More often than not within business school, when we hear the words entrepreneurship and start-ups, we immediately associate these words with major technology companies and unicorns looking to go public in an IPO — or even think Shark Tank. These larger success stories may be included as part of the cases we use in class or a product of exposure through networking. However, one of the key areas of entrepreneurship that is sometimes overlooked is local small-business entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are frequently facing similar challenges as these larger companies, but the impact to their community can often be just as great.
In April, our Broad College MBA Entrepreneurship Association, led by president and JD-MBA Addison Standlee, had the chance to drive up from East Lansing and meet with some local entrepreneurs and business owners in northern Michigan. In the quaint small towns of Boyne City and Bellaire, we were able to see first-hand the incredible community elements of the towns and all the adaptability it takes to run a business from the ground up. We talked with managers and owners about hiring practices, new developments or product rollouts, building restorations and everything in between. While we took in thoughts and ideas from an incredible assortment of industries, including still manufacturers, mountain lodges, lavender farming, breweries and distilleries, we noticed the common thread among all of these local entrepreneurs: their ability to take a chance using their entrepreneurial spirit to truly invest in the community they served.
The first stop on our tour was meeting with general managers at the Boyne Mountain Resort. Now a bustling multiseason hotel, ski mountain and golf resort, Boyne has grown from humble beginnings dating back to 1947. Home to the world’s first four-person ski lift and many other innovations, Boyne embodied the entrepreneurial mindset of consistently adapting and finding new ways to offer new experiences. During our tour, we were able to see newly renovated parts of the area, go for a run through the miles-long bike trails and hear directly from staff about the different ways and practices of keeping up with maintenance while balancing business growth. Over the years, Boyne was able to find ways to balance more guests while also extending their connections to the greater Boyne City area, driving shared traffic into the local community.
For our second stop, we were able to visit Lavender Hill Farm in Boyne City. In the midst of constructing a new barn to host events and increase their ability to store and ship lavender, we were able to see the farm at a unique time: before the major summer harvest season. We were also able to hear more about their hiring process. What makes Lavender Hill Farm unique — outside of its local roots, its ability to become a national leader in lavender production and the fact that it’s run by two Spartans — is its ability to hire local talent. In addition to lavender production and more traditional farming, the farm is a major local event space. By partnering with local high schools and hiring theatre students, Lavender Hill Farm has been able to allow students to grow their skills in an outside context and invest back into the community at the same time. By also hiring local talent at the university and intern levels and creating an exciting place to work, the farm has been able to work through some of the challenges businesses often face with hiring from a pool of only 4,000 people in the local town area.
For our final day, we had the pleasure of talking with owners and entrepreneurs from both Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire and Muskrat Distilling in Boyne City. Although Short’s has grown into more of a production-based brewing and distribution company and Muskrat Distilling into a cornerstone tap room, they were both rooted in finding local parts of their respective towns to start and grow their dreams. Faced with deadlines, opening dates and products that are often highly regulated, both companies shared with us how they were able to get their visions off the ground through renovating and restoring buildings in the area. After we completed tours of both the beer manufacturing and distillery equipment, we were able to see how entrepreneurship can often come down to more than just risk but attention to detail. Both companies exemplified a meticulous sense of detail and sense of pride in their work. Not only does this show through in their respective products, but the local communities have taken notice as well.
Whether it’s a quick trip up north, a weekend stay or even a full relocation, it’s always great to get out and support local entrepreneurs in new communities. It was an amazing trip put on by the Broad MBA Entrepreneurship Association, and one where we certainly were able to learn, feel and see the true adventure that entrepreneurship can be. On behalf of the MSU Broad MBA Entrepreneurship Association, we want to thank the hosting companies for showing us what exciting journeys and opportunities entrepreneurship can lead to!