June 8, 2013

The Morning Sun

Entrepreneurs looking to jump-start their developing companies might be surprised to see the resources they need offered right in Mt. Pleasant.

Central Michigan University Research Corporation offers new business incubator and accelerator services for mid-Michigan companies in their early stages.

And now, CMURC is offering a Right Choice scholarship program, where it will offer four monthly scholarships to entrepreneurs looking to network and build businesses within the corporation.

“We’re creating an environment here that has the programs and the services that any entrepreneur start-up company would need,” said Elissa Richmond, CMURC marketing and public relations director. “(The Right Choice program) takes somebody from an idea phase all the way to selling their product.”

In 2012, CMURC created eight companies and 46 jobs with a total investment of almost $10 million.

The funding for CMURC, a 501(c)3 non-profit, is provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership between the state and local communities.

It is a cooperation between the city of Mt. Pleasant and CMU, president and CEO Erin O’Brien said.

“They partnered together and applied for a SmartZone designation through the state,” she said.

CMURC is one of 15 SmartZones in the state.

A SmartZone, created by the MEDC, is a high-growth area near a university where an incubator is placed.

“What we found ... is there’s all these other pieces that start-up companies and entrepreneurs need that the community didn’t offer,” Richmond said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here. There’s a lot of these services and programs in bigger cities, but not here.”

To address the problem, CMURC was developed at the turn of the millennium. A service provider center, known as “the station” was created to link entrepreneurs with both physical space and professional connections entrepreneurs can use.

The physical space includes interactive TVs, conference rooms, a wetlab, wireless Internet and smartboards.

These professional connections include patent and business attorneys, graphic designers, book keepers, accountants and printing and marketing services.

CMURC reports to a board of directors, O’Brien said. CMU president George Ross is the chair, and other members of the board include university, public and private sector individuals.

CMURC remains highly competitive with the other SmartZones in the state, Richmond said.

CMURC doesn’t just service students, O’Brien stressed, but anybody in the community looking to start a business.

Right now, CMURC awards about three of the Right Choice scholarships a month.

“Their time is their commitment,” she said. “We select the best and the brightest.”

Eric Root, vice president and director of sales and marketing of Lansing-based Spartan Printing, said he volunteers time every week to stop into CMURC to offer his skills to the station.

“As the company grows, it’s business for my company as well,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s a good way to meet a lot of new upcoming businesses, and maybe share referrals with the other service providers.”

Jeff Howell, marketing director of Flint-based Rex Studio, a web design firm, heard about CMURC when asked to give a quote for designing the corporation’s website.

“We looked at what CMURC is doing here, and we felt that it was going to be a good area for us to do some relationship-building,” he said.

Howell said he is interested in not only helping to guide start-up businesses and offer consultation, but is also excited to create a foothold in the Mt. Pleasant community for his business.

Anyone who works with CMURC has access to all the amenities, Richmond said.

CMURC is designed to harness the technology from CMU and bring it to entrepreneurs.

The accelerator portion of CMURC is what connects entrepreneurs with their resources, Richmond said.

The incubator part of the design offers entrepreneurs a chance to keep building their business from inside the station.

“They’re just not ready to take their business out into the community on their own,” Richmond said. “They still need some support.”

Randi Shaffer can be reached at 989-779-6059,
or on Facebook at facebook.com/randi.shaffer