Taking the FastTrac to new state business

July 6, 2009
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The FastTrac NewVenture program is nothing new. It was developed 15 years ago in Kansas City by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit centered around entrepreneurship. It has been in Michigan for the last seven years.

What is new, however, is Michigan’s effort to expand the FastTrac program throughout the state.

“This is probably the earliest state that embraced the idea that starting a company and entrepreneurship is making a job or jobs. It sounds pretty obvious to us, but believe me, it’s not,” said Monica Doss, the Kauffman Foundation’s director of the FastTrac program.

“Michigan being such a large state and the SBTDC (Small Business & Technology Development Center) being so well organized, they’ve been able to push this out. Other states we are in are benefiting from that, because we’re pointing to Michigan and saying, ‘That’s how they’re doing it there.’”

FastTrac NewVenture is an eight-week intensive program that walks people through creating a business plan, provides education on available resources and how to utilize assets and, in general, helps them start their new businesses. The program is run through the Michigan SBTDC.

“In each class, they are developing a piece of that plan or business and getting it vetted by their peers and the experts in that class, so when they come out, they’re really ready to go,” said Doss.

“They’re actually working on their business. They’re not going to a class and learning about it and when they’re done, they’re going to get started.”

Since the economic downturn, Michigan has begun using the program to benefit the unemployed, said Doss.

“There are not any other states that have a really full and robust statewide delivery of FastTrac,” said Doss. “This idea of using it with displaced workers is a place where the Michigan SBTDC is really the cutting edge of recognizing how to use that. They’ve really laid a lot of groundwork there.”

Due to demand, the program will expand from five sessions last year to 25 this year. The MI-SBTDC has found that displaced workers are starting new businesses in a much shorter period of time than typical entrepreneurs. A typical FastTrac member now starts a business within months of going through the program, as opposed to a couple of years previously.

“I think a lot of people are more ready in this recession than they ever have been,” said Doss. “We have seen throughout the whole country a really high caliber of employees looking at entrepreneurship. People have been thinking about this. A lot of them have already done their market research. … They’ve been doing this along the way just out of their own personal interest.”

The MI-SBTDC has noted that many of the newer FastTrac students have come from management positions from large companies. One, for instance, was formerly a senior global analyst for GM. These types of students often have startup capital in the form of severance packages, are seasoned in business, and — maybe most importantly — already have networks in place from their previous employment.

“People who come out of companies — they have excellent networks already. If they’ve been in a career for a while, they don’t need to start from the beginning to make that network,” said Doss. “It’s incredibly important.”

Doss said having a strong network is helpful from a variety of standpoints. From getting advice to identifying investors, networks are touted as a highly valued asset.

“Michigan is such a diverse state. This will truly be a laboratory for us as we look at FastTrac. The Michigan SBTDC keeps such excellent data that we’re really going to look here as a place to learn how FastTrac impacts entrepreneurs, communities (and) larger economies.”

The statewide initiative is funded through Michigan Works. New Economy Initiative funds the effort in Detroit. Cost for the program is $700 per participant; scholarships are available. For more information, see www.misbtdc.net

Also speaking at a June 17 press conference outlining the expansion of the FastTrac NewVenture program were Greg Main, chief executive officer, Michigan Economic Development Corp.; Thomas J. Haas, president, Grand Valley State University; and Carol Lopucki, state director, Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center.

Notable FastTrac stats:

  • In Michigan, 124 participants have completed the program; MI-SBTDC expects to train 775 in 2009.

  • Of the 124, 17 participants have already launched a business, 63 are planning to launch, 39 have grown existing businesses, and five found employment or are pursuing employment.

  • It’s estimated that 30 percent of participants will start a small business. (Doss believes Michigan will see a higher percentage in 2009.)

  • The new businesses are in a variety of industries including human resource consulting, computer repair service, design engineer services, retail stores and more.

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