Blog: Julie Gustafson

Small companies comprise 99% of employers nationwide, and (surprise!) 98% in Michigan. That's why east coast native Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator, recently moved inland to foster new entrepreneurs here. This week she covers the hatching of new businesses and her work upbringing in the family ski shop.

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!