A collaboration between Southwestern Michigan College Educational Talent Search and Michigan State University Extension provided Future Entrepreneurs of Southwestern Michigan with a day camp from Aug. 5-8.
Seventeen students learned all aspects of creating and selling new products. They met Louisville, Ky., author Amanda Rotach Lamkin, from Decatur, on Monday and heard a panel discussion on Wednesday featuring Andrew Grieshop of Utilimaster, Jordan Anderson of Baker’s Rhapsody in downtown Dowagiac, SMC School of Business and Advanced Technology Dean Dr. Stacy Young and Dubelsa Mata-Garcia of the Women’s Business Center at Cornerstone Alliance, Benton Harbor. The 15-year-old center serving Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties offers business startup counseling and early-stage operational support. Most services are free.
The panel discussion followed a presentation by SMC Vice President Mike O’Brien on marketing. The students did some networking with real entrepreneurs at Dowagiac’s Farm and Artisan Market and then set up storefronts on Thursday to sell the products they invented in the David C. Briegel Building upper commons.
Seven startups — Tea Time Tiles, Tumble and Go drink containers, Classic Auras bath bombs, Triple A Jewelry, The Paint Splash (“our rocks rock”), Doggone Dog Toys and The Bucket Brothers — made $542.25 in two hours. They considered 13 beneficiaries before voting to donate to an environmental charity to plant 542 trees.
Stephanie Bigelow, a June Marcellus High School graduate accepted to attend SMC this fall, created unique hand-painted coasters with Dowagiac freshman Taven Livingston. Bigelow, returning from the first camp in 2018, said Lamkin “has a really big personality and is a great storyteller. I really liked her.”
Panel member Grieshop likes fast cars, but his automotive inventor sideline moves more slowly, so he keeps his test engineer day job in Bristol, building parcel-delivery vehicles. Grieshop, from Harlan, Ky., came to Michigan to earn a Ferris State University automotive engineering bachelor’s degree. This year he replaced funnels with 3D-printed parts.
“Accomplishing these things take time,” he said. “This is where computers meet the real world. I call it the Funnel Ram. It increases horsepower and fuel efficiency if you put it behind the throttle body,” a flap controlling the amount of air entering the engine.
“I have a device like this on a car that went from 500 horsepower to 550. On the other end of the spectrum, a four-cylinder car went from 44 miles to the gallon to 58,” Grieshop said. “I’m still just a startup and am not going anywhere fast at this point. I’ve got a provisional patent. This has taken (since 2011) because I work on it in my spare time.”
Too many budding business people are impatient and want their products on shelves before adequately preparing a business plan, which “helps you do your research and holds you accountable to your goals,” Mata-Garcia, who came to Michigan from Texas in 2007, said. “You never want to mingle your money. Have a business account and a personal account and keep everything separate. It takes doing things in strategic phases and testing the market before launching a product.”
Young has a bachelor’s degree in accounting, a master’s degree in business and a leadership doctorate. She “flew around the world” as an auditor, then ran a group of small businesses. “We teach a class on 17 areas of small-business management that’s more extensive, but similar, to what you’re learning this week. Great ideas fail if a person doesn’t know how to run the business side. (As a girl) I wanted to be Mattel’s CEO” and even interviewed with the toy giant before realizing she didn’t want to live in California.
Research shows a high percentage of their Generation Z is interested in starting businesses. SMC this fall introduces an Associate in Arts in Entrepreneurship degree.
“We used to talk about careers as climbing a ladder,” Young said, “but now they’re jungle gyms with lots of high points.”
Anderson, the baker who grew up in South Haven, studied theatre and music at Central Michigan University.
“I worked in restaurants through school, so that became my career path” rather than teaching. Attending culinary school in Phoenix, Ariz., he discovered his passion for baking and cake decorating.
Baker’s Rhapsody opened in 2015, progressing from his apartment kitchen to a rented Marcellus commercial kitchen, filling online orders and selling cupcakes at the farm market. Growth added three employees.
“Entrepreneurs are always working or thinking about their next move. You always feel clocked in,” Anderson said. Contemplating expansion, “I would rather open a different-style restaurant than another bakery. Figuring out the next step is definitely on our radar in a few years. You have to know when to ask for help, like an accountant to help with payroll. Things fall through the cracks if you try to do it all yourself. In creative fields like art and photography, it’s hard to judge what your time is worth.”