michigan. Another new program is the Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund, which currently has $5 million to spend and is anticipating another $5 million in capital soon. This new fund was dramatically shaped by public opinion during public hearings. The MEDC urges members of the public to participate in such hearings. MEDC representative Michael Psarouthakis concluded the program by urging people with an innovative idea to look into crowd-source funding such as Kickstarter. He demonstrated that just during the MEDC’s 70-minute program in Houghton, one Kickstarter technology start-up earned over $1,000 online.
MEDC urges questions, including eligibility requirements for each program, and questions regarding entrepreneurial services, to be directed to MTEC SmartZone’s Program Director, Jonathan Leinonen. Contact him at (906) 487-7004.
For more information about the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, please visit www.michiganadvantage.org