In the early 1900’s, Michigan was the entrepreneurial center in this country, attracting risk-takers from all over the United States to create an explosive new industry. The “old” entrepreneurs in the automotive space founded and grew one of the largest, highly technical, and most successful industries in the world. Today, Michigan is in dire straights economically and the very real question is whether we have the gumption and drive to do it again. Have we lived off the auto industry for so long that innovation in Michigan is now impossible, or are there new entrepreneurs here who can help drive a new economy for Michigan?
We are here to tell you that there is a whole new breed of “knowledge” industry entrepreneurs in Michigan – and they are real. We’d like to argue that Michigan is launching real new businesses in real new industries, driven by a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. Who are these risk-taking business people and where have they come from?
We are officers of New Enterprise Forum
(NEF), an organization that exists to help connect entrepreneurs to resources. NEF has helped hundreds of high growth, investable companies over the course of the last 23 years. In many ways, NEF has a window into the future, as the types of entrepreneurial activity seen in one year evolve into sustainable businesses a few years later.
So, who is new? The entrepreneurs we see today are more diverse than ever before, with novel ideas for automating services, medical information and devices, green technologies, and energy plays, to name but a few. It is this very diversity of endeavor that is particularly exciting – what we appear to be seeing is a new culture of entrepreneurship that cuts across multiple industries.
We are seeing refugees from the corporate world – some who still have jobs and many who do not. They have been incubating ideas and have remarkable knowledge about their own industries and customers’ pain. They have looked to the future and believe that they have more control and more growth opportunities as owners than they do as employees. So, they are founding businesses that bring new and better solutions into their industry.
We have seen a marked increase in owners of existing businesses with novel ideas, new inventions, and services that solve problems in their industry. These leaders realize that a down economy is the perfect time to position themselves for the impending recovery and a chance to grow their dream. They are launching new side businesses and new product lines.
The other thing we’re noticing is that there are many people who want to join entrepreneurs. They don’t necessarily have the novel idea, but do have other necessary skills – sales, management, marketing or finance – that are needed to make a business succeed.
Most important is the number of young people who are choosing entrepreneurship as a career. We’re seeing more of these young entrepreneurs touting their new business ideas – and they are impressive ideas – in entrepreneurial forums across the state. They are launching from our schools, which are growing their entrepreneurial studies activities faster than we can track them.
The University of Michigan recently created a new deanship for entrepreneurial programs, Eastern Michigan University has an entrepreneur program, Central Michigan University offers a major in entrepreneurship, and ALL of Michigan’s public colleges and universities offer entrepreneurship classes. Why is this so critically important? Because building a new generation of entrepreneurs begins by keeping these young people here in Michigan, where as entrepreneurs they will build one business after another, recruit employees, and drive the culture shift that makes entrepreneurship a career of choice.
At the New Enterprise Forum, we are seeing all of these kinds of new entrepreneurs, and expect to see more successes as business and industry are reinvented here in Michigan. What the new entrepreneurs have in common is a commitment to hard work, determination, and the belief that success is a possibility. We believe that their enthusiasm is contagious, and that the new Michigan is the place for tomorrow’s diverse new entrepreneurs.