David Brophy, MGCS Founder, Reflects on 31 Years

Shannon Beeman
March 13, 2012

As the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS) prepares to welcome hundreds of investors and start-up companies to its 2012 event, the forum’s breadth and purpose remain as strong and relevant today as it did when MGCS Founder David Brophy launched the annual event nearly 31 years ago. “When we started with the symposium, it was virtually impossible in the state of Michigan to raise money for an entrepreneurial venture. This has been the central source of inspiration and education for the whole process over the years,” said Brophy, professor of finance at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. “The best thing about it, to my mind, is that it has sustained itself year after year – good years, bad years, recessions, boom periods, whatever.”

Next year’s MGCS will be held May 15-16 and is expected to attract angel, seed and growth stage investors from across the country, along with executives of early stage and emerging growth companies. The event will feature keynote addresses by industry leaders, forty-two Midwestcompanies seeking funding, panel presentations on issues impacting investors and entrepreneurs, and two days of high level networking. The MGCS is presented by the University of Michigan Zell Lurie Institute and the Michigan Venture Capital Association.

“The symposium represents the many people and organizations that work tirelessly to prove to the world that Michigan has what it takes — the research, the investment power and the talented entrepreneurs, among other things — to develop into an innovation hub that could hold its own with the likes of the Silicon Valley andBoston,” said Brophy.

Other parts of the country are emulating the MGCS, which attracts the best investors and highest quality companies. Brophy feels the symposium has contributed toMichigan’s vibrant, healthy VC community and resulted in increased entrepreneurial activity. “Michiganis experiencing a significant growth in available venture capital and a dramatic change in culture tied to the realization that innovative new and growing companies spawned in our own backyard hold the key to our economic future,” he said.

Over the past decade, more than 300 companies have presented at the MGCS. Approximately 70 percent of these companies have raised capital totaling more than $1.7 billion. Nearly a quarter of the presenting companies have been university-based spinoffs, emerging from the research departments of leading universities inMichiganand across theMidwest. “The thing that heartens me is to see the young people moving toward entrepreneurial activity,” Brophy said. “That spirit and that willingness to work and get involved is very valuable. Just in the work I do at the university, we’ve done ninety projects in the last six years and there are student teams involved in all of those. They are people who now will consider joining a start-up or building a start-up — things that they perhaps never thought of before. We don’t know what the industry that will deliverMichiganis going to be over the next five or ten years, but it’s all out there somewhere and we’ve got to invent it and find it.

University of Michigan Impacting State’s Entrepreneurial Environment

The annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS) is the place where investors and emerging companies can receive everything they need to grow and strengthen the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Thomas C. Kinnear, Ph.D., executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, describes the MGCS as the largest and most established gathering of funders and companies looking for funders. “It created a market where they can meet, where pitches can be made, and where serious people with serious money can evaluate what’s happening. That doesn’t go on anywhere else in the state at that scale.”

Dr. Kinnear says bringing all the parties together in one place is quite powerful and results in the creation of real funding for real companies. Normally, it can take several meetings in many locations to achieve this type of success. So each year, the highly-anticipated MGCS generates a lot of excitement among VCs and entrepreneurs. “It’s the one event of the year that everybody comes to and everybody looks forward to, because they know it is where they will actually see great deals,” he said. “The companies that want money will get to talk to more funders in one place than they can find anywhere else.”

The ability to have a positive impact on the state’s entrepreneurial environment is a major reason why Zell Lurie Institute continues to put resources into the MGCS each year.  It also uses the symposium as an educational tool. “We think that one of our roles beyond the classic teaching of students is to be a stimulator, a catalyst in the entire entrepreneurial community in the state and beyond,” said Dr. Kinnear. “To us, this is extremely important for stimulating the entrepreneurial environment around here, which then feeds back into our programs.”

Dr. Kinnear has the unique ability to look at the MGCS from a variety of perspectives. In addition to leading the Zell Lurie Institute, he is on the investment committee of Arboretum Ventures and serves as chairman of the board for the Venture Michigan Fund. All are collaborators with the MGCS. He says the forum offers Arboretum Ventures, an early-stage VC firm, a chance to network with potential funding partners and interact with a broad spectrum of companies looking for investors. The Venture Michigan Fund, which invests in other venture funds, is able to work in partnership with the MGCS as it attempts to increase the amount of available investment capital and the number of venture funds in the state.