Jane Sydlowski is the President of AMI Strategies. AMI was recognized among the 2003 Deloitte Fast 500 public and private technology companies and 2003 Crain's Best Places to Work. Jane speaks to graduate students regularly for the Wayne State University entrepreneurial program and serves on three boards: Michigan Council of Women in Technology, Greenpath, Inc., and the Board of Visitors for Wayne State University.
Originally a telecommunications engineer, Jane honed her skills as a manager, and consultant while embracing entrepreneurship. She writes about Michigan's need for a "Entrepreneurial Experience Engine." Join the conversation with your comments!
Photograph © Dave Krieger
The Token "Women" Entrepreneur
To become an Entrepreneurial State, women do need to be a focus for the Entrepreneurial Experience Engine (that I'm sure Granholm will start after reading these blogs). Statistics say that for every male opening a business, there are two women. I have a great deal of emotion around this issue. Often picked to be the token (defined as being competent yet the minority) woman on various panels, this blog J , and other venues, I find it completely shameful that there are not more of us standing up as successful women entrepreneurs. What does this say about women?
Overall, women do not mentor other women very well. In general, women are not great risk takers. In fact, the tough stomach that I mentioned in the second blog is extremely relevant for women. We are raised differently. We haven't experienced years of tough-talking football coaches (or similarly brutal training) which produce a mental "toughness." We played the flute or attended dance classes (Ok, I never danced). Although these skills are important and do contribute to life skills, they do little to help you face the music during a tough negotiation or when dealing with an abusive employee, etc..
Knowing what we know to be generally true about women and their skills, and coupling this with the fact that they open businesses at twice the rate of men, how do we capitalize on their entrepreneurial spirit for our Entrepreneurial Experience Engine? What a serendipitous opportunity for Michigan; a state with a woman governor!
I have the best kept secret company in Michigan... www.amistrategies.com. We will experience double digit growth over the next 5 years. I take great pride in what we do and literally kiss the door as I walk through it each morning in appreciation that it exists! If I could bottle up this appreciation and share (or sell…give me a break I am an Entrepreneur) it with everyone in Michigan so that they could really ...and I mean really... understand what it means to care that much about opening your own door to your own company, I would just do it.
Why do we care about this? Michigan's future!
Why do we care about this? Michigan's future!
Can Michigan transform it's workers to be Entrepreneurial?
Knowing the incredible amount of accountability required to become an entrepreneur, there is only a small percentage of American citizens willing to take on such responsibility for themselves and others. Entitlements are no longer a reality. In fact, because of SBT (small business taxes) we have the opposite situation (which is another blog in and of itself). So, with such a large population in Michigan used to corporate benevolence, one has to ask: "Do Michiganders have the emotional, financial, creative and skill strength to handle Entrepreneurship?" This is literally night vs. day (forgive the cliché).
Could Granholm jump-start this effort? Or, better yet, could we? Clearly start-up capital, growth capital, etc. all matter, and the state can offer incentives and matching programs in this arena. We have certainly seen the state step up to Alternative Energy and Life Science support. The interesting challenge with any funding effort is: how do you evaluate good ideas from a budding entrepreneur and transform them into an accurate prediction of whether they'll become a profitable business? It's highly improbable that the state would have these skills.
Clearly, entrepreneurs need to mentor entrepreneurs; somehow, someway. There is no better awakening opportunity for a budding or existing entrepreneur than to present to a bunch of Angel Investors. Can you picture a laid off automotive worker succeeding at this? Indeed, it's a stretch.
So, how do we transform our Michigan workforce? As I write this blog, I can only answer: I do not know. It will come to me, though, (and I'll be certain to let Metromode see the first draft).
I am encouraged to see the many new programs being initiated (how ever inadvertently) to start the Entrepreneurial Experience Engine. Publications like WWJ's Daily Dash has an entrepreneurship section and Matt Roush has always supported entrepreneurs in his IT Great Lakes Report.
Even our Michigan Universities are jumping on the bandwagon. On October 1st and 2nd, Wayne State will host their 3rd annual "E2 Detroit", which is specific to the Entrepreneurial Experience. If you have never attended this event and are interested in this topic or would like to become an entrepreneur, it is an excellent program and open to the public. Judy Johncox and Terry Cross were brilliant and ahead of their time when they founded it three years ago. U of M has many programs too; from the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies --which is a hands-on program for a new generation of entrepreneurs, allowing students to experience real-time, real-world entrepreneurship-- to a directed focus on empowering entrepreneurial students at the College of Engineering.
Can Michigan raise Entrepreneurs?
Well, you may say, we will raise our kids to be entrepreneurs and the keys will be given to them. We could start teaching these skills in our colleges and universities. My experience with this is interesting, as I have had the privilege to teach a class or two in an entrepreneurial program at Wayne State University. The program is excellent. However, if the product at the end of the day is a student bound for owning his/her own business, it is short sighted. Professors (and this would be everywhere) are judged and evaluated by their students.
To teach entrepreneurship you would have to "beat the heck" out of the students so that they developed the stomach for all the things they were about to go through; from law suits, to severe debt, to dealing with politics in a sale, and on and on. It would have to be like "conditioning" for football. Brutal. This is completely "anti administration" for colleges and universities. Do our school systems have the emotional, financial, creative and skill strength to teach quality Entrepreneurship Programs?
Unfortunately, our educational institutions have too many constraints (ie. tenure, etc.) and are simply too "stuck in their ways" to move this initiative forward. Couple this with the fact that the parents of these kids are from the entitlement era (given things based upon where you are versus who you are) and you have a situation that is not exactly conducive to creating personal accountability and entrepreneurial behavior.
Could we raise our children to have entrepreneurial skills? The "Entrepreneurial Experience Engine" should be taught in grade school and followed up in high schools, by specific certified business owners. It should be a pre-requisite for getting into a college or university. Even if a student out of college begins his/her career working for corporate America (or any other profession), these skills will prepare him or her to: 1- think for themselves, 2- think outside the box and 3- be a self starter! How valuable is that?
Why do we care about this? Michigan's future!
Michigan – a new beginning,
“The Entrepreneurial State”
Let me give you my background: I have lived in Michigan my entire life; raised in Muskegon, migrated to East Lansing and now live in Plymouth. I serve on several Boards, one of which is Board of Visitors for Wayne State’s business school. I even received a beautiful "Distinguished Alumni" award from the School of Engineering at Michigan State University.
But who am I really? I am an "Entrepreneur."
Yes, when you admit to this, it's very similar to admitting that you are an alcoholic (or any other addiction).
Why? Because entrepreneurs are addicted to their profession. They take charge of their own life, their destiny. They are a little weird and march to their own beat. They are personally accountable to themselves, their own performance, their own happiness, and their own livelihood. The buck stops with the person looking back at them in the mirror. And, as if that personal accountability weren’t enough, they are also completely responsible for the livelihood of others; which - for many of us - is an even greater joy than taking care of yourself.
How do we create a Michigan population of Entrepreneurs? This question makes me smile just thinking of it. We often boast that we live in the Midwest to experience "Midwest culture."
Well, it's time to change Michigan’s culture. The Michigan population needs an awakening. Jennifer Granholm and her husband Dan are terrific at culture reform. They brought the "Cool Cities" initiative to Michigan. But they need to put that same effort into starting the Entrepreneurial Experience Engine! Change starts at the top.
This Engine should be filled with unique entrepreneurial programs; pardon the pun. Workshops, awards, parties…. the Entrepreneurial Experience Engine should be as existent as cars on the road! You need to see it everywhere. Take your new keys and start your life!
Why do we care about this? Michigan’s future!