Driving Growth With Collegiate Talent

Over $6 Billion dollars in investments have been funneled into the Grand Rapids infrastructure since 1980.  In just the past eleven years a third of that amount, roughly $2.6 billion, has reshaped and retuned the vibrant city to a new beat as it continues its unprecedented growth.  However, economic and physical landscape in West Michigan have changed as they have throughout the nation.  It begs the question, how is the city strategically oriented to move forward, and what role will universities play in regards to the city’s continued growth?

Kurt Kimball, former Grand Rapids City Manager, described his views on entrepreneurial innovation driving economic development. “I think we will see innovative independent thinkers driving economic growth. Do we have the innovators we need is the question?”

Ultimately, colleges and universities in West Michigan will provide the tutoring for individuals looking to make the jump into self-employment. As marketing director for The Judson Group in downtown Grand Rapids, Analisa Blakely, can attest to the value an entrepreneur brings to a business, “you can teach the nuts and bolts. Encourage students to be self-starters and colleges can create a natural talent pipeline for the community.”

Universities and colleges are beginning to see the potential in an entrepreneurial education, noting the implementation of entrepreneurial degree programs across the state.  In 2012, the University of Michigan will launch the first Masters Degree program in entrepreneurship in the State of Michigan. Aileen Huang-Saad, the new program director, spoke briefly in an interview on the engineering focus of the degree and the emphasis the university places on moving products to market.  She expects strong first class enrollment due in large part to an experienced full-time faculty leading the program forward.

An in depth curriculum, focused around one-on-one mentoring and startup specific internships, is also in the framework at Grand Valley State University. The Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Kevin McCurren, draws attention to the necessity of a core-curriculum in order to develop students who have the means to start and operate enterprises on campus. Grand Valley’s first student enterprise, Technologic, is currently in its first year of development and seeking seed-funding.

Elizabeth Arnold, CEO of Technologic, has found her experience to be invaluable. “The college setting is the perfect place for young startups in terms of professional resources, mentoring opportunities, counseling and funding.” Pointing to the progress the business has made over the course of a year; Arnold has made it a point to help other student ventures experience the thrill of beginning a new business. “There is plenty of time to adapt and move on to my next option, who knows what I will be doing next.”

Moving forward, students can expect to see additional program offerings at the collegiate level, as the need for innovative problem solvers continually increases. What we can hope to achieve as educators and community members is a philosophy; that each individual, regardless of undergraduate major, is presented with the chance to be innovative. Developing concepts, products and services is no longer a dream without fruition, but a viable career opportunity, one that will encourage growth and long-term sustainability for years to come.

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