One such leader is Jonathan Citrin, the 34-year-old founder of the aptly titled financial services firm CitrinGroup. Citrin considers himself lucky that he was on the early end of the city's entrepreneurial upswing – the firm started in 2003 and has doubled its revenue in the past 18 months alone. Now, after all his success, Citrin hopes to guide others along a similar path. "I made a ton of mistakes," he admits. "But had I had some of the support that's here now, I know I would've done even better."
Part of helping others to do better involves mentoring other business owners and teaching part-time at Wayne State University's School of Business Administration. Citrin says he loves to talk with students and aspiring entrepreneurs about their projects, particularly Wayne State's high-tech business park, TechTown. "I don't know if they get enough credit, but Wayne has been a real bright spot in fostering entrepreneurship in town," he says.
Similar to SPARK, TechTown works with innovators from the university community to bring ideas into fruition. It hosts 70 high-tech, growing companies from its facility in the heart of midtown and has enrolled a host of entrepreneurs in Kauffman's FastTrac program as well. While TechTown and SPARK and other accelerators operate independently, each has its own strengths. Rizik helps spawn capital for many of these accelerators and has seen increased communication between them in recent years. He says that "it's only through the coordination and efforts between them that they can each be optimized."
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4. There's access to space, leadership, and capital.
These three elements combine to make the Detroit landscape an untapped territory for starting business on the cheap.
Austin Black worked in the Detroit real estate market for nearly a decade before opening up his own shop specializing in urban communities. He says he's witnessed a lot of movement over the past five years into neighborhoods that had traditionally sparse residential populations. Lately, though, Midtown in particular has turned many of its vacant lots into mixed-use structures that combine storefronts and residences.
"You have a lot of landlords that really want to work with entrepreneurs and help them open businesses because of the benefit of storefront sales," Black says. This seamless "barrier of entry," he says, is what drives entrepreneurs to open businesses they are passionate about and fill a need for the city.
The hospitable disposition you get from the city trickles down from the its stable of strong, accessible leaders. James Canning says he doesn't have trouble getting meetings with some of the top CEOs in his industry, willing to lend a helping hand to those starting out. "The established leadership are looking for new ideas and next wave leaders to step up," he says. "Those that are taking the initiative to do so are being heard."
Named Crain Detroit Businesses' Newsmaker of the Year in 2009, Chris Rizik is certainly one of those leaders looking for the next big idea. He founded Renaissance Venture Capital Fund under the notion that Michigan was brimming with opportunities for investment. He cites that it has been a top-five region for research and development over the past few decades on both the corporate and university levels. Now it is his responsibility to convince investors of the state's potential for innovation and business development. And to a large extent, Rizik has been quite convincing.
"So far we've invested a certain amount in venture capital, and they've invested four times that amount in Michigan," Rizik says of the investors.
While funding from companies like Rizik's makes for a good start, investors aren't exactly throwing money around, especially for non-high-tech industries. Egner believes that the region's access to capital will grow even stronger once it has a more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. "VCs will come here when they see something to invest in," he says. "We have to make sure the infrastructure is in place, so that companies that come here will stay here."
For now, Egner advocates freeing up capital for companies in the second stage of growth looking to reach the next level. He doesn't want to freeze capital for proven companies while earlier stage companies misallocate funds. He says that only once they align the right resources – the research, development, and communication – can they use capital to fortify growth.Dig Deeper: How to Find a Location for Your Business
5. Government support is plentiful.
Apart from all the independent accelerators out there, the government itself remains dedicated to small-business growth as well. Michael Finney of SPARK says that government cooperation has been vital to the growth of Ann Arbor's now-vibrant entrepreneurial community. "We have a very seamless voice to local and state government with respect to the needs of our entrepreneurs," he says. "And these governments respond very nicely to ensure they're not inhibiting the ability of the entrepreneur to be successful."
Organizations like the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation also serve as liaisons between business owners and the state. Bizdom U CEO Ross Sanders says his businesses have received assistance from the DEGC as well as support from the city government. Entrepreneurs from the program have presented their progress in front of City Council meetings and have even gotten pep talks from Detroit's mayor, Dave Bing. "The government is really recognizing need to foster entrepreneurship and to retain talent in Michigan to do so," Sanders says.
Grant programs such as the 21st Century Jobs Fund prove the state's commitment to aiding Michigan businesses. So far Michigan has committed close to $100 million to the 21st Century Jobs Fund, which aims to grow new industries in technology and alternative energy that will bring a diverse, robust economy to the state.
Ultimately the burden to change will fall in the hands of the entrepreneurs and their passions. The government, the leaders, and the community have given them the means to succeed. Now it will be up to them to make it happen. Dig Deeper: How to Secure SBA Loans