Blog: Julie Gustafson

Julie Gustafson is an experienced business development professional who has spent the past fourteen years in business development and incubation. She is currently the executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator located in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Previously, Julie provided strategic consultation, with a focus on sustainability, to a business growth center and incubator on the 128 Corridor north of Boston. For thirteen years, Julie was the founding director and CEO of the award winning Amoskeag Business Incubator (abi), now known as the abi Innovation Hub, the longest running business incubator in the state of New Hampshire.

Overseen by Julie, the abi partnered in providing business advice to the general public with the state's largest newspaper, The Union Leader. The abi also served thousands of entrepreneurs through its seminars, workshops, and the College/University-Educational Network.

Under her leadership, the abi won numerous awards including the Commendable Company award from the state of New Hampshire, recognizing it as an organization that stimulates economic activity; the Patrick Jackson Award from the Public Relations Society of America for building relationships in the community that earn trust and make a positive impact; and the Community Action Award from Citizens Bank for economic development.

Julie is actively involved in the community and, over the years, has served on numerous boards, committees, and round tables that engage in business and economic development. She is the recipient of New Hampshire Business Review's state-wide Excellence in Public Service award as well as their Women in Business award. She also was invited to testify before the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee and United States Small Business Administration Director Karen Mills.

Prior to directing the abi, Julie was a partner in a residential/light-commercial construction company, a senior accountant for the state's largest Mental Health Center, and spent numerous years in retail management.

She earned a B.A. in Economics from the Whittemore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire and an M.B.A. from Southern New Hampshire University.
Julie Gustafson - Most Recent Posts:

Why Business Incubation in Michigan?

As the founding director and CEO of New Hampshire's Amoskeag Business Incubator, also known as the abi (and now known as the abi Innovation Hub), how did I end up in Sterling Heights, just north of Detroit, as the executive director of the Macomb OU INCubator?

After directing the abi for close to 14 years, I took some time off to spend with family and friends while helping to plan my eldest daughter's wedding.  I had the notion that I would give consulting a crack in both the non-profit and business incubation sectors once the matrimonial hubbub subsided.

I had a grand time helping to plan my daughter's wedding, which was small, intimate, and absolutely beautiful – such a special time for the entire family.  Spent some priceless time visiting friends and family in various areas of New England that included a couple of trips to Boston, Vermont, and the Maine Coast.  I also visited New Jersey, NYC, and Florida.  
With the wedding and my wanderlust in the rear-view mirror, I started setting up an office for my consulting business.  I converted my now-married daughter's bedroom into my headquarters.  Bought an antique desk and refinished it with the help of my husband and took care of all the other necessities that came with setting up a business.  In short time, JMG Consulting was on its feet.

I landed myself a couple of jobs, and in doing research for one organization on the National Business Incubator's Association's website, I came across the posting for the Macomb OU INCubator director position.  If fate led me to the posting, choice brought me to Michigan.  These are some factors that I weighed in making that choice.

First, the job intrigued me.  I liked the fact that it had multiple strong partners: Oakland University, the city of Sterling Heights, and Macomb County Planning & Economic Development.  I liked the fact that it focused on specific industries: defense, homeland security, and advanced manufacturing – I came from a mixed-use incubator model with anywhere from a 50-60% technology base.  The location to me was also exciting, in the heart of your state's defense corridor, surrounded by prime defense contractors – TACOM, TARDEC, Selfridge, and a great manufacturing base.  It was a totally different environment than what I was accustomed to.

I also liked the idea that the incubator was located just north of Detroit, an area that was hit extremely hard by the recession.  I had read quite a bit about Detroit looking to reinvent itself and liked the idea of being part of that initiative.  In doing further research, I was also thoroughly impressed with the resources that Michigan provided to its small businesses, especially through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.  I loved the whole Smartzone concept.  I also discovered that your current governor was not only involved in incubation, but was a proponent of it as well.

Last, I think I just had the inclination to see and be part of another area of our great country.  Maybe my wanderlust wasn't in the rear-view mirror, after all. I always heard midwesterners were hospitable and hard-working (I have since learned, firsthand, how very true this is!).  So I applied in the spring of 2011, and much to my great surprise, was soon after offered the position.  I finished up my current consulting job, took off the rest of the summer, and started in the fall of 2011.      

I look forward to sharing information with you about the Macomb OU INCubator in my third blog!  

Ramping Up an Incubator

I started my position as the executive director of the Macomb OU INCubator, an organization designed to accelerate businesses with an emphasis in the defense, homeland security, advanced manufacturing, energy and technology industries, in September 2011.

Leaving New Hampshire and my family behind (they will be joining me this fall), I was ready to delve into work.  I was thrilled with the facility, the Velocity Collaboration Center – 35,000 square feet of new!  New was an exciting concept, having come from two previous incubator locations nearly as old as the state of Michigan itself! Not only is the facility NOT a relic of the 1800s, but every single office has windows!  The old, converted textile mills my previous incubators inhabited had very few, so being able to see outside (and knowing whether or not to wield an umbrella) has been another new joy.  

The building is new, but it comes with a history of its own.  It was generously donated to the city of Sterling Heights by A.J. Damman Co. in 2009 and in its previous life had been a day care center for Ford Motor Company.  When I came on board the building was still in the process of being renovated for office space use, one of the highlights being the removal of the mini-toilets!  

The facility currently has 20 offices for lease and six cubicles ranging in price from $185 to $1,200 a month, and everything in between.  Leasing of the space includes abundant parking, wireless internet, all utilities except communications, use of extensive common space, access to staff, use of a business advisory board comprising 60 subject matter experts, on-site business training and networking, and a great location in the heart of extensive manufacturing and the Michigan defense corridor.

I immediately set to work with a transition team that was in place due to the absence of an executive director during a ten-month period.  The only full-time person on the transition team was Larry Herriman, the CFO, and now assistant executive director.  Larry and I hired a full team including a marketing manager, a grant compliance officer, a capital advisor, a commercialization advisor and an administrative assistant.

Along with the team, we secured additional funding, revamped current processes and procedures, developed new programs, finished up the construction, and participated in the grand opening of the building with its new name the, Velocity Collaboration Center.  Along with our partnering organizations, Oakland University, the City of Sterling Heights, and Macomb County Planning & Economic Development, we also built a full curriculum of on-site business development training, defense-related training, and industry specific networking.   In addition to providing training, we have also been quite successful in helping businesses to access capital to take their companies to the next level and to achieve their planned milestones.
To view our upcoming events please click here. We also run a monthly newsletter that provides all of our event information and more.  Click here to subscribe!

So what's on deck for the upcoming year?  In addition to many programs including our current Green and Black Belt Lean Certification programs, we are in the process of developing a new Start-Up Lean program that is specifically targeted towards start-up companies to be introduced this fall.  The premise behind this training: do not just become lean; start lean.  

During the next year you can also expect to see us coordinate larger state-wide entrepreneurial and pitch-type events to be held at the Macomb OU INCubator.  We anticipate further engagement with our current partners as well as new partners to bring you the very best in business and industry-specific business development.  Last, with the need for speed in today's market, you can expect to see us adopt our own speed.  We will aim to provide business assessments to all of our business clients within a 24-hour period.  

Stay tuned by visiting our website, calling us at 586-884-9320 or by dropping by at 6633 18 Mile Road, Sterling Heights, Michigan – just minutes from Detroit.

Why Start-Ups; Why Business Incubation?

Small business accounts for approximately 99% of the employers in the United States and represents 98.3% of all employers in Michigan. Given this relevant statistic, it is no wonder that business incubation has increased more than five-fold in our country in the past decade.   Incubation provides an entrepreneurial ecosystem in which to support small businesses.  If run well, incubators are effective in helping to accelerate the pace of small businesses in our country as well as across the globe.  

I have been in business incubation for close to 15 years, which is a fairly long time in this relatively new industry (in 1980 there were only 12 incubators in the United States).  When I started in New Hampshire in 1997, there were no incubators in New Hampshire and less than 200 incubators in our country.  Today there are over 1,100 incubators in the country – and counting.  Yes, I was the brunt of many egg-and-chick jokes.

How did I end up in business incubation?  Although my career "hatched" in New Hampshire, my love and passion for small business was "incubated" in New Jersey where I was born and bred.  Back when I was in fifth grade, my father made the decision to leave Wall Street to start his own retail business, the Sport Spot, a sporting goods store with a major focus on downhill skiing.  Yes, New Jersey had skiing and was only a 4.5 hour drive to some of New England's finest.

I can remember the months my parents spent prepping, planning, and passing many late nights sitting at the kitchen table.  It did not seem like a big deal to me at the time, but had to have been a huge decision for them.  I remember sitting with my father in his car, at numerous locations, at various times of the day, counting and timing traffic.  How many people drove by his potential business location?    

It was not long after the store opened that it did become a big deal.  It was a family affair.  Towards the end of fifth grade, I was cleaning store windows and mirrors, hanging the piles of clothing back up that were left in the dressing rooms, vacuuming (hated that old Electrolux), counting inventory (this was before it was computerized)…. and you get the idea.  I had four siblings. We all worked in the store.  It was a big part of all of our lives; we lived and breathed it.  

I believe anyone starting a business, whether it in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Michigan, or anywhere else in the country, needs to have willingness to "live and breathe it."  It is a LOT of work!  That being said, it is not a bad idea to like it either!  Fortunately, in our case, we did.

Growing up in a family business, I learned some essentials for starting a successful business that are still very relevant today. More than I can possibly share in one blog.  I learned the importance of a strong work ethic, customer service, integrity, honesty, and how critically important it is to respect all, including: customers, vendors, suppliers, employees, service providers, your community, and yes, even your competitors!  

I learned creativity and the value of seeking out new opportunities. I watched my parents start satellite stores and a travel agency that ran ski trips around the country as a result of fulfilling customer needs.  I learned to work in the face of adversity – inventory not coming in on time, rain during ski swaps, a substantial fire in the store, unhappy customers, long hours – but most importantly I learned that work can be fun!  As we got older, we went to the trade shows, tested equipment and helped make purchasing decisions.  We also had the opportunity to meet and ski with some world-class skiers.

My upbringing in a positive family-owned company is absolutely what led to my career in business incubation.  I love working in an industry that supports small business!

In my next two blog posts, I look forward to telling you about how, and why, I ended up in Michigan, and then I will share with you how the Macomb OU INCubator is helping to support entrepreneurs in Southeast Michigan!   
Signup for Email Alerts