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Sterling Heights

March 28, 2012

Macomb-OU INCubator builds momentum with new programs

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

For those who think incubation is for eggs and acceleration for cars, the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator in Sterling Heights, which applies those notions to businesses, may seem utterly mystifying.

But in essence, the concepts are the same: The facility helps fledgling companies take flight and helps early stage companies get farther, faster.

“We target defense and Homeland Security, and advanced manufacturing, but really, any type of technology-scalable business,” said Executive Director Julie Gustafson. “It’s all about providing a collaborative environment for entrepreneurs.”

Under the guidance of Gustafson, who relocated from New Hampshire to become the executive director last fall, the INCubator recently initiated multiple free programs available to the entire community while continuing to seek incubation and acceleration clients.

The twice-monthly Lunch and Launch series features a free meal in conjunction with an hour-long presentation. The first two sessions, helmed by David Murray, focused on social media strategies for businesses.

The monthly Fireside Growth Story series highlights speakers “who have been there, done that,” said Gustafson.

The veteran entrepreneurs share their experiences while attendees sip coffee and munch desserts around the fireplace in the main lobby; Gustafson quipped that they’ll need to initiate a campfire or the like to tie in the fire component this summer.

The initial installment featured Bruce Burton, president of Avidasports LLC, who also founded two defense contracting companies and holds multiple patents.

“Our philosophy is, anybody that attends these is going to come out with something, whether it’s what to avoid or what to do successfully,” said Gustafson.

Joan Carleton, the INCubator’s marketing coordinator, said the programs have been well-received so far.

“We had an excellent attendance rate for the Lunch and Launches,” she said, “and the intimate fireside atmosphere of the Fireside Growth Story lent itself well to the question-and-answers portion of the talk.”

Many local businesspeople have expressed a desire to share their expertise with emerging companies through future INCubator workshops, added Gustafson.

“The general public is really interested in helping,” she said.

In terms of incubation and acceleration clients, in addition to defense, Homeland Security and advanced manufacturing companies, the INCubator also wants to collaborate with firms whose services — such as marketing or legal — dovetail with those sectors, said Gustafson.

For $185-$799 a month, plus taxes, the incubation clients, or tenant companies, lease office space within the INCubator’s 35,000-square-foot building. With no security deposit required and access to conference rooms, a collaboration center, an innovation lab, and office and communications equipment, tenants can reduce overhead while securing a prime location in the heart of Macomb County’s defense corridor, said Gustafson.

According to Gustafson, the facility currently has four tenant incubation clients, with two more moving in this spring; 15 offices and four cubicles remain available for lease.

Housed side by side, tenant companies can “exchange knowledge with like-minded entrepreneurs,” she said. “Having everybody under the same roof, there’s a lot of power to that. Over the years that I’ve been in incubation, I’ve seen businesses collaborate, even partner, go in on customers jointly, so a lot of things can happen.”

Incubation clients can enter into a separate agreement for acceleration services, which also are offered to companies maintaining independent offices elsewhere. The off-site client companies generally are “already established, but still looking to merge, transition … continue to grow,” explained Gustafson.

Technically, they can be located anywhere, but “most of the business we’re attracting is in the county,” she said.

According to Gustafson, the typical tenant company has about one to five employees; the typical off-site client company 50-60.

When a company signs on, INCubator staffers conduct a needs assessment to determine which services would be most beneficial and tailor a package accordingly.

There’s a business advisory board that can be customized from a pool of 60 volunteer subject-matter experts. There’s access to Oakland University labs, facilities and faculty, on-site OU student interns and professional business counseling from INCubator staffers.

There’s also assistance with startup capital — via state-fueled pre-seed, microloan and business acceleration fund programs — and an investment review board, which readies companies for pitching projects to angel groups and venture capitalists.

Through OU’S Pawley Lean Institute, which has offices in the adjacent Velocity collaborative business center, the INCubator is offering a multi-week Lean Green Belt Certificate course in May and June that educates businesses on streamlining; Gustafson said a Black Belt course also will be available.

And with the recent relocation of the Michigan Defense Center headquarters from Lansing to Velocity, INCubator companies can easily get guidance on defense-related contracts, said Gustafson.

Future goals include assembling a directory of local service providers — such as attorneys and accountants — willing to offer a few free hours of consultation and perhaps discounts to INCubator tenant and client companies, she said.

City Manager Mark Vanderpool said he envisions satellite spin-offs someday, and he believes the INCubator is “on the right track,” with the right staff, management, partnerships and programs in place.

“I think Sterling Heights, the county — with Velocity and the Macomb-OU INCubator really being the centerpiece — is on the cutting edge of creating this environment where small businesses can grow and flourish in our community and the region,” he said. “It’s small businesses that are the engine of our economy. To the extent we can facilitate, nurture and grow small businesses through Velocity, and specifically, the business INCubator, then Sterling Heights is going to be well positioned for the future.”

The Macomb-OU INCubator is located at 6633 18 Mile, near Mound, in Sterling Heights. For more information, visit www.oakland.edu/macombouinc.


Coming up at the INCubator

Upcoming programs and events at the Macomb-OU INCubator include:

• Lunch and Launch: How to Fully Take Advantage of LinkedIn
• Noon-1 p.m., April 5
Public relations professional and social media strategist Nikki Little of Identity PR in Bingham Farms will discuss integrating social media and traditional communication methods to “help clients building brand awareness, create new customer relationships, monitor relevant online dialogue and engage in direct conversation with online audiences to drive results directly tied to their business goals.”

• Michigan Economic Development Corporation bus tour
• 1:55 p.m., April 17
As part of its statewide tour of SmartZones, the MEDC bus will make a stop at the Macomb-OU INCubator to educate businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and university faculty, staff and students on state services and funding available for growing technology companies.

• Lunch and Launch: Legal Contracts 101 for Business
• Noon-1 p.m., April 19
Jim Cunningham and Dave Eberhard, senior counsel and attorney, respectively, with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP in Sterling Heights, will conduct a workshop on the legal elements of a contract and how terms and conditions can help or harm a business. The event will cover what constitutes a contract, how express and implied warranties differ, how a business can limit liabilities, etc.

• Lean Green Belt Certificate
• Sessions scheduled 8 a.m.-4 p.m., May 1-June 28
This 44-hour program, led by Oakland University’s Lean Diversification Program, will guide participating companies in making decisions about diversification and streamlining. Tuition is $600, but fully grant-subsidized spots are available for qualified companies.

For more information on or to register for the Lunch and Launch programs or MEDC bus tour event, contact Joan Carleton at (586) 884-9324 or macINC@oakland.edu.

For information on the Lean Green Belt Certificate program, contact the Pawley Lean Institute at (586) 884-9328 or lean@oakland.edu.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.