Jennifer Owens, Ann Arbor Spark’s vice president for business development, is charged with overseeing the organization’s efforts to attract and retain new businesses to the Ann Arbor region. Over this week, Owens is on a mission trip to California, meeting with companies with interests in Ann Arbor, companies that are looking for a high tech community to expand or locate as well as with University of Michigan graduates who have started a business on the west coast. We asked her to share her experiences with GLITR’s readers. Today, here’s her latest installment.

I just got a crash course in Silicon Valley 101.  “Eighty years young,” Stanford School of Business Professor William Miller, has seen the Valley transform during his tenure at the institution.  He shared with me that entrepreneurship runs deep at the campus starting with the first university president, a former angel investor.  The president invested $500 of his own money into one of the first student-run companies.  Since its beginning, the school has encouraged entrepreneurship and failure.  Miller has successfully run his own venture capital fund and has seen his share of unprofitable ventures.   His VC fund invested in about 26 firms, 20 of which matured and of those 12 of which were failures.  The remaining eight were successful ventures, but took many years to exit.  He said that any region looking to encourage entrepreneurship should take a note from the experience of his fund and quoted a national statistic that 70 percent of all start-ups are failures.  The two tips that he always offers to regions are don’t punish failure and encourage risk taking.   

After meeting with Mr. Miller, I wanted to learn more about the city that drives that region – San Francisco.  Dennis Conoghan is the executive director of the San Francisco Center for Economic Development (SFCED).  His group is charged with all the city’s business development and attraction efforts.  The city has seen tremendous new development with almost all of its seven miles built out with a mix of office, retail and residential buildings.  The region’s attraction focus areas are very similar to Ann Arbor with life sciences, clean tech and information technology at the top of its list.  Yet, with more than 700,000 residents and 8,000 established companies, the SFCED has only three employees.   Conaghan presses ahead with his limited staff embarking on new initiatives including a Chinese trade office and a biotech marketing initiative.  He is hopeful that the state will rebuild its dismantled Department of Commerce to help in his efforts.  Currently, the state has only about 30 people dedicated to economic development.   

Tomorrow is my final day in California.  I will leave with a much greater education and appreciation for the region.  I can’t wait to continue to learn from our Michigan-area alumni at our last bay area event. 

(c) WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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