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Sunday, 21 June 2015 22:00

Creating Momentum: Ludington business plan competition, innovation camp seek to bolster entrepreneurial climate

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John Wilson, Western Land Services Inc. John Wilson, Western Land Services Inc. COURTESY PHOTO

LUDINGTON — John Wilson hopes to foster the spirit of entrepreneurism in Ludington. If the new $50,000 business plan competition he’s sponsoring ends up creating a new business in the lakeshore community, all the better.

Wilson, the CEO of Ludington-based Western Land Services Inc. that provides professional services to the oil-and-gas exploration industry, wants to inspire and attract entrepreneurial and creative talent. His idea to achieve that goal is a business plan competition that awards $50,000 to an entrepreneur to start or relocate an early-stage business to Mason County.

He isn’t quite sure what to expect from the Momentum Business Plan Competition, although he’s hopeful it can draw some “high-energy” people to the Ludington area with great ideas that can ultimately make a difference.

“Anything a community can do to bring these kinds of people in to work their magic in a community, the impact can be amazing,” he told MiBiz. “Who knows when you start these things? You don’t really know where it’s going to go. Just get a conversation going and see where it leads.”

Part of Wilson’s inspiration for the Momentum Business Plan Competition comes from visiting friends in Detroit and seeing similar events and areas that are experiencing revitalization, partly driven by new generations of young entrepreneurs and business leaders who are investing in the core city.

He started by looking at different business plan competitions elsewhere and decided to launch one in Ludington that’s funded by the Pennies from Heaven Foundation that he and his wife, Anita, formed in 2012 to support community projects and causes.

Wilson doesn’t doubt a successful business can emerge from the event, although “that’s not my main goal.”

“If the business is successful, that would be icing on the cake,” said Wilson, who hopes to make the business plan competition an annual event. “It kind of puts Ludington on the map. It seemed like a fun project not only for us but for the community.”

GENERATING BUZZ

Wilson partnered with the Ludington & Scottville Chamber of Commerce, which is administering the Momentum Business Plan Competition that’s open to independent, for-profit or nonprofit ventures with a viable business idea, plan or invention. Existing organizations or companies with less than $100,000 in sales or annual revenue can also apply to the competition by submitting a business plan to momentumstartup.org before the July 31 deadline.

The Ludington Chamber worked with Wilson over a period of four to five months to refine the structure and business plan for the competition and assemble a board of directors, said President and CEO Kathy Maclean.

Ludington already has what Maclean considers a “strong entrepreneurial culture, and this was a way to just build on that and create some excitement and buzz.”

The business plan competition comes at the right time after the recession of a half-decade ago, Maclean said. She senses a rising tide of entrepreneurism in the post-recession era.

One anecdotal sign is a strong increase in the number of ceremonial ribbon cuttings for small businesses she has attended in the last year with more than 40 such companies opening in the Mason County communities the chamber serves.

“It’s kind of like we’re setting a new benchmark,” Maclean said. “People are feeling comfortable enough to make their own dreams comes true.”

DRIVING INNOVATION

The Momentum Business Plan Competition is one of two initiatives in Ludington that touch on bolstering the entrepreneurial climate and business startups.

A group of Grand Rapids entrepreneurs wants to create what founder Tim Murphy envisions becoming “an innovation camp for students, an accelerator for entrepreneurs or a strategic think tank for Fortune 500s.” Called BluSky Retreat, the project would take place at Camp Douglas Smith, which is located along Hamlin Lake, just north of Ludington.

A Ludington native who grew up across the lake from the site, Murphy approached the property’s current owner, John Quiring, with an idea for an innovation camp. Quiring acquired the 1950s-era camp more than a decade ago and has “been nursing the camp back to health each year,” he said.

Murphy has a background in innovation and advanced design and led innovation retreats when he worked for Benton Harbor-based appliance manufacturer Whirlpool Corp. At the company, he would often place global teams in a rustic setting to brainstorm new product ideas.

Working with partner Ryan Lafferty, he wants to replicate that experience with BluSky Retreat.

“It was really powerful. You make people focused, you put them in the woods and put their cell phones in a basket, and it’s amazing what can happen,” Murphy said of his experience with innovation retreats. “If you get the right people, if you customize these teams, you can be powerful and deliver some great things.”

The partners are actively raising funds and seeking backers to support the project, and they plan to launch a Kickstarter campaign in July. They will need to raise about $1 million to start, Murphy said.

ADDING VIBRANCY

The Momentum Business Plan Competition and the vision for BluSky Retreat are coincidental and unconnected, but they do share the common vision of better positioning Ludington as a place for entrepreneurial and innovative talent.

“These are the people we want to attract to our community. That’s how you can continue to be vibrant,” Maclean said. “If we can draw new people and new businesses into our community, it’s about helping us grow.”

Maclean herself is a small business owner. She was one of the original partners in Jamesport Brewing Co. in downtown Ludington in 2000, and she and her husband recently opened a bike shop, Spindrift Cyclesports.

The Momentum Business Plan Competition will culminate on the evening of Aug. 20 with a pitch event at West Shore Community College in Scottville. The Ludington Chamber will match the five finalists chosen to present their business plan at the event with mentors and a support network to prepare them for the event and sharpen their pitches.

That support will continue after the event. The chamber will work its professional network to connect the winner with additional support and potential investors.

“It’s not going to just be one winner,” Maclean said. “We’re really going to be able to make a difference for people to connect the money with the ideas.”

MiBiz Staff Writer John Wiegand contributed to this story.

Read 3964 times Last modified on Sunday, 28 June 2015 18:01

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