Diversifying the economy of a state is an enormous job – especially one that has provided such wealth, success, and prestige as Michigan’s automotive industry. It’s a challenge that Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS) Founder David J. Brophy, Director and Professor of Finance at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, foresaw over three decades ago. Today, he along with the rest of Michigan’s thriving VC and entrepreneurial communities knows the MGCS has been spot on all along.
“When I started the Symposium on March 27, 1980, Ted Doan, who had been CEO of Dow Chemical and ran one of the first venture funds, said it would be a 30 year job to influence the direction of Michigan and move it toward knowledge-based industry,” said Brophy. “This whole effort has been about that – and specifically to repair the deficiency we had in access to finance in Michigan – by giving young companies the opportunity to present themselves to investors from around the country. That portal idea has taken hold, and it’s been emulated literally around the world. This program has resonated very well with anybody who is interested in building an entrepreneurial company and funding it.”
Brophy believes that the most impressive effects of the MGCS have been indirect. In the beginning, the state did not have a successful crop of startup companies; other parts of the country were already enjoying great success in entrepreneurial activity, and Michigan had a lot of catching up to do. But the Symposium persevered, forging its own path and continually heralding its message of the need to nurture emerging industries. “Finally,” said Brophy, “it took the very serious economic blow to the auto industry and its related employment to get people to realize that we finally have to do something. We’ve seen that over the last four or five years, culminating with the gubernatorial election of Rick Snyder. He built his whole campaign on the idea of reinventing Michigan and building a new base founded on entrepreneurship and a greater percentage of knowledge-based industries. The Symposium has certainly played a role in that. Now is a gathering place in time for all those people who are interested in entrepreneurial companies and entrepreneurship in general.”
The success of the MGCS can be measured, not by comparison to other regions, but in the growth of VC volume in the state. “We’re still not at the top of the heap by a long shot,” Brophy said, “but we’re doing much better than we ever have before and we’re certainly a legitimate player in the national scene.”