Entrepreneurs who just can’t help themselves. They have to be entrepreneurs.
Rich West is one of them.

Like all of his fellow entrepreneurs, Rich had a better idea. He built it — that better idea — on four feet of bench space that was marked out for him at Kalamazoo’s Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, in Western Michigan University’s Business and Technology Research Park.

To follow Rich’s professional journey is also to follow the evolution of the Grand Rapids health care community and the creation of the Medical Mile.

He was working at Ferguson Hospital’s department of pathology, doing clinical flow cytometry — a laser-based technology in which cells are suspended in a stream of fluid for counting and sorting — when that institution merged with Blodgett Memorial Medical Center.

After Blodgett merged with Butterworth, Rich found himself working for Spectrum Health on the pediatric blood marrow transplant team, setting up and running the stem cell engineering program.

A Van Andel Research Institute investigator approached Rich in 2006 with a good job offer and one more line was added to his resume.

This is part of what makes Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile attractive to entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers, like Rich. There are enough institutions on this mile-long, $1.5 billion campus to allow them to grow and prosper without moving their families

Talent needs a community with room for personal and professional growth.

Although he “loved it there (VARI), amazing people, amazing investigators and their mission, their vision, is really strong,” Rich was ready to go off on his own four years later. “I have an entrepreneurial gene that is highly expressed,” he explained. “I wanted to do this forever and a day. I discussed it with my wife and she said, ‘If this is what you really want to do, then maybe you should just do it.’”

He followed her advice and opened West Labs Scientific, LLC, conducting cellular analysis for biotech/pharma, research and academia all on four feet of bench space at Southwest Michigan Innovation Center in Kalamazoo.

Look easy? It is not. Next time, we will look at what it takes to get four feet of bench space at the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center.

This is an excerpt from Last Chance Mile: The Reinvention of An American Community by Rod Kackley. For more of his work, please go to www.rodkackley.com or download his free app available through iTunes and Google Play.

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