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UM Venture Capital Event Features More Good News

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YPSILANTI (WWJ) — Another day, another upbeat assessment of Michigan’s startup and venture capital communities.

The opening panel on Day Two of the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium focused on Michigan’s changing entrepreneurial climate — or perhaps more bluntly, the fact that now there actually is an entrepreneurial climate in Michigan.

Robert Buderi, founder, CEO and editor in chief of the Xconomy publications, said he’s seeing growing acceptance of entrepreneurship as an accepted career path. But he said that’s typical everywhere in the country — growing incubators, business plan competitions, mentor groups and angel groups are just the basics of being competitive in economic development these days. The ‘maker’ movement is also driving a renaissance in high-tech manufacturing, he added.

Charles Rothstein, senior managing director and co-founder of Michigan’s largest private equity firm, Farmington Hills-based Beringea LLC, said he sees in Detroit echoes of what he sees in his overseas office in London — a vibrant entrepreneurial community in a city that’s attractive to young people.

“In Michigan, we’re seeing development of an industry that didn’t exist here just a few years ago,” Rothstein said. “A group of backers has come together with terrific support from the state and investors in the angel community. We also have extremely strong and progressive development agencies like the MEDC and Spark that have led the country in developing new programs. Detroit has that edgy attitude that is attractive to younger people, and you’re seeing that downtown.”

Rothstein called for a national policy to encourage investment in small, emerging businesses. In the United Kingdom, he said, there are venture capital trusts that offer tax credits to investors that put money into VC.

Buderi said he’s often “astounded at the disconnect” between what government programs offer and what startups need. “Startups say, ‘We don’t care about tax breaks, we’re losing money, we’re not going to be paying taxes anyway. We care about getting customers, we worry about saving money on the essential things we have to do to be in business, like building a privacy policy for a Web site or hooking up to the right Internet plan,'” Buderi said.

But in Michigan, he said, he praised “a collaborative spirit that is very welcoming of outsiders. I had no doubt this state was going to turn out to be a big story.”

H. Louis Cooperhouse, president and CEO of food industry entrepreneurial consultants Food Spectrum LLC, said effective tech company incubation is about way more than providing space. He said it’s all about the services provided to entrepreneurs and the impact of incubation beyond the incubator’s four walls. Also, effective incubation requires the participation of state government and universities.

Moderator Peter G. Roth of the law firm Varnum LLP said his firm is offering help to startups with ‘My Springboard,’ a pledge to offer $1 million in free legal services to startups. He said the program provided $250,000 in free legal services to 48 startups in its first year.

What’s still missing in Michigan, Buderi said, is heavy density of deals and entrepreneurs, “the repeat entrepreneurial successes … What’s going on in the Madison Building goes beyond anything you see in Silicon Valley. But that’s only one building.”

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