by Mark Rummel
David Ollila had multiple business ideas that the world could use, but he was living in Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — pretty far from most major commerce centers.
Luckily, Flint businessman Phil Hagerman met Ollila. The two entrepreneurs shared many similar thoughts and knew they could work together, so Ollila moved to Flint to work for Hagerman’s SkyPoint Ventures LLC.
Among other tasks, Ollila today oversees 100K Ideas, the Flint-based nonprofit focusing on training entrepreneurs. The incubator business, located on the first and second floors of Flint’s Ferris Wheel building, is named for the 100,000 city residents. Every one of them can and does have creative ideas which can be explored, Ollila says.
“100K Ideas is a nonprofit organization where ideas are ushered from concept to market,” the group’s creed explains. “We address the needs of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs, while supporting both workforce development and the Flint community.”
About 50 students work at the Ferris Wheel through 100K Ideas. The plan is to have 100 students on staff, to capitalize on the fact that Flint is a true college town — with the University of Michigan – Flint, Kettering University and Mott Community College each just blocks away.
Aspiring entrepreneurs can get a free hour-long consultation with a 100K Ideas team. This gives them feedback on the viability and originality of their ideas. After that, consultations with business students can cost $40 per hour to help with product design, engineering, marketing and more, Ollila explains.
Led by professionals, student groups develop business plans for concepts and established businesses alike, as they create an idea assessment. At the end of their research, a binder report is given to each customer outlining all the steps that need to be done.
In coordination with 100K Ideas, UM-Flint has an innovation incubator housed on the Ferris Wheel’s second floor. This makes it easy for students to work with others and interact with business professionals, gaining valuable work experience.
To date, 100K Ideas staff members have worked on 485 ideas, the students proudly say, and have created 384 assessments. These give a clear vision of what needs to be done if an idea is to turn into more. Currently, 100K Ideas has 34 active clients. Those results are 58% products, 31% as services and 11% as software and app creations.
Some of the newly-created businesses rent space in the Ferris Wheel, which already is a mixture of startups and established companies. “When the staple companies intermix with the startups, that is where the true transformational growth happens,” Ollila says.
Ollila turned down positions at Nike and Stanford University to relocate to Flint. Today, he is President and Chief Innovation Officer for SkyPoint Innovations LLC, and oversees both 100K Ideas and the Ferris Wheel itself. He believes great business ideas are everywhere.
“Everyone is walking around with ideas like lottery tickets,” Ollila recently told the Detroit Free Press. “You can come in, share your ideas and move forward or not. We have a team to help level the playing field. You can come in with $0 and a concept and explore.”
He likes to think of 100K Ideas as an extraction tool. “I made a million wrong mistakes,” he told the newspaper. “You’re going to make a bunch, just learn from them. Don’t worry about it,” he tells young (and old) people with ideas.
“Don’t let your ego get in your way. And don’t make a mistake of betting the farm. Make small bets and compartmentalize risk,” Ollila says. “Hard work over time is the answer.”
100K Ideas is a major part of SkyPoint’s concept of investing small amounts of money in more people, and then staying with them to provide ongoing encouragement and support.
And, those small investments can result in big results, as proven by the Ferris Wheel concept itself, Ollila says.