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Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund public hearing on Feb. 8 in Lansing

The Michigan Strategic Fund and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) announced a public hearing to accept questions and comments regarding the new Pure Michigan Venture Match (MVM) Fund. The hearing is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 8 at the MEDC, 300 N. Washington Sq., Lansing. 

“Innovative early-stage companies often need venture capital to help finance critical stages of their development and commercialization,” said MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney. “We are aiming to bridge this capital gap and help entrepreneurs to develop promising technologies to grow into new innovation companies, while we diversify Michigan’s economy and create new wealth in our state.” 

The Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund will match early stage investments from eligible venture funds in Michigan-based technology businesses. The minimum venture investment that will be considered is $700,000 and the maximum is no more than $3,000,000. The match from the MSF will be no less than $350,000 and no more than $500,000, with similar investment terms as the venture investment. 

Companies will only be allowed to apply for MSF funding once they have secured a qualified venture investment, making this a market driven application process. There will be a peer review of the company business plan and investors as required under the 21st Century Jobs Fund legislation. 

The program is intended to attract venture funds, within and outside of Michigan, to consider investments in early stage and pre-revenue Michigan-based technology companies and to mitigate some risk for venture fund investments at this stage by participating with MSF funds in early rounds. 

After consideration of the comments and information received at the public hearing, the final MVM Fund program guidelines will be presented to the MSF Board for approval and implementation. The program is anticipated to launch on March 1, 2012 if approved by the MSF board at the February board meeting.
Relevant documents regarding the Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund can be downloaded here.

What do you think of the Pure Michigan Venture Match Fund? Leave a comment below.

Strauss Column: Innovation

Question:  We were wondering if you had any suggestions regarding how we could promote more innovation in our business. We own a small manufacturing plant and have down time that could be put to use  -- if we knew what to use it for. We, as partners, only have so many ideas. Thanks in advance.

Answer: I think the best way to answer your question is to share a tale I heard a few years ago that exemplifies how some companies unleash their people to innovate. What they do, you can do too.

Here’s the story: 3M is a company that is truly innovative: It invented sandpaper in 1904, masking tape in 1925, transparent tape in 1930, electrical tape in 1945, surgical drape in 1950, and synthetic running tracks in 1963. But its an invention from the 70s that I want to share with you today.

In 1968, 3M research scientist Dr. Spencer Silver was doing some work regarding glue and in one of his experiments, Silver stumbled upon a unique substance: An adhesive that was gummy, not sticky, but it remained sort-of sticky even after it was repeatedly used. Silver knew that he had invented a highly unusual new substance, but the question was - what to do with it? A glue that didn’t stick very well might have been considered a mistake at other companies, but at 3M it was something to explore.

And what is cool about 3M is that it gives its employees the room to do just that. 3M has a policy that allows everyone in the compnay to pursue what they call “15% time projects.” That is, everyone at 3M is allowed to use 15% of their time to follow their muse and innovate. This policy has been in effect since 1948 and has resulted in products ranging from clear bandages to painter’s tape that sticks to the edge of a wall to prevent paint bleed.

Maybe not surprisingly, this sort of policy has become a hot topic for innovative businesses. For instance, Google has a similar policy: It allows employees to use up to 20% of their time to innovate and think outside the box. Amazon has something similar too.

You may want to do something comparable as well. After all, who knows what genius is inside some of your employees?

And it was this policy that allowed Dr. Silver to pursue his dream of finding some practical use for his non-sticky glue. Silver refused to simply let it fade away. So committed was he to his innovation that for the next several years, Silver gave seminars to his colleagues at 3M, extolling the virtues of this new adhesive. But still, no one at the company could find a good use for the adhesive.

That is, until 3M employee Art Fry had, what a 3M spokesman later called “a moment of pure ‘Eureka.’” On the day in qustion, Mr. Fry was in his church singing in the choir when he became frustrated that the little pieces of paper he used to mark his place in his hymnal kept falling out. If only he had some sort of sticky bookmark. And then it his him: Dr. Silver’s strange glue could make for a great bookmark!

Later at the office, attaching Silver’s adhesive to the back of some notepaper, Fry created some sample bookmarks. Although Fry thought he was building a better mousetrap, it was only when he attached the sticky bookmark to a report, and wrote on it, that he realized that he had not created a bookmark at all. According to Fry, it was then that he “came to the very exciting realization that my sticky bookmark was actually a new way to communicate and organize information.”

The gummy bookmark begat a sticky note.

The rest, as they say, is history: With an actual use for the long-dormant adhesive, Silver and Fry were able to get the sticky notes on 3M’s new product agenda, and by 1977, they began by giving the notes to secretaries and showed them how, by writing notes on the sticky paper, documents could be kept neat and clean.

3M marketers were encouraged by the fact that within the company, the notes had becom

Three tips to help you fight back against the big dogs of online retail

In January, Amazon.com ran a promotion encouraging consumers to use its mobile app. If customers purchased an item via its app while in a retailers' store, Amazon provided a monetary incentive to choose the online e-tailer over the brick-and-mortar store.

Retailers were outraged. It had finally happened--online retailers were turning small, independent and even chain stores into showrooms for the online giants. How could retailers ever compete with its online counterparts’ low-priced inventory?

Retailers would be hard-pressed to do so. Retailers have to acknowledge that the price wars are...well, over. Instead, successful retailing will depend on retailers’ ability to do the following for each customer that enters the store:

(1) Offer an exceptional experience--that can’t be recreated online. This is the biggest opportunity for retailers. With a little effort (and some teamwork), retailers can bring the magic back to shopping. It can be as simple as offering classes for customers to learn how to use products, or have local celebrities in-store to showcase their favorite items.

(2) Rethink the store footprint. Instead of having 30 kinds of hammers, why not have the two hammers that everyone wants? Ensure that the right inventory is easily accessible and clearly visible with effective, inviting signage.

(3) Don’t sell--consult. Customers are coming to the store because they didn’t get what they needed from manufacturers’ websites or Amazon. They already know about the items' best and worst qualities. Don’t be a salesman; rather, be a likable expert that the customer will come back to time and time again for insight and advice. 

Michael Koploy, an analyst at Software Advice--an online resource for buyers interested in retail software solutions--has put together an in-depth guide for independent retailers, including complementing technology to assist these strategies. To see the guide check out: How to Differentiate Your Store from Online Retailers | A Guide to Independent Retail in 2012

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/

What strategies do you use to fight back against the big online retailers? Share a comment below!

New survey report: small business confidence hits highest level in three years

SBAM’s national affiliate, the National Small Business Association (NSBA), today released its 2011 Year-End Economic Report, which shows a decidedly more positive outlook for America’s small businesses, with important gains in several key indicators. Most notably, more small-business owners report being confident about the future of their businesses than at any time in the last three years, up from 64 percent just six months ago to 75 percent today. 

“Although this report is by far the most positive we’ve seen in quite some time, it is imperative policymakers not mistake these gains for a task completed,” stated NSBA Chair Chris Holman, CEO of Michigan Business Network.com and President of The Greater Lansing Business Monthly. “There are countless issues that continue to hinder small businesses.”

While the majority of small-business owners (66 percent) continue to anticipate a flat economy in the coming year, the number expecting a recession was more than cut in half at 14 percent, down from 30 percent six months ago. Additionally, the number of small businesses expecting economic expansion in the coming year nearly doubled from 12 percent to 20 percent in six months.
Revenue growth was at its highest point in more than three years with 46 percent of small businesses reporting increases—up from 39 percent six months ago. There was a commensurate drop in those reporting decreases in revenue from 37 percent to 31 percent. And while job growth didn’t experience the same kind of growth—it remained unchanged at just 22 percent reporting increases—the number of small businesses (23 percent) reporting employment decreases was the lowest it’s been in three years.
When asked which issues are most important for policymakers to address, small businesses overwhelmingly ranked reducing the national deficit number one—up to 44 percent from 34 percent six months ago—followed by reducing tax and regulatory burdens and reigning in the costs of health care. Along those lines, there was a marked increase among small-business owners who cited regulatory burdens as a major challenge for their business—up from 31 percent six months ago to 40 percent today.
Please click here to access the 2011 Year-End Economic Report.