October is international trade month for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), so we wanted to speak with a Michigan startup making inroads in a foreign market.  This week we had a conversation with Geoff Horst, CEO of Northville-based Algal Scientific and James Zhang, a board member and partner at Algal who leads Chinese operations for the venture fund Formation8.

Q: Geoff, could you begin by giving us a little background on Algal?

GH: Absolutely. Algal was founded in 2009 to commercialize a technology that treats wastewater with algae. About three years ago, however, we discovered that the algae we were producing was perhaps more valuable than the wastewater technology we were selling, so we pivoted. We now focus on using the algae to make beta gulcan, a compound that can act as a vitamin, for example, in an animal’s diet to strengthen its immune system and help fight off infections naturally without antibiotics.

Q: Sounds like your product could have far-reaching appeal. Where are your customers?

GH: Our client base is actually quite varied for us being a small company in Michigan. A lot of our partners are actually located outside the U.S. We have partners in Europe, South America and Asia, including a large partner in China. We’re literally shipping all over the world.

Q: And have you used state resources to help Algal export to those markets?

GH: We were going to export to these markets anyway because of the demand, but MEDC’s International Trade Office helped pave the way and has been hugely important to us – even now. The office helped cover the cost of exploratory visits we made to China to meet with potential partners and gauge the market interest.

Q: What happened once you made the decision to enter the Chinese market?

Through the Michigan China Center, MEDC connected us to experts in China who know the market, who could attend meetings with us and act as translators. Having that extra support from the state not only made our meetings more productive, but it also demonstrated legitimacy to our potential partners, and showed that we have enough support locally and from our home region.

Q: Have you learned any lessons that you’d like to share with other small businesses in Michigan thinking of exporting internationally?

GH: Find a partner through either the state or through private investments who can offer more years of experience to help you navigate new markets – whether by helping with regulatory issues or even just setting up operations to sell your products more effectively. I would not recommend trying to export internationally for the first time on your own.

Q: James, do you have anything to add?

JZ: In the U.S. we’re accustomed to rapidly developing business relationships, but in a country like China, relationships are built on years and even decades of interactions. Especially when entering a new market, it’s essential to leverage long-lasting relationships where possible.

Q: From a Chinese perspective, what’s attractive about doing business with a Michigan company?

JZ: As a smaller market than California, let’s say, you have access to greater assistance from the state government. In California, for example, the state government can’t be bothered with every startup in Silicon Valley. In Michigan, however, the government pays attention to ensure startups have the proper resources at their disposal. I remember when former Gov. Granholm paid a lot attention to the company during one of our first investments in Michigan. This would be impossible in California – you can’t get Arnold Schwarzenegger to pay attention to a startup.



Paula Sorrell is the vice president of entrepreneurship, innovation, & venture capital at the MEDC.

Looking to start your own business? Visit michiganbusiness.org for more information.



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Looking for a job in Michigan? Pure Michigan Talent Connect – a collaborative effort of the State of Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) – is your personal tool for new jobs, careers and talent. The site is an online marketplace connecting Michigan’s job seekers and employers.

Governor Snyder recently proclaimed October 13-19 as Careers in Energy week. In highlighting the industry, Michigan’s energy workforce boasts 84,000 jobs in Michigan and is expected to increase by 5.6 percent by 2018. Approximately 50 percent of workers in Michigan’s utility sector will leave the industry over the next 5 -7 years, making it vital to increase worker skills and training programs.

Michigan’s major utilities are active partners in Michigan’s economic resurgence; they are making changes to enhance Michigan’s attractiveness to new business. Below is a roundup of several hot jobs in energy on mitalent.org.

Energy Engineer – DNV GL
Okemos, Mich.

Tasks include: Reviewing and verifying technical merits of business customer energy efficiency applications, including calculation of energy savings and verification of equipment specifications. Perform customer site inspections to verify the installation of energy efficient equipment at businesses throughout Michigan. Interact with customers to address questions or concerns about installed equipment or programmatic information, among other assignments.

Researcher, Electromechanical/Energy Systems – General Motors
Warren, Mich.

General Motors is looking to fill the electromechanical/energy systems researcher position with a candidate who can assist in developing the next-generation electric power and electromechanical systems for conventional and electric/hybrid vehicles. Other projects include integrating electrical, electromechanical and energy storage components into advanced systems for improved vehicle performance, reduced emissions and improved fuel economy.

Intake Assessment Specialist, Energy Assistance – The Salvation Army Wmni division
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Responding to applicants for Energy Assistance Services by phone to determine the primary need and urgency of the presenting energy related need; Provide comprehensive assessments for Energy Assistance Services (EAS) [utilizing the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Call Point]; Assist with energy information, referrals, and appointment scheduling with the goal of mediating energy crises and supporting energy account management.

Energy Technology Supervisor – Ford Motor Company
Dearborn, Mich.

The energy technology supervisor will utilize engineering education, CAD, controls and product development experience to manage research and development of emerging technologies to identify opportunities for applications within Ford Motor Company. The position also includes developing lighting technology solutions for building and facility requirements including general, inspection and task lighting requirements, among other projects.

Energy Efficiency Communications Manager- IFC International
Jackson, Mich.

As a member of the Strategic Communications and Marketing Division, the Communications Manager will lead the planning, development, and implementation of communications strategies and activities to support energy efficiency efforts with utility and government clients across the country. On a daily basis, IFC International helps clients and communities use less energy, save money and help the environment through the development, implementation and refinement of sound marketing and outreach initiatives.

Regional General Manager Energy Business – Black and Veatch
Ann Arbor, Mich.

The RGM will work for the Sales Director, and will work in a matrix organization that aligns the goals of Energy Business Profit/Loss Business Units. The RGM will be focused on a select number of strategic and core clients as well as managing the sales needs of the matrix organization covering target and opportunistic clients. The RGM also focuses on key strategic Client initiatives that are judged to be critical to market or business unit growth.

Apply now for any of the jobs above, and search for more, on mitalent.org.

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Did you know that in 2013, Michigan exported more than $58.6 billion worth of goods, setting a new state record? Exporting offers incredible opportunities to Michigan businesses through international ties with more than 30 countries. However, less than one percent of all small businesses in the U.S. export.

As Global Trade Days kicks off this week, The Michigan Economic Development Corporation hopes to promote exporting and connect businesses with opportunities. It only takes one connection through exporting to open a world of business and trade, and these resources may be right in your backyard.

Global Trade Days allows businesses to explore potential opportunities from Canada, Mexico, China, United Arab Emirates and Brazil through introductions to specialists representing these economies. These five countries are Michigan’s top export markets, and offer enormous growth opportunities for businesses in the state.

Attendees at Global Trade Days will learn about opportunities and trends in top export markets, assistance provided by the Michigan Centers, success stories from participating Michigan companies and upcoming Michigan trade missions and events.

Business owners in attendance can also request one-on-one meetings with the country market specialists.

For more information about Global Trade Days 2014 and the MEDC, visit http://puremi.ch/Zudhok

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Did you know that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States?

Yet, only about 1 percent of small businesses export their products and even those companies mostly export to one country because of challenges they face in selling to non-U.S. markets.

In order to help more Michigan businesses export their goods and services, increase sales, and enter new markets, MEDC has put into action a dynamic export program.

Last year Michigan businesses exported more than $58.6 billion worth of goods, setting a new record for the state.

Deanna Richeson, state export director for the MEDC, tells us about MEDC’s “matchmaking” services, overseas offices and what types of Michigan products are in-demand around the globe.

What does the MEDC Export office do?

The MEDC Export Program helps small and medium-sized Michigan companies sell in new international markets.

The Michigan Export Program has three goals:

  • Increase the number of small and medium sized enterprises exporters in Michigan
  • Increase the value and volume of exports from Michigan
  • Expand Michigan exports to new global markets

The Michigan Export Office is comprised of a uniquely qualified group of international trade experts who bring private sector corporate international business experience.

International trade managers develop and build relationships with export partners and service providers, assisting Michigan companies to define their export strategy, making referrals to partners and resource providers, sharing information on export training, trade missions, trade shows and other events of potential interest to clients.

Where are the Michigan International Trade Offices located and why are these countries key for businesses?

The Michigan international trade offices are located in Canada, China, Mexico and Brazil.  It is important to have a presence in these countries because there are tremendous export opportunities there. Canada, Mexico and China are Michigan’s top three export markets and Brazil is a fast-growing market.

Having international offices give Michigan companies these advantages:

  • Companies’ travel to a foreign market is a leading indicator for their export success; having a state foreign trade office to guide them entices companies to test the market more readily
  • They provide hands-on guidance through the match making and partner meetings in country – gives reassurance on the spot to companies
  • They add strong leverage in key markets for Governor/Lt. Governor-led trade missions
  • They provide extensive networks in the market
  • Michigan companies are first in line (vs. Commercial Service posts which are inundated with requests from 50 states)
  • The offices know the cultural negotiation skills and can vet potential partners in markets where information isn’t available online

How can companies connect with the MEDC to become candidates for export opportunities? 

It’s easy!  Simply go online to www.michiganbusiness.org/export and fill out the intake form.

What size companies do you normally work with and are there any requirements for companies to work with you?

The Michigan Export Program works with companies of all sizes but we concentrate on small and medium sized enterprises because these companies need the most export assistance.  To take advantage of one of our export tools (STEP reimbursement grant), there are certain requirements. which can be found on our website.  The three key STEP incentive eligibility requirements include:

  • In business for two years
  • Profitable in the last year
  • Meet SBA size requirements for their industry (click here to learn more)

What are Michigan’s biggest exports?

As the historical home of the Big 3 auto makers, Michigan naturally has long been a manufacturing base of automotive-related products and technologies. It’s no surprise, then, that automobiles and automotive parts are our greatest export. However, that is only the beginning. Michigan also exports a lot of different agriculture and food-based products, such as cherries, blueberries and salsa. Other export strengths include medical products, aerospace products, furniture and service exports such as architectural engineering and design.

Background on the Michigan Export Program

Upon taking office in 2011, Governor Snyder asked for the creation of a robust export program, realizing the importance of exporting in the creation of jobs. (For every $200,000 in a company’s new exports, one new job is created, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration).

Due to the export program’s matchmaking efforts and other assistance over the past three years, Michigan companies have exported well over $325 million which they otherwise wouldn’t have. This adds up to new Michigan jobs.

To learn more about the Michigan Export Program, or to get your company involved, click here

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Michigan’s Medical Breakthrough Innovations

October 10, 2014 Technology Entrepreneurship & Innovation

It is officially fall, which means it’s also flu season. But what is headlining the news today are Ebola and Enterovirus (EV68), especially as the diseases are spreading so close to home. At times like these it is more important than ever to have ongoing and constant research in the medical field to stay ahead [...]

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A New Motor City in the West? Not So Fast

October 2, 2014 Technology Entrepreneurship & Innovation

  It’s been said before and it will be said again: “Silicon Valley [is] challenging Detroit’s leadership in the auto industry” and could become the “new Motor City.” Yes, Silicon Valley has many automotive OEM offices working on futuristic design and on reducing tailpipe emissions to satisfy the specific emissions regulations in California. Yes, the [...]

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Friday’s Manufacturing Day celebrates Michigan’s heritage and promising future

September 30, 2014 Great Companies

Joe Mandeville hopes the story he tells to his audience of students from Utica and Richmond school districts will change the course of their lives. And perhaps, Michigan’s manufacturing industry. On Friday, students will visit Mandeville’s Shelby Township-based Elite Mold and Engineering to commemorate National Manufacturing Day, a coordinated national celebration of the American of making [...]

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Daytime Television Show The Chew Visits the National Cherry Festival

September 26, 2014 Living In Michigan

This week, The Chew – a cooking-themed daytime talk show that airs on ABC focused on food-related and lifestyle topics – featured one of Michigan’s most abundant and popular resources, tart cherries. The show visited the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City during the week of July 4 and highlighted various products made with Michigan [...]

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Red Bull House of Art Keeps Artists in Detroit

September 25, 2014 Great Companies

The Red Bull House of Art in Detroit’s Eastern Market is fighting to keep creative talent in Detroit. The artist incubator is designed to give artists a workspace free of financial limitations and full of artistic inspiration. Watch the video below to learn about why Red Bull chose Detroit for its House of Art and [...]

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The Toolbox for a Michigan Startup

September 24, 2014 Technology Entrepreneurship & Innovation

We (entrepreneurs) are fueled by unique ideas, but what most first time entrepreneurs don’t yet know is how to start the “business.” Typically, entrepreneurs are strong in sales, marketing, and/or product development, but may lack experience with accounting, finance and business plan development. When you’re first starting out, however, your time should be spent strengthening [...]

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