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.

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.
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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.