Brian Ryckbost

Entrepreneurship in West Michigan

Update: This was originally posted on July 29, 2009. I’m reposting it here in response to a recent MLive article, Creating community support for tech companies


I like this quote from the article:

“I think there is a little bit more visibility now than there was 10 years ago — but that’s still relatively small,” Erickson said. “I think there’s actually more interesting technology going on in West Michigan than people are aware of.”

Erickson feels that all these organizations — and others in West Michigan — contribute to “raising the visibility and viability” of technology companies in West Michigan.

Which brings us into examining what it takes to contribute to the viability of tech companies.

Do West Michigan Have What it Takes?

Paul Graham has a great essay on what he thinks it takes for a city to be a Silicon Valley.

Check out the article, it’s a great read and well worth your time.

Here’s a quick overview:

  • rich people and nerds
  • not buildings
    • So if you want to reproduce Silicon Valley, what you need to reproduce is those two or three founders sitting around a kitchen table deciding to start a company. And to reproduce that you need those people.
  • universities
  • personality
  • nerds
  • youth
    • liberal cities tolerate odd ideas, and smart people by definition have odd ideas.
  • time
    • startups beget startups… you need time to grow a silicon valley
  • competing
    • how do you compete with the real Silicon Valley?

Is there anything else to consider besides Paul’s points? How about a general infrastructure that supports businesses in the startup phase? In the TechCrunch50 video, The Role of the Angel Investor, Ron Conway says that Silicon Valley has the infrastructure and depth to support these startups (skip to 46:00-48:00):

  • hi-tech accountants
  • hi-tech lawyers
  • hi-tech PR firms
  • hi-tech ad agencies
  • conferences, events

With the above infrastructure in mind, how does West Michigan compare?

Cultivating the Climate

In a study of the entrepreneurship climate in West Michigan, the Seidman College of Business concludes that “West Michigan has a shortage of venture capital sources and the current business climate does not promote venture capital investment.” Furthermore, “Most respondents feel that the business climate in the West Michigan area is not supportive of the entrepreneurial companies and does not foster the growth of such companies.” Quite a dreary outlook, right?

It’s no surprise that action needs to be taken to make some progress. H. James Williams, Dean of the Seidman College of Business, acknowledges this when he writes, “What we need is a coordinated strategy for mobilizing the resources we do have to achieve maximum impact, along with a plan for enhancing our capacities, over time, to promote and support entrepreneurship.” That’s a helluva lotta business speak pal… let’s turn that into ordinary English. We need to be doing more to promote and support entrepreneurship.

So, my question to you is, what are you doing to promote and support entrepreneurship in West Michigan? Are you actually doing anything, or just talking about doing something?

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