Collective Metrics Aims to Improve Data Collection on Economic Growth

Startup accelerators and incubators are all the rage, but figuring out how much they’re actually helping the innovation communities they serve has traditionally been a challenge. A Grand Rapids, MI-based startup called Collective Metrics is hoping to change that for Michigan’s economic developers and entrepreneurs.

Collective Metrics was co-founded by Austin Dean, an analyst at the Start Garden incubator and investment fund led by Amway scion Rick DeVos. On the job, Dean had been struggling to get good information on the startups Start Garden was working with.

“When I was working in economic development, I noticed the poor quality of the data,” he said. “I had lots of questions about whether what we were tracking in the past were even good indicators of success. We were also trying to improve the reporting process, especially for organizations that have to do a lot of reporting, like the [Michigan Economic Development Corporation]. So we created a tool that helps collect data on the impact of public programs.”

Collective Metrics is a Web-based tool for assessing project and program performance. The site gathers information from multiple regional entrepreneurial service providers—including interactions with clients and partners, customer surveys, automated reporting, project details, and event statistics—onto a single dashboard, with the goal of streamlining data collection and making the numbers more accurate and relevant to startup growth.

Instead of each organization and company trying to track its data on separate spreadsheets, Dean explained, Collective Metrics allows users to get a more holistic picture of the ecosystem’s progress.

“We call it communal transparency, and that’s what makes it special,” he said. “It’s a single public portal for anyone who wants to see the numbers.” As of now, Collective Metrics tracks all entrepreneurial and economic development programs being funded and operated in West Michigan.

Brooke Corbin, manager of innovation solutions with Lakeshore Advantage, said her economic development organization will use Collective Metrics and advocates for other service providers to join because it offers better transparency regarding interactions with startups and the other support organizations.

“We were doing a lot of cumbersome work to collect data for the state,” she said. “This system lets users self-report, and we saw it as a way to hold ourselves accountable.”

If a client is engaged with multiple service organizations, she said, they only need to enter their information once and it goes to both the service organizations and the state. That helps eliminate the redundancies that have plagued data collection by state economic development agencies in the past, Dean said.

“The reason the data problem exists is because everyone is tracking independently,” he said. “We have to change the lens to the ecosystem approach by offering a single portal online where everyone can see it. Plus, it eliminates duplication. We’re starting in West Michigan and if we can show progress here, it will be attractive to state economic developers—and even those outside the state.”

Collective Metrics, which has five employees, has so far bootstrapped its operation; Dean said he intends to keep it that way. Lakeshore Advantage, Start Garden, and other West Michigan providers will begin using Collective Metrics during a limited release expected this summer.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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