Noël Cuellar – Primera Plastics Inc.
The story of a $20 million business–started by a man who had labored as a migrant worker and been placed in a special education program because of language difficulties–is testimony to the tenacity, vision, and passion of entrepreneur Noël Cuellar, President and CEO of Primera Plastics, a plastic injection-modeling supplier based in Zeeland.
Cuellar’s success is especially notable in a business environment where Hispanic entrepreneurs are in a definite minority. In 2007, the U.S. Census reported that only 1.1 percent of the 817,000 firms in Michigan were Hispanic-owned (about 4.4 percent of Michigan residents are Hispanic, according to the 2010 census).
Amy Engelsman – Proos Manufacturing
As Amy Engelsman transitioned into the her role as CEO of Proos Manufacturing, she faced significant challenges: securing company financials; obtaining funding for purchase of the business; proving her leadership capacity to the lender; earning the trust and respect of employees despite having worked for Proos for more than 20 years.
As a female entrepreneur and business owner, Engelsman now experiences the challenges of running a business while also dealing with the traditional challenges that women face in the workplace, including those in executive positions. She believes her biggest achievement has been gaining the acceptance and acknowledgement of her peers in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
Student business plan competitions foster an array of diverse ideas with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Grand Valley’s 2012 competition featured ventures such as an on-demand bike locker rental system (left), water purification invention (middle), and personalized air vent manufacturer (right).
“I didn’t really take a traditional educational route in regards to starting a business.”
Like so many successful entrepreneurs before him, Jason Mascari came up with his big idea while brainstorming with a friend. “We were constantly throwing ideas around for years,” says Jason of his friend and co-founder, Ryan Golden. The two young entrepreneurs first thought of Moasis Global in 2008. In three years, the business has developed from idea to fully patented prototype.
Moasis Global is a web-based advertising platform that allows businesses to target specific geographic areas of interest. The company’s technology enables Moasis to outline an entire city with its patented grid technology and distinguish specific markets. Businesses can then choose to target sections of the grid more heavily with their advertising dollars or decrease spending in others. Users see where competing businesses spend their money and where the greatest market opportunity lies. “Businesses currently overspend in markets that they shouldn’t be targeting,” Mascari explains. Moasis is designed to help change that.
Business incubation is increasingly becoming a common practice throughout the country. While incubators are continuously popping up in major entrepreneurial hubs, they are also forming in smaller communities, where the cost of retail space is an impediment to developing businesses. By facilitating local startups, incubator spaces generate new ideas that thrive in the entrepreneurial market of West Michigan. Some incubators provide resources to help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market.
In projects involving local talent, investors can get just as excited as entrepreneurs. That became evident on December 15, when the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, along with partnering sponsors, brought together 170 eager investors, fund managers, and business professionals for Invest Locally, Invest Profitably, an event that highlighted the wealth of investment opportunities in West Michigan.
In his opening address on atypical l investing, Michigan native Tom Groos, a partner at City Light Capital, a New York City-based venture capital firm, emphasized patience, discipline, passion, and understanding as crucial to realizing substantial long-term returns after periods of short-term volatility. Reaffirming this point in a later presentation, Dr. Mahendra Ramsinghani, manager of Invest Detroit–First Step Fund, stated that since 2007, over $200 million has been invested in Michigan companies, and nine companies have had what experts call “successful exits” valued at $940 million.
West Michigan’s political, financial, and social environments are seen by many as conservative and slow moving. Shedding light on the intricacies of doing business in the region and the difficulties entrepreneurs face while navigating this business environment, John Kerschen, Managing Director of the Michigan Accelerator Fund, shared some insights on the situation. He has spent over 22 years working with early-stage investments, commercial banking, mergers and acquisitions, and investment banking.
Thania Panopoulos – Impact Engine
Social entrepreneurship has recently made its way into the venture capital community through a unique startup accelerator, Impact Engine. Founder Thania Panopoulos, a West Michigan native, venture capitalist, and philanthropist, has her unique fingerprint on the new accelerator.
“I believe very much in the intersection between commerce and philanthropy,” she says. “We have to find a sustainable way to solve our world’s issues, without relying on the government.”
“College is the perfect time to start a business. You have access to tons of resources, and it never gets easier to try something new.”
Ryan Vaughn (@RyanHVaughn) is the Co-Founder of Varsity News Network (VNN), an online high school sports media network, empowering high school journalists to gain relevant experience while ensuring that athletes from every sport receive the coverage they deserve. He earned his Master of Communication from Grand Valley State University in 2010.
Tree Huggers is an environmentally responsible business, dedicated to educating customers in leading environmentally sustainable lives. Owners Angela and Dan Topp, opened their first store in Holland two years ago and a second store on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids in 2011. Tree Huggers seeks to break down what can be an intimidating process of living and consuming more sustainably into more manageable steps.