MI-SBDC Tech Team Responds to New Challenges in Michigan’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Shannon Beeman
May 1, 2014

An organizational name change and a new logo and website have strengthened the Michigan Small Business Development Center’s brand identity and ties to the network of 63 Small Business Development Centers nationwide that provide assistance to emerging and established businesses. However, the role of what was formerly the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center has not changed at all.

“We are still extremely focused on technology support and look forward to working, as we have for many years, with the presenting companies at the upcoming Michigan Growth Capital Symposium to help them refine their investor pitches,” says Alain Piette, manager of the Technology Team. In addition to coaching companies, the MI-SBDC Tech Team administers the state’s Emerging Technologies Fund and Business Accelerator Fund. Over the past 12 years, the MI-SBDC has provided 52,846 hours of business-development assistance to 1,967 technology companies and entrepreneurs statewide and assisted them in raising more than $400 million. It also works closely with university tech-transfer offices and partners with SmartZones and business incubators.

From a statewide perspective, Piette reports there is a promising updraft these days in Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “What is impressive is that we are seeing very strong information-technology activities in downtown Detroit and rapid growth in the IT sector in the greater Grand Rapids area,” he observes. “The two biggest focal points for IT applications are health care and social media.”

Michigan also is experiencing a resurgence of early-stage companies focused on advanced engineering and materials, particularly in the automotive space. “We are seeing companies working to develop more-efficient engine designs and products that make engines run more efficiently to meet new EPA mileage guidelines,” Piette explains. “Entrepreneurs also are working on advanced materials to make vehicles lighter without sacrificing strength.”

The state’s steady recovery from the depths of the 2008 recession has created a new set of challenges for entrepreneurs launching new ventures. “The entrepreneurial community is struggling to attract engineering talent because of the resurgence of the automotive sector,” Piette reports.

Another critical problem confronting the state is the dearth of capital available to finance seed and early-stage companies. “Venture capitalists and angel investors have moved to a more conservative position and have very little interest in funding product or IT development at an emerging company,” Piette says. “They only want to invest money to scale up a business. As a result, many entrepreneurs are struggling to pay the bills.”