Spurring economic recovery

Jul 19, 2010

Kettering University's statewide collaboration promotes entrepreneurship and will aid Michigan's economic recovery when the doors of the Innovation Center open on Aug.31.

Flint, Mich., could potentially add 5,000 new jobs over the next 15 years through Kettering University’s Innovation Center, according to Neil Sheridan, TechWorks director.  The Innovation Center, which is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building in Genesee County, will host a grand opening Aug. 31.

Sheridan expects to have full occupancy within a year and provide a home to as many as 10 startup and emerging companies. Prismitech, a company that utilizes a new technology to create energy savings in refrigerated display cases, will be the first tenant and Swedish Biogas International will follow shortly (http://www.swedishbiogas.eu/1/

The Innovation Center is located on Kettering’s campus and meets the highest green building and performance measures as defined by the U.S. Green Building Council.  The 9,000-square-foot structure has a flexible internal lab configuration and will be the only laboratory business accelerator in the Genesee County region.

TechWorks is a set of services and facilities designed specifically to assist high-tech entrepreneurs in building their companies, while perfecting their underlying technologies.  Through TechWorks, burgeoning businesses receive access to technical and financial experts, seasoned professors and highly disciplined co-op students, which represents the hallmark of the Kettering academic tradition.  Services help cultivate an idea from “napkin sketch” all the way through an IPO.  

For companies that hold “Affiliate” status, these services include business concept design, technology assessment and key initial growth steps.  For companies further along, the “Commercialization Program” offers incubator and lab space; business, technology and strategy coaching; and assistance in seeking grant and investment funding.

“There is growing momentum for economic recovery in Michigan built on an Innovation Economy,” Sheridan said, adding “this is a great place to manufacture complex, high-value products.   Kettering with its partners in local government, businesses and associations will directly help drive this new model.”

For this project, the underlying mission of Kettering and its many other regional and national partners is to change the direction of the state’s economy by nurturing businesses that will eventually become catalysts for economic development and job creation.  For some, this nurturing begins by taking the FastTrac® TechVenture™ Kauffman Foundation training program, provided in conjunction with the Region 6 Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) housed on the University’s campus.

“Investing in partnerships is important to the success of this type of program—we use them to extend the types of services that are made available to our clients,” Sheridan said. His 20-plus years of business and coaching experience and palpable enthusiasm make him a natural at guiding new entrepreneurs to success.  He recently took the TechVenture Commercialization workshop up the road to Saginaw as part of a partner program with the Tri-City area.  "As a result, we have 4 new TechWorks’ clients for Kettering while directly helping one of our strategic partners, Michigan's Small Business and Technology Development Center." 

Sheridan points out that patent attorneys, financial experts, and market researchers drive several hours to guest speak for the Kettering program.  "There is a growing group that is paying it forward, investing in the collaborative efforts and education that are gaining momentum throughout the state."

Besides the MI-SBTDC, TechWorks enjoys a close relationship with numerous organizations including the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce and Automation Alley.

Sheridan defines success as technology commercialization and economic development for the region.

“New technology companies are emerging as increasingly important employers and will re-energize our excellent suppliers,” he said.

His expectation is to replace some of the lost manufacturing jobs in the region, which means spending much of his time casting a wide net for entrepreneurs with potential in high-growth advanced technology products and services. Upon finding a promising initiative, the real work begins.  Market studies, general and technical business training, team development and funding come next. Through all of this, developing the correct mentorships becomes critical.

“There are two levels of mentoring available to TechWorks clients: Technical Advisory Professionals (TAP) and the Executive Advisory Council (EAC),” Sheridan explained.

The TAP level of mentoring is designed for the “Affiliate” status clients. It offers technical and business advice by making a number of inquiries: is this the best solution for the problem? Is there a market for your product?  It also offers personal growth challenges. Mentors donate their time and expertise and are often entrepreneurs themselves. Terry Wisner, a 30-year veteran of sales and training at AC Delco, is a professional speaker and coaches sales professionals and entrepreneurs through his own business, the CPO Institute (http://www.byocpo.com/about.html). 

He donates time to his “protégés” because he believes every mentoring or coaching relationship offers reciprocal learning.  Wisner’s assignments move an entrepreneur from dreamer to doer. They include defining a sense of well-being, putting priorities in place, creating a plan, developing partnerships and celebrating success.  “Entrepreneurs need to find the right coach—someone who is really good at asking questions. Someone to provoke them into doing what they need to do to be successful,” Wisner said.

The EAC level of mentoring is designed for “Commercialization Program” clients. It features top level executives with strong insight about growing high-tech businesses. These individuals provide networking opportunities to assist with business development and the exploration of additional market sectors.  Dr. Samit Ghosh, CEO of P3 North America, Inc., (http://www.p3-group.com/northamerica/en) which offers a complete portfolio of management consulting services, views the Executive Advisory Committee as a sounding board for new companies. Ghosh mentors because, “I live here. I don’t want to live in an area where college grads get on a plane to find a job.”

His sentiments and concerns are shared by many who are working tirelessly to get Michigan back on track and in the words of Gov. Jennifer Granholm,“ — change the direction of our state’s economy.”

For more information about Kettering University’s Innovation Center and its partners contact Neil Sheridan, TechWorks director, via email at neil.sheridan@kettering.edu. You can also visit the TechWorks website at http://www.ku-tw.com/. For more on Prismitech, LLC, visit http://www.prismitechllc.com/.

Contact: Eve Vitale