Blog: Diane Durance

And the winner is... Diane Durance, executive director of Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest, is here this week to discuss the GLEQ business plan competition for aspiring entrepreneurs. In June, one start-up will win the $100K SmartZone award. In a time when there's talk of taking the nickel out of nickels, a few Gs can mean the difference between boom or bust.

Post 5: The Unsung Heroes of Entrepreneurial Communities

This is my last day as a guest blogger for MetroMode and I'd like to use this opportunity to shine the light on the invisible army of volunteers that are cultivating, nurturing and growing entrepreneurial communities across Michigan.

I've talked about some of the resources that are available to entrepreneurs for education, networking, and other resources. Many of the organizations and events I've mentioned are sustained by virtue of generous volunteer efforts.

Let me give you some examples:

New Enterprise Forum is a 24-year-old organization operating on less than $20,000 a year thanks to an all-star, all-volunteer Board of Directors and 85-member program committee. The committee members form five- and six-person coaching teams that work with every entrepreneur before they present at the forum.

Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest - a 10-year-old organization with a roster of 25 ambassadors, 130 coaches and 100 judges from all corners of the state --and  all volunteers. The ambassadors attend events around the state connecting entrepreneurs with information and resources, the coaches work one-on-one with business plan competition participants, and the judges --including  individuals from every venture capital firm and angel network in the state -- willingly offer their advice and feedback to assist and encourage new entrepreneurs.

BioArbor, Marketing Roundtable, and Energy Technology Forum are examples of a few of the monthly education and networking events planned and executed by groups of committed volunteers.

Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship (ACE) is an 11-year-old collaborative event that brought together 1,000 members of our region's entrepreneurial community this January. It's planned throughout the year by a large committee of volunteers.

We call upon our volunteers to do a lot -- and too-many-to-mention continue to rise to the occasion. Just last week, I put out a request to business coaches asking them to volunteer at TechTown's FastTrac to the Future program May 25 and 26. I also asked for coaches to help critique elevator pitch presentations at evening events on May 25 and June 16.

We have enterprising entrepreneurs like Caryn Shick in Midland, and Dug Song in Ann Arbor, putting together monthly MeetUp events that bring entrepreneurs into the fold.

And I'm just touching the tip of the iceberg.

Our volunteer army is hard at work year-round. Volunteers mentor startups at Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp twice a year.  NEF Board members coach entrepreneurs presenting at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium every year. Volunteers are operating membership organizations such as TiE and MIT Enterprise Forum -- and they're on the Boards of Directors at every business development non-profit organization, economic development agency, business incubator, and university. The Chairman of the GLEQ Board of Directors volunteers countless hours to our organization on top of his 'real job' running TGap Ventures, a venture capital firm in Kalamazoo. He also rounds up the venture investors that volunteer their time as judges for the business plan competition.

Again, just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not sticking my neck out when I say we wouldn't be seeing the upswing in entrepreneurial energy and activity without these valuable contributors. Let me share one example with you...

John Berkaw, Vice President Private Banker, Wealth & Institutional Management, Comerica Bank and volunteer coach with GLEQ received this e-mail from a participant in the business plan competition:

"....I did not get everything changed, corrected, and added by the deadline for the GLEQ competition, but submitted anyway to get additional feedback on what needed correction. Your help and advice has been an integral part of us making such huge changes. I really listened to your suggestions and worked with my partner to bring him to the realization that we needed to make drastic changes to get the business open. We are truly grateful for your coaching and would welcome your feedback once the plan is changed. Having the GLEQ direct us to you has been a life changing experience and I plan to stay active in the GLEQ and hopefully be able to help others one day."?

?Thank you to everyone who has pitched in and continues to share a commitment to Michigan's entrepreneurs. We owe you. Big time.