MTEC SmartZone entrepreneur training program, SmartStart, turns technology ideas into viable businesses

HOUGHTON, Michigan (March 12, 2013) – Commercializing a new technology can cost more time and money than entrepreneurs can afford. Along with the fear of failing, these issues are often cited as reasons many great ideas never make it to market. To help beginning-stage inventors determine early if their idea will turn into a successful business opportunity, MTEC SmartZone created SmartStart.

SmartStart is a practical, hands-on, learning program designed to help entrepreneurs hone the skills needed to create, manage and grow a successful business. The six-week program meets at MTEC SmartZone Lakeshore Center and combines facilitator-guided sessions, small group exercises, guest speakers and idea sharing with peers. SmartStart serves as a pre-incubation program for technology founders before they become MTEC SmartZone tenants.

“SmartStart is a collaborative environment where founders receive guidance and direction from coaches and peers to help them analyze their idea fully,” SmartStart Director Julie Melchiori says. “With each session they’re asked to explain their idea, and every time they do it’s a little bit different because they’ve thrown out what doesn’t work. You can really see how their ideas change and grow.”

Each SmartStart session covers a different topic or activity. Founders work on their own business ideas or existing ventures throughout the course of the program – taking their ideas to reality.

Certified coaches – trained in Wendy Kennedy’s nationally acclaimed entrepreneur education methodology “So what? Who cares? Why you?” – help guide founders through the step-by-step process of clearly identifying and articulating the business value of their technology.

“When it comes to transitioning from the lab to the customer, especially when they know all the technical details behind their technology, it can be difficult for them to explain it simply,” SmartStart Coach Scott Mouw says. “In my 12-year career in the specialty chemicals industry, I was involved with two start-up companies. I understand the emotional steps to building a company from the ground up, so I offer that kind of support to entrepreneurs.”

Founders Dr. Bowen Li and his wife Amy Zhi, who through their family business developed an innovative antimicrobial technology, said SmartStart helped them gain confidence in the future of their new venture.

“We tried moving our technology to the customers but we are still learning American business culture. We’ve made some progress, but it’s slow,” Li says. “Scott helped us figure out what problem in the market our product helps solve. He showed us how we can set up a real business and target our potential customers and specific market segment.”

Li, who is an associate research professor in Michigan Technological University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, says SmartStart helped his company realize their technology’s competitive advantage, giving them confidence to move forward with their innovation.

SmartStart is open to entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists and engineers who are passionate about growing a business, product or idea. To apply for the program, call Program Director Julie Melchiori at (906) 487-7000 or email


The mission of MTEC SmartZone is accelerating high-tech business growth to build a prosperous regional economy. More information is available at


The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) is the State of Michigan’s one-stop resource for businesses seeking to grow in Michigan. Whether it’s an expansion, relocation, or even a concern with another agency of state government, the MEDC can help. From site location assistance to job training grants, from help with permits to tax abatements, we’re the state’s economic development corporation. More information is available at
SmartZone is a service mark of Michigan Economic Development Corporation.