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The Money Question

Overcoming challenges in entrepreneurial access to capital

Page 32-33

By Noah Purcell

As vice president and director of the Venture Development Organization within the community development financial institution known as Invest Detroit, Martin Dober sees a bright future for the city’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Prior to joining Invest Detroit, Dober was senior vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), where he directed technology investment programs under the state’s 21st Century Jobs Fund.

Dober sat down for a Q&A with the Detroiter to touch on the financial side of startup companies as well as other obstacles for entrepreneurs.

How is Michigan sitting in terms of entrepreneurs’ ability to access capital?

Especially when we’re talking about technology entrepreneurs, there’s more capital in the state of Michigan than there ever has been and more funds available for startup entrepreneurs than there ever has been. You look at the venture capital community in this state, and it’s grown from what was maybe a dozen firms in the early 2000s to now about 30 firms in this state. Where venture capital nationwide has been flat or declining in a lot of parts in the country, venture capital in Michigan has been on the upswing.

What comes to mind when you think about obstacles to entrepreneurship?

The first thing that I think about … is talent. It’s something that I learned back when I worked at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. A lot of the obstacles are driven by talent and finding experienced people.

Beyond just the talented employees of a company is finding talent that you can plug into – mentors and advisers, and people who you can talk to – people who have launched startups and have done it over and over again.

A second obstacle is navigating the tremendous amount of programs that are out there to help, and navigating the system and understanding how to use the resources that are out there and understanding what those resources are.

What is Detroit doing right?

While we certainly need to be more inclusive and welcoming of entrepreneurs, I actually think we do a pretty good job of it in Detroit. I hate to say this, but maybe even better than Ann Arbor in this respect. Ann Arbor is known, obviously, as having the most robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state, but I think in Detroit it’s pretty welcoming, so a lot of people can engage a lot easier in Detroit than in Ann Arbor. There is certainly a lot of work left to be done to make sure that the infrastructure that is here to support entrepreneurs is supporting a diverse set of entrepreneurs – women, minorities, immigrants – and that they all have access to the programs.

What impact will players like Invest Detroit have on the city going forward?

It takes a lot of resources to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, but the more that we can do to bring together public and private entities to build that ecosystem, the better. We’ve come a long way, but even so, there’s a lot of work to be done even for Detroit to be anywhere near what Ann Arbor has done (in creating) the vibrancy of entrepreneurship that’s there. It’s going to take a lot of continuous work, and I think public-private partnerships can help make that happen quicker.

Noah Purcell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.