Blog: Zach Lipson

Leave it to an entrepreneur to know the importance of good relationships. Zach Lipson is the founder of the of relationship advice website (LEssons For The Opposite Sex) and co-organizer of TechNow 09, a widely attended conference for technology start-ups. Zach will be writing about the how and why behind TechNow.

Zach Lipson - Post 2: Tech Can't Thrive in Silos

My last blog post was an overview of my experiences with TechNow09, an event I organized along with two other entrepreneurs to focus on the startup scene in Michigan. My journey in organizing the event gave me somewhat of a unique perspective on the current state of the Michigan economy. Day in and day out, we were meeting with companies and organizations seeking out partnerships, sponsorships, and even just their support for our initiative. Through these meetings, I came to a few conclusions about the changes that we need to make in order to push our economy forward.

Hyper-local communities

Probably the most notable take-away from TechNow09 was the strong sense of hyper-local technology communities that we have here in the state of Michigan. I view this as one of the larger problems that the technology industry here faces. We have these areas that are working hard to foster their own individual tech communities, which is great. The problem is when these regions become silos. They're so intent on building their own communities and reputation that they become opposed to helping organizations outside of their borders.

I chose the word "silos" carefully, as it is a principle commonly taught in business schools, sometimes referred to as "functional silos". A common example is cited:  A company has multiple departments within it, including Accounting, R&D, Production Marketing, HR, etc. Each of these departments may excel in their respective roles, but this company will nevertheless run in to problems if these departments operate independently of each other.

Take this example and replace the components. The company is the state of Michigan and the departments are these individual technology communities. The situation is very similar—the tech communities may thrive on their own but overall the state will see problems or never realize its potential.

So what is the solution? It's simple. It's one word: Synergy.

These silos need to work together to strengthen the foundations they are building throughout the state. Statewide initiatives involving cooperation among these regions need to be brought forward. Barriers and borders should be broken and these silos should come together to work in unity. Strong efforts can come from within these communities and organizations to reach out to others in the state to leverage their power and influence. Remember, while you may be part of Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids, or any other tech community, you are above all a part of the state of Michigan. We need to work together.

Incubating technology

While I saw a bit too much of this "hyper-local" mentality, one thing that I didn't see enough of was technology incubators. They are generally sponsored by the state, organizations, companies, or sometimes individuals, and give startups access to certain amenities such as office space, accounting or legal services, mentorship, and other valuable assets. They can be not-for-profit, leased, or in exchange for other forms of compensation such as equity. Regardless, WE NEED MORE OF THEM.

Yes, we need more technology incubators in the state. The benefits of these incubators are tremendous. They foster innovation, encourage entrepreneurship, provide guidance and other assets to entrepreneurs in need, create jobs, and overall help to build sustainable companies that will carry the Michigan economy into the future.

I believe this is something that organizations throughout the state are beginning to realize. I saw positive signs in such places as Ann Arbor and Detroit, and more recently in Troy.

Local governments and businesses should take notice of these incubators as a great way to foster economic development for their cities and the state. What could be of little consequence to them is of great value to a startup entrepreneur in getting a business off the ground.

Overall though, I think it's really about taking initiative. That's the one overarching lesson that I've learned. We can spend all day pointing out the problems, but we're only wasting our time if we don't do something about it.