Monday, January 18, 2010

A JEM to behold

WEST MICHIGAN – A veteran local businessman and his wife hope a new program they’re launching will fill a void as a support mechanism for small business entrepreneurs.

Mike Jandernoa, the former head of Allegan-based generic drug manufacturer Perrigo, co-founder of Grand Angels and a former board member of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., in December announced that he and his wife, Sue, a former K-12 educator, were creating Jandernoa Entrepreneur Mentoring, an initiative aimed to help grow West Michigan small business owners at companies with at least $1 million in sales and a minimum of five employees.

The Jandernoas will provide the initial $100,000 to start up the JEM program.

JEM’s key differentiator among the many available entrepreneur support programs and coaching services is the close role that mentors will play with the entrepreneurs, Jandernoa said.

“JEM is different in the commitment to formalize the mentoring,” he told MiBiz. “We want them to make a long-term commitment to develop a very close relationship between the mentor and the mentee. It’s a formal structure that encourages dialogue and develops the roles and responsibilities of the mentor (in a way) that’s different from a boss or a coach.”

JEM is modeled after the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program (HEMP), an offshoot of the St. Louis-based Kauffman Foundation. The goal of the program is to establish customized, one-to-one, mentor/mentee relationships between veteran business leaders and current business decision-makers.

The new initiative will be based in Grand Rapids, cover the West Michigan region, and serve about three dozen entrepreneurs once fully up and running, Jandernoa said, noting that JEM marks the first time the HEMP model has been used outside of St. Louis.

“This is a test for them to see how successfully they can roll it out,” Jandernoa said. “Their software and procedures will make us more efficient from the start.”

JEM will have its own Web site and software, which will be based on and linked to HEMP and with minimal additional JEM-specific features. Mentees would pay about $3,500 annually to participate in the program, although he said he’s planning to keep a close eye on the cost structure to ensure it’s not prohibitive.

On the other hand, mentors will be recruited from the ranks of local entrepreneurs and act as a trusted advisor to help the entrepreneur in problem solving issues in his or her company. The mentors have to commit to their roles and not have other distractions, he said.

Key to the customized approach is the pairing of the right mentor for the individual entrepreneur. Mentors must participate in an initial training program and be qualified by JEM advisors.

“Success would be defined as changing the culture and effectiveness of entrepreneurs and taking them to another level of success,” Jandernoa said. “We need more people like DeVos and Van Andel and Meijer that are successful in growing their businesses in a significant manner.”

Jandernoa doesn’t want people to view JEM as competing with other organizations. The independent group won’t seek exclusivity, but rather promote that mentees seek out resources from the proper outside groups, he said.

“We think JEM should be complementary (to other organizations),” he said. “We’re not reliant or supported by other programs, but we encourage mentees to take advantage of these other programs. When they’re at a stage to need more experience and knowledge, they need to go out and get it. We do not intend to, in any way, shape or form, be the only advisor.”

The timing of the launch was driven by the severity of the economic crisis. He had initially planned to wait and start JEM in another year or so, but he saw the need for this kind of help was immediate and wanted to bring JEM online as quickly as possible.

“I believe in it, and I’m confident it will have a positive affect,” Jandernoa said.

In ramping up the program in a shorter timeline than expected, he had to make some tough decisions to scale back or resign from volunteer board involvements.

“They were all surprised by the suddenness of the decision, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t manage this over a longer lead time. I didn’t want to push JEM off for another year,” he said.

However, JEM’s mission of supporting growing Michigan businesses meshes with his involvement in the recently expanded Detroit Renaissance, now known as Business Leaders For Michigan, for which Jandernoa is co-chair. The group is pushing its turnaround plan to help make Michigan a better place to do business.

“We’re in the middle of trying to do serious, direct discussions with legislators right now,” he said.

Business Leaders For Michigan, in a way, drove him to start JEM as soon as possible. He said the current situation warrants that business leaders get all the help they need because the state desperately needs to move forward out of a chronic recessionary economy. Businesses are key to that recovery.

While initially focused on West Michigan, Jandernoa said the program could be expanded to other areas, noting he’d gladly support HEMP’s board of directors in rolling out the program elsewhere.