Winter Newsletter 2020

TechTown MedHealth Events

TechTown is pleased to be an organizer of MedHeath, a regional healthcare innovation cluster comprising numerous healthcare providers, universities and economic development organizations in Southeast Michigan and Southwest Ontario.

On January 7th there will be a MedHealth Mixer from 3:00 - 5:00 PM at The Garage at TechTown ( 440 Burroughs St., Detroit, MI 48202). Drop by this informative afternoon mixer to learn more about improving population health outcomes through innovation. Enjoy light refreshments as guest speaker Dr. Phillip D. Levy, assistant vice president for translational science and clinical research innovation at Wayne State University, explores PHOENIX (the Population Health OutcomEs aNd Information EXchange) and its application as a community tool for chronic-disease hot spot identification and development of initiatives to address social determinants of health. Afterward, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about getting involved with the 2020 MedHealth Summit, and there will be time to network with new and old colleagues in the fields of healthcare technology and population health!
Parking is available in the large lot on the northeast corner of the Cass Street and Amsterdam Street intersection, one block north of the TechTown building. Information and registration is at
Speaking of the MedHealth Summit, “Save the Date” now for the Medhealth Summit on April 16, 2020 at Ford Field's Hall of Legends. MedHealth is transforming the way healthcare technology is discovered and sourced in Southeast Michigan and Southwest Ontario. One way this is done is by giving healthcare organizations, innovators, research institutions, and investors opportunities to participate in custom-matched, one-on-one meetings and educational programming. Mark your calendars now to take part in the third annual MedHealth Summit. Information and registration is at:

Michigan’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Receives Continued Support, Resources for High-Tech Startups, University Researchers

Courtney Overbey

The Michigan Strategic Fund awarded more than $7 million to assist entrepreneurs in bringing innovations to market

LANSING, Mich. – In an effort to further grow Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) awarded more than $7 million in funding and extensions to business hubs and innovation programs across the state, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) announced yesterday. Funding and extensions approved by the MSF today include:

*Technology Transfer Talent Network (T3N) ($500,000)

*Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Statewide Program (MTRAC) ($2,450,000). Of that total, MTRAC Advanced Transportation Innovation Hub at the University of Michigan received $500,000 and MTRAC Life Sciences Innovation Hub at Michigan State University received $1,000,000

*BBC Entrepreneurial Training and Consulting’s (BBCetc) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) programs ($480,000)

*Michigan Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) Business Acceleration Fund (BAF) and Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) ($3,585,000)

“With the success we’ve seen over the past several years, Michigan continues to invest in attracting, retaining and growing talent,” said Fred Molnar, vice president of MEDC’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation (E&I) initiative. “Our team is dedicated to making sure researchers, high-tech startups and entrepreneurs in this state have the resources and support they need to take their projects from idea to commercialization here in Michigan. The funds and extensions granted by MSF allow us to continue doing just that.”

Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) supports the acceleration of technology transfer from Michigan’s institutions of higher education, non-profit research centers and hospital systems for commercialization of competitive-edge technologies in the key areas of agriculture-biology, advanced computing, advanced transportation, life sciences and advanced materials. The MTRAC program is supported by funds from the MSF and administered by the MEDC, with additional funding coming from partner institutions.

To date, MTRAC programs have received 658 proposals, funded 306 projects, developed 52 startup companies, licensed 34 technologies to industry partners and secured more than $209 million in follow-on funding. At this year’s International Economic Development Council (IEDC) annual conference, MTRAC was a Gold Award recipient, recognizing the program’s commitment and success in strengthening Michigan’s business climate.

Technology Transfer Talent Network (T3N) is a statewide network that drives collaboration across the 15 public universities in Michigan by supporting mentors, postdocs and fellows for early stage university projects. As of September 30, 2019, the T3N program supported 29 professionals who advised over 450 university projects resulting in 223 issued patents, 230 licensing agreements and $21.7M in follow-on-funding.

“Expanding and continuing to fund the MTRAC and T3N programs reinforces our state’s commitment to innovation, entrepreneurship and economic opportunities,” said Denise Graves, university relations director at MEDC. “Through this funding and in partnership with universities across the state, we help provide a pathway to accelerate the creation and transfer of new technologies in the commercial market.”

BBC Entrepreneurial Training and Consulting (BBCetc) manages the Michigan SBIR/STTR Assistance Program , which provides group training and one-on-one proposal development consulting to Michigan’s technology-based entrepreneurs and early stage companies. The program’s goal is to increase Michigan’s share of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) funding by enhancing the competitiveness of proposals.

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) enhances Michigan’s economic wellbeing by providing consulting, training and market research for new ventures, existing small businesses and advanced technologies companies. The Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) program makes Michigan more competitive in attracting federal dollars in the form of SBIR and STTR awards. ETF provides matching funds of up to $25,000 for Phase I and $125,000 for Phase II clinical studies. Since 2014, the ETF program has served 112 high tech Michigan companies, created 467 full-time positions and attracted almost $95 million in federal funding.

The Business Acceleration Fund (BAF) provides a series of small grants for high-tech businesses to access certain specialized services they need to grow. These funds are used toward the delivery of specific commercialization services that would not otherwise be available, such as the development of marketing plans or technology validation and product testing. Since 2014, the BAF program has served 464 high-tech Michigan startups, supported the creation of 51 new companies and generated almost 500 full-time positions.

MEDC’s E&I initiative establishes Michigan as the place to create and grow a business by providing high-tech startup companies access to a variety of critical resources, such as funding and expert counsel, from ideation to maturation. For more information on MEDC’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation, please visit

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC): The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, job awareness and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy. For more information on the MEDC and our initiatives, visit$250000-in-funding-by-mtrac-innovation-hub-for-advanced-computing-technologies/

WMed Innovation Center Launches Women In STEM Program in 2020

Are you a woman who is ready to change the world?
If so, 2020 is your year. The WMed Innovation Center is launching a series of programs that can help you take your game-changing idea to the next level.
Fund your innovative idea with government SBIR/STTR grants.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are United States government programs, coordinated by the Small Business Administration, intended to help certain small businesses conduct research and development. Over the course of this series you will learn everything you need to know about finding a grant topic that is right for your company and writing a compelling proposal. Come to one session or come to them all.
Learn more about who cares about your innovation and why.
Introduction to Customer Discovery training provides entrepreneurs an opportunity to learn about the customer discovery interview process. The interview process is one of the first steps in commercialization of any product or technology. This 4-week intensive course will encompass the two main concepts of NSF I-Corps, namely value proposition and customer segmentation. There is no registration cost for a team to attend this program. There will be several dates and locations for ICD programs in 2020. Request information by emailing, or simply keep an eye on the WMed Innovation Center calendar:
Get one-on-one help from people who have been in your shoes
The Innovation Center’s 2020 Mentoring Program is designed to transform entrepreneurs at all levels by pairing them with insightful mentors for eleven months. During this time the mentors and mentees will meet at least once a month on their own schedule to discuss specific issues. In addition, there will be a Mentor Meet-Up lunch at the Innovation Center on the 3rd Friday of each month. Each Mentor Meet-Up will feature a topic of relevance as well as time for networking with other mentors and mentees over a delicious meal.
If you wish to participate in the 2020 Mentor Cohort, please submit an application by February 1, 2020. Request an application or more information by emailing  (Space is limited.)
Celebrate being a woman who makes things happen.
The Boundless Women Confab will take place on November 18, 2020 at the WMU Fetzer Center in Kalamazoo. The morning will feature intriguing workshops by women, for women. The evening will celebrate successful female entrepreneurs at a gala event. Hold the date now for a full day of learning, inspiration, and fun. More details will be provided soon at
Whether you are a scientist, a coder, an engineer, an entrepreneur, or all of these things rolled into one, you are also a woman making a difference. And sometimes women need to level the playing field a little bit. Join the WMed Innovation Center in 2020 and make it your most productive, life-changing year ever.
If you have any questions or just want to talk to another woman in tech (The WMed Innovation Center is run by women), contact us at or 269-353-1823. We look forward to meeting you!

Accelerator Participants Add to Michigan’s Agriculture Economy As They Learn From Michigan’s Experienced Leaders, Educators and Farmers

Starting a business is hard work. Making connections for a new business can be even harder. ACRE AgTech invested 16 weeks facilitating connections that will have lasting impact on the Michigan farming community, the economic development in the state, and especially in the lives of four business owners from around the world. Those business owners appealed to potential investors and customers at Harvesting Innovation, a pitch event that was held Dec. 11, 2019, at the Devos Convention Center as part of the Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Grand Rapids.

The four entrepreneurs were chosen from 40 applicants to participate in ACRE’s first cohort. Meetings, tours, mentoring, and opportunities to meet with partnering businesses and investors were part of the 16-week program which ran late August through December of 2019. Michigan businesses and organizations including GreenStone Farm Credit, Watson IP, BizStream, Barnes and Thornburg, BDO, Michigan Farm Bureau, Grand Valley State University, and Michigan State University along with many others donated time to work with the founders to assist them to become better businesspeople and to give their budding companies a boost.

Selection of the participating companies was based on the immediate impact they could provide to Michigan agribusiness. Burly, EnMass Energy, LifeLab BioDesign, and Wildlife Defense Systems each have unique solutions to existing challenges Michigan agriculture producers and processors face each day. Business gains and progress were experienced by each of the startups, with one closing their first round of funding prior to the conclusion of the cohort.

Brig Ricks of Traverse City has a passion for the sharing community. His company Burly created an app that enables owners of farm and construction equipment to generate revenue from idle assets. Frank Woodward of Georgia-based Wildlife Defense Systems created a scientific sound technology that makes an area uninhabitable for birds and wildlife, keeping them away from crops thus increasing yields and reducing risk of disease. Wildlife Defense has tested their equipment in several orchards and vineyards in Michigan throughout the summer and fall. Andrew Joiner of North Carolina operates EnMass Energy currently in Pakistan. EnMass has a heart to end energy poverty across the globe offering a service to aggregate farm waste for sale and delivery to biowaste power plants, generating revenue for farmers from scrap. Joiner is interested in how his service can meet the needs of the Northern American population. From Lebanon is Ali Makzhoum, founder of LifeLab BioDesign, which utilizes machine learning software and artificial intelligence coupled with a modular growing platform to facilitate growing over 200 crops indoors 365 days a year.

Michigan’s only ag-tech focused business accelerator, ACRE has grown from an incubator model launched in 2015 by Ottawa County to one of more than 100 organizations in the Global Accelerator Network (GAN Connect). It now boasts a 10-member board which includes Chairman Tim Parker, president of the Grand Angels. Tim was recently named one of Grand Rapids 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders by Grand Rapids Business Journal. BizStream in Allendale serves as home-base for the 501 (C) 6 organization, and BizStream founder Mark Schmidt serves as ACRE secretary. Advisors to the ACRE team include former MDARD Director Don Coe, Michigan Vegetable Council Director Greg Bird, business maverick and founder of the Northern Angels J.T. “Chip” Hoagland of Tamarack Holdings and Cherry Capital Foods, and Dennis Arouca. Arouca, Northern Angels and Grand Traverse Economic Development boards member, was instrumental in bringing together tours and roundtables between the four ACRE cohort participants and a number of business and agricultural leaders in the Traverse City area in early October.

According to experienced entrepreneur and ACRE Chief Operating Officer Doug Huesdash, leading the cohort has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his career. “The accomplishments of the program and the opportunities the companies received have far exceeded our expectations. Our founders realized goals we did not anticipate they would achieve until after the cohort had ended.”

Agriculture is the second-largest industry in Michigan, with 50,000 farms producing more than 300 commodities. Nearly one million people are employed and there is $102 billion created in economic impact. ACRE AgTech is in the process of securing funding to continue to serve the agriculture and business industries of Michigan in 2020.

Navigating the Stages of Community Growth

Enoch Elwell

A Model for Starting and Sustaining an Entrepreneurial Community

Entrepreneurial culture is changing. There’s something exciting afoot if you look through the negative national narrative on the decline of small cities and towns across the United States. Despite suffering significant economic loss which spawns a culture of grim survival, a growing number of communities are beginning to break free of the past in an unexpected comeback. Taking local institutional leaders by surprise, rapid economic and cultural transformation is occurring in unlikely places, often led by strange grassroots groups of creatives and non-traditional entrepreneurs. A new type of entrepreneurial culture is springing up everywhere.

While exhilarating to experience, the dynamics and drivers behind these changes appear to be random and are difficult to articulate. Looking deeper into the patterns behind these outliers, a common theme emerges: communities that experience rapid transformation have consistently identified unique local trends and have focused their efforts to ride in the power of the trend, experiencing exponentially greater results.

For almost a decade now, I’ve been working with these grassroots leaders. In just the past few years, our team has had the privilege of working alongside over 600 of them, wrestling through the unique challenges and opportunities in their 151 communities. Through sharing learnings, stories, and resources, we all do our best to help each other amidst the chaos that surrounds this cultural shift in the communities we support.

“Communities that experience rapid transformation have consistently identified unique local trends and have focused their efforts to ride in the power of the trend, experiencing exponentially greater results.” –Enoch Elwell

Each community is different. As we’ve worked with various communities, we’ve noticed that the speed and scope of this cultural transformation varies greatly from community to community. Some communities experience something incredible—a seemingly instantaneous explosion of community engagement, entrepreneurial activity, and resulting economic growth—while others struggle.

My own community, Chattanooga, TN, is one of these fortunate outliers. Labeled as the dirtiest city in America in the 70’s, it is now lauded as a model entrepreneurial ecosystem, and has seen a significant cultural transformation occur, with rapid economic growth as a result. Other communities with which we’ve worked, such as Cincinnati, OH and LaCrosse, WI, are following a similar pattern. Watching some communities experience rapid shifts in their trajectories while others doing the same type of work struggle to move forward prompts a few key questions: What happened? Why these communities? What’s different? Why now? Is this just luck or can we replicate this phenomenon?

A new model for economic development. Before we look at the outliers, we need to understand the larger context. The way economic development has traditionally been done is being challenged, with a new systems-wide “ecosystem building” approach taking hold. This new approach focuses on holistically supporting a fertile environment for local businesses to launch and grow, rather than on primarily recruiting businesses from outside. As this ecosystem building model has become more established, excellent tools and resources are being developed and shared, helping shift economic development activity on the community level.

Many leaders of the field codify these resources by looking at the entrepreneur’s journey. The assumption is that if a community creates an asset map of existing support resources for entrepreneurs, identifies gaps, and fills the gaps to ensure something is provided for every stage of the journey, then the community will be best positioned to have success. However, with limited time and money, most communities are only able to truly excel in a few areas. And those areas of focus may or may not be the most significant drivers of change. While these frameworks are incredibly helpful, a very important set of factors are being overlooked—context, trajectory, and timing.

A community growth pattern. Looking at the communities with which we’ve worked, what looks like chance or serendipity actually has a pattern behind it. Communities that succeeded didn’t do so because their leadership, regional assets, or programmatic interventions were well funded and perfectly implemented. Rather, they were aware of deeper trends in their community and were able to seize the moment, using the power of a unique turning point in time to accelerate rapid cultural transformation. The context and trajectory of the emerging trends were recognized, and efforts were focused on timely interventions that played off of the particular moment of focused excitement and energy.

From what we’ve seen, I believe communities follow a predictable life cycle, needing different activities and supports at different stages in order to thrive and grow. While we realize each community is different, there are patterns that can help you better recognize when and where to focus your efforts in order to ride the powerful wave of the current trend and see transformational results.

STAGE 1: CONNECTION--Connecting in Chaos. When little community support exists, start by providing regular opportunities for the emerging community to come together through activities aimed at forming connections around a unifying purpose.

STAGE 2: AWARENESS--Moving to Mainstream. To make sure grassroots efforts build momentum, the emerging community needs a “rallying flag” to unite the “weirdos” and raise visibility in the wider community through activity aimed at building widespread excitement.

STAGE 3: ACTION--Ideas to Action. In danger of being all talk and no action, communities need to cultivate a culture that is action-oriented and embraces starting small and failing fast.

STAGE 4: STRUCTURE--Taking Root. Because early efforts can easily get bogged down or abandoned, communities need to develop structures for accountability and support to help emerging initiatives become sustainable.

STAGE 5: SUPPORT--Growing Up. In order to grow, communities need to identify and leverage specialized resources to help promising initiatives transition from survival into growth mode, increasing their impact.

STAGE 6: TRANSFER--Retaining Value. Because historical knowledge and built value can be easily lost as a community realizes success, developing ways to capture and share the knowledge, values, and relationships created along the way will provide long-term benefit to the broader community, sparking new cycles of growth.

At CO.STARTERS, we help grassroots leaders accelerate thriving entrepreneurial communities by connecting them with the best resources, tools, and support. By continually learning from the communities with which we work, we believe the most important thing we can do is help leaders see the wider context to determine the most critical next step, enabling them to make a transformational shift to the next level of community success.
MBIA Template 1 - Winter Newsletter 2020