In “A Better Idea: Four Feet of Bench Space,” we met Rich West, an entrepreneurial scientist who created a business inside Southwest Michigan Innovation Center (SWMIC) in Kalamazoo.
He is not the first. He will not be the last. Dozens of scientists are making their better ideas into reality inside SWMIC.

Do you have a better idea that could be birthed on four feet of bench space? Before you start on a journey similar to Rich’s, you need to have a plan in writing. Ron Kitchens, the chief executive officer of the Southwest Michigan First (SWMF) economic development agency said his team doesn’t have time for people who only dream. They want to talk to people who “do.”

“We are not one of these groups that think you need a 400-page business plan,” Ron assured me. “I would rather see three or four succinct pages that show me you have really thought out the problem and what your unique or novel solution is. What are the roadblocks? Who you are going to collaborate with? Who is the competition? How much capital it is going to take?”

SWMF will send your three or four pages to a panel of experts for some “quick and dirty thoughts,” with the expectation they will give it a thumbs up, or say, “this is an idea that has been tried 20 times before” and reject it.

If you are ready to move from “dream” to “do” here is an important word to remember.


Never forget Google can be a noun or a verb. You have to know what Google is, as a noun, and how to use Google as a verb. Put your idea into Google and see what happens. Do it before you spend time writing up the three-or-four pages that Ron wants to see.

“It is amazing the number of times somebody comes in with a huge business plan, a tremendous investment in time and thought, and they never bother to Google (verb) it,” he said. “We had someone come in the other day with an idea of how you could check your blood with an app on your cell phone. My team had just sat through a presentation from Sony on that.”

Ron had to crush the poor guy’s dreams, by showing him there were 30 versions of his great idea already available on Google (noun).

Assuming you got by all of that, and you have the IP to protect, SWMF moves you into a more intense due diligence phase, meeting with consultants who are on the economic development agency’s payroll, to create some realistic growth milestones.

This is not an appropriate milestone: Walk into Ron’s office and tell him that your idea is going to make you rich in six months when you sell it to Big Pharma, and you will be more than happy to walk away.

That would be a mistake.

Ron and SWMF are driven by a Dual Bottom Line. You have to remember who brought you to the dance because “wealth” creation is just as important as “job” creation. “We only want to invest in things that will bring wealth and jobs to the region,” said Ron. “We will invest in things knowing that it is a product that will be sold to somebody. But, if we are going to do that, it is going to have multiple impacts.”

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 or download his free app available through iTunes and Google Play.

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