November 8, 2018

Route Bay City

Inside Central Michigan Research Corporation’s (CMURC) location in Uptown Bay City, Nick Libby is typing away on a laptop in front of a large, sun-lit window facing the Saginaw River.

Libby works for Applied Imaging, a family-owned office technology company based out of Grand Rapids. He says that Applied Imaging’s membership with CMURC’s Mt. Pleasant location allows him to have a place to work close to the territory he covers for the company.

“I work out of Bay City and Midland, so it’s nice to have a place where I can come in, do my work, and get things done instead of having to work out of my car or a coffee shop,” Libby says. He’s also able to network with the other businesses using the space, and the relationships he’s created have led to more business for Applied Imaging. For example, he's secured contracts to provide equipment and services for CMURC’s third location about the SVRC Marketplace in Saginaw.

Employed by Applied Imaging out of Grand Rapids, Nick Libby uses CMURC to work close to home.

CMURC was originally established in Mt. Pleasant as part of an effort by the state of Michigan to create a sense of energy and excitement around the area’s entrepreneurs. Seeking an opportunity to help more entrepreneurs across the Great Lakes Bay region, CMURC began looking for a second location in order to expand beyond Isabella County, and they found that opportunity in Bay City.

A community of entrepreneurs

Located in Uptown Bay City on the second floor of the Uptown Place building, CMURC is a 4,850-square-foot space which offers views of the Saginaw River, a large coworking area with desk and cubicles, dedicated office spaces, a conference room, a VIP room, and a kitchen.

Erin Strang, President, and CEO of CMURC, says that choosing Bay City for their second location made sense because of the momentum already happening in the area.

“When I first came into Bay City, I felt like it was an awesome place,” Strang says, “and there was already awesome movement happening. Bay City is different than Mt. Pleasant in that it is already a community of entrepreneurs, and we’d like to see a continuation of the revitalization that is already happening here.”

To help encourage and continue that momentum, CMURC offers Bay County’s entrepreneurs different levels of service.

A space to work and collaborate

“We start off with our Basic Membership, which is like a gym membership,” Strang says. “For $150 a month, entrepreneurs can come in, use the coworking space, use the internet, and use whatever desk is available.” Members receive a key and are able to access the space 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

From there, for $250 a month, Regional Members can use all three CMURC locations -- Bay City, Saginaw, and Mt. Pleasant -- something Strang says is great for businesses with a wider footprint than a single city. Members at this level also receive a designated desk and a lockable file cabinet.

Businesses at the Professional Coworking level gain a dedicated office space they can use one day a week, which provides both a place to work as well as opportunities for them to connect with other members.

“If you’re a business needing financial services, and on Wednesdays, someone offering financial solutions is using their office, you can connect with them,” Strang says. This spirit of collaboration is also reinforced through daily events like Community Lunch and ideation sessions.

CMURC also offers their space to corporate clients, which allows any member of the corporation to use any of CMURC’s locations.

Dedicated offices inside CMURC

Along with facility use, CMURC also offers programs that help mentor and assist entrepreneurs get their businesses started in the right direction, working more efficiently, or growing more quickly.

Creating a business, one phase at a time

“If you spend hard work and dedication and time building your business money will find you, “ Strang says. “But if you spend time chasing money, you're going to spend a lot of time chasing money. Our accelerator program is a three-phase program with very stringent milestones designed to get from a business from an idea to their first sale. The first phase of the program goes into the feasibility of the idea, the concept itself, and there's a lot of market research done.”

The aim of the second phase of the program is to develop a business plan.

“The second phase really gets into the details,” Strang says. “It’s setting everything up, from the supply chain to the labor costs, to shipping. It looks at all the pieces and everything they need to know to make their idea work.”

After specific milestones are met, the entrepreneur moves onto the third phase which focuses on securing financing and strategic partnerships.

“Through the funds and programs we have access to, we can then help facilitate funds on behalf of the companies.” For example, through a state business accelerator fund, CMURC can access up to $50,000 for a qualified business to use for a specific purpose.

A business graduates the program when they make their first sale.

Making the jump

Strang hopes that the resources CMURC provides will encourage people to take successful first steps into creating and operating a business.

“Some people need some encouragement to make the jump. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody, but for those that it is for, we’d like to help create an environment to be successful.”

Though they only opened their Bay City location a year ago, the environment CMURC provides is already creating success stories in Bay County, and one example has moved in directly underneath CMURC in Uptown.

“I was at a CMURC Community Lunch where Audra Davis was presenting about the SVRC Marketplace in Saginaw,” says Alayna Wesener, who owns Sushi Remix along with her husband, Aaron. “At that time, I had for years secretly aspired to open a poké bowl restaurant, and at that Community Lunch, I felt that tiny spark turn into a flame.”

Wesener then established her LLC with the help of Shinners and Cooke, a professional co-worker at CMURC, and established her accounting and payroll with Weinlander Fitzhugh, a CMURC corporate partner.

“I met countless times with Start-up with Nicole, a consulting company that was a professional co-worker at the time,” she says. “I also walked side by side with Amberlyn Hales of Blending Bowl who also decided to take this same crazy journey with me after sitting in on the same Community Lunch.”

Wesener successful opened her first Sushi Remix location in Saginaw’s SVRC Marketplace, and the success there led to the opening of the second location in Bay City. Their official ribbon cutting is set for November 15th.

Beyond helping individual business owners succeed, Strang says that she loves seeing successful businesses benefiting the community by establishing themselves in Bay County.

“You get this awesome sense of pride when you walk through a downtown and come across a store that we helped in some way. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. You see the bricks and mortar, the increased tax base for the community. That people want to stay here, and they have a sense of pride because here is where they want to be.”