Providing support for innovative ideas

October 13, 2008
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Kim Bode, marketing director for the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative, originally intended to pursue a career in law enforcement, but after a semester in a criminal justice program, she switched her major, entering the general communications program at Grand Valley State University.

In hindsight, that was probably a lucky break for WMSTI.

Bode excelled in Grand Valley’s communications program. She did an internship with the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and another with a local church, developing a newsletter and other marketing materials for the congregation.

She graduated from GVSU with a B.A. degree in communications and a minor in public relations in 2003.

At that time, a GVSU administrator in the health sciences approached her about a new life sciences initiative the university was forming in partnership with The Right Place Inc., the Van Andel Institute, Grand Rapids Community College and the city of Grand Rapids. The goal of the new organization was to provide entrepreneurs, innovators and small businesses with the development tools, community assets and support they need to take their novel life science ideas and develop them into new products and businesses.

The administrator asked Bode if she’d be interested in applying for the marketing director position. Back then, WMSTI had an executive director in place, but no name, no brand and no real identity — just a general idea of what it was going to be.

Bode came on board six months after WMSTI was formed and helped develop a brand for it.

“We were initially designated the Grand Rapids SmartZone, but we didn’t want to limit our service just to Grand Rapids: We wanted to be able to support all the surrounding counties. So we changed it to the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative.”

Bode said she was attracted to WMSTI because of its entrepreneurial spirit and because it supports people who truly believe in a product or innovation that’s going to change somebody’s life. To her, the personal rewards come daily.

“By helping them develop a product from the ideation stage to its launch, by helping them prototype it, patent it and market it, you’re really making a difference. If you do your job well — which we do — then that entrepreneur and innovator can build a successful business that will affect people years down the line.”

As marketing director, Bode is responsible for all WMSTI’s internal and external marketing and communications activities and for developing strategic partnerships with leading health care institutions and service providers. She manages a client database of more than 60 life sciences companies, maintains the organization’s Web site, plans events, expos and conferences, and does fundraising to supplement WMSTI’s budget.

Bode also represents the organization on numerous boards and committees. 

In addition to her work with WMSTI, for three years Bode taught business marketing courses for the Small Business Technology & Development Center for this region, which is affiliated with the Seidman School of Business at GVSU. There, she assisted small businesses in developing marketing plans and finding ways to market their business on a shoestring budget.

On the side, Bode is owner and president of 834 Design, a consulting business she started in 2005 because, at that time, WMSTI wasn’t offering any marketing services. Through 834 Design, she educates small businesses — particularly those in the life sciences — on marketing and offers them affordable marketing services. Her clients include the MidMichigan Innovation Center and Axios Consulting.

“I love it so much, it doesn’t feel like work to me,” Bode. “I work with each client to identify their business’s strengths and weaknesses and figure out what message they need to get out to the community, and then I develop an overall marketing plan.

“We’ve started incorporating a lot of the things I’ve been doing with Design 834 into WMSTI, so now we’re able to offer that to clients and tenants.” 

About three years ago, several people who were not involved in the life sciences expressed interest in connecting with people in the life sciences. That led WMSTI to form the Connect2 membership program. Connect2 is now more than 120 members strong and has a membership renewal rate of nearly 100 percent. To Bode, that’s a “good gauge on how well we’re doing our job.”

Along the way, Bode has gained some recognition for her work at WMSTI: She was recognized by the Business Journal as one of the Top 40 Under 40 leaders in the community, and she was profiled in sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine as an influential woman.

Now approaching its fifth year anniversary, WMSTI has moved away from a focus on providing lab space for life sciences entrepreneurs and startups to focus more on the commercialization of products and services, bringing all the resources and insight that an entrepreneur or small business needs to transform an idea into a tangible product or service, Bode said.

She noted that a lot of manufacturers in the region have made or are making the transition into the medical and the life sciences industry through the development of medical devices. Medical device manufacturing has become a real strength in this community, she said.

Bode wants everyone to know that WMSTI is here to serve the community, and that it maintains an open door policy.

“If you have a question, walk in and ask me,” she encourages. 

As WMSTI continues to move ahead and evolve, it’s becoming more widely known throughout the community and surrounding areas, Bode said, and that brings the opportunity to work with even more entrepreneurs and innovators and even more interesting innovations that are out there.

Bode clearly loves her job. 

“The process of bringing ideas to the market and helping entrepreneurs and innovators find funding, build their connections and commercialize their discovery is exciting,” Bode remarked.

“I don’t think it can get any more exciting than that.”

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