A Sterling Heights-based incubator and co-working space is making moves to usher in a new era of entrepreneurship in Macomb County.
Velocity Center over the last four years has invested nearly $1 million into renovations, additional co-working spaces, upgraded technology and new programs. The reimagined 42,000-square-foot space at 6633 18 Mile Road was unveiled to the public this week during Velocity’s annual open house.
Technology upgrades in meeting and conference spaces facilitate virtual meetings and allow users to collaborate and share ideas utilizing interactive monitors, according to a news release. That includes a new 30-person co-working space called the Element. Velocity Center also offers conference and meeting spaces for rent, along with dedicated private suites for entrepreneurs.
The upgrades have been put into place to help support a shift in Macomb County’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, April Boyle, Velocity Center senior adviser for entrepreneurship and innovation, told Crain’s.
“… we think Macomb County is a mature entrepreneurial ecosystem and we’re really excited about supporting more younger startups, as well as continuing to work with our more mature companies that are looking to connect to those young startups or spin off a product line,” said Boyle, a Pleasant Ridge resident who joined Velocity Center at the start of the year. “We want to ensure that young people understand that entrepreneurship is a viable career path and that Macomb County has the resources and opportunities available to them to help make that happen.”
To help attract younger entrepreneurs, Velocity Center for its annual open house partnered with Rock & Roll Prep School in Shelby Township and nonprofit robotics and automation group Macomb MARZ. Students from various local high schools and Macomb Community College were also invited to attend.
Velocity offers three programs that are free to Macomb County residents and business owners: entrepreneur in residence, incubator and accelerator. Rates for co-working spaces are $100 a month for floating space and $250 per month for dedicated desks. Velocity Center also offers four 1,000-square-foot office suites to teams in its incubator at 50 percent off the market rate. The suites are available to other businesses at a market rate of $16-$20 per square foot.
The cost-friendly rates and free services are by design, according to Boyle.
“My work at Build Institute (in Detroit) was focused on democratizing entrepreneurship and making sure that people felt welcome and had access to resources and opportunities,” Boyle said. “And the same goes for Velocity. We really value diversity and think that that’s where innovation happens, and we want to help build wealth and ownership both for the owner and the communities, create jobs and also help to enhance quality of life.”
Boyle is spearheading the movement. The city of Sterling Heights created Boyle’s position late last year as it looked for someone to drive the push for increased entrepreneurship in Macomb County.
“I was attracted to work at Velocity because it’s a reinvention/reboot opportunity and I really love the startup aspect of building an organization,” Boyle said. “It also gives me a chance to work in a different sector and learn more about tech and manufacturing. The core components of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem are in essence similar no matter what sector you’re serving. It’s an exciting time to be here and to help connect Macomb County with other opportunities regionally and statewide.”
The Velocity Center was established in October 2011 as a SmartZone collaboration center designed to spur new businesses and economic growth in defense, homeland security and advanced manufacturing. The center was launched as a partnership between Macomb County, the city of Sterling Heights and Oakland University.
Velocity is funded by the Michigan SmartZone designation, which dedicates a special revenue stream of real estate property taxes reviewed and approved by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the city of Sterling Heights and Local Development Finance Authority. There are more than 20 SmartZone programs across the state.
Velocity Center is mandated to work with tech and manufacturing startups and growing companies, according to Boyle. There is an opportunity to work with other sectors and become an all-in-one, one-stop shop, she said.
Electric vehicle infrastructure presents a strong opportunity, Boyle said.
“There is a big push from government and others toward EV but our infrastructure is lacking and I think that is a huge opportunity,” Boyle said. “I think there are opportunities with climate change and more sustainable cradle to grave product development and manufacturing, too.”
Entrepreneurs at various stages of their journey are taking advantage of Velocity Center’s services.
Velocity has 21 clients in its entrepreneurship-in-residence program, which offers one-on-one coaching, mentoring and support for entrepreneurs at various stages and assistance in navigating local and statewide resources and programs. Fifteen clients are at various stages of the Velocity accelerator, which offers early-stage business evaluations and assessments, and launches accepted businesses on an accelerated trajectory toward guided success. Four clients are using the co-working space. Velocity’s International Landing Zone includes three clients who run technology-based businesses outside of the United States. Velocity Center has eight other tenants as part of its business community. Velocity’s incubator, which launches in 2023, is a specially-designed program to help startups and entrepreneurs grow.
Chesterfield resident Chinaka Njoku is the founder and CEO of software development company Tasen Inc.. Njoku in an email said the services offered by Velocity Center are second to none.
“When it comes to starting a company, aligning myself with seasoned entrepreneurs who have done it incredibly well several times over is vital to my personal growth and my start-up’s success. I found all of that at (Velocity Center),” Njoku said. “The leadership and access to vital business resources made my journey as an entrepreneur less lonely. I can’t even begin to (quantify) the impact Velocity has made on my start-up.”
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael C. Taylor said the upgrades made at Velocity Center signal a change is coming to Macomb County.
“We are very eager to share with the community the exciting things that are happening at Velocity,” Taylor said in a statement. “We are taking bold steps forward to change the entrepreneurial landscape throughout Macomb County and are happy to support the new management, programs, and resources being offered here.”
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