BAY CITY, MI -- It's Thursday afternoon and about a dozen entrepreneurs and business owners are talking about social media, politics and work-life balance while standing around a hip in-office bar with views of the Saginaw River.
Robert Miller, an attorney, asks the group, "Would you want your mom going through the pictures on your phone?" He's met with laughter from those in attendance.
It seems like typical water cooler talk, but over the past year at Central Michigan University Research Corp.'s (CMURC) entrepreneur hub at Uptown Bay City, these types of networking events have hatched new business ventures and innovative ideas to help business owners thrive.
Miller, for instance, started a YouTube channel for his law practice that focuses on estate planning, asset protection and other legal topics, based on some recommendations from other entrepreneurs.
Marjo Morden is a budding entrepreneur who hasn't come up with that next great big idea, but she's hopeful it'll come to her soon by positioning herself around likeminded people. "This is where the movers and shakers are in the community," she said.
Introduction to success
The entrepreneur hub that opened a year ago has seen its fair share of success stories over the past 12 months. After operating in Mt. Pleasant for 5 years, the university decided to open a Bay City location and has plans for a third location in Saginaw to open in August at Saginaw's new SVRC Marketplace, 203 S. Washington Ave.
Here are a handful of entrepreneurs from the Bay City hub who are looking to take their small businesses to the next level:
Amberlyn Hales is the owner of Astute Advantage, a social media and digital marketing consulting company that hopes to assist other business owners who come through the incubator.
Hales is a station tenant throughout the week at both Bay City and Mount Pleasant CMURC locations. She utilizes the business incubator to network and connect with the community.
"They create a really cool atmosphere for me because it's full of entrepreneurs and they need my services," Hales said. "I'm able to network really easily and connect with the community just by having my office there."
Hales' business -- which builds out websites and runs social media campaigns -- employs four people.
Hales said she and her employees participate in all of CMURC's community perks for networking purposes and to help other entrepreneurs brainstorm new ideas.
"Had I known years ago when I first was destined to be an entrepreneur that something like CMURC existed, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Their program is amazing,"Hales said.
Hales also owns The Cosmetic Wellness Center in Saginaw and will soon open her third business, The Blending Bowl, in the SVRC Marketplace, opening in June.
Cooke Productions, LLC
Cooke Productions is a multimedia video company owned by James Cooke. He utilizes office space at CMURC up to five times a week.
"They helped me build an LLC, and they helped me build the company," Cooke said.
He said he takes advantage of the businesses' community perks like "Beer: 30," which takes place every Thursday afternoon.
"One day a week, I enjoy Beer 30 because it's in the office, I can leave my computer and walk right over there, and have a couple of drinks, and the cool thing is that's when most people who aren't typically there show up," Cooke said. "I meet somebody new every time."
Most of Cooke's clientele is from Metro Detroit. He produces video for luxury real estate firms, music festivals and corporate businesses.
Cooke could do the same work from his home, but the incubator offers him more of a professional atmosphere.
"It's really just an environment that separates work from home for me," he said.
Studio 23, the nonprofit art gallery located in downtown Bay City, uses the incubator to network with entrepreneurs and come up with new ways to market their gallery and get more foot traffic.
Valerie Allen, curator for the non-profit said the incubator's "ideation sessions" helps the studio through the challenges a business might be facing, such as how to get more people into the gallery.
Fourth Industrial Revolution
Dave Dittenber is the owner of Bay City's Old City Hall, Tavern 101 and American Kitchen restaurants, but his work at the incubator is focused on his newest venture: 4th-IR, or Fourth Industrial Revolution, an artificial intelligence company that's initially focusing on the healthcare industry.
Dittenber started Fourth Industrial Revolution last year with a former Dow Chemical employee. That same year the CMURC Board of Directors named the businessman its 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year,
Dittenber said he's focused on bringing high-technology jobs in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
"Dittenber's focus on building his business and high-technology jobs within the Great Lakes Bay Region were key factors in this recognition," CMU President George E. Ross, who also serves as chair of the CMURC Board, previously said. "We look forward to watching his continued evolution in the health care industry."
Jen Idalski is the owner of 989 Concierge. She's a professional assistant and small business owner seeking to help businesses "grow and thrive."
Idalski uses CMURC as a CoWork member.
"I wanted to make sure that I was making the right decisions and they were helping me develop my ideas," she said.
Idalski launched her new business last month after participating in Leadership Bay County, discussing the idea with other area business owners to gauge their interest, and working with CMURC and the Michigan Small Business Development Center Great Lakes Bay Region at Delta College.
A community perk is offered every day of the week at the business incubator.
Monday: Community Lunch
12-1 p.m. Bring your lunch and engage with Right Choice Program members as they perfect their Investor Pitches.
4:30-6:30 p.m. Engage, bounce ideas off of like-minded individuals, learn from each other, and grow. Facilitated by CMURC team members.
Wednesday: Wellness Wednesday
Learn what wellness means to the CMURC community with fun, creative ways to keep your body, mind, and heart well. You can also participate in a weekly FitBit challenge.
Thursday: Beer :30
4:30-5:30 p.m. Kick back and connect in an informal setting and talk about what you need as a business owner. You will most likely find the some of the CMURC team at Beer :30.
Friday: Food Truck Friday Face Off (Summer Perk)
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Walk outside the front door to purchase lunch or sweet treats from food trucks, restaurants and caterers from across the Great Lakes Bay Region every Friday from June through August. This event, which takes place in the front parking lot of CMURC Mount Pleasant, is open to the public.
"We've gotten integrated with a lot of entrepreneurs and companies looking to strengthen the awareness about our company and what we do," said Erin Strang, president and CEO of CMURC.
"We're very hopeful we'll have enough of a presence to help entrepreneurs in the Great Lakes Bay Region."
How to become a member
Day pass ($15 per day): Allows one day access on Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Basic membership ($150 per month): A basic membership provides 24/7 access in one location, professional conference room access, wireless internet access, CMURC social community connections, participation in all community perks and kitchen facilities.
Regional membership ($250 per month): The membership provides one dedicated desk at a headquarter location, 24/7 access at all locations, designated mailbox and lockable file cabinest, professional conference room access, wireless internet access, CMURC social community connections, participation in all community perks and access to kitchen facilities.
Corporate partner drop-in ($1,800 a year): Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. access (all locations), online name, and logo with external link.
Corporate partner powerhouse ($5,000 a year): Unlimited Participant CoWork Access (all locations),online name, logo with external link, off-site meeting room, private training space (classroom seats 30), digital, social, and print marketing inclusion, and company signage at CMURC.