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Sunday, 22 December 2013 21:00

Small business forecast: Carol Lopucki, State Director, Michigan Small Business Technology Development Center, Grand Rapids

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Carol Lopucki Carol Lopucki

As state director for the Michigan Small Business Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) housed at Grand Valley State University, Carol Lopucki works closely with entrepreneurs looking to start a business, enhance their use of technology or find access to capital. Recently, she has seen a major positive shift in attitudes toward entrepreneurs. As a result of this shift and other factors, she thinks now is one of the best times to launch a small business.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing as entrepreneurship is on the rise?

There are great opportunities to launch a business right now because there is an environmental and attitudinal change going on in the economy. At the national level, entrepreneurship and business change is cool. Now the economy is saying that starting a business and being self-employed and hiring two or three people is significant. We have switched gears and are calling them ‘entrepreneurs.’ Now we have accelerators, and early-stage seed funds and crowdfunding….

There are a number of different service providers and organizations to help entrepreneurs and startups. Where can companies go to get the proper support?

We have multiple places one can go to help a company triage its way through that world. It’s very difficult for the entrepreneur with the idea. If it’s a tech company, it can be a little cleaner, like for instance somebody with a phone app. It can be different if it’s a tech company with a life-sustaining solution to a world health problem. This means that the service providers have to stay on top of all these new funds and how to prepare (companies) for them. What’s exciting from our side of it is that the map is dotted with several service providers and some potential access to capital. You still have to have a good idea, you still have to have a good plan and you still have to have some element of structure. Sometimes entrepreneurs head in too many directions at once and that is an awful lot of what service organizations will help with.

What are some of the new opportunities for entrepreneurs as we look to next year?

The path is still the same, but the environment around it is different. If you look at West Michigan, we’ve got the Urban Market and all these exciting opportunities and synergies for businesses now, who maybe didn’t have that 10 years ago here. But you still have to manage financing, manage growth, figure out who the right customer is. ...The CEO can’t possibly manage everything in the business. Those are really critical pieces. That is where ‘CEO fatigue’ can set in. And at each level of growth, the fatigue is different.

What will the MI-SBTDC focus on in 2014?

We have found two wonderful opportunities as we have grown. One is that we have gotten deeply engaged with the state’s export program. We have people who may be selling to Mexico or Canada and can make that leap abroad. We are working on a contract with the MEDC related to first customer exporters. There’s a lot of energy about the fact that small businesses can export. There are a lot of great partners we work with such as the Van Andel Global Trade Center and the U.S. Export Assistance Center.

What about beyond exports?

We have also been doing an online venture planning program (that helps) business owners out there that don’t have good strategy written in place. We have put 480 people through (the online class). We’re trying to use innovation for ourselves. We are also doing deep market research through Grand Valley’s Seidman College of Business. We do data for the consultants that are working for the companies to help them identify their market space. A piece of the research that we are doing right now is search engine optimization (SEO) analysis, both domestic and international. For a company that is exporting, this helps ensure that they are sending the right message internationally.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes

Read 3789 times Last modified on Sunday, 22 December 2013 21:29

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