Economic Development and Small Business & Startups

Entrepreneurs need to unite, speakers say

October 9, 2012
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Entrepreneurs past, present and future are the backbone of West Michigan’s story.

That was the message Doug DeVos told about 700 West Michigan entrepreneurs and business leaders at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids luncheon Monday at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids.

DeVos, president of Amway, stressed the need for teamwork among businesses, saying true business is not about money, but people and the community’s quality of life.

“The future of our community is going to be built on your story,” he said. “We have the opportunity to tell the story and to keep it alive -- and to add to the story with your story and to make it better.”

Michael Jandernoa, former chairman and CEO of Perrigo Co., and Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place, also spoke.

Jandernoa, a founder of Grand Angels, emphasized mentoring and strategic advice. He noted how many of those listening were once mentored by others and encouraged them to be as generous with their time and counsel as others had been with them.

Klohs spoke of the need for venture capital housed in Michigan. Ventures such as Start Garden and the Michigan Accelerator Fund are important for getting ideas off the ground, she said, but more is still needed to help those ideas mature to the next level of productivity.

“When you look at the funding cycle for the early age (of a business), you eventually come to a spot where you are going to have jump from that seed stage to venture funds and eventually an exit,” Klohs said. “We still don’t have enough of that funding available in our community that we can then leverage to continue growing these companies.”

Regarding innovation research grants, Klohs said, “we are woefully behind in getting people to apply for those grants.” In 2011, West Michigan received about $700,000 in innovation research grants, she said, while other communities did much better.

“We got $700,000 and Ann Arbor got over $50 million. Now remember, that’s an unfair comparison, because they have the University of Michigan. . . . but for a region our size, we should still be getting several million dollars,” she said. “We have over 33 entrepreneur organizations in the area, and we all need to do a better job of identifying entrepreneurs who can apply for those.”

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