Message to Techies: Don’t Leave
In Michigan, a state historically dependent on car and furniture manufacturing, it will take extra effort to keep high-skill college grads and technology-based entrepreneurs in the area.
Bhe Technology Innovation Center
(TIC) in East Lansing may have what it takes to do just that.
Jeff Smith, the project manager of East Lansing's New Economy Initiatives
, describes the TIC as a "small business accelerator."
Located in a 7,000 square foot space on the third floor of the Barnes & Noble
building on Grand River Ave in downtown East Lansing
, the TIC houses several entrepreneurial businesses, from producers of documentary films to homeland security companies.
In addition to space, the TIC provides them with financial benefits and reinforces the relationships that will help these companies grow a new economy. Sharing Space
Jim VanRavensway, with the East Lansing Department of Planning and Community Development
,explains that the Lansing region has long been a producer of thetalent-based technology class. But, he acknowledges, “We need tonurture a technology-based economy in order to keep them here."
Part of that is helping start-ups get started. The primary purpose of shared office space at the TIC is to cut down on the overhead costs of a small company, allowing early entrepreneurs to invest more of their money into their business instead of pouring it into day-to-day costs.
Benefits of the TIC reach far beyond the low financial load, though, as each of its entrepreneurs get more than just low cost rent in this nontraditional environment.
For starters, the space is exciting. “This center would not have worked in a traditional office space,” explains Smith. He credits the slightly industrial, unfinished look and a shared reception area with helping the start-up businesses thrive.
Physical benefits are coupled with common resources to companies just getting off the ground, such as legal advice, mentoring, insurance and accounting services. These tools reflect the deeper investments that East Lansing is making in supporting these fresh, tech-based ventures.
“If we invest in these companies, they will in turn invest in themselves,” says Smith. Local Talent
Kraig Westfall, owner of the small video production company, KiWe Productions
, and periodic video contributor to Capital Gains
, explains that he was drawn to the TIC by the opportunity to network with others in the community.
He says locating in this space has given him the chance to get out of his old office—the basement of his home—and “get in the mix, meet other people, find people to work with, and find some problems to solve.”
VanRavensway agrees that networking was one of the initial goals of the TIC. “These kinds of companies love to interact with other like-minded companies. Instead of being isolated, they are all working together.”
Jason Meyers, owner of Live Concept, a company that provides content consultant services for live events and media outlets, says that proximity and camaraderie with other small businesses are among of the greatest benefits of the TIC.
“Whether our businesses are related or not," says Meyers, "we all work in the same environment everyday and help each other grow.”
Rebuilding an Economy
VanRavensway hopes to use the TIC to help rebuild Michigan’s economy, right down to its very culture.
“We hope to provide the option to locate in East Lansing," says VanRavensway. "We want to be viewed as the place to start a technology business. We’re going to help create that culture,” he says.
Each company housed in the TIC rents on a six month basis, at which time they are reviewed in order to pinpoint the necessary areas of improvement in their business. After three years, the hope is that each owner will have outgrown the shared space of the Center and move into a larger building in the Lansing area, further expanding the community economy.
Companies currently working in the TIC include the Comprehensive Emergency Management Associates
(CEMA), Nicholas Creative Media, Good Time Communications
, Live Concepts, Names for Life, Enliven Software
, HTS Express LLC, KiWe Video Productions, Digital Active
and Industrial Safety Consultants Incorporated (ISCI).
“Our ultimate goal is to see these businesses grow and have them reach their full potential,” says Smith.
Westfall’s vision coincides with that of Smith. “Three to four years down the road I will need employees, and I am absolutely making those connections in the area,” he says. His plan is to spread his roots in the Lansing region and give back to his supportive community by creating more jobs and employing others.
Jeff Smith views the changing economy as a way to generate a year-round professional atmosphere in the area—one that doesn't cycle up and down with the annual influx and departure of 46,000 Michigan State University
“We need to diversify the economy enough so we can weather the storm,” he says, alluding to the idea that many local businesses currently ebb and flow along with this massive student tide.
Some TIC tenants are looking to scoop up the high-skilled techies pouring out of their next-door neighbor.
“I’m already looking for interns,” says Nicholas Chilenko who runs Nicholas Creative Media
, a “boutique Web design and internet marketing" company. "And with MSU right across the street, there is a huge pool of qualified candidates to tap into.
Chilenko is currently a senior studying marketing at MSU. He started his first technology-based company at the age of 10, sold his clients to a larger corporation a few years later, and is now knee deep in the process again at the mere age of 20.
He is still uncertain about his future plans, but says he wants to stay in the East Lansing area while expanding back to his roots in the metro Detroit area. “I hope to grow this one-person company into a bigger company," he says. "The TIC is certainly a driving force behind that."
Jason Meyers with Live Concepts also recognizes that his time at the TIC is extremely influential. “I credit being able to launch Live Concepts with being a part of the Technology Innovation Center,” he says.
As for the TIC's future, Smith foresees expansion into 15,000 additional square feet the city has set aside for more businesses. If all goes as planned, the TIC may pursue “anchor tenants,” such as departments from MSU or technology based companies in the area.
Lydia Weiss is a freelance writer for Capital Gains and is generally befuddled by the wonders of technology.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Jeff Smith at the Technology Innovation Center
Nicholas Chilenko's office
Jason Meyers of Live Concepts
The TIC's lobby
A quick game of Nerf hoops in the hallways
Justin Caine (lft) and Kraig Westfall
Conference rooms are available to the tenants
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie