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March 9, 2021
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Business Review Western MI
Business Review Western MI
Virtual Companies
(wgvu) - By becoming part of a new initiative designed to support young
life-sciences companies, Jos Infante is mixing business development
with civic duty.

He can coach start-up companies and, at the same time, drum up business
for Independent Bank Corp. by securing a toehold in what's touted as the
future economy for Grand Rapids.

We want to get in on the ground floor, said Infante, senior vice
president in western Michigan for Independent Bank. It gives us a
chance to help get companies off the ground and headed in the right

The Ionia-based Independent Bank is among a handful of professional
services businesses that make up what's known as the Virtual Company at
the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative.

In its formative stages, the Virtual Company will provide WMSTI clients
access to service professionals who can initially provide them business
counsel at no cost.

In many instances, the companies the WMSTI works with are one- or
two-person businesses who come from a scientific background or were
started by an individual who still holds full-time employment and runs
the company on the side.

They have a concept for a product or service they're trying to flesh out
and develop but need help on their business acumen, said Rich Cook, the
new director of the WMSTI's business incubator Venture Center.

They're extremely small companies. They're not experienced in this type
of thing and they need that type of support, said Cook, the former CEO
of X-Rite Inc. who recently came out of retirement to join the WMSTI.

The WMSTI has so far identified seven professional services to offer
through the Virtual Company and made arrangements with four providers:
Independent Bank for financial services
Warner, Norcross & Judd for general legal
Price, Heneveld, Cooper, DeWitt & Litton for intellectual property law
Seyferth, Tenneson and Spaulding Inc. for public relations.

The WMSTI continues to arrange preferred providers for product
development, marketing, and manufacturing and design services, Marketing
Director Kim Bode said.

Formation of the Virtual Company reflects the push in Grand Rapids by
the WMSTI and others to support and nurture the life-sciences sector.

We saw a need and we stepped in to fill it, Bode said. We want those
companies around the life-sciences industry to get to spiral and grow
and grow.

In return for providing initial free counsel to WMSTI clients, service
providers involved in the Virtual Company gain a convenient entry point
to the life-sciences industry.

We're trying to be part of the growth in life sciences in the community
and this is our way of participating in it, said Doug Siegel, a partner
and head of the biotech practice group for Price Heneveld in Grand Rapids.

In the case of Independent Bank, working with young life-sciences
companies through the Virtual Company represents a chance to learn about
the industry and pick up commercial banking customers, Infante said.

The initiative could lay the groundwork for Independent to become
involved in lending to young companies that are in the
research-and-development stages an area banks generally have been
unwilling to enter, given the risk involved.

Through the Virtual Company, Infante hopes to mitigate that risk.

This is a different type of lending. But if you are involved in
assisting these companies, you'll know more about these people, he
said. This gives us a chance to have more opportunities to review and
understand this business and then decide if we want to take that risk or
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