Commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship in the Great Lakes Bay RegionQ&A with Elissa Gagne, COO of CMURC

Over 20 years ago, CMURC was established as a Michigan Economic Development Corporation SmartZone to support entrepreneurs in the Great Lakes Bay region. Today, in the region that consists of communities such as Mt. Pleasant, Midland, Saginaw, and Bay City, more than $44 million of capital has been invested into the area, over 1,500 jobs have been created, and almost 400 companies have been developed thanks to assistance from the CMURC. 

Elissa Gagne has been part of their success for the past 10 years. As she celebrates her 10-year anniversary working at CMURC, she also celebrates a new job title: Chief operating officer. 

Gagne is Central Michigan University alumnus, born and raised in Plano, Texas but is now a Michigander. She says she “is always striving to be the best at home and in my career” as she and her husband raise a family of five, while she shares her passion for supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs in the Great Lakes Bay region and the state of Michigan. 

Known for her proven track record and commitment to innovation, building relationships, and producing highly successful campaigns, learn more about Gagne in this Q&A. 

Epicenter: Congratulations on your new title of COO and recent 10-year anniversary with the organization! Can you share with us about your beginnings with the CMURC and a few of your personal highlights over the past 10 years?
Gagne: Thank you! I started my tenure with CMURC as the marketing and public relations director in 2013. I've always been told I was a problem solver and loved a challenge, so working with CMURC with entrepreneurs and small businesses has been the perfect fit. My highlights all revolve around the relationships I’ve built with our team, community, and partners, as well as embracing my personal and professional shortcomings and strengths. It takes a village to fully make an impact, and I am appreciative that CMURC is dedicated to constant improvement and always striving to make it happen.

Epicenter: For someone who is unfamiliar with CMURC, how would you describe it?
Gagne: CMURC is a professional and diverse coworking space with accelerator programs focused on product and strategic development for entrepreneurs to positively impact the economy. It brings together local, regional and statewide partners to accelerate the success of entrepreneurs, professionals, and corporations growing businesses and jobs by leveraging the resources of Central Michigan University, the Mount Pleasant SmartZone District and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. CMURC is committed to inclusive entrepreneurship with the ultimate goal of closing the opportunity gap because people from all backgrounds deserve access to business and entrepreneurial resources.

Epicenter: You have been instrumental in developing CMURC’s entrepreneurial programs across the Mt. Pleasant and Great Lakes Bay regions. Which one shines as your favorite?
Gagne: CMURC’s CoWorking space stands out as a favorite program. When I first started, there were large anchor tenants that were leaving the space. So, true to the brand, we did research, brainstormed and found cowork spaces in bigger markets and learned all the ways to know the trends of today. We currently have four CoWork spaces across the region: Bay City; Midland; Mount Pleasant; and Saginaw. It’s exciting to watch the communities grow in each facility. It’s also always fascinating because we work with so many brilliant people, and you make assumptions that they know each other and come to find out there are connections just waiting to be had. When you put passionate, hard-working people together it is invigorating to see the magic happen. It is very rewarding and I wouldn't trade my career path for anything!

Epicenter: Helping scale local businesses is certainly a strength of yours. Please share with us a success story of a Mt. Pleasant business you’ve assisted. 
Gagne: One of my favorite success stories is about Luke Lloyd with Dribble Stick Training. Luke was a standout basketball player and coach. At one of our first meetings, he said, "he wanted to give back to the game that gave him so much." I still get chills thinking about how inspired I was, and I was all in. You could tell he had the passion and drive behind him. He was already doing great things and had put in so many sweat equity hours that he was an easy choice to dive into the details with. We put him in our accelerator program to continue to get him moving in the right direction. Through this process, we helped him tighten up his pitch and business summary, and were able to access business accelerator funds to help with the next version of his prototype and marketing. He has sold well over 30,000 Dribble Sticks since its creation – all designed, manufactured, packaged and delivered from right here in Michigan. Being able to deliver resources or connections that lead to strategic partnerships or helping someone avoid common pitfalls has been a rewarding experience.

Epicenter: Your staff shares that you are a pillar for fostering inclusive environments not only for entrepreneurs, but for CMURC employees. How’s it feel to hear feedback like that? 
Gagne: "Birds of a feather flock together." It takes a team – and sometimes better called a support group – and it is just in my being to work hard, play hard, and hopefully leave this world in a better place for my kiddos. I want the staff to know that we are all pillars and it takes every experience, every encounter, to learn and grow from and to make a difference.
Epicenter: What’s next for you and your efforts at CMURC? We’d love to hear what excites you the most about what you’re working on now and what you hope to work on in the future. 
Gagne: Growing a team of people ready to make it happen! We are committed to making a difference within our community and are excited to bring on new team members who share that passion.

The CMURC team currently consists of seven rockstar individuals headquartered throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region, but is growing! We are currently looking to add a couple of new team members, with more information available about those positions at

We continue to work on our Inclusive Entrepreneurship Initiative, which focuses on breaking down barriers to entry so entrepreneurs can excel no matter what their background.  

Lastly, with the growing demand for the workspaces, we are moving forward with office renovation and upgrades to our CoWork spaces. These updates will provide a safe workplace for entrepreneurs, service providers, and corporations to collaborate.
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Read more articles by Courtney Jerome.

With 15 years of professional media experience, Courtney Jerome has found a passion for storytelling and showcasing our region in a positive light. She's written stories for television broadcasts, numerous magazines, and digital publications. In addition, she owns a boutique creative marketing agency that focuses on social media, photo, and video storytelling for small businesses across Michigan and the country — Contact Courtney, the managing editor of Epicenter, at