In the Black: SmartZone CEO takes account before retiring

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette The MTEC SmartZone’s building, on the west end of Shelden Street in Houghton, is home to classrooms, as well as newly created businesses still in their incubation phase.

HOUGHTON — MTEC SmartZone Chief Executive Officer Marilyn Clark will retire from her position at the end of this year, ending a seven-year tenure as head of the local small business incubator.

As she prepares to leave her office, she recently recounted her years with the organization.

“I would say that the two things I’m most proud of,” said Clark, “are we got our 15-year funding, so we’re ready to be around until 2032; and our SmartStart program, which has really helped the community start gardening their own ideas.”

Last year, she said, SmartStart conducted several workshop sessions, each lasting about six weeks.

In 2017, she said, SmartStart had 18 ideas go through the program, and of those 18 ideas, eight people formed a company.

“So we get an average of seven or eight, and sometimes there are 10 (people in a session), but it’s just been amazing,” Clark said. “It’s a place for people to be able to garden their ideas. We work with about 40 companies per month, from the idea stage all the way to growth stage.”

One example of the companies that originated because of the SmartStart program is the LaSalle Technology Group. Founded in 2006 and located in Hancock, it operates in the computer related-consulting services business.

The Lasalle Technology Group generated an estimated $541,485 in revenue in 2012.

“They were purchased by a Swedish company, and the Swedish company kept all the IT (internet technology) people here,” Clark said, “so all of the operations for IT are going out of Hancock for their North American offices.”

SmartStart works with, and has helped, individuals and groups in developing ideas into successful business, she said. While they all had a firm grasp on what they wanted to accomplish, they simply needed the tools SmartZone provided, said Clark.

“They understand the product and the service,” she said. “They don’t always understand the marketing or the financial piece, or what they need to do if they need a patent, and that’s where we help.”

While the SmartZone has helped many businesses over the years, Clark found the businesses have helped her organization as well.

“Do you know what we learned?” she asked. “Everybody has an idea for a business, but they don’t know where to turn to take it.”