Lansing’s Entrepreneurial Revival
As a student entrepreneur at Michigan State University, I am pleasantly overwhelmed by the amount of resources available in the Lansing region for me to develop my innovative ideas. There are four main components to a successful entrepreneurial campus city: ample access to mentors, informal/formal networks of like-minded students, events to promote ideas (specifically with money attached!) and business incubator space. Lansing is receiving an A on all of these.
I am so frustrated with the comments on this blog that make blanket negative claims that there are little opportunities here in Michigan. Many people have this perception of Michigan and even more specifically of Lansing, that is clogged with a generic negativity. I will even admit that before I plugged myself into this whole vibrant and innovative scene, I thought only “losers” who couldn’t find a job in Chicago or elsewhere, stayed here. Now, I know I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Both young and old students, professionals and entrepreneurs here in Lansing work endlessly to create green cities, collaborative co-working spaces and a vibrant nightlife. So, before you even start with “there’s no opportunities nor a fun nightlife in Lansing (or Michigan),” come hang out with me and my friends for a day, we’ll change your mind.
One of the most basic components for a successful entrepreneur is to have a network to share and develop ideas with. At 6 PM, every Friday for the past year, a group of 5-20 active, passionate students have met at a local bar, Harpers, to discuss their business ideas, or student organization initiatives, or their mentors, or their needs for these future plans. The group is called Gumball Club, but don’t ask why, the first rule of Gumball Club is: you do not talk about Gumball Club. The individuals come from across all disciplines, ranging from computer programmers to public policy students with businesses from a social media consulting company to a bartending school and are frequently collaborating on different projects. The atmosphere of these conversations is casual but zinging with intensity and excitement.
A second component is an extensive mentor network. The internship coordinator at MSU, Paul Jaques, has created a mentorship program for entrepreneurs at MSU. The mentors range from successful software company owners to environmental activists. The mentors provide advice to us young adults to guide us through the confusing business development process and place us in contact with an even greater network of entrepreneurial individuals. Getting plugged into this network is critical for students to realize how many impressive people and ample resources there are in Lansing for them to make all their big plans happen.
Third, idea contests (with money!) are all over the place. One that I’ve worked on is the Next Bright Idea contest, put on by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. The ten finalists will make a 3 minute idea pitch and based on creativity, authenticity and presentation style, the five judges will select a winner. The winner receives $5,000 dollars and a slew of other resources. Another cool concept, is Eve of Ignition, a student spin-off of the world re-known Ignite. While student pitches do not follow the typical O’Reilly format, they have five minutes to convince the judges that they should win the prize money to develop it! The winner from the event on March 3rd, will have a chance to present at Ignite Lansing on March 5th. In Lansing here it can be so easy for active students, who are ready to take a chance, to get funding for their awesome ideas.
Fourth, cheap (but cool!) co-working business space is on its way for students. Students will now have a formal hub for all their efforts in The Hatch. Students will pay approximately $75/month and receive office space, mailing address, access to printer/fax and conference rooms, as well as a slew of networking events and other resources, like business plan help and financial, legal and technical services.
I understand all of these things don’t spell PERFECTION for everyone. I also understand, many students do not even know about all these great resources. Increasing visibility of all these is necessary for a true and lasting perception change. However, before individuals start making the monotonous claim that there’s little prospect in Michigan, I hope they take the time to become informed on what is really out there for them. My life is booming with innovative ideas, entrepreneurial resources, incredible mentors and impressive friends in Lansing; yours could be too.
Kelly Steffen is a senior at Michigan State University, majoring in International Relations and Economics. She has recently formed her own company called Spotlight Campus Consulting, LLC, which works to connect economic developers, community organizers, businesses and media groups to Gen Y in the Lansing region.
This is Kelly’s second guest essay on Generation Y Michigan. You can read her first essay here.
- The Great Job Myth (December 22, 2009)
- A Convergence of Higher Education and Quality of Life (May 17, 2010)
- Rethinking ‘Talent Retention’ (December 7, 2009)
- The New Age of Education: We Need It (January 25, 2010)
- What Gen-Y (Really) Wants (December 3, 2009)