NEU Vol. 3
Developing Human Capital
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How West Michigan is transforming entrepreneurial talent development.

Letter from the Director
CEI Accountability Report
Is It the Horse or the Jockey
Incubating Green Ideas
Putting the “Ability” in Disability
Forging a Pipeline
Q&A Bonnie Wesorick
Engineering a Community of Entrepreneur
Food-preneurs Get a Kitchen
Tailoring Talent Recruitment in Social Entrepreneurship
Early Stage: Flip Learning
Venture: Grand Angles
High Growth: Mutually Human
Exit: Mock Draft Central
Scholarship Recipients

 
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CEI Team

Letter from the Director

After five months serving as the Executive Director at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) at Grand Valley State University, I can write this introduction with a sense of direction that I did not have in the previous issue. It is appropriate that this issue focuses on talent as a component of the entrepreneur ecosystem. We have no higher calling at CEI than to create entrepreneurial talent.

For the purpose of this introduction, talent is defined in two ways:
1. The individuals and groups that innovate the ideas that become new enterprises
2. The managers and business people that help take the ideas from thought to reality  

Our research programs, engineering projects and experimental models are designed to foster creativity, innovation and new ideas. However, we see the need for improvement in the area of developing and retaining managers and CEOs who can take ideas from concept to reality.  West Michigan must create a talent base of managers capable of tackling today’s and tomorrow’s big challenges.

We have the privilege to work with outstanding entrepreneurial talent at Grand Valley and throughout the community. We have students launching their first enterprise, and students with significant traction now seeking funding. We work with multiple programs throughout West Michigan that focus on developing entrepreneurial management talent such as the Momentum, Grand Angels and many more. However, our reach is limited in our current format. For every student entrepreneur or new business we encounter, we have five more companies and ideas that need managers with experience in entrepreneurship.

Under our current format, our ability to work with students and companies is limited by the type and number of contacts we have with students. To break this limitation we must seek new ways to provide entrepreneurial education and experiences. As I address in my article, Is It the Horse or the Jockey, there is a great need to develop the entrepreneurial talent capable of taking an idea from concept to reality. We need to connect with more students and we need to find ways to introduce the entrepreneurial process in a more integrated way.

This issue shares stories of great entrepreneurs throughout West Michigan, which illustrate that entrepreneurship is not limited to the for-profit business model. This issue shares stories of a nurse entrepreneur, a successful not-for profit cancer care service, an extraordinary entrepreneur who didn’t let his handicap stop him, and a variety of other ventures in different stages in the entrepreneurial cycle.  Their diverse experiences support our position that entrepreneurship is not just subject or discipline of study, but also a practice, a way of thinking. It is a process in which the entrepreneur must balance the need to articulate a broad strategic vision with the need to execute the day-to-day activities that translate their vision into reality.  Entrepreneurs are do-ers—takers of action.

As practitioners of entrepreneurship, we at CEI are taking action, executing on our vision of a dynamic West Michigan entrepreneurial community.


Sincerely,

 

 

J. Kevin McCurren

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CEI Team

CEI Accountability Report

Talent Development

Momentum-MI Program
CEI is a proud sponsor of the 2011 Momentum Business Accelerator Program. This community funded initiative pushes the capabilities of social technology with a user-friendly interface. Four startups were selected to participate in the 12-week program to build a functional prototype, test customer adoption and work on pricing, messaging and distribution channels.

The companies Booker, Chext, Converati and WeatherCollage pitched their businesses at the culminating Demonstration Day in the GVSU Loosemore Auditorium on July 28. The 2011 Momentum class will join a growing group of program alumni armed with invaluable experience.

 http://momentum-mi.com/companies

Entrepreneurship Scholarships
Through the generous support of community activists, CEI has selected Elizabeth Arnold as the 2011 recipient of the Robert H. & Barbara Wood Scholarship; and Miles Smith as the recipient of the American Photo Marketing Entrepreneurship Scholarship. Each $1500 scholarship is awarded to a student who displays a passion for entrepreneurship as well as possessing the drive to start a new venture.

Teen Entrepreneur Summer Academy (TESA)
2011 marked the fifth year of the TESA program in Grand Rapids as well as the inaugural academy on the GVSU Holland Meijer Campus. The custom-developed program exposed high school students to the processes of starting a business through lectures, hands-on activities, role-playing and research. Local entrepreneurs visited the teams throughout the week to give real-world insight about starting a business.

CEI has extended this program to more than 80 public, private and charter schools in West Michigan as well as an open invite to all Michigan high school students. On average, the academy registers students from seven new schools each year while maintaining a steadfast following from past participating districts. The academy has dedicated over 2000 hours of instruction to 104 students from 44 different schools in the past five years. 31 business pitches have been researched, rehearsed and revised for 18 judges to award $5400 in prize money. This makes for learned students and proud parents.

‘Regeneshred’, the winning business at the 2011 Grand Rapids academy, proposed a paper recycling program for local high schools. 15 year old, Forest Hills Northern student, Balraj Bhurgra, coined the slogan—“Regenashred for the school, make some bread and be cool,” as part of the company marketing strategy. The efforts of Balraj and his teammates were realized by the judges when they awarded Regeneshred top prize in Grand Rapids.

‘Left-Overs to Dirt’, the winning business at the 2011 Holland academy, pitched an idea for a composting company which targets food waste reduction in high school cafeterias. The innovative recycling venture was the result of a brainstorming session, with lead instructor Peggy Schoenborn, about the opportunities to reduce waste in schools.

Regional Business Plan Competition
GVSU was the host of the 2011 Regional Business Plan Competition—a community showcase of undergraduate students from Aquinas, Calvin, Cornerstone, Davenport, and GVSU. The competition challenges teams to prepare a formal business plan and a 10-minute business pitch, so they become familiar with the entrepreneurial preparation necessary to launch a venture. Uptown Kitchen, a kitchen incubator and product of Calvin College student Kelly LeCoy, was awarded $3,000 as the most viable venture in the competition. The competition came as a result of the collaborative efforts of WMCUG, the West Michigan Colleges and Universities Group, which includes Aquinas College, Calvin College, Cornerstone University, Davenport University, GRCC, GVSU, and Hope College.  The seed capital was made possible by the generous support of the event sponsors, Ernst & Young, and Varnum.

GVSU Business Plan Competition
The Competition seeks to provide the participating undergraduate students with forums in which they develop skills in pitching their ventures to investors and receive constructive feedback for increasing the probability of successfully launching their ventures. The 4th Annual Business Plan Competition was held on March 22, 2011 in the Loosemore Auditorium. The screening process and the judging of the final presentations were conducted by five judges from the local community. The judges included: Michael Hyacinthe of Urban Liberty; Michael Hollander-Vice President and Regional Market Manager for Business Banking Group, Fifth Third Bank; Mark Olesnavage-Managing Director at Hopen Life Science Ventures; Mary Reagan Shapton-Founder of Reagan Marketing+Design; Jody Vanderwel-President of Grand Angels. Seven teams of students competed for the $10,000 cash prizes, and the winners were:

 $3,000 Jeramiah Cornell & Mu Yang - The Great American Culture Company
 $2,000 Frank Leonard - Keg Regulator
 $500 Buzz Award Joe Presutti & Cory Cain - Suckers for a Cause

Business Support

CEI Sponsored Events
CEI is committed to foster events that advance the entrepreneurial resource base in West Michigan. Notable events from spring/summer 2011 include the Empowering Entrepreneurship Seminar (May 4), Family Enterprise Research Conference (May 5-8), Green Technology and Entrepreneurship Academy (July 25-29) and Savvy Entrepreneur Seminar Series.

CEI Partnered Events
CEI has continually partnered with organizations to host events that support entrepreneurs in the community. Momentum-MI Demo Day (July 28) and Michigan Lean Startup Conference (May 19)

 Technology Transfer
CEI Executive Director J. Kevin McCurren, is reinvigorating the technology transfer initiatives within GVSU and West Michigan. By assessing technical/scientific feasibility and commercial potential, innovative university ideas can be introduced to the market. All business concepts start with a unique idea, and bridging the gap between the ‘thinker’ and the market is the first step in creating a comprehensive tech transfer program. The Green Technology and Entrepreneurship Academy, hosted at GVSU, targeted this initiative.

Business Acceleration
CEI continues to provide business development services to the West Michigan community. Since July 2011, over 70 entrepreneurs came to CEI in various stages of business: idea, startup, cashflow and growth stage. Our services focus on business plan review, assist in raising capital and connecting entrepreneurs with others individuals or businesses that can help launch or develop their businesses.

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CEI Team

 

Is It the Horse or the Jockey
The Value of Talent In New Enterprises in West Michigan 

It is often asked in venture investing whether you bet on the horse (the market and the idea) or bet on the jockey (the manager and the management team). The story of Pat Day may help answer the question.

Pat Day is a jockey legend in horse racing. Before his retirement in 2005, Pat Day had close to $298,000,000 in winnings, which ranks No. 1 in lifetime earnings for jockeys. He was the all-time leading money rider at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. In the Breeders Cup, the world series of horse racing, Day came first or second in 25 percent of the races. Day was so dominant at Churchill Downs that bettors would often bet on any horse with Day in the saddle and the odds would decline because of the Day followers.

But the raw numbers hardly do justice to Pat Day, he was respected for his remarkable integrity, faith, strength and compassion, both on and off the track. Fellow jockeys knew not to underestimate Day and his mounts. Behind the smile was a fierce competitor who always saved something for the finish. He competed from the high ground with noteworthy respect from and for the welfare of his fellow riders and the sport. Pat Day’s success was built on persistence, constant learning, trying new approaches based on an even-keeled perspective built upon a long term and balanced perspective toward his goals and profession. These skills surrounded by a character of integrity, strength and competitiveness, made Pat Day the most successful jockey in history.

Whether in horse racing or in new enterprises, it is the individual steering the wheel that makes the greatest difference in the success of a new venture. Likewise, how we in West Michigan develop and retain these leaders will determine our success in developing and growing an entrepreneurial environment in the region.

Entrepreneurial Leaders: The Great Gap and the Great Challenge.
A vibrant entrepreneurial community is composed of strong components of capital, expertise, ideas and talent, specifically, entrepreneurial managers and idea creators. When these components are present in a geographical market, a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem and culture emerges. Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, however, is not like building a house; a vertical structure built one component on top of the other. Building on an entrepreneurial ecosystem is more akin to creating a puzzle; constantly putting various complex components together to make a whole picture. Creating the talent piece of the puzzle is the most difficult, but often necessary component of building and growing a new enterprise.

In their book, Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the 21st Century, Holden Thorpe and Buck Goldstein identify two trends that point to the need of entrepreneurial mindset to unlock the innovations that will solve today’s challenges.

  1. The complex nature of today’s problems requires attacking them with nontraditional and multi-disciplinary approaches.
  2. Tools and information available to individuals undermine institutions and empower entrepreneurs.

The latter half of the 20th century, the United States used the linear process and massive resource allocation to solve the country‘s big problems. The Space Race and the atomic energy projects were the result of this approach. However, today’s problems such as climate change, environmental degradation, communicable diseases are complex, ambiguous, crossing over multiple agencies, disciplines and constituencies. By their very nature and size, these problems require fundamental new approaches to problem solving. At the same time, individuals have access to information and tools through the Internet that enables one person to have an unprecedented impact, as was seen in the overthrow of the Egyptian government in early 2011.

Today’s problems require building diverse teams with different disciplines, skills and entrepreneurial approaches, as well as tapping into the research and creativity that originates in our universities. The Green Technology Entrepreneurial Academy held at Grand Valley State University in July 2011, illustrated this fact. This program supported over 20+ university researchers and scientists from 10 Michigan universities in a week long program that walked them through the process of how to commercialize their green technology ideas and research and prepare a pitch for fundraising. Even though all of the participants were master or PhD trained university faculty, the overriding first step for each of these fledgling but promising new technologies was to recruit and hire a CEO or business partner who could execute on a business plan to take these products to market and build a new enterprise around them. On that day alone, we saw 15 scientifically validated, qualified business ideas that needed entrepreneurial managers. Where will this pool of new enterprises find their managers? How can we commercialize the research that is being created in our universities’ labs if we are not also creating the entrepreneurial talent that will execute on the research?

The Role of Universities in Creating Entrepreneurs
Venture investors will tell you that the top three priorities in making investment decisions are management, management and management. Specifically, do the managers have a record of success in new venture, do they have domain experience, do they know how to grow a business and do they show the integrity that prompts the respect of investors and customers?

With the great need and emphasis on entrepreneurial leadership, how will we in West Michigan create this critical component of the puzzle? Speaking as part of a panel of on the world of economic crisis in 2009, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “We are going to have to innovate our way out of this thing and our great research institutions will have to lead the way.”

In fulfilling this critical piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle, the community must turn to the universities and institutions of higher education. Likewise, we must respond by creating an environment where the process of entrepreneurship is built into the learning experience.

A recent article in Forbes Magazine on student entrepreneurs defined entrepreneurs as “do-ers.” Like Pat Day’s success in horse racing, entrepreneurs take an idea, an innovation or an improvement and act upon it. These individuals take incremental steps that eventually create a self-sustaining enterprise, movement or company. In addition to a subject or discipline of study, entrepreneurship is also an ongoing practice and a way of thinking. In our universities, we must teach entrepreneurship as a lifestyle discipline, series of learned experiences both inside and outside the classroom that together increase the impact of innovation and incrementally improves upon its potential for success.

Strategies for Developing and Attracting Entrepreneurial Talent
We can all agree that attracting and developing talent is a key component to a robust economy. Numerous studies and research have suggested that entrepreneurs play a role in gearing investments towards the communities they live in by creating businesses and jobs, stimulating innovation and creating social and financial capital. West Michigan is well positioned to capitalize on that and create a successful entrepreneurial system by creating a hub that is adept at developing and retaining entrepreneurial talent. Public and private partnerships, in turn, play a key role in nurturing and supporting a robust economy and providing critical mass of human capital, business-friendly policies and relatively easy access to finance.

Essentially, organizations and institutions of higher learning have to invest in their entrepreneurial community by strategically working together to “grow” a critical mass of entrepreneurially minded individuals, as well as facilitate knowledge transfer by encouraging “hot spots” of technological and educational institutions to create conditions conducive to entrepreneurship.  Here are the four key initiatives to developing and retaining talent:

Networking and Mentoring:
People do business with persons they like and trust. Networking is about making connections and building trust and mutually beneficial relationships. Professional organizations and local business leaders should be catalysts in providing these opportunities to ensure that upcoming entrepreneurs are meeting the “right” people to expand their network and, ultimately, success. Further, entrepreneurs need proven and experienced business leaders to help them grow and gain business knowledge to navigate the many challenges startup businesses can face. Beyond acting as a sounding board, mentors can provide industry expertise that inexperienced entrepreneurs may not have.

Training and Education: 
Training helps entrepreneurs acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to set up and operate a successful business. Having the next best idea or business concept is not enough to spur the creation of businesses. Offering training programs on developing a business plan, marketing and sales, building a team and funding, provides guidance and practical steps needed to take an idea from concept to an actual enterprise

Human and Social Capital:
Education and training is not enough to create social capital. The presence of other talented and like-minded individuals creates opportunities for partnerships, work synergy and innovation. These human clusters provide access to valuable social networking, intellectual capital, knowledge transfer and joint ventures among colleagues.

Access to Capital:
Financial capital is important for individuals seeking to pursue entrepreneurial activities. Loans, microloans and competitions have paved the road to entrepreneurs who operate on a very small scale. Venture capital, on the other hand, is essential to creating and growing new and existing industries such as high-tech, cleantech, life sciences and other high growth sectors.

West Michigan is blessed to have a solid foundation and infrastructure to build upon for developing and retaining talent. We have a comprehensive network of organizations and business leaders who are dedicating their time and resources to creating and sustain our most important asset. Together, the West Michigan entrepreneurial community and institutions of higher learning are beginning to transform the way entrepreneurial talent is created, managed and spread.

  1. Eric Schmidt, interview by Kai Ryssdal, Marketplace, American Public Media, July 7, 2009.
  2. Holden Thorp and Buck Goldstein, Engines of Innovation, the Entrepreneurial University of the Twenty First Century; (University of North Carolina Press,2010),9-11.

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CEI Team


Incubating Green Ideas
Michigan Green Technology and Entrepreneurship Academy

It’s rare that a university professor, postdoc or PhD student would be found listening to lectures in the confines of a classroom, yet it perfectly describes the scene at the inaugural Michigan Green Technology and Entrepreneurship Academy. Green TEA, as it is commonly referred, is an innovative program designed to launch cleantech ideas out of the university lab.

The original academy was implemented by the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of California, Davis, initiating a genesis project to connect university research to the investment community in Central California. Through a community effort spearheaded by Ann Arbor based Huron River Ventures, Growth Capital Network and Grand Valley State University, the curriculum was licensed in Michigan for science and engineering focused scholars. Michigan has a strong research pool, competitive with notable university clusters such as USC, UCLA, and UC-San Diego, and it has untapped potential for commercialization (see table 1).

Participants gained an understanding of how and when to transform a lab project into a profitable business. The five-day conference articulated entrepreneurial concepts from intellectual property to product marketing, but it stressed three goals in a larger social agenda for Michigan.

Hosted by the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, Green TEA was made possible by a $61,000 grant awarded to CEI from the Michigan Initiative for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (MIIE). A consortium of all 15 Michigan public universities, MIIE acts to foster a new knowledge economy based on entrepreneurship and innovation.

Green TEA helps researchers overcome environmental challenges

A university researcher’s exclusive dedication to science will stunt his or her chance for a great idea to reach the market. Scholars work tirelessly to generate the most advanced and efficient products in the world, but they are often too focused or resource invested to concentrate on the business value of their research. Similarly, public universities are concerned with the dissemination of knowledge and not the profitability of inventions, so faculty obligations will not align with a researcher’s commercialization schedule. To overcome this paradigm, Green TEA exposes researchers to business resources and professional networks that can add value to their idea.

Green TEA pairs business expertise with researchers’ scientific acumen

David Parsigian of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn, reiterated that while academics provide a strong scientific presence on a team, business advisors must complement the technical component. Program organizers designed a rich, multifaceted curriculum to advance the understanding of entrepreneurial best practices to a group of innovators who do not regularly use the startup jargon. A week saturated with lectures, testimonials, teamwork and individual mentorship, culminated on the final day when each attendee presented his or her business pitch to the Green TEA advisors. Though the academic attendees may not drive the business side of a startup company, it was important to gain a general understanding of the entrepreneurial process. Speaking on the challenge to bring an idea to market, Dr. Dillip Mohanty, chemistry professor from the College of Science and Technology at Central Michigan University, commented, “it takes a lot more than just a great product or a great invention to make a viable company,” referring to the need for business resources.

Green TEA promotes environmental responsibility and economic growth

Green TEA is a catalyst for cleantech business. ‘Cleantech’ refers to a diverse set of products, services, and processes that result in a more cost effective, higher performing output with a smaller environmental footprint. Technologies associated with clean energy, advanced manufacturing and materials, and advanced automotive can be considered cleantech industries. As more emphasis is placed on triple-bottom-line outcomes, cleantech research becomes an increasingly appealing investment as seen by the formation of investment firms, like Huron River Ventures, who exclusively invest in cleantech companies. Green TEA is creating a platform to commercialize cleantech ideas thereby promoting environmental responsibility, creating Michigan jobs, retaining the current workforce and developing new businesses.

Commercialization assessments are typically needed to evaluate the market potential for a business idea. A panel discussion about technology transfer proved enlightening to many of the participants. “I think Green TEA can be a catalyst for business in Michigan because one of the biggest obstacles for faculty pursuing tech transfer of their ideas is simply missing the skills and knowledge of how to do it,” remarked Associate Chemistry Professor Anja Mueller of Central Michigan University. Tech transfer offices are typically located in educational institutes that produce enough research to sustain a commercialization program.

Three tech transfer officials from Michigan Technological University, University of Michigan and Michigan State University, elaborated on the processes involved with commercializing research, and it became apparent that there are standard expectations between each institution. Jim Baker, Director of Technology and Economic Development at Michigan Technological University, explained that “researchers must have a willingness to participate in the planning process.” Researchers who are actively involved and receptive to advice have a greater chance for success than those individuals who use the tech transfer office as a procedural formality. Informational sessions like the tech transfer panel complemented the Green TEA curriculum by minimizing the mystery of the commercialization process.

“We are trying to instill that entrepreneurial DNA into universities and the community,” commented Tim Streit, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Huron River Ventures. Michigan has not been as entrepreneurially active as startup hotspots such as Silicon Valley and Boston. Whether Michigan fell complacent during a strong manufacturing era or through the hardships of recessions, the entrepreneurial edge is dull. Green TEA has a social mission to elevate the awareness of entrepreneurship. It starts with 19 dedicated participants returning to nine Michigan universities with a resourceful disposition, a refined elevator pitch and a rolodex filled with entrepreneurs, investors, and business specialists.

The inaugural Michigan Green TEA was a success, but more Michigan university students and faculty need to get involved. Establish dialog with university researchers; encourage innovation; and engage in the entrepreneurial process.

The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
gvsu.edu/cei
The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) in the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University, serves to champion and catalyze the vocation of entrepreneurship. The Center focuses on developing undergraduate entrepreneurial curriculum and nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit within the student body. CEI is also involved in economic development to engage the business community through supporting high growth entrepreneurs and developing outreach and networking programs. 

Huron River Ventures
huronriverventures.com
Huron River Ventures is an early stage, cleantech investment firm exclusively funding Michigan-based enterprises. They are ideally positioned to take advantage of the convergence of two significant trends: Global Cleantech Growth and Michigan’s Economic Transition.

Growth Capital Network
growthcap.net
The Growth Capital Network serves the mid-market business community by executing programs to connect growth companies with the necessary capital to accelerate their entrepreneurial vision. Resources and services include deal sourcing for capital and preparation for commercialization and fundraising.

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CEI Team

Putting the “Ability” in Disability
The Successes of Entrepreneur James R. Albright

Rain poured down his face as he waited outside an entrance on Grand Valley’s campus. He was cold and wet. The broken handicap button separated him and his wheelchair from the dry inside. At this point, he knew something had to change.

This describes the event which prompted James R. Albright (Jim), to develop Albright Insights. The technology driven problem-solving organization focuses on creating cutting-edge mobile accessibility and navigation applications. Albright Insights’ first project is a mobile application called XcessAble; a wordplay referring to the handicap accessibility features it provides. Architectural specifications for a building are detailed in the application database: accessible building entrances, location of restrooms, heights of faucets and more. As a user accesses the application, the database of specifications is cross-referenced against the user’s physical capabilities to deliver a custom layout of the building. The mobile application, though a powerful tool, is only the first step to raise awareness for people with disabilities.

Jim was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease which attacks the muscular system, but it has proven merely a road bump on his entrepreneurial trek. His mother, Deb Albright, said that many children diagnosed with Duchenne are placed in special education programs or kept home from school because life expectancy is rarely beyond the teens. “Now kids are graduating high school; but because they were put into special education programs, they could not go to college since they only had a certificate of completion,” Deb explained, reinforcing the idea to plan for a life beyond high school. Jim is trying to reverse this trend of complacency by publicizing the successes of his business. His altruistic mission has even stretched to China, where he is attempting to show the government that, “people with disabilities can contribute to society.” The word ‘disability’ does not define Jim’s character, and it does not restrict his ability to produce a tool that encourages social responsibility.

XcessAble is pushing for universal design. The American Disabilities Act expanded building standards for modern construction, but structures often adhere to the minimum required code. Only a small percentage of the world has endured climbing an entrance ramp in a wheelchair, and it shows by the way buildings are designed. Jim’s application raises an awareness for these issues, “accessibility for everyone,” as he calls it. “This application is for everyone, not just people with disabilities,” reiterated Jim. If everyone is aware of these accessibility issues, then the design approach can be reformed to accommodate people of all abilities.

Jim’s road in business development fostered an experiential talent that did not get discouraged by adversity. He reminds us that entrepreneurship is larger than its founders. Entrepreneurs serve as advocates for progress, beacons of inspiration and instruments to announce the many opportunities in society.

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CEI Team
 

Forging a Pipeline
Driving Growth With Collegiate Talent

Over $6 Billion dollars in investments have been funneled into the Grand Rapids infrastructure since 1980.  In just the past eleven years a third of that amount, roughly $2.6 billion, has reshaped and retuned the vibrant city to a new beat as it continues its unprecedented growth.  However, economic and physical landscape in West Michigan have changed as they have throughout the nation.  It begs the question, how is the city strategically oriented to move forward, and what role will universities play in regards to the city's continued growth? 

Kurt Kimball, former Grand Rapids City Manager, described his views on entrepreneurial innovation driving economic development. “I think we will see innovative independent thinkers driving economic growth. Do we have the innovators we need is the question?”

Ultimately, colleges and universities in West Michigan will provide the tutoring for individuals looking to make the jump into self-employment. As marketing director for The Judson Group in downtown Grand Rapids, Analisa Blakely, can attest to the value an entrepreneur brings to a business, “you can teach the nuts and bolts. Encourage students to be self-starters and colleges can create a natural talent pipeline for the community.” 

Universities and colleges are beginning to see the potential in an entrepreneurial education, noting the implementation of entrepreneurial degree programs across the state.  In 2012, the University of Michigan will launch the first Masters Degree program in entrepreneurship in the State of Michigan. Aileen Huang-Saad, the new program director, spoke briefly in an interview on the engineering focus of the degree and the emphasis the university places on moving products to market.  She expects strong first class enrollment due in large part to an experienced full-time faculty leading the program forward.  

An in depth curriculum, focused around one-on-one mentoring and startup specific internships, is also in the framework at Grand Valley State University. The Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Kevin McCurren, draws attention to the necessity of a core-curriculum in order to develop students who have the means to start and operate enterprises on campus. Grand Valley’s first student enterprise, Technologic, is currently in its first year of development and seeking seed-funding.

Elizabeth Arnold, CEO of Technologic, has found her experience to be invaluable. “The college setting is the perfect place for young startups in terms of professional resources, mentoring opportunities, counseling and funding.” Pointing to the progress the business has made over the course of a year; Arnold has made it a point to help other student ventures experience the thrill of beginning a new business. “There is plenty of time to adapt and move on to my next option, who knows what I will be doing next.”   

Moving forward, students can expect to see additional program offerings at the collegiate level, as the need for innovative problem solvers continually increases. What we can hope to achieve as educators and community members is a philosophy; that each individual, regardless of undergraduate major, is presented with the chance to be innovative. Developing concepts, products and services is no longer a dream without fruition, but a viable career opportunity, one that will encourage growth and long-term sustainability for years to come.

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CEI Team
 

Question & Answer
Bonnie Wesorick

Bonnie Wesorick founded the CPM Resource Center while working as a nurse in a local hospital. The center has developed a field-tested and effective way to improve all elements of the care process, from point-of-care clinical decision support to healthy work cultures and interdisciplinary team relations. CEI caught up with her to learn how she managed success without a business background.

 

Starting as a nurse, how did you come up with the idea for the CPM Resource Center, and what made it successful?

It’s actually because I was a nurse that I was able to be successful. I always strove to be the best nurse possible, to provide the best patient care possible.  It became apparent that there was a disconnect between the ideal type of care, and the daily realities that my colleagues and I saw around us. So I spent a lot of time learning the processes, infrastructure and technology that made up the environment I worked in, and then I started thinking about what it would look like if this were the best place to work and to give and receive care, and how I could bridge that gap. 

 

How did you go from a nurse with an idea to an entrepreneur?

I knew that the product I would make would serve people, because of my experience as a nurse, so I felt a huge passion for it. The business world was new to me, but once I realized the extent to which we could improve practice, there was no question that we were going to do it. I was in a typical bureaucracy at Butterworth Hospital at that time, so I needed to branch out into the business world on my own, which was quite a journey. I was good at math, which made the numbers part of business easy, and I also went back to school to deepen my understanding of healthcare. I then reached out to the Better Business Bureau, the Seidman College of Business and any potential mentor I could find to determine how one would build the organization I wanted to build. Then it was just a matter of where I was going to get the money.  

 

Where did you get the money and how did you start?

I got a loan from a bank, which was kind of a big deal.  This enabled me to get a place, and to start to get the people who would be needed to help us do the work. I also realized that once we had some great success, I would need to step out of the role I was comfortable in, and move into a larger business world to create a scalable product. That’s when I created a relationship with a technological vendor to make the actual product. That was actually a great lesson for me, because for the first time I saw questionable ethical behavior, but by staying true to my own values, I was able to address the issues and start on the road toward changing the circumstances for those who give and receive care.

 

Now that you’re a successful businessperson, what advice would you offer to those who may also have a great idea, but no business experience to draw upon?

A great mentor of mine, Max DePree from Herman Miller, told me that one of the great accountabilities for any leader is to know reality. First you have to absolutely know reality for those people you want to serve, and only then can you start to do something. The core of my learning was that you can’t just assume you know, because if you do you might create the wrong solution. Once you’re certain you understand the problem and if you have a passion for the work, then you can start to serve the people impacted by the problem. Always keep in mind, also, that if you’re not becoming a better person because of the work, you may be on the wrong track.

 

What is the role of the Wesorick Center, which was recently named by GVSU in your honor?

At the core of my life’s work has been a commitment to transform healthcare so that every person who chooses to be a healer, regardless of role or discipline, have what they need to serve humanity and, in addition, that all the those who enter the  healthcare system find it worthy of the trust they give us. There is nothing more humbling than to have the Center for Healthcare Transformation at Grand Valley given my name. It provides me a way to give back to this community, this society and assure this important work continues and expands.


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LINC

 

Engineering a Community of Entrepreneur
URBAN LINC

Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerber serve as prime examples that entrepreneurship can be a very lucrative career choice. In 2011, The Kauffman Foundation estimates that the 11.9 million self-employed business owners in the United States represent only 6.5 percent of the adult population. With so much to be gained in starting a business, why is it that most Americans decide not to pursue a life as an entrepreneur? Simple answer: lack of talent, knowledge and risk. 

Talent development has become a centrifuge for investment firms and individuals looking to maximize ROIs from their investments. The magnitude of great ideas has left investors overwhelmed to spend too much attention on funneling funds on many great ideas.

A focus on creating entrepreneurs has caused the formation of incubators in all sectors, from medical to agriculture. According to the National Business Association (NBIA), in 1997 there were roughly 550 identifiable incubators in the United States. In 2006, NBIA estimates 1,115 incubators, doubling the amount in less than a decade. 

Jorge Gonzalez, Director of Economic Development for LINC, a community revitalization organization and business incubator, notes that incubation does not begin and end with business owners.  Community development is at the forefront of LINC’s initiatives. He goes on to explain that, "[LINC] is doing activities that are impacting business owners, changing neighborhoods one at a time and, most importantly, changing people’s lives for generations to come.” 

LINC is a nonprofit organization that aims to revitalize neighborhoods through stimulating economic development, creating affordable quality housing, and developing the capacity for leadership in residents and grass-root organizations.  As part of LINC’s commitment to economic development, the organization offers both a business incubator and co-working space for emerging entrepreneurs.

Incubation is a great solution to help entrepreneurs in this turbulent economy, where investors are allocating funds in higher amounts on fewer ideas. It is essential to invest not only on the product or service, but on the leadership team.  “The lack of access to capital for small business owners is still a big issue and impediment,” notes Jorge. He predicts that successful incubation programs will be the wave of the future to ensure sustainability of small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Research conducted by the National Venture Capital Association, has found that the amount of seed funding has gone down from $1.73 billion in 2008 to $1.7 billion in 2010, representing a decrease of 2 percent. While that may not be alarming, it is worthy to note that in those years, the number of deals in the seed stage of investments dropped from 511 to 364. The 30 percent decline illustrates a shift in investment strategy of venture capital firms towards later stage investments. At that point, ventures represent a solid plan, experience and talent.

Entrepreneurs are not created in the way an accountant is formed. Entrepreneurial curriculums range from a consultation approach to deeply engaged incubations that focus on more than ROIs, but also focusing on social entrepreneurship, measuring things like community development.  

LINC offers individualized mentoring and determines a set curriculum for each business owner based on individual needs, including a calendar of workshops and trainings put on by the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women.

Currently, LINC has 10 businesses incubated, and about 10 more working their way through the training program that are not incubated, as they have no need for physical space or are already existing businesses in the neighborhood. LINC expects to duplicate the success throughout Southtown, and have plans to open an incubator on Grandville Avenue by next year.

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CEI Team

Food-preneurs Get a Kitchen
Uptown Kitchen

Her idea stemming from a business class at Calvin College, Kelly LeCoy soon acquired the seed capital needed to create a kitchen facility that helps food inspired entrepreneurs create their own culinary venture.  

 

The National Restaurant Association estimates that roughly two-thirds of each dollar earned is allocated to food, beverages and labor for a restaurant. This figure does not include cost of facilities, equipment or the learning-curve needed to meet regulatory standards. 

 

Kelly's business, Uptown Kitchen, which derives its name from the Eastown neighborhood in Grand Rapids, aims to cut those initial financial and learning costs for the budding food-preneur. The business helps early stage entrepreneurs start their own restaurant or catering company, without the need to raise substantial startup capital. “Besides the financial costs of an industrial kitchen, I learned that you can’t do everything- and you shouldn’t do everything,” Kelly said in response to the help she has received from her professor and business leaders. Uptown Kitchen also plans to incubate those individuals that need experience operating a food business.

 

Having gone to a pop-up restaurant in Chicago's thriving culinary scene, a temporary restaurant where young chefs can get exposure without the need for their own facility, Kelly recognized the model as a way to cut costs for emerging culinary talent locally. She thought the business model would be ideal for a place like Grand Rapids, and so, Uptown Kitchen was born.

 

LeCoy bridged her time in Chicago, working for Rogers Park Business Alliance, and brought RPBA's artistic approach to business back to Grand Rapids. She worked with small businesses that connected her with neighborhood organizations and the local economy; which propelled her to base her business in Eastown.

 

After winning the 5x5 event, where five contestants vie for a chance at $5,000 for the best presentation and idea, she took the money and went to work. “After winning the competition, things became real,” Kelly continued, “I knew I would own my own business, but not this quickly.” 

 

Uptown Kitchen is expected to open this October.

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Tailoring Talent Recruitment in Social Entrepreneurship
Gilda's Club
Laughfest

What do 55,376 people, 925 rubber chickens, 228 events, 10 days, worldwide media coverage, and Grand Rapids, MI have in common? The answer: social entrepreneurship.

Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids (GCGR) celebrated its 10th anniversary by flexing its entrepreneurial muscels with Gilda’s Laughfest. Gilda’s Laughfest is an example of successful social entrepreneurship geared toward increasing cancer awareness and benefiting the numerous cancer, grief, and support programs offered through GCGR.

Volunteers serve as the majority of the talent base for nonprofits and social entrepreneurship ventures, creating some unique challenges. The development of an organization’s volunteer base is typically condensed into a 1-2 hour sessions, because volunteers are temporary or contracted for specific events. As this is the case for many organizations, talent development of the individuals involved can pose a much larger problem.

For nonprofit organizations, talent recruitment could be considered a type of fundraising, a process known as friend-raising. In 2010, each volunteer hour was nationally valued at $21.36,.  Having recruited more than 1000 volunteers, Laughfest saved $21,360.00 in potential personnel expenses, using the estimated dollar value of volunteer time. Based on the numbers, this figure is comparable to early stage seed capital offered by investors, angels and incubators; the difference lies within the method of delivery – the people.

Talent recruitment is an important facet of social entrepreneurship. Nonprofits and social enterprises lack the ability to hire and compensate a large staff, so they rely on volunteers. Nonprofit organizations and social enterprises face hurdles that are foreign to traditional for-profit businesses, because the recruitment process relies not only on quality, but also quantity.  The issue of recruitment for social enterprises becomes a question of marketing.

Laughfest is a great example of how the power of community, social media and a good cause can resonate with people all around the world. Furthermore, it depicts the recruitment strategies and successes of social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations as a potential standardized model for sizeable talent recruitment projects.

Word of mouth is still a force to be reckoned with in the world of social entrepreneurship. Gilda’s Laughfest revolutionized the power of word of mouth with talent recruitment, by focusing on the impact of a smile.

Laughfest 2012 is slated for March 8th – 18th.

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Early Stage: Flip Learning
www.fliplearning.com

Chris Spielvogel’s path to becoming the CEO of a tech startup started on sabbatical from a position as a tenured professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  Two seed accelerators, two business partners, and a few employees, Chris’ product, “Flip Learning” is on its way to mass commercialization.

In the classroom for over 12 years, Chris Spielvogel could not help but see a need for a more compelling way to teach students.  The traditional model of a lecturer talking to students about material from a textbook, despite all efforts, was simply not connecting with students. 

In 2007, while on sabbatical, Chris created Flip Learning (then called Learning Interfaces).  Flip Learning is a publishing and distribution platform that allows instructors, authors and publishers to “gameify” their educational content and resources, setting the stage as the next evolution of social e-textbooks.

By immersing students in online role-playing simulations, Flip Learning completely engages them in the subjects they are learning.  The idea was innovative enough to catch the attention of not one but two seed accelerators: Momentum-MI and Kauffman Venture Labs.  By plugging into the collective experience and networks of talented people connected with the accelerators, Chris was able to transform the rough prototype into a commercialized product. “Momentum was really my first exposure to working with startups,” Chris explained.  “It was a three month crash course in commercializing our research-based concept.”

Soon after Momentum, Chris was accepted into Kauffman Venture Labs, and made the move down to Kansas City. “The environment at Kauffman was incredibly intense.  It accelerated everything, both good and bad, as we grew.  It forced us to be very honest about what was working and what wasn’t, and ultimately lead to a change toward a crowd-sourced model of content production.” As a result, users can submit their own role-playing scenarios for use in Flip Learning’s technology platform.  Chris views this change as one geared toward scalability. In the beginning, Chris didn’t really think about scaling the product.  But, since his experiences with Momentum and Kauffman, Chris learned that scalability is key.Chris is back in West Michigan with his wife Laurie, tenured professor at Western Michigan University. Together they are cultivating the next round of investment.  Chris aims to grow Flip Learning to a large valuation before being acquired by a big publishing partner, enabling the technology to scale worldwide.

“Ultimately, we’re going after the $10-billion textbook industry,” said Chris.

And then, back to the classroom, but one fundamentally changed by technology.

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CEI Team

Venture: Grand Angels
grandangels.org

The name ‘Grand Angels’ speaks to the mission of this West Michigan based investing group. The organization is committed to utilizing its financial, intellectual and networking capital to foster the success of growing companies and to enhance the economic development of West Michigan. A catalyst for regional advancement through business growth, job creation and talent attraction, Grand Angels serves as a social and economic patron for Michigan and particularly Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties.

Founders Charles C. Stoddard and Craig T. Hall, combined their banking and entrepreneurial experiences to establish the angel investor group with a vision to make "investments with a difference." Community leaders were recruited to join the investing group, and in 2005, Jody Vanderwel was named president of the organization. Grand Angels now has over 30 active members with professional experience in an array of industries.

As entrepreneurs begin to explore funding options, Grand Angels provides an application process for potential investments. The Grand Angels group is dedicated to finding appropriate businesses that will cultivate the local market. Mentoring from experienced professionals and a relatively patient exit strategy make Grand Angels a standalone between all regional investment groups.

Unlike a fund, Grand Angels invests in businesses on an individual basis. The collaborative investment strategy allows deals to be made without the unanimous approval of accredited investors. To date, Grand Angels has invested over $7.5 million in 20 companies.

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High Growth: Mutually Human
mutuallyhuman.com

Technology is meaningless without people to use it. The partners of Mutually Human Software recognized this and designed a software development firm that tailors its services to the people who use technology. Since 2006, founding partner and CEO John Hwang, along with partners Mark Van Holstyn and Zach Dennis, have asserted their software strategy and design consultancy in the competitive software market. Thanks to a common philosophy, user experience and compatibility is the primary design imperative and the resulting technologies inspired by Mutually Human become ‘ergonomically comfortable’.

 

Mutually Human operates within a development methodology known as agile software development, where teamwork, collaboration and flexibility are crucial to end-user success. This strategy provides a unique opportunity for talent development since co-workers continually alter tasks, reassign duties and to a unique and effective working model under the structured deliverables of the original concept. Incoming projects often start with a story-mapping session in the open environment of their Hall Street office. Sticky notes will litter the wall space as teams of developers turn ideas into feasible products.

Named to the 2011 class of the 50 Michigan Companies To Watch list, Mutually Human’s team has seen many returns for their efforts in the last five years. CEO John Hwang’s entrepreneurial spirit propelled him to the semifinal round of the 2011 Michigan and Northeast Ohio Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. In the last three years, the young firm has boosted 60% revenue growth.

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Exit: Mock Draft Central
www.mockdraftcentral.com

For many software entrepreneurs, growing their company quickly and selling it to the highest bidder is the end goal of all their long days and sleepless nights. It may sound easy, but upon successfully exiting his company after growing it for nearly eight years, and going through two rounds of funding in the process, Jason Pliml needed one thing: a break. “You can only put in so many 80-hour weeks before it catches up to you,” Jason said

Jason Pliml founded Mock Draft Central (MDC), a software platform to hold fantasy sports drafts, in 2002.  He funded initial development through his work as a consultant at 43rd Parallel Technologies (a company he co-founded), but as MDC began to take off, Jason soon found that he could not continue to fund development on his own, and so he sought investment. 

At the time, the company was generating over $20,000 in annual revenue, but pre-seed funds and startup accelerators were not widely publicized back in 2004, if available at all,  so the process of seeking funding came down to good, old fashioned networking. “It took a while, but in the end I knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, and I was all of a sudden talking with the boxer, Thomas Hearns, about investment,” Jason said.  While Hearns ended up not funding Mock Draft Central, Jason soon connected with the newly-formed Grand Angels, who invested in the company after a due-diligence process of nearly seven months.

In addition to the money, which allowed him to hire a full-time programmer and focus on proactively growing the company, the Grand Angels provided another huge value to Jason: a formal board of directors. Pliml’s board of directors held him accountable, and forced him to take an objective look at himself as a business owner, and re-evaluate his focus based on what was best for Mock Draft Central. They helped transform him from an entrepreneur into a businessperson.

It was not long after that a large player in the fantasy sports space came looking to acquire MDC, but Jason was not ready to sell. He still saw growth ahead. “Trying to sell a company is a huge distraction, but we had to listen,” said Jason in reference to the myriad spreadsheets, plans, financials and summaries required in acquisition conversations.  “You kiss a couple frogs in the process, and sometimes, they’re just frogs.  The timing just wasn’t right.”

But after two more years, an opportunity to be acquired by one of two major fantasy sports companies came along. With an NFL labor dispute on the horizon and an influx of competition, both Jason and his board saw the opportunity as too good to pass.  He and his board decided to sell the company. “Thankfully, we ended up selling it to a really solid organization,” Jason said.  “I was contracted to work for them for up to 18 months after [the acquisition], so had it been a different organization, that might not have been as pleasant.  But the highest bidder was also the best fit.”  After three months, Jason handed over the reigns of Mock Draft Central to its new owners.

Jason did not do anything for at least two weeks after the sale. He took about five months to reflect, and did a lot of reading and writing. “Decompressing from eight years of a startup is no joke,” Jason noted.

And now, less than six months after a successful exit, Jason is already looking for his next project.

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CEI Team

Scholarship Recipients

Elizabeth Arnold
Robert H. & Barbara Wood Entrepreneurship Scholarship Recipient

Robert and Barbara Wood’s commitment to a scholarship in the business school was prompted by their advocacy for higher education which can provide long-term economic growth in West Michigan. Elizabeth Arnold, the 2011 scholarship recipient, embodies the entrepreneurial drive which will ensure the growth that the Wood’s intended.

“To be an entrepreneur, you cannot be afraid to dive right in and risk what you have,” wrote Elizabeth in her scholarship essay. “If you don’t have the passion for your startup business, then you will not blossom and grow in the community. I’ve learned that everyone around you is going to think you are crazy, and that, for me, is the best sign that I’m doing something right.”

Miles Smith

American Photo Marketing Entrepreneurship Scholarship Recipient

 

 

The American Photo Marketing scholarship provides an award to a deserving student who demonstrates interest in and a passion for entrepreneurship. Their generous support has allowed Miles Smith, the 2011 scholarship recipient, to continue on his entrepreneurial journey. Unlike most students, Miles has a patent pending technology and an arsenal of professional advisors to help him achieve his goals.

“I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on entrepreneurism,” explained Miles in his scholarship essay. “In fact, I’m not convinced it’s even possible to be an expert on the subject. All I can say is this: I’ve been enamored by the refreshing community of startups in Grand Rapids, MI.”

 

Page last modified February 6, 2012