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Friday, 06 July 2012 14:31

Innovator insight: Entrepreneur Craig Hall helps others launch, grow businesses

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Innovator insight: Entrepreneur Craig Hall helps others launch, grow businesses PHOTO: T.J. Hamilton
GRAND RAPIDS — You've probably heard of the West Michigan business development groups he has helped create, which include Grand Angels and Grand Valley Research Corp., but you may have never heard of Craig T. Hall before.

And that's the way Hall, president of Lee Shore Equities, likes to keep it.

Hall shuns the limelight, preferring to speak through his actions as a serial entrepreneur, investor and community activist, albeit a quiet one.

Since he graduated from Purdue University in 1972 with Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Engineering, Hall has started eight successful supply chain and related technology companies and two nonprofits — and that doesn't include all the entrepreneurs he's worked with and mentored over the past four decades.

He co-founded Grand Angels, a West Michigan angel investing group, in 2004, in part, because he had a difficult time raising growth capital for LeanLogistics, his company at that time. He realized if a guy like him, with a lot of local business connections, had a hard time raising dough, surely other entrepreneurs suffered the same or even worse fate.

"I traveled to Chicago with Mike Jandernoa to meet with Barry Moltz, co-founder of Prairie Angels," Hall said. "From that we decided to create Grand Angels to help young companies get funding and mentoring. It's about solving those problems and getting those needs, unmet or under met, and being creative in a way to solve them in an unusual way."

Jandernoa, the former CEO of Perrigo Co., and now general partner of Bridge Street Capital Fund 1 LP in Grand Rapids, had worked with Hall to find funding for LeanLogistics.

"We spent a lot of time working on LeanLogistics, when he was pulling that together," Jandernoa said. "Perrigo had a lot of logistics issues, so we could talk the same language."

Jandernoa said Hall's idea to use backhaul — the return trip of a truck, transporting cargo or freight, especially when carrying goods back over all or part of the same route — was a brilliant innovation. One out of 10 trucks on the road had been running empty, Hall explained. He reckoned a 1 percent increase in utilization of equipment transforms into a 10-percent gain in profit.

"What I love about working with Craig is he is an innovator and thinks deeply about how to take some idea to a whole different level and bring value to it," Jandernoa said. "When you have that kind of vision, it's helpful for young entrepreneurs to gain insight from him."

Working with young entrepreneurs is Hall's passion. He owns the building at 38 West Fulton where San Chez Restaurant Inc. is located. On the top floor is The Factory, a 5,000-square-foot co-working space for very early stage companies. He's slowly transforming the remaining 13,000 square feet into executive offices and other amenities focused on growing technology startups in West Michigan that he dubbed Tech Hub. Hall is in a partnership with The Factory founder Aaron Schaap.

"The Factory and our new Tech Hub are more resources in the community to help entrepreneurs be with like-minded individuals," Hall said. "We're helping those who are thinking about doing something in business make that leap. We want to make it easier for them to say, 'Hey, why wouldn't I try this?'"

Removing barriers for entrepreneurs is what Hall is about, said Jody Vanderwel, president of Grand Angels.

"He's a serial entrepreneur," she said. "He understands the space. He knows what it is like to get a company started from scratch. He understands the perseverance it takes, the character it takes. He would stand out even among Grand Angels as someone with the most business start-up experience in his own career. "

What's more, Hall works closely with Grand Valley State University to mine the basic research developed by professors. He serves as an adviser to the Grand Valley Research Corp., which is focused on commercializing this basic research.

"Craig brings something unique to the table," said Jim Bachmeier, GVSU Vice President for Finance and Administration. "We academics don't have the boots-on-the-ground experience that Craig does. We're good at developing ideas. But making them work in a commercial setting, like Craig has, well, let's just say he's bridged that gap."

He also keeps plugged into the Michigan business space by serving on the boards of a number of businesses. Those include Nucraft Furniture Co., Alpena Power Company, Comfort Research, Lakeshore Advantage, NewNorth Center for Design in Business, and Cascade Engineering Inc.

Cascade Engineering CEO Fred Keller said Hall is able to capture business value, "but it's more than the value of the business. He's very conscious about how that business impacts the community and people's lives. He not only thinks about how to maximize value for shareholders, but also for the community."

Keller said he values Hall's advice highly both from a technology and a logistics standpoint. He described Hall's greatest strength as his "overall strategic thinking."

"He knows what it takes to turn an idea into a business plan. He's also always upbeat — a trait of a good entrepreneur. If Craig sees a problem, he'll try to find an answer," Keller said.

Hall tries to bring that same problem-solving ability to local communities, including Holland, where he lives. Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra describes Hall as one of the many folks in the Holland community who has been successful in business and very public-minded. But Hall works quietly behind the scenes and shuns the limelight.

"He is not one of those guys whose name pops to mind as a prominent successful Holland business person," Dykstra said.

But Hall took a very public position two years ago in the Michigan gubernatorial primary. Hall was an early backer of now Gov. Rick Snyder. He organized Snyder's Holland fundraiser. Dykstra said Hall is not afraid to try and fail.

"From my experience with him, even when something is not working out," Dykstra said, "you can always tell he's trying to learn from those instances, and trying not to make the same mistake twice."

Hall comes by his entrepreneurial skills naturally. His first job was in the family business, Taylor Produce, where he helped buy and sell produce. He was in charge of supply chain management. His first company, Info-Tronics Systems, started as a software development company, but then morphed into his next company, Logistics Concepts, which developed inventory order and management systems. All the other companies that followed had something to do with technology, logistics, or both.

This business path ultimately led him to co-found LeanLogistics. The company developed patented Software as a Service technology for shippers and carriers to proactively manage their entire supply chains from planning to execution and settlement. LeanLogistics customers, when he owned the company, included Meijer, Pepsi Americas, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Barilla Pasta, McDonald's, Ace Hardware and Chiquita, among others. He sold that company in 2008.

His business mantra is simple: "It's not necessarily about the technology issue you're trying to solve, but about creating a business mode and delivery, too. How do you create a business around your idea to deliver service or technology that someone is willing to pay for?"

Hall said the key to becoming a successful entrepreneur is perseverance.

"Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. An entrepreneur not only needs a vision, but also tenacity, or they will not succeed. If they do want to change the world, they can break through. Put another way, my wife puts sayings on a board in our kitchen each month. She recently wrote, 'You will only achieve what is expected of you.' So if you have low expectations, you will achieve them. But if you have high expectations, you can achieve anything."

Mike Brennan is senior technology writer for MiBiz. His day job is editor and publisher of MITechNews.com

 

Read 4218 times Last modified on Sunday, 29 July 2012 22:08

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