Sloan Returns To Michigan, Launches Aria Equities To Change Entrepreneurial Culture

5/10/10

Jeff Sloan knows why the Detroit area has a less-than-ideal atmosphere for venture capital. It’s just not ready for it. The culture needs to change, he says. And that’s why the longtime Michigander, gone for about five years, has recently returned to the state to launch the early-stage venture development firm Aria Equities.

Aria partners with innovators and establishes an equity position in exchange for creating a business plan, putting a team together, raising the first round of funding and providing ongoing strategic guidance. Sloan says that it is especially important to catch these would-be companies at this early stage, before young entrepreneurs take their ideas and go elsewhere.

jeff_sloan“We have a lot of young talent picking up and leaving right after they leave school as opposed to putting down roots here and starting a new company,” Sloan says. “I think that while we’ve improved the venture capital environment here…this is still not where you want to come if you want to grow a company on venture capital.”

He says that companies like his, along with incubators like Detroit’s TechTown, are necessary in order to simply create an atmosphere, a “culture” in which entrepreneurship is encouraged.

“We still just don’t have the culture here that thinks the way people on the coasts do, say in Boston or Silicon Valley or even in some of the other major metropolitan areas that can be very progressive, like Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Denver,” Sloan says. “They just seem to have more of an entrepreneurial culture.”

Aria, established in Birmingham, MI, about three months ago, plans to set up shop in NextWave, a business incubator/accelerator in Troy, MI, beginning in May. Aria’s clients include a general mix of retail and tech businesses, including online games developers and health-care startups. Most are not companies yet.

“We believe that there is a great void in the continuum of company creation … and that void generally occurs at the point where someone has a very good idea, they immediately then have a rudimentary business plan, but they really need help bringing sophistication to the business plan, to raising money and to developing the appropriate strategies for the business and gaining that traction with first customers,” Sloan says.

Aria’s goal is to hand companies off, when they’re ready, to a board of directors, when venture capitalists typically invest.

Sloan says Aria will be built on the same model he started in the Detroit area back in 1995, when he and his brother, Richard Sloan, launched Sloan Ventures. The company grew a few successful companies, most notably Clarity Technologies, which produces voice enhancement software.

The venture with his brother closed up shop in 2005, and Sloan moved to the West Coast to focus full-time on one of his passions-raising Arabian horses.

But, after a few years, the Michigan native felt the call of the Great Lakes.

“I’m originally from Flint, MI, and I grew up a Midwestern guy with Midwestern values and with a real blue-collar entrepreneurial work ethic,” Sloan says. “I really believe in the value of hard work and, you know, there’s something that just feels right and comfortable about this area.”

Not to mention that he already has some brand equity here. Aside from Sloan Ventures, he and his brother had produced a series of tech conferences a few years ago called Digital Detroit, and gave out the “Digi Awards” for technology achievement. Sloan is also the entrepreneur behind StartupNation.com, an advertisement-supported site that focuses on providing content to aspiring entrepreneurs and established ones who want to grow their businesses.

Sloan says he plans on taking an active role in the business community, and rekindling his passion for sailing on the Great Lakes, one of the reasons he decided to return.

And, like any sailor, he’s used to dealing with adversity, with anything the climate might throw at him. He says he’s ready for the business challenges that come with a return to Michigan.

“Even though the victories are harder to come by here,” Sloan says, “for some reason they’re sweeter because they’re more meaningful.”

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