Starting up a start-up helper

March 26, 2010
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West Michigan’s entrepreneurs are hearing a new song from an old friend, as former West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative executive director Linda Chamberlain takes the helm of the new Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business.

GVSU President Thomas J. Haas said the CEI has a mission that is both academic and supportive of people creating start-ups in West Michigan.

Chamberlain said she views the newly established CEI as a start-up itself, with its business and strategic plan and list of resources to tap as it turns its mission into reality.

“I truly believe, like any good start-up business, it will have to respond to customers and markets and funding and all sorts of environmental factors,” Chamberlain said.

Among the “elements of entrepreneurship” Chamberlain said she is planning for the CEI: good talent — with a special outreach to GVSU student entrepreneurs — as well as education, mentoring, coaching, help in defining the value proposition, markets and customers bases, creating business plans and identifying capital.

“One of the first efforts the center will be making is to synchronize current resources that are available. As an entrepreneur, it can be difficult to recognize which one might be right for you,” Chamberlain said.

CEI also is working with an entrepreneur-in-residence and plans to seek grants to support its mission, she added.

With a Ph.D. in chemistry from Purdue University, Chamberlain, 49, has worked in research and product development both with large companies and with start-ups. She owns a consultancy in product development and commercialization called InnoValuation LLC. She became executive director of WMSTI in 2007.

“WMSTI was chartered specifically for life sciences,” she said. “We loved that sort of inch-wide, mile-deep, versus mile-wide and inch-deep; it also was somewhat limiting to the customer base we’d see on a regular basis.

“I look at the center as being able to expand capabilities and capacities for WMSTI, as well as develop more skills in the region on the education side and the talent and mentoring side for venture-backed businesses. I see it as enormously complementary.”

Chamberlain said she thinks CEI will complement the services available through the GVSU-housed Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, which provides small business counseling and training across the state as a partner program of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“I’ve been a passionate student, doer and follower of product development practice and commercialization,” Chamberlain said. “I love this opportunity because I believe it plays to my strengths. It plays to my own sense of interest in new technology and new businesses and new products. It plays to my strength of 20-plus years of product development expertise. It plays to strengths of connections that we have across the state for entrepreneurship.

“I love that part of this role is to work with people in this community who are interested in pulling together to help create the new — and also to take some risk.”

The CEI also will have an advisory board.

At WMSTI, Venture Center Director Rich Cook has been named interim executive director.

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