Topouzian Brings Economic Development Perspective to New MVCA Role

Ara Topouzian is a longtime Oakland County economic development official and a 2012 Kresge Artist Fellow recognized for his work playing a 76-string kanun harp in Armenian and world music bands. As of March 25, he’ll also be the new director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association, which works to advance the state’s VC ecosystem.

Topouzian comes to the MVCA after six years of heading up the 700-member Troy Chamber of Commerce, where he says he worked to reinvent the organization and create programming rooted in economic development that could satisfy a diverse group of companies, from mom-and-pop shops to large corporations.

“My background has always been in the business community,” Topouzian explains. “It’s a natural progression for me to go from the chamber to a statewide organization.”

Venture capital, he says, is an industry he’s brand new to, but he welcomed the opportunity to continue working with Michigan’s business community. “I’m looking at the impact VC can have with keeping companies here and helping them grow,” he continues. “The MVCA is a relatively young organization, but there are opportunities we can take advantage of, like partnering more with higher education. We need to attract capital to the state—the possibilities are endless.”

Topouzian says he’s “trying to get ramped up to learn the VC world,” but he plans to take the organization’s annual research report, due out in April, on a roadshow to tout the MVCA’s successes. Michigan’s venture community has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 15 years, but some of the intense hype surrounding Detroit’s tech startup scene in the early 2010s has settled—the result of normal ebb and flow of a growing ecosystem, say many investors. Like most other places in the country, Michigan has also had challenges with increasing diversity among those receiving investments, but new efforts like EntryPoint are working to improve the situation.

“Outreach is very important,” Topouzian says of his vision for the MVCA. “We need to meet with stakeholders like the state legislature and economic development agencies, so that will be an ongoing mission. Communicating the stories of the VC world and entrepreneurs is also key. People need to know the importance and relevance of VC firms [to the state’s economy]. The board has been very supportive of me coming in, and very transparent about looking for new directions and strategic alliances.”

Topouzian, who is married and the father of two kids, is a proud Michigander who says he has no desire to ever move.

“We have so much here that is positive, and I’m really looking forward to making a difference,” he adds. “Stay tuned.”

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