App unites economic development community


Approximately a year and a half ago, Austin Dean saw a need and decided to do something about it.

Dean, who has worked in economic development for about six years, was frustrated with the way valuable information was being reported, collected and shared. He saw a need to get everyone on the same page, using just one platform instead of the dozens that were being used across the region. So he created Collective Metrics.

A software platform designed to measure the effectiveness of startups, Collective Metrics allows for economic development organizations to not only track and collect data but also to share it. Those organizations can interact with one another and see what the others are working on, avoiding duplication in the system.

By gathering and sharing the information collected from area entrepreneurial service organizations, Collective Metrics can streamline the process of reporting data tailored toward the startup, rather than the ESO. A mapping feature included in the software provides a visual of who is already participating in the area, and unlike other data-tracking software, Collective Metrics updates in real time.

“We can present real data that’s both timely and accurate and that allows us to make timely decisions at an organizational level,” said Dean, who is an analyst for Start Garden.

Collective Metrics already has found major partners in Lakeshore Advantage and the Holland SmartZone to help further its mission to make data collection more efficient and collaborative.

Lakeshore Advantage innovation manager Brooke Corbin said she became involved with the project about four months ago, and already has begun to develop a mirror of the platform to connect the Grand Rapids and Holland SmartZones.

“As a business incubator, we try to be adding value as an organization and as a community, so collaboration will be something that’s very important to us,” Corbin said. “And this can kind of be the starting piece.”

Corbin said in the brief time the Holland SmartZone has used the platform, it has found Collective Metrics to be incredibly user friendly and, by giving clients the ability to self-report their data, it’s much easier to avoid duplication.

Last week, Dean and Corbin presented Collective Metrics at a conference in Orlando, Florida, and said the response was overwhelmingly positive.

While moving the platform to a national market may be in the distant future for Dean, right now he said the focus is on connecting Grand Rapids and Holland, and eventually, a completely connected 13-county West Michigan region.

Still, widespread implementation of Collective Metrics has not been without its challenges. The biggest issue so far, Dean said, has been convincing organizations to agree to the level of transparency and accountability needed to make Collective Metrics successful.

“Certainly, that can be threatening to some organizations, but that’s not what we’re trying to do,” Dean said.

“We’re trying to get everyone to rally around the concept to see this as a way to do what we do better. West Michigan is a great place to start businesses, live and work, and we want to use this data to analyze talent attraction and retention as opposed to performance evaluations.”

Dean added that, in conversations with potential clients, he has had to answer more privacy questions than he initially expected, but a number of organizations have been receptive to the idea of further collaboration.

“Creating a vibrant community takes a tribe,” Dean said.

“And it’s more than just ESOs. It’s your local foundation, it is the banks, the universities and colleges putting talent into the pipeline. There are way more people who should be engaged in the conversation, and we’re just trying to make that as open and transparent as possible.”

For ESOs, Corbin said, using platforms like Collective Metrics allows organizations to practice what they preach.

“We want to innovate and do things on our own, too,” she said. “We advocate for innovation from entrepreneurs, but we don’t always innovate ourselves. This offers us a way to look at what we’ve been doing and ensure what we’re offering is a step forward and not just being complacent with where we’re at.”

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