The MORE program: Connecting entrepreneurs with resources [MiBiz Article]

MICHIGAN – The MORE Program, a nonprofit economic development organization in Southeast Michigan, wants to connect Michigan’s entrepreneurs and new businesses with resources they need to succeed – free of charge.

Using InsYght, the program’s flagship online portal system developed by Detroit-based Digerati Inc., MORE (Matching Opportunities and Resources for Entrepreneurs) provides customized support for individuals and organizations across the state that are seeking business resources and partners.

MORE is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and the New Economy Initiative, a philanthropic program in Southeast Michigan. The MORE Program launched publicly just two months ago but already has hundreds of partners signed. Although the program is currently based in Southeast Michigan, MORE will soon be expanding westward and throughout the entire state.

Agacinski

“We’re very excited about rapid expansion with partners on the west side of the state and (are) anxious to get as many as possible up and running with the system,” said Ken Agacinski, executive director of the MORE Program. “As more groups become aware of what we do, growing that base will happen more quickly.”

MORE launched with eight partners, but is working with nearly 90 other organizations that have signed agreements allowing MORE to inventory their resources and to offer them custom-branded versions of InsYght.

The customized systems provide differential diagnosis technology to identify clients’ challenges and then suggest appropriate resources to overcome those challenges.

MORE is currently increasing its system capacity by building a granular inventory and database of all the business support resources that exist in Michigan, from business incubators and accelerators to universities, libraries and community governments. By connecting content creators with the financial or strategic resources needed to build on their ideas, the program can speed up or simply enable the launch process.

“There are tens of thousands of free or heavily discounted resources out there, but people just don’t necessarily know that they’re out there or know where to look for them,” Agacinski said. “With InsYght, we’ve developed custom software and processes that enable us to pull together all of that information across the state. We don’t create resources, but we identify those that others have and make them more visible to the public through our matching technology. We’re an effective and efficient resource aggregator.”

Often, entrepreneurs do not have access to appropriate resources to advance their business plans. The MORE Program is designed to connect them to local organizations, which provide resources, advice and connections that a busy entrepreneur might not have the time find.

Dr. Lawrence Brown of the Ryan Foot and Ankle Clinic in Warren is one of the MORE Program’s entrepreneurial success stories. Brown developed and patented a new shoe insole and, through work with the MORE Program, was able to connect with a product manufacturer.

“As a podiatrist, I’m stepping into a new area as an inventor looking for a manufacturer to partner with. The MORE Program was a matchmaker. They set me up directly with the people and partners I needed to talk to,” Brown said. “[The MORE Program] gave me very valuable connections and advice, and it’s been a very simple and seamless process of cooperation.” In addition to benefitting growing businesses and budding entrepreneurs, the MORE Program helps resource providers connect with clients. By indexing myriad services and connecting those services to potential users across the state, MORE enables a more streamlined and targeted approach to service delivery, Agacinski said.

The City of South Haven collaborated with MORE to take make resources available to entrepreneurs within the city.

“What we’re trying to do through the partnership is to provide networking capabilities for local businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Paul Vanden Bosch, assistant city manager for South Haven.

It was an easy decision to get involved, he said.

The MORE Program looks to inventory all the available entrepreneur resources in the state and present them to businesspeople in an easy-to-use manner. While the program launched in Southeast Michigan, it plans to expand to West Michigan and across the state as more partner organizations come on board, said Ken Agacinski, executive director of MORE Program.

“It was free and easy to participate and looked like it could be a real benefit to the city,” Vanden Bosch said, noting that connecting the west and east sides of the state will benefit everyone involved. “I hope that this program will tie us in to things happening and available all over the state, wherever things are happening. There’s just so many different ways that [MORE] can help a new business or entrepreneur.”

MORE’s goal is to grow from their 100 current partners and eventually work with more than 1,500 organizations across Michigan, compiling, indexing and making available their resources to businesses and other job-creating entities, regardless of their location, Agacinski said.

The more partners MORE adds to its system, the faster it can reach its goals.

“Long term, we’re hoping to have a noticeable and appreciable impact on the number of new incorporations, patents and jobs here in Michigan,” Agacinski said.

Agacinski attributes a lot of the MORE Program’s initial success so far to its building on the strong spirit of collaboration and business cooperation in Michigan, one markedly different from a more isolating atmosphere in years past. Some attribute this shift in business strategy to a result of the changing economic landscape necessitated by the decline of Michigan’s auto industry.

“It’s a significant mind change in the culture of the state of Michigan,” Agacinski said. “For many years, economic development has been viewed as a zero-sum game, probably born from the state’s chief industries. But people are starting to realize more and more that multiple companies can win in the same space, can grow jobs, and can build innovative products working with one another. We’re helping them do that.”

[This article was written by Kevin Soubly and first appeared in the October 18, 2011 issue of MiBiz publication]

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