Snyder to Entrepreneurs: Bright Future Ahead

Gov.-Elect Rick Snyder had encouraging words for all participants in Accelerate Michigan, the business plan competition held Thursday through Saturday at the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex.

“For startups, lack of success is not the same as failure,” Snyder said. “Just being a part of a competition like this makes you a winner.”

He added that “most people don’t know that it was the third Ford Motor Company that succeeded. Bring that passion, bring that fire, and keep working on success.”

In a marked change from his campaign rhetoric, Snyder also remarked that “we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we’ve accomplished over the last 20 or 30 years” in terms of diversifying and entrepreneurship. He credited organizations that have been created over that time, like Ann Arbor Spark, Automation Alley and others, for boosting the entrepreneurial climate in Michigan.

Snyder recalled that as an accountant in the 1980s, he was an officer of an organization called the Inventors Council of Michigan, where he learned of the long lead time between company idea and product.

Snyder also ticked off five requirements for successful entrepreneurship:

  • Technology. Snyder said that as recently as 1997, UM ”was a second tier institution at best in technology transfer. It’s now among the best in the world today and that’s still not recognized by the people in this state. He said work remains to be done in “building bridges” to the private sector to get their help in technology commercialization.
  • Infrastructure — not roads and rails, but intellectual infrastructure. He said Michigan now possesses the accountants, lawyers, incubators and support staff to help entrepreneurs succeed. “We just need to continue on that path,” Snyder said.
  • Capital. “I view today as a great illustration of (the importance of)  capital,” Snyder said. “If you think about the prizes here, it’s incredible. $10,000, $20,000 can make a huge difference in the success of a new venture. There’s also the visibility that an event like this creates… We’re on the right path.”
  • People. “We have the most talented people in the world in our state but we need to continue that organizational effort,” Snyder said. “Ann Arbor Spark’s talent group is one of the best innovations that’s happened in the state in the past decade. We’ve missed the opportunity to take it statewide.” Interestingly, Snyder said that Michigan universities may be “overweighting” training entrepreneurs. “Ninety percent of entrepreneurs will tell you it wasn’t just them, it was the team,” Snyder said. “We need to concentrate on training to create entrepreneurial teams, not just entrepreneurs.”
  • Culture. “I believe we’ve had a broken culture in our state and it held us back,” Snyder said. “That’s going to change now. We’ve been beaten down as a society. I need you to take the message out about the new culture. We’ve become too negative, with an attitude of divisiveness. Too many people believe they’ve only won if someone else has lost — southeast Michigan vs. West Michigan, one county vs. another, racial and ethnic divides, political partisanship. Anytime this attitude is exhibited we all lose.” Snyder said the culture needs to change in three key dimensions: “Stop being negative, be positive. Stop looking in the rear view mirror, look to the future. And stop being divisive.”

Summed up Snyder: “We have a very bright future. We just need to execute now. “

In introducing Snyder, UM president Mary Sue Coleman likened entrepreneurial risk-taking to the university’s decision to host “The Big Chill At The Big House” outdoor hockey game with Michigan State University — and more significantly, to buy the NCRC, the huge former Pfizer Inc. research complex.

“If Michigan Stadium can become a hockey arena, then the Michigan economy can once again become the envy of the nation, thanks to entrepreneurs like you,” Coleman said. “At the University of Michigan we value good ideas and the ability to take risks well beyond the athletic field. When Pfizer left Ann Arbor the university wanted nothing more than for the private sector to move in and revitalize this site. But when it became apparent that would not happen, we took a long hard look at a tremendous opportunity — and some would say, a big risk… What looked empty and daunting to some looked like a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the university and our state. This is going to be a place of opportunity and risk, a research center unlike any other.”

In introducing Coleman, meanwhile, New Economy Initiative executive director Dave Egner said Michigan has spent too much time “labeling ourselves by our deficits and not our assets.” Those assets, he said, include being the largest border city with Canada, having the largest manufacturing capacity in the world, having the sixth largest creative class in North America, sitting on 20 percent of the world’s fresh water supply, and having three world-class research universities within 80 miles of each other conducting $1.7 billion in sponsored research a year.

And, Egner said, “In honor of governor-elect Snyder, I removed my tie. I urge all of you to do the same.”

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