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Monday, 20 August 2012 10:08

MAREC adds programs to fuel startup activity

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MUSKEGON — The Grand Valley State University Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center added three new programs to its host of resources for alternative energy and technology startups.

MAREC recently announced it planned to offer three new programs that could further help entrepreneurs get their business concept from the garage to market. The suite of resources includes a virtual tenant program, walk-in Wednesdays and the incubator tenant referral program.

Because MAREC is in a Smart Zone, the additional programs are meant to extend the reach of the center and provide assistance to new technology entrepreneurs looking to take that next step, according to the center's director.

"As a Smart Zone, not only do we have our primary focus of developing businesses and technology in the sphere of renewable energy, but were also tasked with the job of assisting business technology of many kinds," said Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC. "Anything that has a technology angle to it, we do. These programs enhance our larger mission as a Smart Zone."

The virtual tenant program provides access to MAREC facilities, including the use of conferences rooms, a shared virtual office and the Virtual Member Resource Center. Virtual tenants can also access Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center assets housed at MAREC.

Users can also benefit from access to investor networks, grant programs and help with business plan presentation and pitch development — as well as with coordination with regional universities and community colleges to hire qualified interns. Administrative support on clerical projects is also available. MAREC also allows the virtual tenants to use the center's press release distribution program.

Other perks include a company profile and logo on MAREC's website and discounts on MAREC events and training sessions. MAREC also acts as a corporate address for virtual tenants.

The program's cost is $125 due the first of every month, which Boezaart said is cheaper than renting out some office or commercial space in a non-descript business park. Boezaart said in that scenario, all a person has is space. At MAREC entrepreneurs have the environment where networking is the norm and an array of resources are at their fingertips that they wouldn't be able to access in a generic office building, he said.

"The program is meant to support folks who might be working out of their garage, kitchen or basement and are ready to take that next step, but are unsure what that is," said Joe Graczyk, incubator manager for MAREC. "Here they can get legal and marketing advice, collaborate with other tenants and hold meetings with suppliers and customers instead of meeting at a place like Starbucks."

Boezaart characterized the program as a sort safe haven for entrepreneurship and start-ups.

"It's a comfortable space to spread entrepreneurial wings," he said. "There is a high degree of support here not available elsewhere."

Upon applying, potential clients must provide GVSU a two-page product development strategy including measurable benchmarks for the term of the agreement. Non-proprietary information collected annually by GVSU will help the university to track companies' progress and growth.

MAREC currently has one virtual tenant, Mackenzie Bay International Ltd., an energy technologies and management systems developer in the wind energy production sector. The company is in the process of commercializing a high efficiency, vertical axis turbine and in 2010 received a $620,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help that effort.

Mackenzie Bay had previously participated in MAREC's incubator program.

What MAREC is doing is reflective of what's going on in Michigan right now, where a lot of focus is on helping foster a more entrepreneurial culture, Boezaart said.

"The state government is working diligently to ramp up effort to support start ups," he said. "Depending on what kind of business you are, (MAREC) can get you connected with the School of Engineering, the Van Andel Global Trade Center or the (Seidman) business school."

Through the virtual tenant program, entrepreneurs can instantly plug in to these resources, present a professional image, and keep costs down, he said. On top of that, the exposure a company receives out of MAREC and GVSU is another added benefit, Boezaart added.

MAREC's other two programs also focus on providing benefit to startups and entrepreneurs.

With nearly 3,000 square feet of vacant space and some other space that could be converted into workspace, MAREC wants to market its availability to potential incubator tenants. The tenant referral program offers awards ranging from $250 to $1,000 — based on the square footage and lease terms signed — to tenants that help bring in other new tenants. The offer is only valid until Dec. 31.

On the other hand, the center's "Walk-in Wednesday" program is designed for anyone interested in learning more about what goes on in the facility and what's available in support of entrepreneurs. The facility is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. No appointment is needed to visit.

Read 1150 times Last modified on Monday, 20 August 2012 10:11

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