While Michigan is asserting itself as a hub of talent in many diverse industries, there may not be a sector experiencing as much growth as technology entrepreneurship and innovation.
Read below as Paula Sorrell from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation shares her experience with the changing entrepreneurship landscape in Michigan and changing perception nation-wide.
I recently spoke to a great group of students and budding entrepreneurs at MSU, who shared some of the perceptions about starting a tech company, including needing to be located in Silicon Valley to get funded and find tech talent.
For Michigan, this is a lay-up. Very few states offer any type of support for early stage tech companies to get off the ground (California isn’t one of them). The cost of living on the coasts is close to prohibitive for young companies. Besides the funding support to help companies get started – and those coming out of a university have an incredibly high 75 percent five-year survival rate – the talent question for early tech companies is addressed on several fronts:
1) The tech transfer offices at Michigan’s universities employ 19 part-time mentors in residence. These experienced entrepreneurs help companies build their strategies and develop their products to be ready for funding. They could be retired on a beach but instead choose to give back to the state and the university by dedicating time to helping companies move forward. Many of them opt to join a new company after their engagement with the university.
2) The SBDC Tech Team are also mostly made up of nine experienced tech entrepreneurs who help companies create their technology roadmaps, guide them through strategic decisions, and annually help companies in Michigan raise more than $60 million in follow-on funding.
3) The Tech Transfer Talent Network allows post docs or grad students working on research to continue to build their tech businesses and stay in the state.
4) The Hacker Fellows program trains coders to work in tech startups, where they join the best and the brightest. There are a number of fellows programs that operate around the state and particularly in Detroit – I’m always impressed with their intelligence and dedication.
5) The Michigan I-Corps program teaches tech entrepreneurs in our state’s universities how to get customer validation and assess market need for technologies.
6) The Smart Zone Incubators and the Business Accelerator Fund match consultants and mentors with tech companies on a regular basis. They work with the community to identify appropriate “help” and advice for companies.
7) Amy Cell Talent is focused on connecting tech talent needs with her vast network of people interested in moving to Michigan or identifying new opportunities in high growth companies.
Finally, the students and researchers themselves are an incredibly impressive group at our universities. They are amazing technologists, courageous risk-takers, and fascinating innovators. Because Michigan has outstanding universities and faculty, staff and students who are willing to tread new waters in entrepreneurship, we are certainly the state with the largest advantage.
Paula Sorrell is vice president of entrepreneurship, innovation & venture capital for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). She oversees $1billion under management to support Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including university research and tech transfer, technology service providers, business incubators, seed funding programs, portfolio investments and fund to funds (200+ contracts in all).