small business

Univ. of Mich. / YouTube

What do you get when you put dozens of college students in the basement of a parking garage with some office furniture, a WiFi connection and free coffee?

Well, it turns out you’ll end up with some pretty innovative ideas - as long as those students all happen to have diverse interests and a passion for entrepreneurship.

That’s the idea behind TechArb, a University of Michigan program that aims to provide student entrepreneurs with the mentoring, workspace and, in a few cases, funding needed to start their own businesses.

George Ruiz / Flickr

Ann Arbor’s Parthenon Restaurant closed last week after almost 40 years at the corner of Main and Liberty. 

For me, it marked more than the passing of a favorite spot, but the end of a time-honored ritual for the guys. 

We filed in, and walked to our favorite table in the back.

A little warmer, and we’d sit outside, but it was still March, so whatya gonna do?

The owners and waiters nodded. They’ve seen us more than a hundred times.

Jonathan Alexander / Facebook

Members of Generation Y---those Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s who are currently in college or cutting their teeth in the working world---have received their share of scrutiny in recent years. But where their parents might be discussed in terms of day-glo paint and ideological revolution, Gen Y-ers tends to garner attention for their inseparable relationship with technology and their bad timing, starting their adult lives in America's worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

Going Nowhere?

Last month, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece co-written by economist Todd Buchholz and his daughter Victoria, a student at Cambridge University. It bore the headline “The Go-Nowhere Generation” and in it the Buchholzs argued that unlike previous generations, Generation Y has "become risk-averse and sedentary," unwilling to leave home in search of "sunnier economic climes."

More and more people have been attending an annual event that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into realities.

It’s called The Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship and it happens Tuesday, January 31. It’s hosted by the economic development organization Ann Arbor Spark.

Skip Simms is Ann Arbor Spark’s senior vice president. He says the event helps people with small operations engage in some good old fashioned networking, which can help them grow their businesses. Simms says in a few years’ time, these small start-ups could grow into the next DOW, Kellogg, or GM, and hire thousands of employees in Michigan.

About 1,000 people went last year and the space outgrew its original location at Washtenaw Community College. It now takes place at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor. Tickets are $20 at the door.

DETROIT (AP) - A Veterans Affairs conference this summer in Detroit is expected to bring $3 million of spending to the area.

The National Veterans Small Business Conference will be held June 25-29 at Cobo Center. Organizers say more than 6,000 veterans, business owners and federal employees are expected to attend.

Nearly 5,000 people attended the conference last year in New Orleans.

Mayor Dave Bing and Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John Gingrich announced the conference  Wednesday. Gingrich says the conference and a hiring fair "will provide veterans with on-the-spot job opportunities and interviews" in the public and private sectors.

A partnership of federal agencies and private industry attracted more than 4,100 veterans and resulted in over 2,600 on-the-spot interviews and more than 500 tentative job offers earlier this month in Washington D.C.

Many people view Michigan as ground zero when it comes to job loss and unemployment. Yet despite the tough economy, some people are quitting their jobs in an effort to pursue their creative passions, which are often unpaid. 

From fast food to felt toys

screen grab

Beginning this month, law students at the University of Michgian will be able to sign up for a new Entrepreneurship Clinic. The clinic will focus on helping students do things like set up businesses, and protect intellectual property.

Law School Professor Dana Thompson will run the Entrepreneurship Clinic.

She said it makes sense to help the growing number of entrepreneurs at the university with their legal issues, such as employment law issues, developing contracts for their businesses, leases, and financing.

Thompson said the clinic will give law students a great opportunity to connect with business, engineering or other students, "and begin to make those connections with future clients or colleagues, and to do it while you're in school and everybody's kind of in that learning stage is a great opportunity for them."

Ten students will be part of the clinic's inaugural class, but the plan is to more than double the capacity.

The program attracted more than five times the number of applicants as there were spots available. Thompson says the interest reflects the fact that the employment landscape is changing, with a shift toward entrepreneurship.

Democrats in Lansing have outlined a package to help small businesses grow and hire unemployed people.

The plan includes taking a portion of the money that’s in a state trust fund and investing it in local banks and credit unions to make small business loans.

State Representative Vicki Barnett said that will help small businesses having trouble getting credit from larger banks and investment funds.

“We know that a very teeny investment can have huge dividends in terms of job creation and access to capital,” said Barnett.

“There is no other state that I know of that is taking this approach to aggressive investment – doing things they already do with taxpayer money and targeting it to grow jobs in their own state,”she added. 

The Democratic package would also allow small banks and credit unions to pool their finances to invest in larger projects.

Barnett says that would make larger loans possible while allowing the institutions to share the risk.

The plan also calls for a tax credit for small businesses that hire long-term unemployed people and veterans.

Republicans shy away from job creation credits. They say the state should not single out specific businesses for tax breaks.

Lucy Bland

Business incubators are a trumpeted, but yet unproven way to give entrepreneurs and their projects a higher chance of success.  Foundations and governments are lining up dollars to support incubators in their communities.

Some of the larger incubators around the region were profiled by Niala Boodhoo earlier this week. But there are also more grassroots efforts springing up, incubators that seem themselves to be small enough to be supported.

Marcy Kates lives and works in Holt, Michigan. Two months ago she left her job as a program officer for the state’s AmeriCorps program and opened IncuBake, an incubator kitchen and commercial kitchen space. Kates used her savings and her credit cards to open the kitchen, inspired by being unable to find low-cost commercial space for her own catering.

“I started this project to be a job creator, " said Kates.

Even so, she intentionally stayed away from a nonprofit model, wanting more flexibility and not really wanting to fundraise. That meant using her savings and her credit card to start the business, which is now about 15 percent full but, Kates says, growing steadily.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before...

"We genuinely believe small business is the backbone of America, it’s going to the key for us to be able to put a lot of folks back to work."

That’s President Obama earlier this year.

Warm feelings about small business come at all levels, and on both sides of the aisle.

Here’s Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Synder this summer:

"Talk about the jobs you’re creating, even if it’s one job – that is the backbone of the reinvention of Michigan."

Or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week at the SmallBizExpo:

"Nothing is more important to our econonmic expansion than the small business of Chicago and the small business of tomorrow that will be in Chicago."

It’s more than just political talk.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers are renewing a push to require more businesses selling items over the Internet to collect the state's 6 percent sales tax.

Legislation dealing with the issue was detailed Tuesday at the state Capitol.

The Michigan Retailers Association says some out-of-state, online-only retailers use legal loopholes that allow them to avoid collecting state sales tax at the point of sale. The retailers association says that gives the online retailers an unfair price advantage and hurts Michigan businesses that have storefronts and collect the sales tax.

Bills to be introduced by Republican Rep. Eileen Kowall of Oakland County's White Lake Township and Democratic Rep. Jim Ananich of Flint would move online-only retailers under the same sales tax collection laws under which brick-and-mortar businesses operate.

Maureen Reilly / Flickr

The number of women running farms in Michigan is growing, according to a report in today's Lansing State Journal:

The number of Michigan farm acres managed by female principal operators has more than doubled in 30 years, from 252,980 acres in 1978 to 552,075 acres in 2007, the most recent date available from the United States Department of Agriculture's Michigan Field Office.

courtesy of Jeremy Peters

As the election season begins, it almost seems politicians are obligated to tout small business as one way to stave off further economic collapse and bring back the American Dream for all of those whom it has left behind.

Small business overall does have a tremendous economic footprint in this country, employing half of all private sector employees, by government estimates. But small business is also a really big umbrella. The United States Small Business Association includes any firm with less than 500 employees a small business. It’s easy to see how a business with 500 employees could be critical to a town.

Then there are people like Laura Cowan. She hopes to be a small business owner, but she’s not there yet. Cowan runs a green, affordable parenting blog out of her home, and patches together paying work while she balances full-time care of her young daughter. She is what has been called a “micro-preneur.” These are people who run very small businesses, typically with only one, or at most a handful, of employees.

In developing countries, micro-enterprise has received great attention for helping move some people, especially women, out of abject poverty. In this country, that strategy has been tried, but has worked less well. One reason is because starting a small business is very high risk, and pretty low-reward. There are people who begin these types of businesses because they have no other way to support themselves, but there are also a lot of people looking to make a change in their lives and thinking starting a business might be a good idea.

It is less certain what the effects of micro-enterprises are on the economy in this country. They haven’t been studied anywhere near as much as small businesses. It’s not clear how often micro-enterprises turn into flourishing small businesses, how often they stay small, and how often they fail.

Here are portraits of three different Micro-entrepreneurs in Michigan:

Russ Climie / Tiberius Images

UPDATE 4:30 p.m.

One hundred thirty million will be available to Michigan businesses as part of a new grant program. The money is the first of the Small Business Association’s Impact Investment Initiative. The goal is to help grow and create jobs through public-private partnerships. The InvestMichigan! fund is a partnership between the SBA, Dow Chemical Company and state funds.

Karen Mills is with the SBA. She says Michigan was the perfect place to start the program.

“Michigan has great assets. It has one of the highest engineers per capita for any state. It has a well-trained workforce, it has great universities and it has extraordinary entrepreneurs,” Mills said.

The program will distribute 1-point-5-billion-dollars to businesses nationwide throughout the next five years.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

ORIGINAL POST: 12:21 p.m.

Details on a public-private grant program aimed at helping small to medium sized businesses in Michigan will be announced during a press call at 1 p.m. today.

Governor Snyder will discuss the new program along with Karen Mills of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical Company, State Treasurer Andy Dillon, and Kelly Williams of Credit Suisse's Customized Fund Investment Group.

Andrew Dodson of Booth Mid-Michigan reports that Dow Chemical's investment in the program is expected to facilitate investment from the federal and state government:

According to a source close to the information, the program's impact will be "quite substantial." Dow Chemical is expected to provide funds and help facilitate bringing federal and state funds to bear upon local markets."It's meant for businesses who need financing, but can't get loans or financing right now," the source said.InvestMichigan! is a group with a series of funds focused on growing the next generation of Michigan companies, according to its website, and is one of the partners involved in today's announcement. It's federal counterpart, ImpactAmerica, is also involved.

Amelia Carpenter in the Michigan Radio Newsroom will be on the call and will have more for us later.

State and federal officials are expected to announce that Michigan will be the first place eligible for loans to small businesses investing in clean energy or located in economically distressed areas.

U.S. Small Business Administration head Karen Mills, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Dow Chemical Co. chief Andrew Liveris and others are scheduled to announce the impact investment program in a Tuesday afternoon conference call.

The initiative will work with private institutional investors to help identify and provide money to private equity fund managers who invest in targeted companies. Federal funds also will be offered to small businesses that get a share of the private investments.

The program is part of President Barack Obama's Start-Up American initiative aimed at spurring high-growth entrepreneurship and the creation of more jobs.

Submitted by Amber Turner

Family bonding can be a reward for working in a family business. But there is also plenty Amber Turner worries about.

The restaurant industry took a beating in the economic downturn. Although some Wall Street analysts expect restaurants to pick up soon, a lagging restaurant industry makes Turner more than a little nervous. In her family, any trouble is multiplied.

Dani Davis

A unique business accelerator opens today in Detroit. 

A lot of business accelerators, generally speaking, focus on internet startups and biotech companies. But with the new Creative Ventures Acceleration Program in Detroit, the spotlight is on creative industries:

"The industrial design world, the interior design world, fashion design, music production, video production and architecture."

user penywise / morgueFile

Several Detroit non-profits want to help potential small business owners get some much needed capital.

They’ve launched a microlending website called Kiva Detroit, an extension of the California-based Kiva.org. Small business owners post their idea online and anyone can give a loan for as little as $25. The site went live this Wednesday.

Photo by Dustin Dwyer

Today we continue our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer took a road trip around the Lower Peninsula to bring us stories about fish. Yesterday we heard about the Petersens. They’re one of the few remaining non-tribal commercial fishing families in the state.

Today Dustin tells the story of the Fish Mongers Wife:


It's a grey day at the Muskegon Farmer's Market, but Amber Mae Petersen is selling the heck out of some fresh Michigan whitefish.

“We're based here in Muskegon, my husband's family has been commercial fishing here for 75 years. So we sell what we catch.”

The vacuum-sealed bags of whitefish filets, and packages of smoked whitefish are disappearing quickly. Petersen's husband Eric stands next to her, packing the fish in ice and wrapping it in old copies of The Muskegon Chronicle.

“It's the only way to do it.”

Feeling the bounce from the Oprah Winfrey Show

May 23, 2011
Alan Light / Flickr

This week marks the last we’ll be seeing of new broadcasts of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

I’m someone who basically has grown up with the show (to be exact, the nationally syndicated show has run for 25 years).

It’s spawned the empire of all things Oprah – including her magazine and now her own cable network.

Over the years, Oprah’s singled out many products for her Favorite Things list.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan legislature and Governor Rick Snyder are considering a new tax structure for the state.  It would cut the state budget and shift some of the tax burden from businesses to individuals.  The Governor has said up to two-thirds of Michigan’s businesses might not have to file a state tax return at all.  Reporters Lester Graham and Bridget Bodnar with Michigan Watch learned that means some legislators who own businesses could be voting to cut their own taxes.

mconnors / Morgue File

Michigan businesses may have more trouble accessing credit to grow their companies. But many don’t know about the resources available to help them. 

A new study from Michigan State University found that small businesses and start ups in the state have trouble getting loans to expand because of stricter lending practices.

farming equiptment
Helen Hanley / creative commons

Governor Rick Snyder says agriculture is a key part of his strategy to focus economic development efforts on small businesses.

The governor spoke today to the Future Farmers of America state convention. He says there’s lots of room to grow small businesses processing farm products in rural areas of the state.

"There’s an opportunity there to do more economic development in our smaller towns and our villages, and one of those connections is if you look at it, we’re producing all these great commodity products, and if we can do more and more to say let’s continue the processing of these products right where they are being produced, that’s an opportunity to create jobs in these smaller communities. "

At the same time, Snyder says he wants to rely less on tax breaks and other industry-specific incentives to create jobs.

Global Entrepreneurship Week
unleashingideas.org

In west Michigan several organizations are collaborating on more than a dozen events to foster the entrepreneurial spirit.

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