Help when you need it: not sure where to start? The Detroit region is loaded with small business resources.

Author:Mead, Chris

Who can help me write a business plan?

What do I need to do to keep my staff motivated?

When do I know when it's the right time to expand?

Where do I go to get a business permit?

How do I get a business loan?

Just about any question starts with one of those five words: who, what, when, where and how. Getting the answers is a bit more complicated. And during tough economic times, getting the right answers from the right places is even more critical than ever.


The Detroit region is blessed with almost countless sources of information and assistance for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Here are a few that we believe provide some of the best places for you to get started on your quest.

Ann Arbor SPARK

201 S. Division St., Ste. 430

Ann Arbor 48104

(734) 761-9317

[Funding Available] [Emerging Industries] [Automotive] [Startup Friendly]

Since its formation four years ago, Ann Arbor SPARK has earned a reputation as the "go-to" place for entrepreneurs and start-up companies, particularly those that are developing products or services in information technology, life sciences, medical devices, clean technology, advanced automotive research and development, and homeland security.

Businesses like these "are going to be the future of Southeast Michigan," says Elizabeth Parkinson, the organization's vice president of marketing and communications. Ann Arbor SPARK also helps existing companies expand into new market areas, especially those linked to the automotive industry. "They have two choices: either they cease to exist or they evolve," says Parkinson. "Those that are evolving are looking at alternative energy, clean technology, aerospace and other industries where they can quickly retrofit."

To get started, visit Ann Arbor SPARK's Web site and check out the vast number of resources available to small businesses. If you've got an idea for a new business, there's an online form you can complete. "This gives us a sense of who you are and what you are trying to do," Parkinson explains. Within 48 hours, you will receive a phone call or email for a follow-up consultation. If Ann Arbor SPARK can help, you'll be directed into its Business Accelerator program. Otherwise, you'll be referred elsewhere, such as a university or a Small Business & Technology Development Center.

The Business Accelerator program has up to $50,000 per company available for assistance with business plan development, marketing, intellectual property and other issues critical to your success. SPARK also offers a variety of educational programs, including an intensive Entrepreneur Boot Camp.

Looking for staff? Ann Arbor SPARK's Web site also has a portal for posting resumes and job openings. "No other organization has made talent such a priority," says Parkinson. "We try to figure out what companies are growing and what talent they need, and then we help them make the connection."

Automation Alley

2675 Bellingham

Troy 48083

(248) 457-3200

[Manufacturing] [Emerging] [Funding Available] [Educational Programming]

Founded in 1997 as an Oakland County initiative, the Automation Alley region now encompasses Genesee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties and the City of Detroit.

Information technology and manufacturing arc its largest membership industries, but it's not just for the "big guys." In fact, more than half of Automation Alley's members are companies with fewer than 100 employees, says Michelle Zellen, director of Communications and Events.

In addition to offering its members nearly 100 networking opportunities annually, Automation Alley also helps them market their companies on its Web site--by posting a member profile, a member-to-member discount or a press releases in the newsroom. Non-members also can benefit from a variety of Automation Alley services...

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