Is Venture Capital Venturing Here

    GRAND RAPIDS — With its economy built around dominant national manufacturers for much of the last century, Michigan was not a place where one readily found venture capitalists.

    In fact, officials prominent in economic development told The Business Journal two years ago that a scarcity of venture capital firms might handicap Michigan in trying to build a high-tech component for its economy.

    Both Birgit Klohs, executive director of The Right Place Inc., and Doug Rothwell, then CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the paucity of venture capitalists concerned them — all the more so because, in the wake of the dotcom collapse, commercial bankers were understandably skittish about making big loans to high-tech start-ups.

    And yet, Klohs and Rothwell both shared then-Gov. Engler’s enthusiasm about diversifying Michigan’s economy by fostering Life Sciences Corridor research and then commercializing it.

    Gov. Engler’s vision was that Michigan could develop a life-sciences version of California’s Silicon Valley.

    Well — perhaps thanks in part to national and international forces that have shaken traditional manufacturing — interest in technology has reasserted itself, particularly with respect to health sciences.

    It also looks as if venture capital is assuming a higher profile in West Michigan.

    Certainly, intense local attention to venture capital has appeared virtually overnight.

    In a program beginning late this month, West Michigan entrepreneurs will have a chance to meet head-to-head with venture capitalists and angel investors and to learn how to work with them.

    The program — called Venture Forward — consists of daylong class sessions held on Fridays, Oct. 24 through Nov. 14.

    Sponsoring Venture Forward are the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative (SmartZone, for short), Varnum Consulting, and the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center.

    The site — the newly completed Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences at 301 Michigan Ave. NE —  is apt, because Cook-DeVos houses the heart of the SmartZone, a set of high-tech business incubators. 

    The Small Business & Technology Development Center also sponsored a recent presentation by Paul Guerre, a Grand Rapids partner in the Barnes & Thornburg law firm.

    Guerre gave business founders seeking capital an outline of what they must expect and basic steps they must take if they want financing by venture capitalists.

    The upcoming Venture Forward program is a much more detailed set of classes, which will take business-owners through:

    • Completing an executive summary outlining the company’s growth.

    • Coaching by successful business owners and specialists.

    • Meeting with angel investors and venture capitalists.

    • Developing elevator pitch and investor presentations.

    • Determining what factors investors evaluate, how to improve them and how to quantify ideas for growth in a dynamic environment.

    • Determining growth areas for one’s firm.

    • Learning the intricacies of structuring equity, and debt financing.

    • Presenting one’s business to a team of venture capitalists and business executives and receiving feedback to improve the presentation.

    One of the presenters in a seminar on Nov. 14 will be Michael DeVries, who represents EDF Ventures, of Ann Arbor.

    EDF Ventures — reportedly the only venture capital firm based in Michigan — told the Business Journal last year that it planned to establish a presence in Grand Rapids, and DeVries reportedly is it.

    The cost to enroll in Venture Forward is $495, which includes course materials and meals. A business may enroll an additional team member for $350.

    One may register by calling (616) 331-7370, or online at 7.

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