GRAND RAPIDS — If Michigan is going to battle back to a strong position on the global economic stage, it’s going to need help from entrepreneurs.
That’s the message from Josh Linkner, CEO and managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital firm based in Detroit that specializes in assisting startups.
“How we can make the biggest impact the fastest? Foster startups,” Linkner told MiBiz. “Think about the impact that Groupon is having in Chicago. Billions of dollars of revenue, thousands and thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars given to philanthropy and community support. That’s not coming from McDonald’s.”
Linkner is also a New York Times bestselling author and veteran of four startups. At the Oct. 22 Economic Club of Grand Rapids luncheon, Linkner used his experience working on both sides of the venture capital world to argue for a more entrepreneurial climate in Grand Rapids and MIchigan as a whole.
“I think that it isn’t Detroit versus Grand Rapids. It’s about all of us together as one state, and I think there’s amazing work happening here in the startup community,” Linkner said. “We’re working hard in Detroit to foster that community as well, and I think the more we can collaborate, share best practices and help each other out, the better for all of us.”
Linkner expounded on his “Four Best Ways to Kill Entrepreneurship” as case-studies in how companies should not behave: feed the fear, cling to the past, embrace bureaucracy and be a follower. The issue Linkner particularly saw as destructive to entrepreneurship and innovation was the propensity of Michigan’s business culture to shame failed entrepreneurs.
“The culture we’ve built up here I don’t think celebrates the entrepreneurial journey enough,” Linkner said. “In Michigan, if you screw something up and your company fails, it’s like a scarlet letter. In Silicon Valley, if your startup fails, then it’s like a badge of honor. So, I think we need to be a lot more encouraging of the creative process, of risk-taking, of embracing failures and experimenting.”
Linkner went on to describe some examples of companies that are examples of innovation in the business world. He put special emphasis on the rise of internet sensation Dollar Shave Club, which launched an unconventional advertising campaign in March with a YouTube video that went viral. According to Linkner, Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based razor delivery company, got over 17,000 customers in the first week of its campaign.
Linkner also gave credit to Rick DeVos and $15 million pre-seed fund Start Garden as being instrumental to helping turn around West Michigan’s economy.
“I adore Rick DeVos, and I think the work he’s doing is tremendous,” Linkner said. “It would be very easy for him to do something else, and I admire his courage. I think that that type of activity is going to play a critical role in saving Michigan’s economy.”
Linkner’s overall message was that a strong entrepreneurial community will help the overall economy of Michigan to grow, and that the time for “woe is me” is over.
“The biggest and quickest impact that’s made in a community is from entrepreneurs,” Linkner said. “It’s time for us to stop licking our wounds.”