Brandon Marken is co-founder and CEO of Lean Rocket Lab, a tech incubator in Jackson, Michigan, that focuses on helping new founders with an idea for a manufacturing business or product go from 0 to 60. Lean Rocket Lab has a generous open-door policy to help new entrepreneurs with a business idea walk in with a business idea, whether it’s well-formed or early stage, and be given some guidance and mentorship and connection with professionals who can help them build into a successful business. Now Lean Rocket Lab is launching a new accelerator program in the advanced manufacturing space, to bring together more new businesses on the tech side of manufacturing with Jackson Michigan’s global hub of hundreds of manufacturing companies to help new manufactured products get out into the world.
Incubator programs are the newest way to get a business off the ground. They offer mentorship, free rent on office space, guidance through customer discovery or clinical trials and securing early funding. Who wouldn’t want that kind of help through fragile early stages of building a company? But incubators don’t all work the same. We’ve been pitched lately with everything from revenue sharing to rapid cycle business development processes and realized that there is a broadening landscape out there of what an incubator or accelerator really is.
A continuing problem in an emerging tech and startup hub like southeast Michigan is lagging funding, but many venture capital firms spread resources farther than regional focus and invest in ventures when they’re already producing revenue. That’s not when most ventures need the most help. Invest Detroit, or ID Ventures, is a venture capital team that provides investment to startup companies in the Detroit and greater Michigan region in the seed stage. We hear a lot at Cronicle Press that VCs often don’t like to restrict their investments too regionally, which further dilutes access to limited capital in the Great Lakes area, but ID Ventures focuses on Detroit and is the company behind the launch of successful Detroit startups Bloomscape, and northern Michigan’s Orbion, and Airspace Link.
Emily Heintz has been featured in Forbes Magazine, Axios, and VentureBeat. She was also named to Crain’s Detroit Business 40 Under 40 List. Heintz is the founder and managing director of EntryPoint, a research firm that specializes in conducting research and compiling reports on the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Michigan. Heintz founded EntryPoint several years ago, but previously worked to support the growth of the Michigan entrepreneurial community through the Michigan Venture Capital Association, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Ann Arbor SPARK. Why all this news coverage of her work? Heintz founded EntryPoint just as Michigan’s economy was undergoing major shifts toward more of an entrepreneurial economy.
“We recently closed on $17 million in funding, reinforcing our commitment to the wind industry,” says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs, a sustainable energy company in Ann Arbor that uses drones to inspect wind turbines. “We’ve doubled down our focus on the wind industry.”
Joe Affholter of Michigan State Unversity and Michelle Larkin at the University of Michigan have essentially the same job: get academic research in the life sciences from the laboratory where it is discovered in Michigan’s half dozen largest research universities out to industry. Sounds simple, but it’s anything but. That’s because the MEDC’s Life Sciences MTRAC program is tasked with licensing technology invented in the academic system, mentoring new founders who often did not start in industry, and with helping companies get funded through clinical trials and the push out to the commercial market, which can take years to complete.
Denise Graves is the University Relations Director for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. She coordinates funding for a number of startup funds around the state, and she works closely with universities to get inventions out into industry. We’ve known the MEDC was supporting revitalizing the Michigan economy for years, but recently we ran into Graves at a university entrepreneurial event and realized we only ever get a partial picture of how startups can connect with the MEDC for business support services, and how all of this really works. We wanted to know more, and thought you might as well. Graves and her colleague, Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the MEDC Fred Molnar, explained to Cronicle the process they go through to help support new ventures in Michigan.
MVCA’s Executive Director Ara Topouzian Balances Economic Development with Award-Winning “Side Hobby” in Armenian Music
We met him at the TechCity Jam early this fall. The local jam session for tech workers who have music careers or hobbies on the side included everything from pop songs to electronica to incredible traditional Armenian music. We wanted to know who was playing in this award-winning band that came seemingly out of nowhere to the stage and played a brilliant set that would be inadequate to just call foot-tapping. Ara Topouzian, pictured right above, plays the qanun (kanoon), an Armenian 80-string harp that goes back to the 5th century and is still played today. The music sounds traditional, and yet it’s still extremely catchy.
As of 2019, Detroit now has 4 unicorns–Duo, Stockx, Rivian, and OneStream–tech companies valued at more than 1 billion dollars. Detroit is home to a growing number of startups that are slowly revolutionizing the city’s economy and the economy of the Midwest, which is attracting back talent from the coasts due to balanced work-life culture, affordable cost of living, and growing tech-related industries. It’s still a work in progress, but Michigan appears to have finally stemmed the tide of talent leaving for jobs elsewhere.
Evan Adams is the Capital Programs Manager at Detroit’s Build Institute, a Detroit-based incubator founded in 2012 that has already graduated more than 1800 entrepreneurs focused on community-impact ventures. The Build Institute runs several programs to mentor, house, and fund entrepreneurs, including SOUP and Kiva, which Adams manages to help startups of all kinds pitch for funds and find mentorship in Detroit.