EAST LANSING — Mid Michigan will soon have its own business model competition that will give Michigan entrepreneurs the chance to win $50,000 in cash prizes plus rub elbows with angel and venture capital investors that could fund their dream projects even more.
The first GreenLight Business Model Competition was announced in December by Spartan Innovations, a subsidiary of the Michigan State University Foundation focused on launching sustainable startup companies from MSU’s research innovations. GreenLight will take place on March 13 at The Henry Center in East Lansing. The competition is open to any Michigan company less than one year old. The deadline to enter is Feb. 22.
Spartan Innovations is co-located with MSU Technologies, the university’s technology transfer office, and Business-CONNECT, MSU’s portal for engagement with the business community, to help provide a path to commercialize student and faculty companies.
But Paul Jaques, director of student and community engagement at Spartan Innovations, says the GreenLight competition is open to any entrepreneur, even those without MSU ties.
“Any and all state of Michigan residents that have a company or idea that has been in existence for one year or less are eligible to apply,” Jaques said. “We did not want to take anything away from all of the other great entrepreneurial events that are going on around the state, but we wanted to make a new event that is more centrally located and easily accessible to all state of Michigan residents.”
Jaques said first prize, $25,000, has been put up by the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, which laid the foundation for the contest in 2012.
“We actually hosted a startup challenge ourselves this past year,” said April Clobes, executive vice president at MSU Federal Credit Union. “We gave that contest $25,000. We gave $25,000 again this time for GreenLight. We think it’s a great idea to retain businesses in the tri-county area. We’re trying to help create economic development and business growth and make the region a more viable business community.”
Brian Abraham, executive director of Spartan Innovations, said he’d love to see many of the GreenLight competitors go on to attract capital from angel and venture capital firms from throughout Michigan and beyond to help generate new business ventures for the greater Lansing area. He’d like to see the tri-county area morph into an entrepreneurial hotbed.
“I’d like our region to become like Silicon Valley or Boston,” Abraham said. “It will take awhile to get there, but if we come together with one voice, it could happen.”
Abraham said he expects applicants to come from three different groups: Michigan State University students; MSU faculty and staff; and the entrepreneurial community from throughout the state. He hopes GreenLight will be able to award one grand prize and additional prizes for each category. More sponsors will need to step up to accomplish that goal, he said.
“We’re going to wait to see what kinds of submissions we get,” he said. “If we have hundreds, we may change how we organize the sub-categories.”
Abraham said GreenLight wants to work with all the other entrepreneurial groups in the state as a collaborator, not a competitor.
One of Michigan longest running business-plan competitions, Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest, has become a GreenLight sponsor. GLEQ Executive Director Diane Durance said GreenLight competitors, particularly students, could then join the GLEQ’s spring competition, which pays a top prize of $100,000 each June.
“Brian said other business-plan competitions don’t work well for his students,” Durance said. “Spring is better because it gives them the fall as a runway to prepare their business ideas.”
Durance said GreenLight could become a farm team for GLEQ. GreenLight hosts its final elevator pitch contest at the Henry Center on March 22. GLEQ’s spring registration closes on March 27.
Bizdom, a nonprofit founded by serial entrepreneur Dan Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and general partner at Detroit Venture Partners, also has become a GreenLight sponsor for similar reasons. But Maria LaLonde, recruiting and development leader for Bizdom in Detroit, said Bizdom backs GreenLight because it supports entrepreneurs in Michigan.
“Their focus is on early-stage startups all over Michigan,” she said. “GreenLight helps inspire Michigan entrepreneurs to help Michigan. GreenLight helps connect aspiring entrepreneurs with mentors and capital, and that’s very important.”
LaLonde said Bizdom supports all business-plan competitions in Michigan.
“Our goal is to be supportive of entrepreneurship and connect with entrepreneurs throughout the state in case we can be a resource. We applaud GreenLight’s efforts. Michigan entrepreneurs need all the help they can get,” she said.
For more information on the GreenLight program and to apply, visit www.greenlightmichigan.com.
Mike Brennan is senior technology writer at MiBiz. His day job is editor & publisher of MITechNews.com