The Maker’s Path

Resources for Michigan students and entrepreneurs exploring careers as makers.
Student working in LIFT lab
Located in Detroit’s Corktown district, LIFT features eight labs to help students prepare for in-demand manufacturing jobs. // Photograph by Matthew LaVere

The process of launching a product or business as a maker doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

From a budding entrepreneur’s first exposure to engineering to career fairs to hands-on shops where students and early-stage developers can work on prototypes, Michigan offers a bevy of resources.

Here are a few examples:

AMP Lab @ WMU: The AMP Lab is a manufacturing lab built as a collaboration between Autocam Medical, Western Michigan University, Grand Rapids Community College, and other manufacturers to showcase Michigan’s manufacturing job opportunities.

Automation Alley: A Troy-based knowledge center, Automation Alley provides companies with firsthand knowledge of AI, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, automation, and more.

FIRST Robotics:  The national nonprofit organization encourages the formation of teams in which mentors and high school students collaborate to solve common problems with robots, and then compete against other teams.

Going PRO Talent Fund: This state fund issues millions of dollars to employers each year to help them upskill their talent.

LIFT Learning Lab: This interactive learning facility, located in the LIFT Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Detroit’s Corktown district, features eight labs to help prepare students for the most in-demand manufacturing careers.

Maker Spaces: Maker Works, Ann Arbor,; All Hands Active, Ann Arbor,; i3 Detroit, Ferndale,; Lansing Makers Network, Lansing,; Kzoo Makers, Kalamazoo,; Jackson Makerspace, Jackson,; Factory Two, Flint,; The Work Shop and The Tool Shop, Canton Township,; Studio JSD, Grand Haven,

Manufacturing Week: Michigan has extended the National Manufacturing Day observance the first Friday of each October to a full week, with events and tours held statewide to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.
West Michigan has its own region-specific collaboration, called Discover Manufacturing Week.

MICareerQuest: Several Michigan Works! regional chapters offer this hands-on exploration for middle- and high-schoolers. They’re hosted by employers in several industries. Contact your local chapter for more information.

Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center: With five locations that cover the whole state, the organization assists small- and medium-sized businesses compete and grow through skill-development activities and other resources.

Techtown: This is a Detroit research and technology business park comprised of investors, entrepreneurs, and more. It’s a place where tech startups can launch and grow.

 Rachel Watson

Money Trail

What’s a product or business without funding? The following are sources of capital available to entrepreneurs in Michigan.

The most traditional of lenders, banks are a good choice for small business loans and lines of credit. Some of the top banks in Michigan include Ally, Chemical/TCF, Citizens, JPMorgan Chase, Huntington, Comerica, Fifth Third, Flagstar, PNC, and Bank of America.

Angel investors
An angel investor, also known as a private investor, seed investor, or angel funder, is a high-net-worth individual(s) who provides financial backing for small startups or entrepreneurs, typically in exchange for ownership equity in the company. Michigan Angel Investors include: The Michigan Angel Fund (Ann Arbor), Grand Angels/Woodward Angels (Grand Rapids and Detroit), BlueWater Angels (Midland), and Northern Michigan Angels (Traverse City), among others.

Venture capital
Venture capital is a form of private equity/financing that investors provide to startup companies and small businesses with long-term growth potential. It generally comes from individual investors, investment banks, and other financial institutions. VC funds in Michigan include: Arbor Partners (Ann Arbor), Grand Ventures, Charter Capital Partners, Blackford Capital (Grand Rapids), Detroit Venture Partners, ID Ventures, Grand Circus (Detroit), Apjohn Ventures, the Novus Biotechnology Fund (Kalamazoo), and BioStar Ventures (Petoskey).

Family funds
Family funds, often in partnership with advisory firms, provide collateral to launch or grow a business in exchange for a stake in the company. Family funds in Michigan include: The Van Elslander Family Fund (Warren), the Williams Family Fund (Birmingham), and the Matilda R. Wilson Fund (Detroit), Ottawa Avenue Private Capital (Grand Rapids), as well as others.

Private equity
Private equity consists of capital that isn’t listed on a public exchange. Institutional and retail investors provide the capital for private equity, and the funds can be used to pay for new technology, make acquisitions, expand working capital, and bolster and solidify a balance sheet. Private equity firms in Michigan include: Rockbridge Growth Equity, Huron Capital Partners, Peninsula Capital Partners (Detroit), Red Oak Capital Group, Charter Capital Partners, Blackford Capital, and Auxo Investment Partners (Grand Rapids).

See the January-February 2020 issue of DBusiness magazine for a complete listing of venture capital, private equity, angel investor, family funds, and other related firms in Michigan. For a digital version, click here.

 Rachel Watson

Sources: Investopedia, AdvisoryHQ,

Business Basics

Research: For any potential business, assess a new or enhanced product or service in a given industry. Don’t repeat what others are doing. Develop a new idea, innovation, or product. Network frequently with other entrepreneurs and experts who have knowledge about the industry. Ask plenty of questions about what they’ve learned from their experiences, and use it to your advantage.

Accounting: Accounting is the process of recording financial transactions pertaining to a business, and it includes summarizing, analyzing, and reporting the transactions to oversight agencies, regulators, and tax-collection entities. It’s important to hire a reputable third-party accountant to ensure a company is in full compliance with all relevant laws.

Legal: Trademark, patent, and employment laws are just some of the regulations that need to be considered when starting a business.

• After creating a symbol, a label, or a name that solely identifies a business, register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at so the name can’t be used by anyone else.

• Patent law is particularly important for makers because it’s how inventions are registered and intellectual property (IP) is protected for new products. An IP attorney can give advice on the process of filing a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

• There are different types of laws and regulations the federal government has enacted that will need examining if you become an employer, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. A labor and employment attorney can provide advice on these matters.

Branding and marketing: These are two different elements of a business, but they work together and are extremely important to generating clients and business. Branding is the identity of the business — such as its logo, slogan, signage, or messaging — in print, web, and email materials. Marketing offers a pathway to a targeted audience, whether through traditional media, social media, emails, mailings, or face-to-face-meetings with consumers at networking events and workshops.

Danielle Nelson and Rachel Watson