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Sunday, 21 June 2015 22:00

Q&A: Laurie Supinski, Director of Emerge West Michigan

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Laurie Supinksi, Emerge West Michigan Laurie Supinksi, Emerge West Michigan COURTESY PHOTO

5x5 Night returns this week, offering $5,000 each month to anyone with a great idea. The monthly pitch competition, which is set for a 10-month run, follows the same format created by founder Rick DeVos. Anyone can submit an idea to the 5x5 Night website. A public vote determines the five ideas for a five-minute pitch each month to a five-judge panel that selects the winner of the $5,000. The difference this time is that 5x5 Night — scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 23 at the Start Garden office — is now run by Emerge West Michigan, a web portal launched last fall that serves as a clearinghouse for services to support entrepreneurs and startup companies. 5x5 Night is the latest program for Emerge West Michigan, which will soon add a mentorship initiative. MiBiz spoke with Emerge Director Laurie Supinski about why the nonprofit organization decided to take over and resurrect 5x5 Night.

Why does it make sense for Emerge to take over 5x5 Night?

We’re working with companies that are just at the idea stage and trying to create a system through Emerge that has a place for everyone at every stage. So 5x5 Night is really for those people who are just getting their idea out there and are at the beginning, for the most part. They’re looking for that first point of exposure, a little bit of funding to help get them something.

What can $5,000 mean for a company at that stage?

Maybe they need $5,000 to start a website or to better their website. They’re at that stage where that $5,000 really makes a difference for them and that’s one of the phases we’re interested in supporting. Then as companies move along, they can move into some of the other programs that Emerge has.

Why bring back 5x5 Night?

It’s an outlet for people to get their idea out there. There are a lot of people who have ideas and they really don’t know what to do with them. They want a little bit of validation (and) they want to see what people think of their idea. It’s a great place for people to just get some feedback.

Are you looking for ideas that somebody can build into a business or just cool concepts?

A little bit of both. The idea with Start Garden (Rick DeVos’ venture firm that succeeded 5x5 Night) is that there was a next step. So the companies that originally came in from 5x5 Night, they got the $5,000 and there was a next step for Start Garden. There was that $20,000 investment. The difference between this 5x5 Night and the Start Garden model is there is no expectation that there’s a next step. This is to just get your cool idea out there. Hopefully, it’s potentially something that can really grow, but we’re not looking to go into a next funding phase after that.

What other kinds of support will Emerge provide these ideas?

What will happen with all of the ideas, once they’re submitted — and even if they don’t win or don’t get to pitch — we will be reaching out to them through Emerge and letting them know that there are a ton of organizations in this region that are there to help support people who are starting businesses.

Is the thinking here that you never know what will happen when you give people a taste of entrepreneurism and success and maybe this will persuade them to start a business?

Exactly. And by putting them in touch with those resources after that event or after they’ve connected through the 5x5 Night process … we will then be able to say to them, ‘OK, here’s a slew of organizations that are there to help support you. You may not have won tonight, but what do you need? What kind of help do you need to keep yourself going, to keep that momentum going?’ It could be something simple like you really don’t have a business plan. We have plenty of organizations that can help you with that. You need some marketing help? We’re going to plug you in there. It’s the opportunity to be able to reach people through the Emerge network.

What kinds of ideas are you looking for?

We want to see all kinds of different ideas. There could be something that’s product-based or an innovation. There are some really creative, thoughtful people out there who are making things. Then we have people who are bringing services. We have people who are technology-based with a lot of software and web-based applications. Or new restaurants and new retail operations. We are looking for anything and everything that solves a need or solves a problem that we can get excited about.

Part of Rick DeVos’ thinking with 5x5 Night and its predecessor, Momentum, and then Start Garden was to drive a cultural change and create a greater entrepreneurial culture. Are we there yet?

We’ve made huge strides, but I think that there’s way more that we can do. And I think the whole idea of Emerge is to continue to foster that environment. … We just want to continue to encourage our local entrepreneurs and to attract people to West Michigan.

Will 5x5 Night continue past the 10 months now planned?

I hope so. Our goal is to keep it a program (that) we continue to run. It’ll keep running provided we get the support and the sponsorships that we hope to get. This has kind of rolled out relatively quickly. We’re running to put it together and get it started. It’ll really get some traction once we get it going. Anybody that we’ve talked to or that we’ve reached out to specifically has been really interested. … I definitely think that it’ll be something that we can host for a long time.

Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.  

Read 5611 times Last modified on Sunday, 28 June 2015 18:00

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