Two years ago, Ed Shaffer launched his high-tech battery technology
company out of his garage with money from his 401(k). Today, his
company is an award-winning multi-million-dollar company with six
employees, and 1,000 feet of laboratory space.Advanced Battery Concepts
which just won the state's top award
for the emerging companies best
business plan category in the Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest
competition, is one of 21 startups housed in the MidMichigan Innovation Center
a Midland-based business incubator. The center provides entrepreneurs
like Shaffer with all the tools they need to launch and run successful
companies -- everything from providing access to financing and business coaching to
conference room space and office computers with IT support.
no way we'd be where we are today without MMIC (MidMichigan Innovation
Center)," says Shaffer. After a pause, Shaffer corrects himself.
"Actually, you know where I'd be? I'd be out of Michigan. I'd be in
The state needs more building blocks like
MidMichigan Innovation Center, he says. Shaffer says that when he
decided to leave his business development manager position and 19-year
career at Dow Chemical
ago, he had his idea, a little money, technical expertise, and "a
pretty big garage." What he didn't have was the know-how, the capital,
and the resources to turn his fledgling startup into the multi-million
company that it is today.
"I didn't have a lot of money," he says, "but I had a lot of needs."
after starting his business, Shaffer found out about the MidMichigan
Innovation Center and decided to become a virtual tenant. This allowed
him to continue operating on a low budget out of his garage, but gave
him access to the coaching, guidance, and conference room space
available there. With access to those resources,
Shaffer was able to focus on building his company, which has developed
a battery electrode technology called GreenSeal™ that enhances the
performance of lead-acid batteries, and lowers the cost of operating
Finally, with help from Bill Moneypenny -- CEO of the
MidMichigan Innovation Center -- Shaffer was able to take the next big
step with his business.
"Bill facilitated the move from the garage to the lab," Shaffer says.
a former plant manager at Dow Chemical, is an unassuming presence at
the MidMichigan Innovation Center. But he is actually the nerve center,
business coach, team leader, financial advisor, meeting facilitator,
motivational speaker, business trainer, and landlord for the whole
operation, which sits at the edge of town on East Ashman Street in Dow
Chemical's former agricultural building. Dow was going to bulldoze the
100,000-square-foot building several years back, but Moneypenny rescued
it, too. Five years later, it's humming with the activity of 21 on-site
startup companies and 12 virtual tenants.
The business incubator was itself a startup company and spinoff of MITECH+
a regional workforce development company focused on expanding the role
of technical education in the mid-Michigan region. Moneypenny is CEO of
MITECH+. And he was also instrumental in the formation of the Blue
Water Angels, a Midland-based network of more than 30 high-net-worth
individuals and organizations interested in investing in promising
startups like Advanced Battery Concepts.
Walking through the
MidMichigan Innovation Center is akin to walking through Thomas
Edison's idea factory at Menlo Park. Some of the startups there are on
the verge of hitting it big. Others already have. One company -- Caltech Industries,
manufactures hospital and commercial disinfectants was bought by Clorox earlier this year.
There's also Serenus Johnson Portables
a company that manufactures portable buildings and emergency facilities
for hospitals and other companies. The company manufactured some
buildings that were used by emergency medical services in New Orleans
following Hurricane Katrina. Another company called Gantec Advance
produces natural products that keeps bugs off plants and helps them grow two to four times their normal size. Then there's Elpis Technologies
, which manufactures pigments for paints, coatings, resins, epoxy, and cements. The company -- run by a couple of young Northwood University
grads -- has caught the attention of Sherwin-Williams.
situated in the middle of all the startups is a room called "The
Hatchery," office space for enterprising students from Northwood University.
To locate at MidMichigan Innovation Center,
entrepreneurs have to go through an application process, Moneypenny
says. "We're looking for someone who's going to grow a company and
create 10, 20, 30 jobs in the future." After about three years of
leasing space at the center, the startup companies "graduate" and then
move off site to make room for more new ventures.
period before "graduation," the startup companies have the kind of
access to investors, capital, technical expertise, business acumen and
experienced mentors that would be the envy of any enterprising
entrepreneur. Dow Chemical not only leases the
building to Moneypenny at a low cost, but it also provides people with access to some of the brightest minds in the
business through ongoing coaching and mentorship.
involvement in the whole project is greater than meets the eye. In fact,
the idea originated with the late Ted Doan -- grandson
of company founder Herbert H. Dow -- a venture capitalist, and former
member of MITECH+. He wanted to make laboratory space available to help jumpstart the
formation of companies like the one his grandfather started. So Doane
and several others dialed Moneypenny up, and asked him to run the
Moneypenny shares Doan's belief in the importance of
nurturing business ventures. It is, he says, what led to the the
formation of Dow, Ford, General Motors, and all the companies that put
Mid Michigan on the map. "All of those companies," he says, "were
started by entrepreneurs."
There are a lot of entrepreneurs
in the region, Moneypenny says, but they don't always have the support
they need to turn their ideas and concepts into viable businesses.
"They're the key to the future growth and the future economic
prosperity of our region."
When Moneypenny always asks them what they need, "the answer
is always the same," he says. "'Find me money.' The first thing they need is
Tenants have the opportunity
to tap BlueWater Angel members for help with drawing up business plans,
he says. Some BlueWater Angels also are board members for some of the
startup companies, and act as consultants to the tenants at
the center. Through various training sessions, and "pitch" nights,
entrepreneurs also have the opportunity to learn how to pitch a
business plan to investors to obtain financing for their businesses.
MidMichigan Innovation Center also works with Midland Tomorrow
area's economic development organization, on identifying all opportunities
and resources, including financing
opportunities through state and federal grants.
By the beginning of 2010, startup companies at the MidMichigan Innovation Center were responsible for
creating about 149 jobs, and generating a payroll of about $6.7 million in the
In 2009, Midland won an award from
the University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business as one of the
"top performers in attracting and retaining entrepreneurial firms" in
the state, says Scott Walker, executive director of Midland Tomorrow.
The MidMichigan Innovation Center has played a large part in helping to
foster a culture of innovation and vitality in Midland.
one of the organizations helping to "build up that
entrepreneurial capacity" in the Mid Michigan region, Walker says.
Photo captions:Bill Moneypenny, CEO of MidMichigan Innovation Center in Midland, sits in the lobby of the Midland-based facility.
One of the conference rooms in the MidMichigan Innovation Center changes colors through a unique lighting system throughout the day.
Ed Shaffer, owner of Advanced Battery Concepts, is one of several tenants at the MidMichigan Innovation Center.Paint samples -- part of the ongoing research and development process -- sit in the laboratory at Elpis Technologies at the MidMichigan Innovation Center. A cross-section of a portable structure under development at Serenus Johnson Portables, a tenant company at the MidMichigan Innovation Center