Major Michigan Business Incubators Get $3M Incentive to Get Their Act Together

Southeast Michigan’s four major business incubators are, at last, discovering how to work together, with $3 million worth of prodding from the New Economy Initiative, a philanthropic organization aimed at transitioning the region to an innovation-based economy.

The leaders of Ann Arbor SPARK, Techtown in Detroit, Automation Alley in Troy, MI, and the Macomb-OU INCubator in Sterling Heights, MI, all gathered together at Macomb County Community College today to announce something that might seem obvious to outside observers—the need for regional collaboration in retooling the local economy. Up until now, these four major business accelerators have been doing their own thing in their attempts to rekindle a lost spirit of entrepreneurship in Southeast Michigan.

David Egner, executive director of the New Economy Initiative, in announcing the three-year, $3 million grant today, called it “one of the most catalytic events for entrepreneurial activity and innovation in Southeast Michigan.”

“Seventy years ago, Southeast Michigan was the equivalent of Silicon Valley,” Egner said. “This is where you came if you wanted to make something work, invent something, put something in the marketplace, take a concept and make it commercial. It’s still in our DNA. Unfortunately, over the years, our own success has caused us to be less entrepreneurial, less innovative as we’ve grown more dependent on larger employers and essentially playing a role within systems and institutions as opposed to being in charge of our own destinies.”

It was a theme taken up by the heads of the other organizations as they took the podium—this idea that the region had something great at one time, lost it, and is now starting over. During the last five years, these four business incubators/accelerators have embedded themselves in their local communities and have performed the necessary groundwork—training, business incubation, providing seed money—along the way to a more concerted, regional effort. The business-group chiefs all said today that this New Economy Initiative grant is the beginning of a new phase of entrepreneurial maturation for a region long dependent on a single industry.

The new Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan plans to support business development in the region through programs that it will announce in the coming months.

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI, was also there to promote the initiative, saying that while it is fashionable in some circles to downplay the role of government, he’s working to secure more federal seed money for regional business incubators.

David Spencer, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator, which deals primarily with defense-related companies, warned that the region cannot depend on the state and federal governments for anything but short-term support. In the long run, the private sector has to step in, he said.

Yes, it does seem obvious that the region needs to pool its resources and, to outsiders, it might seem like a no-brainer. But, remember, Detroit is, almost literally, reinventing the wheel.

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