NEO Center, or the Center for New Enterprise Opportunity
if you want to be formal about it, is here. You’ve heard the buzz around town. You’ve seen the features and the smiling faces of the fabulous founders. Maybe you’ve even taken a ride on the slide. But who are the mysterious tenants of the building that once housed a bakery but is now an incubator for marketing and media businesses? Read on to find out about three local organizations looking to call NEO - and Lansing - home.
Shirtmob is not Carl Winan’s first entrepreneurial venture. The Chief Everything Officer for Shirtmob started a business in Detroit before moving to Lansing because of its access to the university population, a critical component to its success.
“The whole concept is you buy a shirt and it has a deal associated with it and you get the deal if you wear the shirt to the establishment,” Carl explains. “Right now our initial test market is focused on Michigan State students, college students. And we’re initially testing the business model with bars and restaurants.”
Shirtmob is currently in the process of securing its business participants to capitalize on college students’ love of t shirts. Ultimately, the final model will have funky tees - think Snorgtees
- specific to local places. For example you wear a shirt (design is a partnership between the vendor and Shirtmob) that says “Let’s get ready to stumble” or “Parties well with others” branded by a specific bar to said specific bar on Thursdays to get $1 beers. Simple enough, right? “It’s very similar to a loyalty card but it’s a loyalty card that you wear instead of keeping it hidden in your wallet.”
Carl looked long and hard for an appropriate space, even commuting to Grand Rapids to take advantage of its startup culture before discovering NEO Center. “Being an entrepreneur is a special thing and it takes a special mindset so you want to be around like minded individuals so you can help each other out.”
For Shirtmob, a Lansing-based incubator is a perfect fit (pun intended). “This seems to be the best place to test this business model - better than Grand Rapids, better than Detroit. There’s a huge student population built here and we were able to strike up a relationship with Underground Printing who have other Big 10 locations. It all came together with the other partners so it was the perfect place to test out the business model.”
REVUE Mid Michigan
Access to college talent was a huge motivation for REVUE Mid Michigan
to expand its efforts from Managing Editor Rich Tupica’s basement into the NEO Center. While Rich, and company president and publisher Brian Edwards, use the office, “We also have interns -- which we affectionately call ‘minions’ -- in the NEO office, working on listings, stories and other editorial tasks for REVUE,” Brian explains.
“It's a great place to have interns work because they all love the space,” Rich explains. “So far, every intern has been totally impressed with the design and look of the building.” And showing off Lansing’s assets is what REVUE Mid Michigan is all about.
“REVUE Mid-Michigan is solely an entertainment magazine. We stay away from politics and hard news. So the impact we have is a positive one on the arts community. We're a publication that will help tell the story of local artists, musicians and creative people. We're hoping the arts community will grow a little from our coverage,” says Rich.
With a West Michigan publication that launched in 2008, REVUE expanded into Greater Lansing the following year and has seen consistent growth since, with hopes the trend will continue. “We want to continue in the space until we reach a point where we have multiple staff and it makes sense to add our own office presence,” says Brian. Rich adds, “which is what I think the whole point of the NEO Center is. It's to help newer businesses get started in an affordable office.”
This West Michigan team has learned not to underestimate the region. “There's a cool entrepreneurial thing going on in Lansing, and I don't think people in Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo really know about it,” says Brian. “Places like the NEO Center are great for startups and entrepreneurs because they allow you to focus on the work rather than having to spend time on things like outfitting an office, setting up utilities and the administrative tasks of running an office. “
DeWitt Creativity Group
Why would a couple of high school teachers take up space in a business incubator? “We take student artistic, entrepreneurial and scientific talent and try to find opportunities for them to go beyond the school to see how creativity is valued,” says Co-founder of the DeWitt Creativity Group
- or DCG - Jason LaFaye. Along with fellow high school teacher Jeff Croley, he wanted to give students a chance to do more than just go to class. “Just because they’re not in the industry yet doesn’t mean creativity isn’t valued. I think students see creativity as just art but it’s not. It’s problem solving and everyone’s creative. If you can solve a problem you can make a product or service. There’s that entrepreneurial edge to it.”
The goal of establishing DCG space in the NEO Center is to give high students and their parents a glimpse into what an incubator is really like.
“We want to tap into that energy,” he says. “We want to encourage them hopefully to start their own businesses or think about ways to do projects or experiences here. The goal is to make a pipeline from Dewitt High School directly to here or move into college and then an incubator space. We think it will be good for the area.”
So, how do the students feel about it? “They‘re just blown away that it even exists. I think they’re impressed that something like this exists in Lansing. It seems very big city like it should be in Chicago or San Francisco or New York. And they like that it has a slide in it.”
Building a Unique Partnership
Talk to any of the NEO Center founders and they’ll be quick to tell you the Ingham County Land Bank’s
involvement in this venture was critical, but you might be asking, what is a Land Bank?
“It’s an economic development entity that strategically takes ‘unloved’ properties and tries to help them get repurposed for their future life,” explains Eric Schertzing, Ingham County treasurer and chairman at the Ingham County Land Bank.
And the NEO Center’s current site was certainly unloved before the public-private partnership between the Land Bank, the Kincaid Henry Building Group and the NEO Center. “We took a property built as a bakery almost 100 years ago in the middle of a neighborhood and gave it new life,” says Eric. “And it required, perhaps in any economy but certainly in this economy, a collaboration, a confluence of interest, between the public and private sectors. It’s proof of the power of those joined forces.”
Kate Tykocki is the interim news editor and a freelance writer for Capital Gains. She geeks jazz hands
, knitting and theatre. You can also follow her at @katetykocki
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
DeWitt Creativity Group (lft-rt) student Gavin Baum-Blake, instructors Jason LaFay and Jeff Crowley, and student Aaron Jegla.
John Hill with LinkedIn
Carl Winans of Shirtmob
Photos © Dave Trumpie