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Helping startups: SmartStart serves area entrepreneurs

Photo provided by MTEC SmartZone Graduates of the MTEC SmartZone’s SmartStart program display their certificates.

HOUGHTON — In 2012, the MTEC SmartZone was looking at a way to create more entrepreneurs that could serve the Keweenaw.

What came out of that was SmartStart, a program where up-and-coming or existing businesses can look at how to build and grow their products.

Classes meet once a week for a six- to seven-week course. Using ideas from small business marketing consultant Wendy Kennedy, the course helps businesses look at three questions: “So what?”, “Who cares?” and “Why you?”

“The purpose of this is not to focus on how the product works … we don’t care about how it works,” said Jason Mack, vice president of business development for MTEC SmartZone. “We’re trying to figure out how to articulate what is the problem, and what does your solution do to solve that problem.”

Most people who come through the program are people with an idea for a business, which the class can help solidify, Mack said. But some people who come through the program are already several years into their business.

Some of them are are inflection points for their business. Others might be launching a new product or service.

“They come to us to help think through that process in terms of how they should target it, how they should market it,” Mack said.

Although the SmartZone is more technology-focused, any kind of business can participate in the SmartStart classes, Mack said.

More than 100 businesses have gone through the program, Mack said. The program is used not just to help the entrepreneurs, but to measure and evaluate the teams and their ideas.

“If it is a strong technology business, then they can apply to move into our incubator space,” he said.

The program will help educate entrepreneurs, as well as connect them with other people and resources in the community, Mack said.

“We’re always looking for new people who are interested in kicking around a new idea, and we’re here to help with that and to help them launch their business right here in the Keweenaw,” he said.

Classes take place at the powerhouse on 101 W. Lakeshore Drive. The cost for the program is $100 per applicant. People can apply at mtecsz.com/smartstart.

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