It may be in the same building, centrally located in Sterling Heights, and it may have the same name.
But the new Velocity Center is stepping up its game as what it coined a BSO, or Big Support Organization, to help startups and entrepreneurs, whether locally or from abroad, gain a solid foothold in the Macomb County business community.
The Velocity Center was established in October 2011 as a SmartZone collaboration center designed to spur new businesses and economic growth in defense, homeland security and advanced manufacturing.
The Center was launched as a partnership between Macomb County, the city of Sterling Heights, and Oakland University. By 2018, the center had supported more than 110 clients as tenants or as affiliate clients, created 221 high-tech jobs and generated more than $66 million in follow-on funding for clients.
In March 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the planet, Sterling Heights reassessed how best to deliver entrepreneurial and business support at the center and transitioned programming support from Oakland University to Alchemist Ventures LLC. Unfortunately, Alchemist Ventures was unable to fully activate programming support as the pandemic continued, and their contract ended in November 2021.
Today, new Senior Advisor for Entrepreneurship and Innovation April Jones-Boyle is out to make Velocity’s value and identity crystal clear – specifically to entrepreneurs, start-ups through second-stage businesses, in technology and advanced manufacturing.
“It was really important to us, since we were starting from scratch, to make sure that we had a clear mission and vision, kind of like the North Star of the organization,” Jones-Boyle said. “I love the idea of being the center of gravity for entrepreneurship and innovation in Macomb County.”
According to its new mission statement, the Velocity Center hopes to be a “catalyst for culture change to accelerate innovation, reinvention, and growth for manufacturing and
technology business in Macomb County.”
Among its new “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” for the next 10-50 years, Velocity Center hopes to:
- Have full building occupancy and tenant engagement.
- Be a magnet for business entrepreneurs and a regional hub and destination.
- Receive national recognition as a thought leader and innovator in tech and advanced manufacturing.
- Help start robust seed investments in Macomb County.
- Launch the first woman tech or advanced manufacturing unicorn in the state of Michigan.
- Create multiple Velocity centers or enlarge its Velocity campus in Sterling Heights.
“We hope to launch the first woman tech or advanced manufacturing exit in Macomb County. That’s never been done before,” Jones-Boyle said.
Velocity’s newest addition is Rachele Downs, the Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Downs will be working part time at the Center to assist fledgling entrepreneurs on an appointment basis.She considers herself a “resource navigator.”
“April has done an outstanding job of rebranding Velocity Center so that there’s a shared understanding across the ecosystem of what Velocity is, what it does, and what the value proposition is,” Downs said. “Up until now, there has been a lot of confusion. People really don’t understand what Velocity was for. And our goal is to really build the infrastructure and set up a Velocity to stand on its own regardless of who is sitting in our seats and will build our team and infrastructure.”
In its first new year of leadership under Smith-Boyle, Velocity hopes to shore up the ecosystem in the county, define its BSOs, develop an asset map and community platform that identifies and communicates resources. It also hopes to start exploratory programming to gather data and better understand the market needs and gaps. It also hopes to launch or expand 10 or more companies.
In year two, Smith-Boyle hopes to engage entrepreneurs through robust programing and support services with a hope that the facility will grow with more tenants and visitors. The goal in year two will be to help launch or expand more than 20 companies.
And in year three, Velocity hopes to build the investment ecosystem through crowd-sourced platforms, “angel” networks, venture capital and grants. It is hoped that by year three, the new Velocity will be a recognized location for its programming, education, and support services for tenants, clients and the rest of the community. The team hopes to launch or expand more than 30 companies in 2024.
To learn more about the Velocity Center, go to velocity-center.com or call 586-884-9320.
Don Gardner is a Communication Specialist for Macomb County Planning and Economic Development.