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Kalamazoo: Where potential for entrepreneurs is growing.

While Kalamazoo may not be the center of entrepreneurship, we’re certain the heart of its spirit beats here. We’ve heard it. Felt its pulse. Even watched the rise and fall of excited breath as young ideas tested their wings. Make no mistake: Entrepreneurism is alive and well in the ‘Zoo.

And why not? After all, Kalamazoo is no stranger to pioneers with the courage of their convictions. Think: W. E. Upjohn, Homer Stryker, Orville Gibson and Larry Bell. All are giants whose accomplishments and generosity continue to enrich our community.

On the foundation of their successes, modern movers and shakers like Daniel Jefferies of New Mind Group, Matt Mace of Blue Granite and Ryan Goins of The Startup Zoo are building the next chapters in the story of Kalamazoo’s entrepreneurism.

The Startup Zoo, for example, wants to help connect tech entrepreneurs to one another, to investors, mentors and other leaders in our global community. “We also want to be a cheerleader, shining a light on the amazing things entrepreneurs in Kalamazoo are doing.”

But wait. There’s more ...the walking catalysts, John Mueller, Derrick McIver and Laurel Ofstein, for example. Their exciting work at Western Michigan University promises to be the seed of a new entrepreneurship program at the university, perhaps even a major in entrepreneurship.

As positive and encouraging as these factors are, it is still sometimes easy to get lost in the big picture. But a quick look at details shows how specific events are providing traction and measurable progress. During just the first week in April, for instance, all of the following took place. (And it was fun for maestro to jump in and offer support wherever possible.)

Pitch Zoo. John Mueller asked Maestro to host Pitch Zoo on the first Monday evening in April. Of course, we were delighted to do so. Pitch Zoo is an opportunity for anyone in the community to pitch an idea and receive candid, constructive feedback on presentations limited to three minutes. This will be a monthly event open to all of the area’s entrepreneurs.

Startup Kids. On Thursday of that same week, we attended a showing of Startup Kids, a documentary starring an eclectic blend of youthful entrepreneurs in the United States and Europe. Maestro was one of the sponsors of the film, which was shown at the Haworth College of Business.

PITCH Competition. To round out the week, on Saturday we were among the judges of a pitch competition at Western. Maestro was among several observers—including Ryan Goins, co-founder of Startup Zoo and Bobby Hopewell, mayor of Kalamazoo—who helped judge eight presentations from WMU students. (Notice served: Maestro has already interviewed the winner!)

No one is sure where the next big thing is coming from or the name(s) of the brilliant entrepreneur(s) driving it. But we do know that being in the presence of fresh ideas is exhilarating, and there is something inspiring and immensely hopeful about rubbing shoulders with those who have them. Indeed. The entrepreneur is a unique and wonderful species in our local ‘Zoo.

Jen Randall

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