First Impressions of Michigan’s Innovation Landscape: An Institutional Legacy, A Fragmented Entrepreneurial Community, and Some Unexpected Promising Sectors

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even within the University of Michigan, entrepreneur-focused organizations are often housed at separate schools and isolated from one another.

Volz, meanwhile, says that part of the challenge in growing an innovation culture in the region is that working for large institutions, not entrepreneurship, has historically been the norm for people who grow up and/or go to school in the area, Volz says.

Volz says the LaunchPad program’s mentors will have to work to convince students that entrepreneurship is a desirable path, and not a last resort. “The whole idea is entrepreneurship is a career choice for students, and it’s not what happens when no one else offers you a job,” says Volz.

2) Early stage funding is a challenge in Michigan, just like everywhere else, but the area shouldn’t look to the government.

Some challenges transcend geographies. Many in the Boston-area bemoan the lack of early-stage funding for startups, a concern that was echoed for the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas. “There’s a lack of seed stage funding and a culture around angel investing,” Song says. “Not everyone can build a company on the side from their day job. But that’s a problem everywhere.”

It may be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Detroit area, though. Standout startup ideas are needed to attract more investors to the region, Volz says. “One way to bring that investment capital to Detroit is to have good ideas with which they could be successful,” he says.

Michigan has a greater availability of government grants and tax incentives than any of the other regions Xconomy covers, but those looking to transform the area are wary of fully depending on that assistance. “Depending on the government—it plays to a stereotype and the whole idea is to move from a stereotype,” Volz says. “There’s something dynamic going on here; Henry Ford was not … Next Page »

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4 responses to “First Impressions of Michigan’s Innovation Landscape: An Institutional Legacy, A Fragmented Entrepreneurial Community, and Some Unexpected Promising Sectors”

  1. Dug Song says:

    Thanks, Erin!

    Some more on Ann Arbor’s startup community development (from a year ago):

    Anyone in the area should join us for our flagship community event, the Ann Arbor New Tech Meetup, which has introduced 80+ companies to our 1200+ members:

    And check out for links to the 60+ geek groups organizing an average of 2-3 tech events every day in Ann Arbor, including big annual events like and

  2. Opportunities like the ones that Dug has noted are plentiful in our region. Here are a few new economy building activities for your consideration:

    The New Enterprise Forum. A grass roots organization in its 25th year.

    Ann Arbor SPARK’s calendar of events.

    Michigan Emerging Conference.

    MidAmerica Healthcare Venture Forum

    The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, celebrating its 29th year in 2011.

    Great Lakes Entreprenuers Quest. This is a statewide business plan competition, wrapped in a calendar of workshops and mentorship.

  3. Jim Chiang says:

    I think Michigan has a great entrepreneurial community. The question is more about where the outside funding is?

    Blog at:

  4. As cofounder of an Ann Arbor startup NOT within one of MEDC’s four “holy” industries, Dug is right about missing out on IT opportunities.

    Like established entrepreneurial communities such as Boulder, SV and the Alley, we also need a culture that fosters a fail fast mind-set. Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank’s definition of a tech startup is especially appropriate here. To Steve, a startup “is a temporary organization used to search for a scalable and repeatable business model”. He says that startups fail because they execute when they should search. He also says that business plans are the leading cause of startup death, but that’s another issue….

    So to help enable the search by these temporary organizations, our region should offer a mentorship-driven, seed stage investment program like Boulder’s TechStars or Chicago’s new Excelerate. And, to enhance the ability for entrepreneurs and investors to connect, holding Open Angel Forum events (already in Boulder and seven other locations) provides entrepreneurs with access to angel investors, and also inspires high net worth individuals to become angels.