Ferris Wheel receives top national development award

Frank Provenano

Friday, December 1, 2017

Proven ‘innovation model’ serves as catalyst for Flint’s entrepreneurial future; recognition highlights transformative potential of cutting-edge program for city and mid-Michigan

For drawing on diverse funding sources while consolidating efforts to build Flint’s entrepreneurial community, Ferris Wheel Innovation Hub/100K Ideas has been named as one of the top six most impactful economic development projects in the country.

“This recognition elevates the profile of the program and raises the bar for the potential long-term impact of cultivating entrepreneurial activity in Flint,” said Jeff Mason, CEO of Michigan Economic Development Corporation. MEDC administers programs on behalf of the Michigan Strategic Fund, which provides funds for economic development throughout the state.

The award presented by the National Development Council (NDC) recognizes the most innovative finance structure of impactful economic development projects. The Ferris Wheel Innovation Hub/100K Ideas supports the renovation of downtown Flint’s historic seven-story Ferris Building, and the development of an entrepreneurial infrastructure to facilitate new business in Flint, from idea to financing to opening the doors.

“The arching goal for this incubator is to be the epicenter of entrepreneurial activity in Flint and mid-Michigan, and provide inspiration and expertise to facilitate ongoing innovations that lead to investment and jobs,” said Mason.

Funders of Ferris Wheel Innovation Hub/100K Ideas include the Michigan Strategic Fund, Skypoint Ventures, C.S. Mott Foundation, University of Michigan-Flint, Flint Downtown Development Authority, and Huntington Bank. The MSF support includes $1.5 million to establish the Ferris Wheel Innovation Center Business Incubator Grant, and an additional $1 million through the Michigan Community Revitalization Program for the redevelopment of the Ferris Building.

The 46,000-square-foot Ferris Wheel Building provides an innovation hub and co-working space, where entrepreneurs with new business ideas receive business advice, said Skypoint Ventures President/Chief Innovation Officer David Ollila.

“The fact that our efforts are recognized on a national scale confirms that the work we’re doing is not only impactful on the community, but resonates across the country,” said Ollila. “The role our student employees play is proof that when empowered, they can truly move the needle.”

The organization employs students from around the country to provide business-support services to clients. Students from UM-Flint, Kettering University, UM-Ann Arbor, Georgetown University, University of California-Berkeley, and others have made an impact on the organization and client projects.

Students from UM-Flint, Kettering and universities from across the state help relieve the innovator of the entrepreneurial burden by providing product assessment and development support with the goal being to manufacturer a pilot run to test the market. 

“I have always been passionate about seeing the community of Flint grow and improve,” said Adam Hartley, Project Manager at 100K and senior at Kettering University. “To be right in the middle of the change while getting great hands on work has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

"Working with the Ferris Wheel and 100K Ideas is unlike anything I’ve done before,” said Ariees Spangler, marketing specialist at 100K and senior at UM-Flint. “The work I do coincides with my degree and I’ve been able to be a part of something much bigger than myself.”

The first three of the seven floors are currently open with all seven floors expected to be open by January. Built in the late 1920s, the building had been home to retail stores, including Ferris Brothers Furs, from which it retains its name. 100K Ideas is modeled after Invent@NMU, a program founded by Ollila at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, which is credited with fostering business development in the UP.

“At a time when some might feel discouraged that economic and community development is not having an impact, we have clear-cut examples that people’s lives can be changed,” said NDC President Daniel Marsh III. “What we see in the impressive project images is inspiring and even still, the pictures don’t fully capture the humanity that brought these projects to life.”

The other five NDC awards were given to Harvest Park (Spartanburg, S.C.) for rebuilding infrastructure and reconstructing an urban farm in a neighborhood with limited food options; Tony G’s Soul Food (San Antonio, Texas) for investing in small business for its support of a hometown restaurant that creates jobs for the homeless and formerly incarcerated; Stout Street Lofts and Health Center (Denver, Colo.) for supporting housing for homeless with an integrated health center; Commons at West Village (Cleveland, Ohio) for its efforts to reduce long-term homelessness; and Grant County Water Project (Southwest, N.M.) for collaborating with 18 public and private entities to invest in long-term water supply for economically distressed communities.

NDC honored the winners at its biennial conference Oct. 25 in Washington D.C.

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