5 Things Michigan Can Do to Build a Sustainable Innovation Ecosystem

5/6/10Follow @greels1

Building a sustainable innovation ecosystem is hard and will require patience married to a sense of real optimism. It will require numerous centers of innovation: academic settings, corporate research labs, world-class hospitals, all operating with an entrepreneurial culture.

All this cannot simply be mandated, but rather it comes about over generations of startup success stories. It also will require plenty of capital—both angel and venture funds—as well as a deep roster of service providers (lawyers, accountants, consultants, and bankers). That is why it is so hard to build. A few specific things to consider:

• Trumpet your successes: Identify the areas where Detroit/Michigan can dominate and then feature them. Obviously, the historic success in the automotive industry augurs well for the exciting robotics and industrial automation fields; Detroit should own that industry in the eyes of venture capitalists. Where else can you be dominant in the early stage marketplace?

• Engage the Old Guard: Executives who have successfully built entrepreneurial businesses should be encouraged to serve as mentors and, importantly, as angel investors. Incent them to invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs. The angel communities in Silicon Valley and Boston are robust and are a wealth of insights and capital for those just starting out.

• Eliminate any friction in the system: Anything that impedes matching capital to brilliant people with innovative ideas undermines the entire process.

• Make it really easy to keep students engaged: Your next great entrepreneurs are in your high schools and colleges—show them why they should stay and create networking events and open houses at startup companies across the region. Reach out to students who have already left to study elsewhere and make it clear to them that “Detroit is open for business” and that they should come home.

• Above all, patience: This will be hard and take time but the rewards are tremendous. Each successful startup can generate dozens to hundreds of jobs and, in turn, each company will spawn more startups, creating a virtuous cycle of company creation.

Welcome to the Future. Welcome to the Xconomy, Detroit…

[Editor's note: To help launch Xconomy Detroit, we've queried our network of Xconomists and other innovation leaders around the country for their list of the most important things that entrepreneurs and innovators in Michigan can do to reinvigorate their regional economy.]

Michael Greeley is a General Partner at Foundation Medical Partners. Follow @greels1

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