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Business Incubator Series: Interview With Ebony Johnson, Entrepreneurial Programs Champion, TechTown — Detroit, Michigan (Part 2)

Posted on Saturday, Mar 19th 2011

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Praveen Karoshi

Ebony: We have this quadrant approach. If you think of a quadrant, on the X axis there is the stage of business development. So, the company can be in its early, early idea phase, or it can be in its growth phase. Then, on the Y axis is really the founders’ entrepreneurial experience. So, they can be novices or they can be serial entrepreneurs. And we break down what services we provide based on where they fall in that quadrant.

Irina: Could you describe an ideal company that would benefit from your services?

Ebony: I would say that the key folks we work with are first-time entrepreneurs. They are in the initial phases of their business development, they are figuring out their idea. And there are also novice entrepreneurs who have actually launched products or services into the marketplace.

Irina: How many companies have been incubated to date?

Ebony: We have over 200 that have come to our building and programming. Our extended reach, though, is more than 3,000 through our program with the New Economy Initiative where we work with organizations in southeast Michigan to offer the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac programming.

Irina: Would you tell us more about the FastTrac?

Ebony: It runs typically from one to two months. We worked with different business professionals. We contracted with them to run the various programs. We ended that last year. We are still doing some of the Kauffman programs, and we have graduated almost 1,200 people from the FastTrac programs.

I think, especially for those first-time entrepreneurs, FastTrac gives them an idea of what owning a business is about and what they need to wrap their minds around as they start thinking of starting a business.

One of the things we found, though, in working with companies is that entrepreneurship is not a linear process. So, it is important also to be able to kind of break things down in order to meet people where they are.

That is what we are doing with our THRIVE program. That is why we have the quadrant approach, so that we can better meet people where they are and plug them into key resources they need based on their business stage of development.

We just launched our THRIVE initiative. So far, we have gotten really good feedback from people.

It is still an ecosystem approach. There are workshops and events we do, but we have business coaches, mentors, industry experts, a funding champion, and a funding expert who works with entrepreneurs on funding strategy and connects them to funding resources. So, it is about talent matching, educational training, and capital matching.

Irina: What does the funding champion do?

Ebony: Jack [Miner], who is our funding champion, is working with the companies to see what their businesses are all about and what they need capital for, such as if they need capital for prototypes, or if they need capital to achieve some milestones.

So, he is working with them and with the funding landscape in Michigan and other resources that he can plug in.

He sees if they need venture capital money or need just a loan that they can get from a bank or from an alternative source. He is trying to really understand, OK where are you now and what funding do you need at what point to move your business forward? Then we determine what resources can we connect that entrepreneur to in order to move their business forward from a capital perspective.

Irina: Could you name some sources of capital that you are usually able to connect them to?

Ebony: Loans, venture capitalists, angel investors, banks.

Irina: At what stage can a startup get a loan?

Ebony: At the early stage. On our website, we have information on Thrive One Fund, which is for women- and minority-owned companies. We also have partnered with organizations. There is an organization Hebrew Free Loan Fund. They have agreed to allocate a certain amount of money to Jewish entrepreneurs who work with TechTown to provide them with loans. There is still a committee and a process that they have to be vetted through, but they are a source of capital that is there to help to those companies.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Business Incubator Series: Interview With Ebony Johnson, Entrepreneurial Programs Champion, TechTown -- Detroit, Michigan
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