MI-SBTDC keeping efforts in the forefront

February 22, 2010
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In a time when Michigan is generally not viewed as a leader, the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center has multiple initiatives that have seen growth, and it has even started to mentor organizations from other states.

“In 2002, we received this (technology) designation, and with that comes responsibilities,” said Carol Lopucki, state director with the MI-SBTDC. “We leaned to North Carolina for our learning curve, and now people are very much leaning to North Carolina and us.”

Out of 63 SBDCs in the U.S., only seven have the technology designation. Michigan was the first to gain that accreditation through America’s Small Business Development Center and received training from the North Carolina SBDC.

“Our capital formation that we’ve done for technology companies is up almost 17 percent from last year. We are growing tech companies. I’m getting a lot of states asking us for guidance,” she said. “So we finally decided to run a little boot camp and pick the six states that were definitely getting into it and carry them through a plan on how to grow technology-based companies.”

In January, the MI-SBTDC held a seminar to train 13 representatives from six states on how to develop strong commercialization programs. The states involved were California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana and Minnesota.

The MI-SBTDC has garnered national attention because of programs like Growth Group, a team of specialists that guide companies through growth with analysis and recommendations. The most popular program has been FastTrac, which was recently awarded $75,000 from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The grant will provide 10 FastTrac programs to Grand Rapids for 2010.

The FastTrac NewVenture program was created out of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that encourages entrepreneurialism. Michigan is a pioneer in the program as it has made it a statewide initiative. In 2010, the MI-SBTDC estimates the program will create 30 small businesses with an economic impact of $2.25 million, $3 million in revenue and 50 people employed.

In the Grand Rapids region, the MI-SBTDC expects to train 100 entrepreneurs; statewide the program estimates seeing 1,000. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. has awarded $200,000 to the state — excluding Grand Rapids and Detroit, which have independent funding — to help keep the FastTrac program going strong.

“We’ve got a lot of people out there that are saying, ‘I’ve always thought about starting a business. Sometimes in these difficult times, it makes people take that jump,” said Lopucki. “We put 527 people through FastTrac last year statewide. The goal the governor announced is to put 1,000 through in this upcoming year.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently got behind the FastTrac program and has started conducting roundtables across the state. She is expected to hold one in Grand Rapids in the next few weeks.

The Michigan Strategic Fund Board passed $1.4 million to the Michigan Emerging Technology Fund, which will be managed by the MI-SBTDC and the MEDC. The fund provides commercialization funds that match a percentage of SBIR/STTR awards for Michigan-based technology companies.

To cap it all off, the sixth annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business event takes place April 29 at the Lansing Center.

“It’s all about second stage companies,” said Lopucki. “We started this six years ago when things were just humming along, and here we are now at a time when everyone’s in the doldrums and we still have wonderful companies that are bubbling up all over the state.”

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