Corporate Partner Spotlight: Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Partnership is the key to innovation, and PROTO Accelerator has successfully partnered with brilliant and creative minds across Michigan. One of those minds is Tino Breithaupt, senior strategic advisor-corporate relations for business development at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). As an invaluable partner to the PROTO Accelerator program, Tino and his team at MEDC have provided valuable experience to launch our program and optimize its impact on the great lakes state.

To learn more about MEDC’s role within our partnership, we sat down with Tino to ask a few questions about innovation in Michigan and beyond.

Q: What is MEDC’s relationship to PROTO Accelerator? How do you benefit from one another?

A: Our partnership with PROTO Accelerator and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership is long-standing. At MEDC, our entrepreneurship and innovation team focuses on tech companies in Michigan that have great opportunities for explosive growth. Many of these businesses have moved beyond the survival stage and are in their growth stage, which gives them increased opportunities to pursue a variety of funding programs, including venture funding. We partnered with PROTO Accelerator because it falls in line with MEDC’s strategic focus initiatives. Since the first cohort, we have been grateful to be involved with the various processes that PROTO startups and corporates experience during their time in the program. Ultimately, we would like to see PROTO grow into a statewide business accelerator program.

Q: What inspired or motivated you to participate in the PROTO Accelerator program? What problems were you looking for PROTO to solve in Michigan?

A: MEDC manages accelerator programs around Michigan. In the early 2000s, we put a lot of financial capital into building brick-and-mortar entrepreneurship incubators near four-year institutions around the state like Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University to develop innovation ideas specific to the region’s businesses and assets. With this experience, we have been able to help PROTO connect corporations with the technology innovation they’re looking for so they can continue to grow their business and become more efficient. 

Q: What’s one thing you wish people knew about a business accelerators’ impact on company culture and efficiencies?

A: Innovation in outdoor recreation is an opportunity that’s growing, especially in Michigan. When people think of outdoor recreation, they often think of travel and tourism, like wineries and skiing. The retail and service aspect of outdoor recreation is important, but there’s a growing technology innovation and manufacturing side too. For example, Michigan is fifth in the country for boat/marine manufacturing, and eighth in the country for RV manufacturing, so we’ve been internally looking at how we can expand on that and connect with technology companies to increase efficiency in that arena and bring more manufacturing supply-chain opportunities into Michigan.

Q: How will the collaboration of PROTO and MEDC impact Michigan?

A: It’s fascinating because our role at MEDC — and the role of PROTO — is to get business people connected, and hopefully, those connections grow. Folks on both sides of the equation then have the opportunity to work together to figure out solutions that symbiotically benefit the startup and the corporation. PROTO proposes innovative solutions to corporations with technology vetted enough to a point where both sides agree to move forward together. It’s a win-win-win scenario for the startup, corporation, and our accelerator teams.

Q: What does “innovation” mean to you? What current innovation trend inspires you and makes you excited?

A: To me, innovation means “different.” A different way of thinking, a different way to be efficient, a different way to produce. It also means building partnerships that will expand reach to benefit multiple parties. Innovation takes time, creativity, and involvement. To bend and mold ideas, the decisions made must make sense to everyone involved.

To learn more about the PROTO Accelerator Program, visit For more information about corporate partnerships, reach out to Tony Willis, president of PROTO Accelerator. Startups and innovators interested in applying to participate in the accelerator program can learn more on the application page.