It’s evident that many creative and hard-working people live and work in Michigan – a good number of them building their own businesses. Many of those entrepreneurs attended the Michigan State University Product Center’s fourth Making It in Michigan Conference Nov. 1 at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing. The conference promotes and educates food and agricultural entrepreneurs.
Prior to the conference, MSU Extension educator and Product Center Food-Ag-Bio innovation counselor Frank Gublo received the Innovation Counselor of the Year award. Innovation counselors are professionals from MSU and partnering organizations strategically positioned around Michigan to guide entrepreneurs as they make critical decisions about market opportunities and business and product development. Frank serves the southeastern part of the state. He has worked with more than 100 entrepreneurs in the last year, assisting them in business planning, navigating the regulatory maze, entering the supply chain and securing capital. In addition, he assisted clients in accessing campus resources for product testing, nutritional labeling and packaging assistance.
During the conference, nearly 240 people participated in the morning educational sessions. Two hundred people registered in advance, which meant that there were almost 40 walk-ins. With the state of our economy and all of the consumer interest in locally produced foods, many folks aspire to launch new food-related businesses. Sixteen individuals registered at the conference to become new Product Center clients. Additional requests are still coming in.
Bob Fish, CEO and co-founder of BIGGBY COFFEE, served as conference keynote speaker, contributing an inspirational talk on entrepreneurship.
The afternoon trade show featured 160 vendor booths occupied by 141 companies. Two-thirds of those vendors were Product Center clients.
A number of buyers in attendance made connections with the exhibitors to carry the products in their retail establishments.
Westborn Market selected three exhibitors who won shelf space in Westborn’s three stores in southeastern Michigan. Winners included Dago Joe’s Specialty Foods of Macomb, Johnny Secreto Foods of Rockford and Esch Road Great Lakes True Foods of Honor.
The Product Center gives out annual awards that recognize their clients for special accomplishments. During the conference, the Product Center presented awards to three clients.
Ben Tirrell of Tirrell Farmstead Specialties of Charlotte won the Entrepreneur of the Year award. Ben exemplifies the new generation of farmers adding value to their operations by focusing on consumer-driven agriculture.
Michigan’s only sheep dairy, Tirrell Farmstead Specialties produces sheep milk it makes into artisan cheeses marketed to high-end retail markets. In addition to the cheeses, Ben produces pasture-raised beef and lamb he supplies to retail stores and restaurants. He also adds value to his wool crop by processing the wool and selling woolen items in the on-farm store. Consumers come to the farm for special events like “Spring Fling” and “Lamb Safari,” and enjoy shopping in the on-farm store. Ben also participates in several farmers markets.
Tony Menyhart won the Start-Up to Watch award for Easy Artisan Bread Mix of Tecumseh that he owns with Sally Gralla. Tony, a long-time amateur baker, developed the first recipes for his “One Bowl, One Minute” bread mixes in 2010. He began selling the mix at the Saline Farmers Market and later debuted his product at the 2011 Making It in Michigan Trade Show. His product began selling in retail stores in late 2011. Today, you can find Easy Artisan Bread Mix in more than 150 stores in Michigan. Tony intends to expand to other states.
The Grand Traverse Pie Company, started by Mike and Denise Busley,won the Barrier Buster Award for a Stage 2 Company. The company has worked with the Product Center’s HI-VAT (High Impact Venture Action Team) program that assists larger companies in taking the business to the next level. The Grand Traverse Pie Company has overcome many barriers in moving from a small company with six employees in downtown Traverse City to one that now employs more than 300 people in 15 Grand Traverse Pie shops across Michigan and Indiana.
Watch this ANR Communications video with Product Center director Chris Peterson. It gives an excellent overview of the services the Product Center Food-Ag-Bio offers clients.