Tag Archives: entrepreneur

Making It in Michigan Conference promotes and educates food and agricultural entrepreneurs

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.

Ben Tirrell receives award

Ben Tirrell of Tirrell Farmstead Specialties of Charlotte receives the MSU Product Center’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Product Center director Chris Peterson at the Making It in Michigan Conference Nov. 1, 2012, at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Mich. Photo credit: Erin Groom

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 receives award

Tony Menyhart of Easy Artisan Bread Mix of Tecumseh receives the MSU Product Center’s Start-Up to Watch Award from Product Center director Chris Peterson at the Making It in Michigan Conference Nov. 1, 2012, at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Mich. Photo credit: Erin Groom

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.

Grand Traverse Pie receives award

Mike Busley (left) and Tim Rice (center) of the Grand Traverse Pie Company receive the MSU Product Center’s Barrier Buster Award for a Stage 2 Company from Product Center director Chris Peterson at the Making It in Michigan Conference Nov. 1, 2012, at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Mich.

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.

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Update on the MSU Product Center Food–Ag–Bio

I heard an update recently from Dr. Chris Peterson, professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, and director of the MSU Product Center Food–Ag–Bio, about the impacts the center has had since it was created in 2004. The center was established to serve the needs of entrepreneurs who are developing and commercializing “high-value, consumer-responsive products and businesses in the agriculture, natural resources, and bioeconomy sectors.” It was created with funding from Michigan State University Extension and MSU AgBioResearch, along with some key grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 The Product Center combines in-depth analysis of business trends in these three sectors with on-the ground, community-based and individually tailored delivery of educational services to entrepreneurs. Campus-based analysts team with community-based Extension educators who are trained as innovation counselors to provide the business-centered services. Clients are facing complex and dynamic situations in which they have to make potentially business-ending decisions. Sometimes the best decision they make is to proceed no further with their investments of time, talent and money. In other cases, they walk a tightrope of risk, carefully gauging each decision step as they seek to maintain a balance between profit and loss.

 Over the first seven years of the center’s existence, it has provided more than 21,000 counseling sessions and its clients, numbering nearly 1,800, have created 229 new enterprises, creating more than 900 new jobs and helping to retain more than 400 existing jobs. The total amount of capital that has been invested in these enterprises exceeds $310 million. The center’s productivity has accelerated in the past 18 months as the MSUE restructuring allowed greater concentration of effort by innovation counselors on the enterprise development program.

 The center has initiated a new line of programming that is directed towards existing Stage 2 businesses that have sustainable revenue and are looking to make major expansions in sales and production. This takes more detailed analysis of business trends and enterprise operations, but the investment of MSU’s effort is justified by the increased likelihood of success for established enterprises as opposed to startups. This new initiative is named the High Impact Venture Action Team, or HI-VAT, and is supported with investments of funding from MSUE. It will be interesting to track the continued success of the innovation counselor network and the HI-VAT team as they continue to build on the very successful first seven years of the Product Center. We are deeply indebted to Dr. Peterson and the Product Center and innovation counselor teams for their leadership in creating a new model for how Extension can have an impact in communities across the state.

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Extension educator chosen to speak at alternative high graduation

Sara Keinath, Michigan State University Extension educator in Wexford County, was the keynote speaker at Cooley High’s graduation. Cooley is Cadillac’s alternative high school and a place where Sara has taught “Going Solo” youth entrepreneur training for two years in partnership with the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce.

 Given the chance to choose the person to speak at their graduation, the students chose Sara. In addition to teaching the youth important life skills, she developed a meaningful and special relationship with them. Honored to accept the invitation, she provided graduates with a short but motivational message on the importance of setting goals for themselves.

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Kids use garbage to learn and serve

Deb Gierke, Schoolcraft County Michigan State University Extension program instructor, knows a lot about garbage. In fact, kids at the CloverKid College summer day camp have crowned her the Garbage Goddess – complete with a cardboard crown and throne. 

Says Deb, “It’s not a title I aspired to, but I’ve earned it.”

 Deb has worked with garbage – and kids – for years. She was able to take that expertise and use it to get kids involved in social entrepreneuring.

 Last January, a Social Entrepreneurship 4-H Participation Fee Grant helped to cover her attendance at a 4-H Citizenship, Leadership and Service conference at Kettunen Center. At the conference, participants learned how to identify social issues and find resources to address those issues. Deb was already working with youth on recycling issues and the conference added to her enthusiasm and gave her more ideas to work with.

 With her help and the help of adult and teen volunteers during 4-H school enrichment at Emerald Elementary and CloverKid College day-camp programming, 350 area youth successfully completed the 6-Rs Activity Series: Be Respectful, Responsible and Resourceful, and Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Each member who participated received an “I R a StaR” award.

 Classroom and camp participants collected trash, weighed it and charted their collection totals. They then prepared the garbage for recycling or reuse by cleaning and sorting it.

 Deb notes that the youth themselves noticed that people generate a lot of garbage, but there are not a lot of recycling options in the Upper Peninsula. The kids decided to convert the trash they collected into treasure. Under the kids’ creative hands, a pop can tab became a pet snake, a toilet paper roll became a decorative hair tie and old jeans became backpacks. The youth took part in a “Trash Fash” activity in which they converted paper, plastic and fabric recyclables into fashion T-shirts and hats. The young people became entrepreneurs, creating a business called R&R (Recycle and Reuse) Creations and selling their transformed trash at the school and the day camp.

 All proceeds from the sales went to two local organizations: Project Backpack, which outfits at-risk youth with school bags filled with all the necessary supplies, and the Voices for Youth transitional living home.

 In addition, teen counselors in the summer camp created community awareness by developing a brochure that identified local recycling options. Information about local recyclers was also distributed in Friday school-to-home folders at the elementary school, on the free public television channel and in the local paper. The information distribution made people aware of local recycling centers and consequently brought them more business.

 Youth learned about respecting the environment, managing a business, helping the community and each other while having fun at the same time. They successfully integrated entrepreneurship with service learning and the results benefited the kids as well as the community. And according to Deb, both she and the kids continue to learn.

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Entrepreneurship program creates spark in students at alternative school

It’s not often that students in an alternative school setting take initiative for their own learning, but the entrepreneurship program made possible through a 4-H Participation Fee Grant is creating that desire in students at the Sunrise Academy High School in Elk Rapids. Young people at the high school are learning to be business owners of the future through a program introduced by Michigan State University Extension 4-H.

 Global Entrepreneurship Week, November 15–21, was a chance for millions of youth across the globe to connect and explore business ideas in a variety of activities. Dana Tuller, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), worked with youth at the high school to celebrate the week in a variety of ways.

 Sunrise Academy students learned about business in an entrepreneurship class using the Going SOLO curriculum. They opened a store in the school during Global Entrepreneurship Week that featured products made and purchased by the students. Students ran the business during the entire operation process.

 The students also attended the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce Business Expo. While there, the youth interacted with hundreds of business owners and got ideas about the kinds of businesses they might want to open in the future.

 The students also toured the facilities at Britten Banners, a local business that has grown tremendously over the last fifteen years. Two department managers shared their employment stories with the students. The teens were encouraged when they learned that each speaker started out at Britten Banners in an entry-level position and each has now moved into management.

 Students also were educated through a panel discussion involving a wide range of business owners including a day care provider, an engineer, a disk jockey, a salsa maker, a fresh food initiative entrepreneur and the owner of a local Cartridge World.

 Dana works with lead teacher Kathy Breece, and both women are very encouraged at the kids’ response to the program. One student, in particular, took responsibility for the store, making sure that it was opened every day during lunch break and keeping tabs on the inventory.

 Said Dana, “Students have responded well. It’s not often they get hooked on something, but they’ve really taken ownership of this.”

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Ionia County’s World Wide Kids 4-H Club learns about finance while tackling hunger, poverty

It’s easy to find opportunities for youth to contribute to their own communities. One of the great things about Michigan 4-H is that it helps youth spread their wings and learn about the world beyond their county, state and national borders.

In Ionia county, volunteer 4-H leader Judy Huynh, developed a model service learning project for her World Wide Kids 4-H club. Recently, the club hosted an international dinner that raised more than $800 for Heifer International. The funds were used to purchase rabbits, chickens, a water buffalo, a goat, a sheep and a pig for families around the world in hopes of alleviating hunger and poverty through sustainable and ecologically sound agricultural practices.

If that isn’t enough, the club branched out to learn about global microfinance and entrepreneurship through Kiva, a micro-lending organization that connects potential lenders with entrepreneurs from around the world. World Wide Kids 4-H Club loaned $50 to a woman in Liberia who plans to open a rice store.

Wow! These kind of entrepreneurial projects, combined with the spirit of cooperation and education are a perfect example of successful 4-H programming.

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Filed under 4-H, Agriculture, Youth development