So You Think You Can Be An Entrepreneur?

What do you think of when you hear the word entrepreneur? Do you think of a famous personality? Perhaps some entertaining television show? Or maybe someone in your family comes to mind, someone who owns and operates a small business—like your mom, dad, or uncle?

I’m a Michigan Tech alumnus who has lived and worked in the Houghton area since graduating with degrees in mechanical engineering and business management in 2000. In my role as vice president of business development for MTEC SmartZone, I meet daily with entrepreneurs from varying backgrounds and experiences. There is a local network of support to help people— maybe even you—who want to stay in the Keweenaw by providing resources necessary to be successful.

So, what makes an entrepreneur great? And what makes a successful Michigan Tech entrepreneur? MTEC SmartZone summarizes success by one word: innovation.

Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.

You might think, “Being innovative will require me to invent something patentable. That is expensive and may take forever!”

Incorrect! Well, partially incorrect.

Stop and think about a product or service you used this morning, starting with your smartphone. Which apps did you use? Was it a news app or a social media app? Perhaps an app to track your health, calories, or perhaps a game? Do you think any of these solutions hold patents? Surely, they MUST for being such a success, right?

For the most part, these apps or digital solutions do not in fact lean heavily on their patent portfolio.

The US Patent and Trademark Office, which is burdened with a backlog of patent applications, will often award patents without much scrutiny. This leads to the office allowing broad protections of patent requests. Then, when there is a dispute over intellectual property, the patent office in recent years has typically thrown out the claims; the patent is essentially null and void. A well-known example includes the disputes between Samsung and Apple.

"Simply put, patents do not equal innovation. Patents without a use are not innovative."Jason Mack

This tells us two things: First, if you intend to file a patent for your innovation, make sure it is specific and not overly broad. And second, if this is the current climate of patents, think: “How can I be successful?”

If innovators don’t need patents to be successful, what do they need?

Find an unarticulated need that a customer is willing to pay for and jump at it. If you have something that someone is willing to pay for, you’ve made it! You’ve found something. You have just become an innovator! Your success will now be measured in market share: How much of the market you possess, you own.

As you might guess, it’s not as simple as it sounds. But like any project you’ve worked on—anything that you’ve built that takes time, thought, and effort—there is a path to success. The path is never straight, but with sound guidance and a willingness to listen and learn, you too can be an innovator. There are valuable resources in the Michigan Tech campus community that can help.

If you think you have the strength, perseverance, or sisu in you, and you’re looking for a way to stay in this wonderful place, let’s get started!

MTEC SmartZone is a nonprofit business not directly connected with Michigan Tech. We facilitate the creation and success of high-tech innovators. We work in conjunction with the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, including the Michigan Tech Office of Innovation and Commercialization, which coordinates and delivers services and programs connecting a vast array of expertise, services, and initiatives in basic and applied research, training and education, and more. In addition, the regional Small Business Development Center—housed within the Michigan Tech College of Business— offers webinars, training, business plan creation, and more.

Innovators, take your first big step forward and connect with resources available in this area that can help you stay and thrive here. There’s no better time to begin than now.

Help your idea take flight:

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.