by Maureen Brosnan Miller, Executive Director, MVCA
Think of geraniums, America’s longest front porch and horse drawn carriages and instantly you’re transported to Mackinac Island. It sounds like a Pure Michigan ad, and in many ways it is, but this version has the added advantage of having many of Michigan’s top policy leaders and agenda setters all together in one place for three full days of insightful speeches and networking opportunities. It’s called the Mackinac Policy Conference, hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce annually starting the Tuesday after Memorial Day, just as the island is opening for a season of tourism.
MVCA’s Emily Heintz and I were there, representing the public policy interests of our members, and we enjoyed the many opportunities to connect with people who will be influential in helping us advance entrepreneurism and early stage investment in the state of Michigan.
Tuesday, May 26
The welcome reception and opening dinner were held in the Grand Hotel Stables and rain drove the guests inside, making it even easier to connect with people like Tiffany Sadek of Sadek Banahoom, a law firm that specializes in representing startups in Detroit; Antonio Luck, executive director of Endeavor Detroit; Congresswoman Debbie Dingell; Terri Barclay of Inforum; power couple Marc Hudson of Rocket Fiber and Amanda Lewan, founder and editor of Michipreneur; David Washburn, executive director of MSU Foundation; Ross Sanders, of Bizdom; Damien Rocchi, CEO and Co-founder Grand Circus; and Mary Kramer and Kirk Pinho from Crain’s Detroit Business, to name just a few!
Wednesday, May 27
Media Row was in full swing, with what many called the “best ever” first day agenda. At breakfast, we talked to Lori Maher, wife of Mayor Mike Duggan, before Gov. Rick Snyder officially opened the conference with an enthusiastic welcome to the event’s largest crowd ever. Gov. Snyder, a former venture capital professional and entrepreneur, spoke strongly about issues MVCA members care about, saying “Michigan’s strategic economic opportunity is building our talent base, revitalizing our urban areas, and working cohesively as a state.” These were welcome words for MVCA, as we work hard alongside our members to retain and attract entrepreneurial and investor talent to Michigan.
Mike Rowe, the host of “Dirty Jobs”, was a keynote this year; he kept the crowd laughing as he discussed his work promoting skilled labor. Rowe highlighted the need for diverse career pathways in helping Michigan fully leverage its talent resources to support key industries and accelerate economic growth. “If we are going to look at talent and urban revitalization we have to force ourselves to look at the definition of a good job,” Rowe said. His was a great message of considering non-traditional paths to employment in Michigan – like entrepreneurship!
Inventor Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), inventor of the Segway Human Transporter and founder of DEKA Research and Development Corporation, stressed the importance of celebrating STEM and engaging students in order to drive innovation in Michigan and described the desperate need for new technology. He applauded Michigan for having more rookie teams in this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition than all other states combined.
Later, Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan discussed the revitalization of Detroit by rebuilding neighborhoods and strengthening Detroit school systems. MVCA membership is helping turn Mayor Duggan’s vision into reality, revitalizing Detroit’s economy through early stage investment and making Detroit Michigan’s fastest growing entrepreneurial community.
Wednesday evening was filled with great conversations with policy makers and agenda setters (the real movers and shakers!) Butch Holowell (General Counsel for the City of Detroit), John Walsh (former Speaker of the House and current Director of Strategy for the State of Michigan), Jill Ford (Advisor to Mayor Mike Duggan/Angel Investor), and Representative Joe Graves. We also bumped into members of our board and membership: Sara Kruse (Jaffe), Chris Rizik (Renaissance Venture Capital Fund of Funds), and Chris Thomas (Fontinalis), to name a few. Muchmore, Harrington, Smalley & Associates’ client dinner at Mary’s Bistro afforded us a chance to talk to U.S. Senator Gary Peters, State Rep. Laura Cox, Ron Kitchens of Southwest Michigan First, the always-charming State Senator Peter MacGregor, and State Rep. Brandt Iden. It was a day of non-stop networking and advocating for MVCA and Michigan’s entrepreneurial community, and we collapsed into our beds ready for another full day!
Thursday, May 28
The day started with a series of meetings with legislators on the front porch of the Grand Hotel—a beautiful setting for some serious conversations. Rep. Kristy Pagan and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich gave us time, and we were fortunate to garner impromptu conversations with Mike McGee, CEO of Miller Canfield; Jason Puscas, Director Government Relations at Detroit Regional Chamber; Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce; and Mike Finney, Governor Snyder’s Senior Advisor for Economic Growth
I spent some time on Media Row providing quotes and did a radio interview with Michigan Business Beat on the impact of venture capital on Michigan’s economic recovery and the need to continue the State’s investment in entrepreneurism and venture capital. Then, we spent the afternoon at The Gate House –the place to see and be seen on Thursday afternoon during the conference – and we drank quite a few ice teas while meeting with legislators State Representative Joe Graves; State Senator Rebecca Warren; and Adam Carlson from Rep. Pscholka’s staff. We also had conversations with Joe Garcia of Honigman; John Roberts, State Budget Director; Britany Affolter-Caine, University Research Corridor; State Rep. Klint Kesto; Wayne County Executive Warren Evans; Lisa Canada, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights; Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekoff; and Jocelyn Benson, Dean of the Wayne State University Law School.
Later that afternoon we were excited to hear Governor Snyder use MVCA talking points to acknowledge that the legislative initiative to reduce the MEDC budget by $185 million is an ill-formed road-funding plan that would decimate support for the entrepreneurial community in Michigan.
Thursday evening, we decided to divide and conquer! I attended an evening reception at the Musser Home for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan where I ran into MVCA member Chris Rizik from Renaissance Venture Capital Fund of Funds and his wife Colette. Meanwhile, Emily attended “Building Bridges to Small Businesses” featuring small businesses from across Michigan, including Detroit-based Rebel Nell, a company owned by the inspirational Amy Petersen that employs disadvantaged women in Detroit, educates them on business and life skills and empowers them to transition to an independent life. Emily enjoyed some great Michigan beer from Batch Brewing Company and picked up a beautiful necklace from Rebel Nell!
Later on in the evening, we reconnected to attend a dinner hosted by Karoub Associates at The Woods. I met with hosts Jim Curran, Joe Palamara and Scott Faustyn while Emily enjoyed dinner with State Rep. Ray A. Franz. Then we had an entertaining carriage ride home with State Rep. Iden. Detroit might be the Motor City, but Macinac Island knows the true meaning of “horse” power!
Friday, May 29
Before leaving the Island, we met with Sen. Wayne Schmidt to explain the role of venture capital in his district in Northwest Michigan and talked about planning a trip to Coolhouse Labs in beautiful Petoskey this summer.
We were joined by Gov. Snyder on the 1:00pm ferry leaving from Shepler’s. As we jetted across Lake Michigan we were one of the first to view Shepler’s newest addition to the fleet. From underneath the Mackinac Bridge a super fast, unpainted vessel appeared and as the crew waved the boat did giant turns designed to impress those on board our boat. The captain proudly announced that the new ship was built in Michigan and will be painted and launched this summer to carry passengers back and forth to Mackinac Island.
PHEW! Are you as exhausted reading this as we were living it? It was an exhilarating, enlightening whirlwind of a week, punctuated by many, many opportunities to spread the MVCA message to key influences from around our state. We expect to see a return on the investment of our time in Mackinac as the year plays out in Lansing and remain hopeful that policy makers and leaders in Michigan will continue to support the critical infrastructure underpinning our state’s entrepreneurial community, so we can continue to diversify the economy and grow high-quality jobs in our state.