Entrepreneurs' Small Businesses Have Big Impact


Michigan has been working for years to diversify and modernize its economy. The state has launched numerous programs to attract and retain high-tech entrepreneurs.

But what about the rest of us? What about people who don't have MBA's, MSA's or PhD's? WKAR's Rob South finds that you don't have to develop a new drug or high-tech software or even do something unique to be an entrepreneur.

They feed us, mow our lawns, fix our houses and cars, plow the snow. They are doctors, lawyers, bankers - anything you can imagine. They are also small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Statewide, there are between 150,000 and 200,000 companies with fewer than 20 employees. With about 700,000 people in Michigan looking for work, there's been more interest in people thinking about starting their own companies.

One of the places to go for advice is the Entrepreneur Institute of Mid-Michigan. In a small classroom in Lansing's Letts Community Center, about a half dozen men and women are learning the finer points of running their own businesses.

"I'm trying to figure out; I'm seeking motivation to make a plan," says one student.

"You know, you don't have to have a full-blown plan, but you do need to have something down on paper," says Denise Peek. "Because what if you outgrew your house?"

Denise Peek is the institute's executive director and leads a rigorous 15-week training program. Peek says the non-profit is designed to help give small business owners a fighting chance in today's economy.

"She's more likely not to fail because she has been through the program," Peek says. "She's written her plan, she knows how much work it's going to take to get it up and running, and to sustain it, versus someone who just goes out and says, 'OK, I want to be a business owner, I'm going to rent this space and I'm going to do my thing,' and have no idea what they're doing."

Tashmica Torok went through the training last year. She and her husband Paul have owned Heritage Flooring for seven years. She says went to the institute as the business started to grow. Torok says in addition to creating a business plan, it also made her more aware that she is responsible for the livelihood of her employees.

"Making sure that we are good stewards with our money, so that when we get paid, we pay our employees, which is kind of huge; they like to get paid. It's a strange thing," Torok laughs. "So those are some big things that I've learned. Also, writing a job description, so that people know what they can expect when they're hired."

Torok acts as the company's business manager. On a recent job in Meridian Township, she leaves the heavy lifting and messy mixing of mortar up to her new tile setter, Mike Dubanik.

"Mike's our new guy," Torok explains. "He just started two weeks ago, so we're really excited to have him. He's got tons of experience and is just as qualified as Paul, which is something we learned at the institute. Hire someone better than yourself, because when we're expecting the best, well, that's what we want to hire."

(South): "And how many employees do you have now?"

"We have five," Torok says. "Counting us, we have seven. Denise always tells me to count myself, and I always find that kind of weird."

Torok says she hopes to have a dozen employees someday and enough work to keep them all busy.

Denise Peek says that's not an unrealistic goal for someone like Torok. But she stress that other small businesses need extra help getting started and growing to just a few employees. So, the Entrepreneur Institute also provides micro-loans. In the last 12 years it has loaned out about $200,000 dollars to 33 small businesses.

Peek says there's no shortage of people willing to start their own businesses. But there is a shortage of groups like hers to help them.

"The state really is entrepreneurial, but it's getting others and ones who are in positions of decision making and policy making, to really realize that we need to do whatever we can to make sure that they're successful," Peek says.

Peek says she'd like Michigan to create a state micro-enterprise association which would allow organizations like hers to work together and offer more services.

In the 15 years since it was created, The Entrepreneur Institute of Mid-Michigan has trained more than 500 people. Peek says she counts most of them as success stories. She says even those who don't create new companies come away with a better understanding of how business works.

reWorking Michigan
For more on job creation and workforce evolution in Michigan, visit WKAR.org/reworkingmichigan