The Genesis of the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium

Shannon Beeman
March 29, 2011

What Sparked the Formation of the MGCS?

Ian Bund, chairman of Plymouth Management Company and a long-standing pillar of Michigan’s venture capital community, offers intriguing insight into the genesis of the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS). He was introduced to the eventual founder of the MGCS, David J. Brophy, now Director and Professor of Finance at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, in 1977 by the state’s founding father of venture capital Ted Doan. Bund was working for Doan Associates at the time.

When I became a managing partner of our firm, one of the first things Ted did was give me a manuscript that David had done in 1974 about the potential for smaller companies in Michigan. It was a landmark manuscript; frankly, it didn’t get a lot of circulation, but at the time we were the only active venture capital firm in the state and it really struck me as an important piece of work. So I got to know David, and at about the same time I had been on the West Coast at a showcasing of small companies that was done by what is now the American Electronics Association. I spent a couple of days at that meeting, came back and described my experience to Ted Doan and David Brophy, and suggested to them that this could be done in Michigan. Dave was initially skeptical that there would be enough interested companies, so my assistant and I put together a compilation of one hundred companies around the state that were technology-based and would be indicative of what I could see were the shifts that were occurring in the Michigan economy. I provided that compilation to Dave; it was sort of a general proposal. He thought about it and decided to go ahead with it.

The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium became the central vehicle of transforming the University of Michigan’s entrepreneurial activities. Up to that point in time, entrepreneurism in the state was at best a second-class citizen. It was also a point in time when two other things were going on: the then-governor, Bill Milliken, had been using Ted Doan and myself to help him craft policies to get attention to small companies as the basis for diversifying the state. And, there was the formation of the High Technology Task Force, of which Ted Doan was the chairman. The then-president of the University of Michigan Harold Shapiro was involved, and Dave Brophy and I were two of four people providing the staff work for it.

At the first Symposium, Ted Doan gave a speech that basically said it would take 25 years to transform Michigan to an entrepreneurial environment, and he was right. It’s been very important to Ann Arbor, which has transformed tremendously. We now also see a very exciting level of activity in Grand Rapids, and we’re seeing other parts of the state that are beginning to get the idea that the old economy of auto domination is not going to return, and rather than looking back in our rear-view mirror, we should be looking forward to the transformation of the economy, addressing the opportunities and markets out there in the world. The Symposium was an extremely important vehicle in providing that annual showcase of the best and the brightest.