Michigan Celebrates Small Business, an organization established in 2004 to honor the achievements of local businesses across the state, will recognize five local small businesses in their annual awards gala in May. Joshua Marko, special projects coordinator for the Michigan Small Business Development Center and managing partner of MCSB, said the businesses were selected following an application, vetting and judgment process of the businesses’ innovation, growth, competitive advantage and business strategy.
“It’s just really a very unique, high energy and meaningful program for the small business community,” Marko said.
Marko said there were about 540 nominations for MCSB’s largest category, 50 Companies to Watch. Of those 540 nominated companies, 150 followed through with the extensive application process. Of the 50 businesses selected, five are local to Ann Arbor.
Marko explained MCSB aims to “recognize high growth Michigan companies.” He said the bulk of businesses selected are in their second stage of development, moving toward the status of an established, productive entity.
“They’ve sort of gotten past that initial survival stage of starting a business and they’re experiencing growth and breaking out to become a bigger, stronger company,” Marko said.
Marko said MCSB calls upon institutions across the state in order to select its award recipients.
“It’s really unique, because it’s done as a collaboration between all of Michigan’s core, statewide small business support organizations,” Marko said.
Marko listed the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Small Business Development Center, Michigan Business Network, Small Business Association of Michigan, Small Business Administration and Edward Lowe Foundation as substantive contributors to the awards’ existence.
“Typically, those organizations could be seen as competitors because they offer a similar service and a similar mission, but they’ve really come together as collaborators to create a synergy for support in Michigan small business,” Marko said.
Sherif Farghal, president and CEO of Ann Arbor small business Pyramid Consulting International, credits the monetary support he received from state entities as being a large part of the reason his company was recognized as a top 50 Company to Watch in the 2019 Michigan Celebrates Small Business Awards.
“The state of Michigan as a state, they provide amazing help to small businesses like ourselves,” Farghal said.
When Farghal started his consulting agency in 2007, he was the only employee. It has since expanded to nearly 50 employees and two locations. Pyramid Consulting International’s headquarters is in Ann Arbor, but there is a supplementary office in Akron, Ohio. Farghal said the state of Michigan offers extensive support to his business.
“I think the state of Michigan goes above and beyond any other state I have experience with in providing support to their small businesses,” Farghal said.
The state government provides all awardee companies a letter of commendation from the governor at the awards gala held each year. Marko said the benefits of such a recognition also extend beyond the surface-level perks.
“There is a significant amount of coverage that occurs the day that these awards are announced,” Marko said. “… There’s just a really big exposure and buzz created around these companies.”
Mike Pedersen, co-founder and CEO of Ann Arbor digital marketing small business AdAdapted, believes the press has been one of the most beneficial results of his company being recognized as one of MCSB’s 50 Companies to Watch.
“It’s definitely been great press so far, getting put in that group with a lot of really great, fast-growing companies,” Pedersen said. “There are a few here in Ann Arbor that we know pretty well, so it’s fantastic to be grouped with them and to be recognized with that group.”
Both Farghal and Pedersen said they believed being located in Ann Arbor contributed to their success. Pedersen explained the value of the help he’d received from a local entrepreneurial advisory agency, Ann Arbor SPARK. Farghal, an alum of the University of Michigan himself, referenced his collaboration with the University’s Economic Growth Institute. Both business owners expressed an interest in hiring University graduates.
“Ultimately, Ann Arbor as a whole, when you compare lifestyles and cost of living to other areas, Ann Arbor is a great town,” Pedersen said. “Ann Arbor is a great balance of great town, lots to do and affordable cost of living.”
Farghal explained how much receiving recognition from MCSB means to him and his employees.
“It means everything to me because as a part of this community, it is so nice and I’m honored to be recognized by Michigan Celebrates Small Business 50 Companies to Watch,” Farghal said. “It’s a testament to the strength of my team. I think this is for my team more than it is for me. It’s a testament to how our clients enjoy working with us, and the value that we provide to our clients. I really am appreciative.”
The companies recognized by MCSB are all still in preliminary stages of development. As a result, many, including Pyramid Consulting International and AdAdapted, have yet to receive any recognition like this in their history.
“We get recognized a lot by our clients … but at a state level, this is the first time we’ve gotten something like this,” Farghal said. “That’s why it’s very special.”
In addition to the sentiment, commendation from MCSB has practical applications. Marko said that alongside press and exposures, businesses are provided support services from MCSB.
“Moving forward, Michigan Celebrates Small Business has established itself as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is in the process currently of expanding the services that are offered to support awardee companies,” Marko said. “In the future, there are going to be some specific and unique support services that are provided as sort of a value-add and a way to continue to support the growth of the companies that are going through the program.”
Marko also said he has known many companies to highlight their award on loan applications or other expansion projects.
“The award carries a certain amount of significance and demonstrates that these companies have gone through a competitive vetting process,” Marko said. “It really adds a lot of substance to how they position themselves in their communities or their markets.”
Pedersen said AdAdapted has participated in smaller competitions but has never won anything of this caliber.
“This is actually probably one of the bigger awards we’ve received,” Pedersen said. “It’s definitely something we’ll tout across the board to prospective investors. This will be something that our clients will see. It’ll also be something when we talk about the company and culture when it comes to recruiting. It’s just another milestone that the company has hit to make people excited and want to know more about us.”
Correction: This article has been edited to more directly represent Sherif Farghal's quote about the state of Michigan's support for his business.