Melissa Farley was born and raised in Essexville, Michigan. She graduated with high honors from Michigan State University, earning her degree in Communications and Public Relations. Melissa is currently the Director of the Innovation Center and Small Business at the Midland Business Alliance (MBA) where she runs a multitude of programs and events.
Melissa is on the front lines of Midland’s young professional scene and helps new businesses start and grow. We sat down with her to discuss some of the finer points of Midland’s unique small business atmosphere.
Q: What has your role with the Chamber been over the last few years and how has it changed?
A: I am the Director of the Innovation Center and Small Business. I oversee the MBA Innovation Center and the MBA small business programing. I also run the MYPros (Midland Young Professionals Group) and also do a number of large MBA events like the Mulligan Masters Golf Outing in September and the MBA Holiday Party in December. Before this job, I was with the Midland Area Chamber/MBA for four years as a Programing Specialist and then the Director of Special Events. I still do the same events and programs that I did in the past, but in November I was asked to take on a new role as the Director of the MBA Innovation Center.
Q: That sounds like such an interesting job! What’s it like being at the forefront of new business ideas?
A: It is so cool hearing business ideas or new invention ideas people have. Sometimes you have people come through the door with inventions that are going to totally change the way we do things – which is so exciting!
Q: Can you tell us more about the Innovation Center and the work it does?
A: The MBA Innovation Center assists startups with technical and financial help. Because we are connected to the MBA who has a large network we are able to provide our members to high quality mentors to help them navigate through all the different things they need to think about when having a startup. Things our mentors help with include things like HR, bookkeeping, legal, marketing, financial and more. We also have a great partnership with SBDC, who also aids our members. We have access to financial help, especially for people with high-tech startups. We have a number of different membership options for anyone interested in joining the MBAIC – those options can be found at our website. For people who are not starting a business, but are looking for a place to get work done, we also have open coworking space available by the day. Anyone can come in, get a cup of coffee, find a seat and use our co-working space.
Q: What is one of your favorite success stories with a business from the incubator?
A: Aberro Creative is definitely my favorite success story out of the incubator. Dustin Neumeyer and Steve Cronk started their business back when we were known as the MidMichigan Innovation Center. They have grown so much and now even have a brick and mortar building.
Q: What small businesses can you think of in Midland that started in a smaller startup space that has really taken off and succeeded?
A: We have had a number of food trucks that have decided to transition into a brick and mortar. Crepes Et Amis, Midland Burger Company, Good to Go: Specialty Take Out and now Pizza Baker. It is great to see them flourish and as a community we are very lucky to have these great restaurants!
Q: Do you have a favorite space to frequent in town?
A: My new favorite place is Grove Tea Lounge! The drinks and food they make are exceptional – and the atmosphere is very cozy. For a night out my husband and I enjoy going to Whichcraft.
Q: Why do you think Midland is successful, and what can the community do better?
A: My favorite thing about Midland is everyone’s willingness to help others. We live in a very caring community and I see it all the time in the business world. People are not afraid to “help” their perceived competition. Instead they think of ways to work together so everyone wins. I think that is huge in Midland but it’s not something most communities have. The partnerships are everywhere. We are so lucky to have such a caring community.
What can we do better? I think we do a decent job of shopping local, but I’d love to see us do that even better. We have tons of awesome local businesses – from family-run meat markets, to retail shops, to restaurants. And if we want to see more of these things (which I definitely think we do!!) we need to support them with our dollars.
Q: Your job sounds so dynamic. What is your favorite part?
A: I love meeting new people in the community and connecting them with other people in the community. I love watching partnerships form and watching people work together to accomplish goals. I also love seeing startups or small businesses grow. It is so cool knowing someone who just has an idea and watching them develop that idea and create or grow their business.