Creating ‘Momentum’ for the Tech Sector

    Allan Hoekstra says start-up companies need help from non-traditional lending sources.

    By Lynne R. Zacharias
    July/August, 2009

    Windquest Group recently helped launch “Momentum,” a venture firm that invests in Web-based technology start-up businesses. Young entrepreneurs accepted into the 12-week program receive start-up funding, advice and counsel, and mentorship from local business and technology experts. The program ends with a “Demo Day,” where participants meet with potential investors to pitch their product or service. Allan Hoekstra, Windquest Group finance and operations director, and Rick DeVos are helping to lead the initiative behind-the-scenes for the company.

    Corp!: How has your experience in accounting helped the launch of this initiative?
    Hoekstra: In my 20 years of broad experience in commercial banking and accounting, I have seen that Michigan’s past success in manufacturing-based businesses has left the technology-based businesses behind. We have not paid enough attention to what their future success could be. These start-up companies need initiatives like Momentum because they can’t get funding from traditional sources like a bank or home equity loan.

    Corp!: What are the projects Momentum has helped launch?
    Hoekstra: Our first three startups include Revetto, a social network aggregator, which allows people to communicate with their friends between a variety of social platforms, Downstreams, which aggregates people’s online stories and streams (from blogs to tweets to pictures on flickr) and returns the collected data, and Public Collections, which provides an online outlet for small companies to collect unpaid invoices.

    Corp!: What do you think the impact of these projects will have on the Michigan economy?
    Hoekstra: Our hope is that the entrepreneurs will have some success and that it will serve as a springboard for further projects, that they will employ some people and stay in Michigan.

    Corp!: What is your future goal for Momentum?
    Hoekstra: To continue to attract good applicants and continue to have good financial participation from the community.

    Corp!: Your program has a lot of fun built into it. What is the benefit of that?
    Hoekstra: When you look at the other technology centers in the country like Boston and the West Coast, they are very attractive. We want to introduce them to the “West Coast of Michigan.” The program includes a weekly speaker series hosted by entrepreneurs who share their experiences at some of West Michigan’s best restaurants as well as fun activities such as kayaking, water skiing, golfing, sailing, paintball and beach parties. We want to give them lots of reasons to stay in the state.

    Corp!: What is it like working with recent college grads?
    Hoekstra: It’s refreshing. They don’t have pre-conceived notions of what will work and what won’t. They are adept at thinking about how to use technologies and are aware of its capabilities.

    Corp!: What word best describes you?
    Hoekstra: Pragmatic. I know it is somewhat inconsistent. I realize that investing in start-up technology-based businesses is risky, but it is also critical for Michigan to survive.

    Corp!: What is the best advice you can offer to others?
    Hoekstra: If you are going to be an entrepreneur, you must be passionate about your product or service. You must pursue excellence and surround yourself with good advisors.