SmartStart turning ideas into businesses

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation SmartZone’s SmartStart Program is the foundation of the SmartZone, where entrepreneurs can take a product idea and see it ultimately become a product in the market place. The SmartZone’s mission is to create an entrepreneurial community within the Copper Country that will reach around the world. While entrepreneurs look to start and expand a new business, Marilyn Clark, SmartZone chief executive officer, keeps her eyes on the larger picture.

“That’s why we’re really looking at that high-growth community,” she said.“Not only are jobs important, but it’s adding that wealth to the community that doesn’t come from the community, it comes from outside.”

The SmartZone’s SmartStart Program extends a standing invitation to local entrepreneurs who have a product idea or design, but need assistance in creating a business with which to turn that design into a marketed product. The goal of the program is to guide the entrepreneur through the processes of creating a business that will eventually grow to employ a minimum of 10 jobs. Most of these businesses are high-tech and create an extensive network, Clark said.

“We have a woman who’s in the graduate program at Michigan Tech, working on big data ideas,” Clark said. “She’s creating companies (that will be) able to analyze companies’ data to make better decisions.”

Clark said as another example, there is an internet company within the SmartZone that does blast marketing for companies with a base of approximately 1,000 clients.

Those companies that begin with high-tech futures advance from the SmartStart program, Clark said.

“The ones that move into our business accelerator, those companies are high-tech,” she said. “They have some sort of high-tech process in them.”

Clark said in addition to creating new companies in the Copper Country that will create high-quality jobs, another goal of the MTEC SmartZone is ensure the public is aware of the Copper Country and what it has to offer.

“Part of our goal is to help create an entrepreneurial community,” Clark said, “but it’s also to help our community to understand what a great asset we have here, and that we build on it, and that we create value, and that value creates jobs that sustain families.”

Clark said that while the Copper Country has a reputation for being a cheap place to do business, she wants that reputation changed.

“I do not want that to be our image,” she said. “Our image is that we create value, we have very smart people here.”