Successful ACE shows Mich ahead of the entrepreneurial curve

There is a new bit of conventional wisdom forming in local circles: Michigan (the Ann Arbor area especially) is way ahead of the rest of nation when it comes to building small businesses and cultivating entrepreneurs.

Some concrete evidence of that popped up last week at the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship in Ann Arbor's Skyline High School. Attendance almost doubled, going from 550 last year to 917 last week. That helped create a buzz of optimism about the state's small business climate that seems to be hitting a tipping point.

"Michigan really does do certain things well," says Gerry Roston, chair of the planning committee for this year's ACE and owner of the Pair of Docs Consulting in Saline. "There are a number of organizations that support entrepreneurship. We seem to have a lot more of these than other states and they work together really well."

He points to newcomers like Ann Arbor SPARK as gaining traction and working well with established organizations, like the New Enterprise Forum. A main focus of groups like this revolve around the idea of what's best for the entrepreneur. It's ethos like this that have attracted economic development agencies from Delaware and California to this year's ACE.

"They come to Michigan to see how it's done," Roston says.

That's not to say the local entrepreneur community has arrived. There is a lot of work to be done to support these burgeoning small businesses. Chief among those is start-up capital in an environment where it seems lenders are frozen in carbonite Han Solo style.

"We need to grow our venture capital community," Roston says. "We have funds here. They're great funds but they're smaller funds."

Which might explain one of the reasons why ACE was so popular this year. The event holds several contests that feature cold, hard start-up cash for the winners. Some of those include $1,000 for Intercollegiate Business Idea Pitch Competition (won by Ken Lange of Saginaw Valley State University for a telescoping dock), a year of corporate membership for NEF and virtual incubator tenancy in Ann Arbor SPARK (won by Howard Brown of Franklin-based CircleBuilder) and even $140 for the Twitter Biz Idea Contest, which was won by Barbara O’Connell of Ypsilanti's WhereToFindCare.com.

On top of all of that, it was announced that Great Lake Entrepreneur Quest is partnering with the SmartZones/Michigan Economic Development Corp to offer a $100,000 pre-seed investment through the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, which is administered by Ann Arbor SPARK.

Source: Gerry Roston, chair of the planning committee for Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship
Writer: Jon Zemke
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