What educational, entrepreneurial or business development programs, if any, have you taken advantage of?
We've worked with a number of programs in the area throughout our 5 years in business, including the MI-SBTDC, Rob Pasick's leadership forms and CEO Connect, the ATHENAPowerLink program (we were a recipient in 2010), the Entrepreneur's Organization Accelerator Program (Detroit Chapter), Sandler sales training, ZingTrain programs, the Women's Exchange of Washtenaw, and the Small Giants Community
Who was your first customer and where did you find them?
Our first customer was Kerry Ingredients & Flavours
, a global food ingredient and consumer foods manufacturer based in Ireland. I was working as a traveling trainer and did a 3-day training session at Kerry's Americas Region headquarters in Beloit, WI. A few months later, they asked me to develop elearning for them, along with an online knowledge reference database. I quickly realized that I could have a wider impact on more people -- with a lot less wear and tear on me personally -- by developing elearning instead of training live. For large and global operations, it's also less expensive to develop elearning that can be used over time. More than 5 years later, we're still working with Kerry and have completed more than a hundred elearning courses for them that are used globally.
Where did you find your first employee?
This is a great story. In 2004, I was coaching hockey here in Chelsea where we had our first group of girls hockey players -- we didn't even have enough girls to make a team and play games, so we just practiced and had little scrimmages amongst ourselves. At the time, my daughter was 2 and I asked one of the hockey players to babysit. Turns out, she was headed to Central Michigan University
to major in communication, which is what I majored in. Over the next few years, Jen Vetter babysat and did odd jobs for my then-consulting business when she was home from school. By her senior year, I had started the elearning business and had more work than I could handle myself. Jen worked as an intern remotely her senior year and I hired her full time when she graduated. She still works with me today and is our instructional technologies lead and is the glue that holds things together in the office.
Have you promoted an intern to employee status, and if so how many times have you done it?
I did it five times this summer! We hired five temporary/intern staff this summer for a big project. The team blew me away, and we had continued work into the fall. I've made two permanent job offers and extended the internships of the other three through the end of 2011. Two of these five had moved out of state in search of jobs and came back to Michigan to work with us.
Where have you turned to find capital to grow your company and which institutions have provided it?
Our early growth was all internally funded through sales. A few years ago, we got a line of credit from the Bank of Ann Arbor
and we've had a great relationship with them over the years.
What are some of the advantages to doing business here?
When my husband and I relocated and arrived in Michigan 15 years ago, my employer's only stipulation was that I live near a major airport so I could travel easily. (I was working for Andersen Consulting - now Accenture
- at the time.) With DTW as a hub airport, I am a direct flight away from most cities in the US and many globally as well. Funny enough, the very nature of elearning means I don't have to travel nearly as much anymore and, in theory, location doesn't matter. There are a lot of great businesses -- large and small -- in SE Michigan, although it was over two years into the business before we had our first Michigan-based client! Now, we get calls from prospective clients who are attracted to us precisely because we're local.
We're just a stone's throw from Ann Arbor -- so we get all the benefits of a major college town. Chelsea's smaller -- one of those places where everyone knows everyone else -- and we have a really walkable and nice downtown, with lots of free parking.
Above all, though, this area has a real bias toward collaboration and optimism, even in the face of tough times and stiff competition. I have found myself among a fantastic network of businesses and professionals who look out for each other, work together, share information and genuinely want each other to succeed.
If you could change one thing about this region, what would it be?
Hmm.. That's a tough question. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the things I can't change. We've got a lot going for us around here -- four beautiful seasons, great natural resources, world class universities, professional sports, excellent health systems, a lot of support from the state and from other sources for business growth. The continued
revitalization of Detroit and our other urban centers will be a plus for the whole state.