Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tough economy, layoffs increase interest in entrepreneurship in Ann Arbor

by Nathan Bomey Ann Arbor Business Review
Thursday January 29, 2009, 6:50 AM

The perceived risk in joining a small company or starting your own business is rapidly shrinking in Michigan as many large corporations - where job security was long-assumed- are laying off workers in the thousands.

The shift appears to be closing the gap between the uncertainty of starting a company and loss of stability in corporate positions.
As a result, today's economic climate could boost Michigan's entrepreneurial ambitions even as the unemployment rate ticks up to 10.6 percent.

Among the signs that the Ann Arbor region is growing interest in startups:
• 550 people - including a diverse mix of entrepreneurs ranging in age from college students to senior citizens - attended the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship on Jan. 22 at Washtenaw Community College. A coalition of several local organizations led the event.

• The Ann Arbor-based statewide nonprofit Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest is reporting a significant uptick in interest in its biannual entrepreneurial business plan competition, said Diane Durance, executive director.

• Distribution of Ann Arbor SPARK's job listings for entrepreneurial companies has tripled since 2007.

Michigan has long been defined by a culture that is wary of entrepreneurialism and cautious about starting a company, several experts have said.

But contraction at the domestic automakers and the supplier community, job cuts in the pharmaceutical industry and the sluggish housing market are prompting some Michigan workers to reconsider entrepreneurialism as a livelihood.

"One of the positive effects of this horrible downturn that we're in is you do get that sense of, 'Well I have nothing to lose now. I can do what I've always wanted to do,'" Durance said. "I see people pursuing their dreams."

As Michigan's culture becomes more receptive of entrepreneurialism, local economic development officials believe the economy will become stronger.

Amy Cell, managing director of talent enhancement for economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK, said Michigan can't afford to wait for existing companies to rebuild its economy.

"I think the big thing for 2009 is entrepreneurship, because we are not going go to be able to get out of this by attracting big companies that are expanding," Cell said. More here.

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