Business dreams really do come true

If the old adage, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” is true, then anyone aspiring to build a business would be wise to sign up for Pitch a Dream: Innovate the Bay.

The application deadline for the 2nd annual contest is Sun., Aug. 11. Today (Aug. 8) is the final optional kickoff meeting where organizers will explain the expectations and timeline for the competition. Details are also available on the project's website and Facebook page.

The winners of the 2018 competition walked away with $50,000 in cash and prizes to help grow their businesses. This year's winners should see similar value prizes. More importantly, though, everyone in the competition works with mentors to gain insight into how to grow their business, said Erin Strang, CEO and president of one of the competition sponsors, Central Michigan University Research Corporation (CMURC).

“Ultimately, although it’s a competition, there is a lot of work and detail that the entrepreneurs put in behind the scenes and that’s really where we’re able to provide the most assistance and guidance,” Strang said.

“It’s one thing to have an idea and another thing to have a good foundation. A good foundation gives you the best chance to be successful.”

Though based in Mt. Pleasant, CMURC has locations across Mid-Michigan and runs programs throughout the year to help entrepreneurs succeed. During the Pitch a Dream competition, CMURC offers participants an abbreviated version of its Right Choice program, which is designed to give companies the necessary pieces to get businesses on track.

Entrepreneurs are the key to economic growth.

“True growth isn’t going to come from companies with 500 employees re-locating here,” said Chris Girard, president of another sponsor, the Bay County Growth Alliance. “Competition for those companies is intense. True growth is going to come from home-grown companies.”

Girard said the idea for the competition began when the Bay County Growth Alliance was looking for ways to encourage entrepreneurs. The Growth Alliance contacted CMURC and other businesses to form the competition and offer help to participants.

In the 2018 competition, professional basketball trainer Luke Lloyd won the top prize for his Dribble Stick Training company. Lloyd invented the Dribble Stick, a unique post made of aircraft aluminum and two arms that teach the fundamentals of dribbling, shooting, and more.

“(The competition) helped to accelerate some product development including the newer model that we'll be releasing shortly,” Lloyd said. “It enabled me to improve our website. I was also able to pay for the publishing for a workbook that goes with the dribble stick. I also had to maintenance my intellectual property - which that money enabled me to do. I also was able to update some videos through a video firm in Bay City.”

Strang said she is thrilled with what the program did for Lloyd. “Luke is really a prime example of being able to move through the program and leverage what happened.”

During the contest, the participants also build stronger, local networks, Girard said.

“The winner last year was sourcing his materials outside our area. Going through this process, he found local sources. That’s a good story to tell. This process is working,” Girard said.

Other top finishers in the competition re-tooled their processes and built stronger business models. Going forward, the competition also aims to help the community realize some of its dreams.

“It’s really planting seeds for future businesses,” Girard said. “If we run this for 10 years, hopefully every year we get three or four businesses that take root and grow. Think about 30 to 40 new businesses in our community.”

If each of those businesses adds one or two employees a year, it adds up to the economic impact of one, large company.

The competition doesn’t just help new businesses. Girard said also showcases local assets, such as affordable housing and parks along the Saginaw River, which could attract new businesses.

In a gig economy, you can live anywhere,” Girard said. “We need to embrace entrepreneurism. If we can showcase our values and what a great community we have, we can entice those people who can live anywhere to live here.”

Trevor Keyes, President and CEO of Bay Future Inc., a Pitch a Dream sponsor, also said supporting entrepreneurs is important for future growth.

"One of the key strategies for any economically viable and vital community is entrepreneurial support and development and Bay City and Bay County is no different,” said Trevor Keyes.

“Pitch a Dream: Innovate the Bay not only brings together entrepreneurs with services, products, and ideas to network and collaborate with one another, but also the resources, programs, financiers, and capital needed to make those dreams a reality. Entrepreneurs tend to gravitate, draw inspiration, and succeed in communities that can surreptitiously syncopate the sensations of ‘place,’ simultaneously attracting and retaining talent toward this vibrancy.”

Small businesses also are uniquely poised for growth, Girard said. The 2018 Michigan Entrepreneurship Score Card, produced by the Small Business Administration of Michigan, backs up Girard.

From 2015 to 2016, nearly 290,000 net new jobs were created in Michigan. Only 4% of those came from firms with 500 or more employees. About 68% of these net new jobs were created by companies with between 10 and 99 employees. Companies with between 2 and 9 employees created 14% of those new jobs.

“We have some great things here and I think if we can showcase that we support entrepreneurs and trying new things, then we can grow our community,” Girard said.