Could Lansing Become a Startup City? 50 Startups Later, We Think So.
An important milestone was reached last week and I completely missed it. Two weeks ago, with our feature of Ventatti, we featured our 50th Startup Spotlight.
This is really exciting. It’s also important for a variety of reasons.
First, it means StartupLansing has been able to go strong for about a year. When we launched this, I wasn’t sure we’d last a few months. Yet, here we are. In fact, we’ve seen our readership and traffic grow quite a bit each month.
Much more importantly, it means that we’ve been able to find – and feature – a different startup for 50 weeks straight. That’s 50 startups. From Lansing.
And it’s not all.
Startups of All Shapes and Sizes
These 50 startups are each of them unique. They are in different industries ranging from fashion to tech to healthcare. They are at various stages of growth. But, they are doing their part to grow their businesses which, over time, will grow and diversify our local economy.
In fact, some of the startups are doing quite well. Like Signing Saavy, which has millions of users, Health Numeric, who’s traction and growth is starting to accelerate, and Courseweaver, who just raised a $600k round.
Many are startups, founded by students out of the Hatch. Startups like Tech Twurl, who are generating revenue and recently competed in a nationally selective competition at South By Southwest. Or OneSound, who is competing at Greenlight next week. There’s even a startup that lets you run around in a giant bubble.
But, contrary to perception, not all startups are being founded by students. People in the community are starting companies, too.
We have makers and fashion startups and other sorts of small businesses. Some, like Poochie Bowl, cross categories – they have a retail location in Meridian Mall, where they not only sell their flagship product, but encourage children to tinker and learn to build their own products through their Mini Maker space.
At The Runway, Lansing’s newest incubator, several fashion companies are starting to take off. Companies that focus on things like men’s accessories, baby clothes, or clothes that allow you to look nice and be comfortable, without worrying about being too hot or sweating (Lawrence Hunt & Our Own).
Many are in the seminal stages of growth. This is especially the case for many of the companies we feature that are born out of The Hatching, a pitch competition event that occurs on the last Thursday of every month (the next one is this Thursday at Dublin Square, if you’d like to check it out). But every company starts somewhere.
And some have failed. But, that’s to be expected. It’s a healthy sign that people are trying to move the needle forward.
The crazy thing is that these 50 companies are just a drop in the bucket of a broader entrepreneurial ecosystem. See, we operate on a shoestring budget (our operating budget is entirely funded by revenue from my software company) and only have the bandwidth to feature just one startup or entrepreneurial project a week. I know there are dozens we’re missing.
For instance, Spartan Innovations, the arm of Michigan State University charged with taking university intellectual property to market, is working daily to find – and launch – companies that could potentially transform their industry and the region. Seasoned founders, like Jason Schreiber (who founded – and sold – Arialink, currently launching Lightspeed) are launching other companies, too.
It’s an exciting time to be working on a business here.
People Are Trying
When I moved here nearly eighteen months ago (how time flies!), I was skeptical that I’d find any real, interesting startup activity. I had braced myself to be bored and planned to spend time hopping back and forth from here to Atlanta as much as possible. Atlanta, after all, is becoming a hot city for startups (though, it’s not really known as one…sound familiar?).
How wrong I’ve been.
It’s small, but the entrepreneurial ecosystem here is growing. For instance, one of the indicators of a healthy startup community is the frequency of consistent, well-attended, relevant events. Last year, we could rely on the Hatching as that event. In some months, it felt like the only event, as we struggled to figure out what to put on our calendar and feature in the newsletter.
Now, we have the Hatching, Startup Grind, Tech Tuesday, and Innovate State, for starters, that happen every month (or, each week, in the case of Tech Tuesday). We’ve had two StartupWeekends, one 3 Day Startup, and a Maker Week in the past six months or so. And take a look at our event calendar; on many weeks there is more than one event targeted at the startup community.
The point is that people here are trying. The startup community is growing. People are pursuing their ideas and pursuing their dreams. And that’s what it takes.
That’s how we transform a culture, it’s how we transform an economy.
Still a Ways to Go
Despite what progress has been made this past year, there is still a ways to go. We still need support systems to help startups excel beyond the idea stage and into growth. We don’t have many startups yet that have started to experience the kind of aggressive growth that attracts outside capital. Some, but not many.
For example, a private accelerator, on the order of something like TechStars, would be a huge asset. I personally would love to see a relationship established with Flashpoint, the accelerator I participated in while in Atlanta. They have a close relationship with Georgia Tech and I think the model might translate nicely to MSU. More importantly, Flashpoint has taken several companies to market, many of whom have raised money from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures, or Google Ventures.
You know, small, local firms.
We need more, experienced founders helping less-experienced founders master important early-stage problems like customer acquisition, growth models, and building business infrastructure. Experienced founders are the only ones that can help new entrepreneurs solve these problems, because they’re hard and not obvious to people without that experience.
(As an aside, this is why I encourage every founder who is serious about growth to attend Startup Grind – Dave Smith is bringing in some top-notch speakers and you can learn a lot).
Local capital is still risk-averse and largely sitting on the sidelines, reluctant to invest in people’s ideas. I don’t blame them – the job of the investor is to fund growth, not prototypes. Still, for a community like this, in a time like this, there needs to be some mechanism for serious early-stage founders to gain access to seed capital beyond the “friends, family, and fools” round.
All said, I’m really encouraged by the activity over the past year and you should be too. The startup community is picking up momentum and it’s only a matter of time until one of our companies is listed in Forbes (Some are already in Inc.).
Bob Trezise, the CEO of LEAP wrote an excellent article for the LSJ a few months ago bidding farewell to ‘the old Lansing.’ In it, he shared how much momentum is building in the region. He lauded the various assets that the region has in its favor which, when well harnessed, will help to build a 21st century economy.
To that end, these 50 founders are doing their part to grow their businesses and enhance the region. Will you join them?
Who Are These Startups?
Want to learn more about the entrepreneurs trying to grow their businesses in Lansing? Check out our Startup Spotlights!Browse the Lansing Startups