The CEO of LivePicture, an experiential marketing and technology consulting company, Couchman is also working on the launch of Innovation Forge, an accelerator and technology hub that aims to serve as matchmaker between technology companies and the defense industry. And from his headquarters at Velocity in Sterling Heights, he’s well-positioned to do both — and much more. Velocity, the accelerator, incubator, and coworking space, is located within the heart of the Sterling Innovation District, which itself is home to many of the companies that make up Macomb County’s ever-expanding defense industry.
As if that wasn’t enough, Couchman is prepping the launch of a podcast, too. He’s outfitted the walls of his office with soundproofing; a microphone swings out from behind his desk.
Velocity is located at 6633 18 Mile Rd. in Sterling Heights.
Couchman is doing all this from his rented private office at Velocity, the place he’s made his command center for about five years now, he says. From the office and coworking spaces to the amenities, from the incubator and accelerator services to networking opportunities throughout, Velocity has provided Couchman the space to grow his companies.
“I think in order to really scale your business, you can’t do it in your garage forever. Eventually you gotta have an address, you’ve got to have all your stuff in line — and this has been a great place for me to land. It’s provided me enough runway to do that,” he says. “You know, through COVID, when I was designing trade show displays and all of a sudden trade shows didn’t exist anymore, it was time to reinvent the company. This place has the bandwidth, it has the power, it has everything you need to actually start doing something.”
Innovation and entrepreneurship
While providing entrepreneurs the opportunity to grow their businesses remains much of the point, Velocity recently celebrated some significant growth of its own. As the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic stymied such natural gathering points as a place like Velocity, the incubator and accelerator took the downtime to reinvent itself, bolstering its value to the community through a series of improvements and upgrades that were celebrated at the recent Velocity Reinvented community open house and grand reopening event held on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
“The connections that I’ve made just being here have been very valuable,” says Marjie Jenkins, Robotics Center Coordinator for the Macomb Automation & Robotics Zone (MARZ).
The event drew a wide range of community stakeholders and local business leaders, allowing resident entrepreneurs like Steve Couchman the opportunity to rub elbows with the likes of Sterling Heights Mayor Michael C. Taylor and renowned Michigan businessman Dug Song, who sold his Ann Arbor tech firm Duo Security to Cisco for $2.35 billion in 2018. It was a celebration of what’s been accomplished thus far, and what’s to come.
“We want to see more companies started here and more companies thriving here, so there’s more wealth created and sustained locally. And job creation, obviously, is a big part of that, too,” says April Boyle, Senior Advisor for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Velocity. “We want to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges and contribute to quality of life in the community.”
Walking the halls of a new-look Velocity.
Velocity first opened in 2011, repurposing a shuttered Ford Motor Company child care center as a hub for innovation and growth for Macomb County businesses and entrepreneurs in the manufacturing, technology, and defense industry sectors. The Local Development Finance Authority manages the space, and the City owns the building. Recently, the City created Boyle’s new position to help nurture a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Sterling Heights and its neighboring communities.
“A key part of my role and mission is to make sure that Macomb County has a place at the table. We have two of the biggest cities in the state and we’re the third largest county. We’re really an important part of the economy of Michigan,” Boyle says. “With this innovation and entrepreneurship sector, there’s so much opportunity here and we want to make sure Macomb County can take advantage of that.”
People and place
The reinvention of Velocity began in earnest in the fall of 2021 with the construction of The Element coworking space, which offers a monthly membership for as low as $100 per month. Members receive access to Velocity and all that it has to offer, including recent internet and technology upgrades, the latter of which includes state-of-the-art smart monitors in the Velocity meeting rooms that allow for improved virtual meetings. Events and workshops provide opportunities for growth and networking, and an entrepreneur-in-residence offers small business coaching sessions.
Resources are aplenty. Velocity is home to the Sterling Heights SmartZone, a program of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and also provides opportunities by way of the Small Business Development Center, Michigan Works!, and its own business accelerator. The recent reinvention of the space also includes overall facility renovations, new equipment, and spaces designed to grow business and talent at every stage of development, like the Innovation Lab.
Recent technology upgrades include state-of-the-art smart monitors in the Velocity meeting rooms that allow for improved virtual meetings.
New programs for startups and growing businesses promise educational and networking opportunities for Macomb County entrepreneurs, too. A new accelerator program helps entrepreneurs grow their companies over the course of a 120-day curriculum; and the International Landing Zone courts companies outside of the U.S. looking to establish operations here. Future programs include a Women’s Business Alliance, a partnership with Macomb County on their Industry 4.0 Speaker Series, attracting angel investors to the area, and more.
Still, for all the infrastructure improvements made, much of the value of a place like Velocity comes from the community that it fosters, says Marjie Jenkins, Robotics Center Coordinator for the Macomb Automation & Robotics Zone (MARZ) and a Velocity tenant.
“It’s really cool here,” she says. “It’s because of the people I’ve met while being here in the building — like Josephine, who’s a grant writer here. I wouldn’t have met her if I hadn’t been in the building. The connections that I’ve made just being here have been very valuable.”
Steve Couchman couldn’t agree more. Velocity provides the space and resources for entrepreneurs to focus on what it is that they do best, he says, and it’s Velocity that then fills in the gaps.
“It’s just nice having somebody in your corner that is more versed at actual day-to-day business dealings. Because you’re an entrepreneur. You’re not an accountant and you’re not a salesperson; you’re not this and you’re not that,” he says. “You’re somebody with an idea. You’re an entrepreneur.”
Velocity is located at 6633 18 Mile Rd. in Sterling Heights.