In Port Huron, more than 150 entrepreneurs spent a recent Saturday with fellow entrepreneurs and community leaders at the inaugural Startup School, held by Blue Water Startups & Entrepreneurs, a local organization that meets once a month to support each other and network.
The day-long event on Sept. 30 set out to convene, energize, and educate entrepreneurs from across southeast Michigan, and it delivered. Several speakers shared their stories of success—and failure—and their insight on starting and running a business.
Paul Singh/Courtesy Anson Pavlov/Finch Multimedia
Paul Singh, one of the keynote speakers and cofounder of Results Junkies, says Startup School gave attendees tactics they can use, and it showed them that entrepreneurs are simply “normal people who tested, and tried, and iterated, and iterated”—so they realize they can do the same thing.
“Startup School was a great way to rapidly transfer knowledge from experts to entrepreneurs and allow them to make connections, all in one day,” says Blue Water Startups founder Matt Brooks, who organized the event. “More broadly, though, I believe this event was very successful in getting the word out to our local community and our neighboring region that the Blue Water Area is ‘open for business’!”
The speakers and attendees covered a wide swath of industries and experiences. They ranged from tech startup gurus to the cofounder of Chef’s Cut Jerky to the owner of Michigan’s first hop farm that’s also a wedding venue. Speakers included Sen. Gary Peters (via video message), Michigan Sen. Phil Pavlov, and Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County CEO Dan Casey.
“Entrepreneurs are absolutely essential for our county,” Casey told the attendees, noting that the county is Thomas Edison’s boyhood home.
Phil Peloso, founder of Triton Automation Group, stressed the importance of building a strong team and business network. Phil Peloso, founder of Triton Automotive Group, talks about making his business successful./Courtesy Anson Pavlov/Finch Multimedia
His team spans an age range of 14 to 72—he has interns who are only 14 and 15 years old, but are producing impressive work.
In his keynote, Singh talked about the business of tech startups and his travels around the country—to more than 80 cities in 18 months. He noted that the future of Port Huron is directly tied to entrepreneurs.
Overall, the tone was encouraging and empowering. A common refrain was that starting a business is risky and requires hard work—but it’s worth it.
Several speakers shared challenges they’ve faced along the way. For example, Ruboo Boutique owner Demiree Potter said one of hers is that people constantly assume someone else is the owner. They think she’s not old enough, so she must just work at the store. She’s even been asked if there’s a parent around.
Roundtable sessions gave attendees a chance to learn about specific topics, such as HR issues, legal issues, and pricing, from experts.
Christina Gallina Flood, founder of Healing Hearts Home, attended Startup School. She says that, although she “did gather a lot of knowledge,” one of the most valuable parts was “seeing how many entrepreneurs we have—and where Port Huron is going.” She also valued the opportunity to meet so many different attendees.
Singh says he’s confident the attendees will put what they learned to use. He talked with many of them during the event, and “you could see their gears turning,” he says. “And they will turn it into revenue for St. Clair County.”
Entrepreneurship has evolved, Singh explains.
Matt Brooks greets attendees at Startup School./Courtesy Anson Pavlov/Finch Multimedia
“When I was growing up, entrepreneurship was starting your own construction company, becoming a realtor, or opening a coffee shop. Place mattered. There was an upper limit on how successful you could be that was directly correlated” to your physical location, he says. Now, “the Internet allows new types of entrepreneurship to exist.” For areas like the Blue Water area, entrepreneurship can “fast-track” economic progress, he says.
The Startup School organizers have received dozens of post-event surveys so far, and “the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Brooks says. “It's clear that this kind of event was welcome and needed in our community. Recognizing what the attendees and speakers have stated in their surveys, I think it's safe to say there will be a Startup School 2018.”
Startup School was supported by the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, St. Clair County Community College, Northstar Bank, Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce, and Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County.