Five Things Michigan Entrepreneurs and Innovators Are Already Doing to Invigorate the State’s Economy


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the state’s economy; 20 spinout companies a year (on average); and third in patents granted, fourth in technology licenses issued, and the third largest number of high-tech degrees awarded (compared to other regions in the country). It is believed by many that these technologies and companies are the future of the state.

4. Invest in an “ecosystem” to serve the startup community: Here, unfortunately, I will be a little parochial. The support ecosystem in the greater Ann Arbor area is second to absolutely no place in the country. We have a cadre of nationally recognized professionals—lawyers, accountants, former CEOs, etc. Importantly, there is an extensive network of professionals who generously donate significant amounts of time to support the entrepreneurial community.

For instance, this past April alone, more than 1,000 volunteer hours were provided to Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest (GLEQ) contestants, Ann Arbor SPARK Boot Camp attendees, and Michigan Growth Capital Symposium participants. Many of these volunteers are member of the New Enterprise Forum (NEF), a 24-year-old, all-volunteer organization that focuses on connecting entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed. NEF is a model for similar groups throughout the state and region. Ann Arbor leads in this, not because it is better than the other communities, but simply by virtue of having been supporting entrepreneurs for decades.

Around the state, in Detroit, Lansing, Midland, Grand Rapids, and probably others, entrepreneurial support communities are being established. Importantly, these communities and Ann Arbor realize that success in any community is a win for everyone, and inter-regional cooperation is happening like never before.

5. Get the state government more involved: It is heartening to see that a person from far away Washington state has heard about the good work being done by local government and government/industry/academic collaborations.

Local efforts, such as the Smart Zones, are quite successful. Just recently, an announcement was made that four Smart Zones in Southeast Michigan are going to be funded to further support entrepreneurial activities, and that these funds will draw the four even closer together.

We already have state-supported funding for early-stage companies—the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, the various microloan programs, etc., provide access to critically needed capital. (In one of those good-news/bad-news deals: some of the funds have already been completely expended—they are being used, but more is needed.)

Even more encouraging, several companies have already grown sufficiently that they have paid back their loans even though these programs are only a couple of years old! We also have entrepreneurial incubators sprouting up across the State, many of which are at capacity. There are also groups, such as the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center, BioTechnology Business Consultants, SCORE, and others, which provide top-quality services to the entrepreneurial community. While several of these organizations receive State support, the total amount of spending on them is actually quite limited. Hopefully, the legislature will see the value added and not only reauthorize support for these programs, but increase the level of support.

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Gerry Roston serves as the CEO of Civionics, a University of Michigan startup that delivers intelligent sensor-based systems to manufacturers to help them minimize unplanned downtime; and as an Executive-in-Residence at TechTown Detroit, where he helps entrepreneurs transition their ideas into sustainable businesses. Follow @

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One response to “Five Things Michigan Entrepreneurs and Innovators Are Already Doing to Invigorate the State’s Economy”

  1. Lisa Kurek says:

    Thanks for an article that focuses on the positive momentum in Michigan but at the same time acknowledges the challenges. Having been involved in the tech-based start-up economy here in Michigan since 1990 it has always been 2 steps forward, 1 step back (or sometimes 3 steps back) but the difference is a net positive. We have to remember the progress can’t be measured in months or even a few years but must be determined over a long period of time with sustained efforts. Let’s hope that the activities you describe continue to have the longevity needed.