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Cupid Shuffle: Helping Startups Connect is MI Jam

Cupid Shuffle: Helping Startups Connect is MI Jam

Amanda Roraff | December 4, 2019

Every entrepreneur knows the value of making connections when trying to get a budding business off the ground. What you know is often eclipsed by who you know, especially in the early stages when you need to find customers, capital and contracts.

Building connections and strengthening partnerships are vital in virtually everything we do at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and PlanetM. That’s why we’re always happy to talk about the value of collaboration with thought leaders and entrepreneurs who are hard at work and finding success here in our state.

Mobility, in its present and future forms, will increasingly command center stage for existing, new and emerging businesses. The ever-increasing emphasis on developing, deploying and adopting electric and autonomous vehicle technologies; disincentivizing free parking and incentivizing shared trips; making cities more walkable and livable; and improving mass transit almost guarantees that we will all want to work together with an unusual degree of harmony to make what will surely be a revolutionary transition a smooth one.

So, how do we ensure startups – those who are ideating these solutions – are receiving the support they need to bring these technologies to life?

As with anything, the key to this success is identifying and accessing the ingredients needed to make things work. For mobility startups, it’s no surprise that those ingredients include customers, capital and contracts. But they also need access to a strong talent pool and resources for testing and deploying their technologies. Thankfully, Michigan has a lot to offer in all categories.

Let’s take a look.

Access to Talent

Home to the greatest concentration of skilled and engineering talent in the entire world, our public and private universities are responsible for turning out thousands – more than 130,000 to be exact – of eager engineers, and we have a skilled trade talent pool – one that ranks in the Top 10 nationally – that is the envy of many other states. If you’re at all familiar with the current talent war in our industry, you’ll understand just how huge of an advantage this is.

But so is the emerging approach startups are taking to disrupt outdated hiring structures with new degree programs, apprenticeship models and more. One of those startups, the Detroit Mobility Lab, chose Michigan as home to its Michigan Mobility Institute, a brick and mortar educational institute that will train professionals and tradespeople in AI, robotics, cybersecurity, and other fields vital to ensuring the Motor City remains the global center for future mobility. As part of that initiative, the first-of-its-kind Master of Mobility degree program was born, beginning in 2021.

KLA, an industry-leading equipment and services provider that enables innovation throughout the electronics industry, recognized this rich talent base we have here, too. Last October, KLA chose Ann Arbor, Mich., as home to its second headquarters – an R&D semiconductor research center. The primary reason? Michigan’s talent pool and affordable cost of living. And the trend continues as several other companies are following suit.

Access to Resources

Similar to talent, access to resources also proves essential to growing a thriving business. Mobility startups need easy access to diverse testing and deployment and connected infrastructure. Fortunately, Michigan is home to four-season testing conditions and the world’s most diverse collection of autonomous vehicle and drone testing environments for both early and later-stage technologies, including Keweenaw Research Center (KRC) at Michigan Technological University, the Michigan Unmanned Aerial Systems Consortium (MUASC), the GM Mobility Research Center at Kettering University, Mcity at the University of Michigan and the American Center for Mobility (ACM). In addition to testing facilities, Michigan is also home to the largest deployment of vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technology in the U.S. with Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) smart corridor and connected freeways in Southeast Detroit, enabling companies to test ways for vehicles to communicate with nearby infrastructure and other vehicles.

But in addition to traditional resources, startups have also expressed a need for deep, reliable manufacturing expertise and infrastructure resources to get their technologies off the ground – which is rooted in Michigan’s core.

Just ask FarmWise, a Silicon Valley-based startup that turned to Michigan’s manufacturing powerhouse, Roush, to develop its autonomous vegetable weeders. Through a PlanetM connection, the partnership between FarmWise and Roush is a significant one, demonstrating the power of cross-country collaboration to bring autonomous farming robots to life.

Access to Capital

We all know Silicon Valley is considered a hotbed of venture capitalists, providing early-stage startups easy access to funding. Couple that with a market that is driven by innovation and it’s not hard to understand why many startups choose Silicon Valley to plant their roots.

On the other side of the country, however, Michigan prides itself on a non-dilutive capital supply. Programs like PlanetM’s Mobility Grants – a year-round grant program for mobility companies to deploy new technologies in the state – provide testing and pilot funding support with committed capital. Michigan’s community-led technology challenges, a true passion of mine, are another prime example of this. Through collaboration between the MEDC, MDOT and local partners, the state of Michigan has launched several activations – including the $8 Million Michigan Mobility Challenge and City:One Challenge Series – that provide grant funding to engage residents with industry in an effort to remove mobility barriers.

Michigan’s industry, government and university partners have been investing time and resources to enable the future of mobility for decades. This work continues to pay off exponentially as we’ve seen our ecosystem grow, largely in part to the consistent and complementary efforts of both our public and private sectors.

Access to Customers

Of course, startups need access to end customers, as well as support in navigating those commercial conversations. Michigan’s end-customer density is one of the nation’s largest with its concentration of OEMs and tier 1 suppliers.

In fact, 96 of the top 100 automotive suppliers in North America call Michigan home, with 71 headquartered here. Michigan is also home to nearly one-fifth of U.S. auto production, more than any other state in the nation, and automotive manufacturing employment represents more than 21 percent of the total U.S. industry workforce. Most importantly? Recent investments in the state from General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Company and Waymo signal that not only have these companies chosen Michigan as part of its history, but as its future, too.   

Quality of Life

Last, but certainly not least, Michigan is also blessed with an abundance of natural resources that not only complement our industries like manufacturing, but also provide a huge draw for those seeking a place to enjoy a great work-life balance. Couple that with the state’s national leadership in competitive business climate, including pro-business and corporate tax rating, and you have a match made in industry heaven.

From Ann Arbor, which was recognized in a November 2019 Bloomberg report as the No. 3 top tech hub in the country, to Traverse City, who’s emerging for its own entrepreneurial scene, we’re constantly seeing companies find their home here in Michigan. After all, there’s no shortage of recreational activities and fresh water coastlines, it’s a great place to raise a family, and large cities are now seeing an exodus to places just like it. Who can blame them?

Success stories are everywhere you look around Michigan, and the reasons for starting and growing a business here are endless. Are you an entrepreneur looking to get your mobility startup off the ground? If so, opportunity awaits here in Michigan. Visit us at PlanetM.com to learn more.

Topics: Innovation

Amanda Roraff, Director of Technology, PlanetM