MUSKEGON — A federal grant will pay for an analysis on how groups that support entrepreneurs and startup companies in West Michigan can adjust for when the economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grand Valley State University’s Innovation Hub in Muskegon plans to match the $68,250 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration with $17,000 to fund a study that will look at existing entrepreneurial support along the Lake Michigan shoreline and identify service gaps.
The initiative aims to alter support for entrepreneurs as they have had to adjust their own business plans amid the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The whole ball game has changed, so we need to pivot just as they needed to pivot,” said Kevin Ricco, director of the GVSU Innovation Hub. “Through that, we hope to expand the economic climate we have on the lakeshore.”
GVSU’s Innovation Hub will administer the Economic Development Administration grant, which went to the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, a planning agency that serves a multi-county region, largely along the lakeshore.
Anecdotally, Ricco already sees a need for a business accelerator that would support growing small companies in the market and trying to move to the next stage.
“We get a lot of interest from established small businesses that have now gotten some traction in the market and gotten some sustainability, but they’re looking to scale, they’re looking to go to that second stage,” he said. “What we recognize, mostly anecdotally, is there is no sort of accelerator program here on the lakeshore. So, we are really hoping at some point — depending on what the data tells us — to look to build an accelerator here on the lakeshore.”
Ricco also sees the need for a new capital fund locally that could support small businesses moving beyond the startup phase.
The federal grant comes from funding through the federal CARES Act that provided $1.5 billion for economic development assistance programs to help communities “speed your recovery and re-ignite our nation’s economy,” said Michael Walsh, chief of staff for the Department of Commerce.
“At its core, economic development is all about planning, and as they say, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,’” Walsh said.
The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission will use the federal and GVSU money to hire a consultant to conduct the analysis and interview local entrepreneurs on what’s needed post-pandemic, Executive Director Erin Kuhn said. She expects results from the analysis in the first quarter of 2021.
The analysis funded by the grant also will look at areas for new potential growth.
“Are there niches that we’re not serving and we can better serve? Are there sectors that we can be better at?” Kuhn said.