Supporter of EntrepreneurshipFowler, this year’s winner of the Supporter of Entrepreneurship Award, has been a tireless advocate for small businesses and the entrepreneurs that own them for 25 years.
The Small Business Association of Michigan was founded in 1969 and serves over 5,000 member companies from across Michigan. The group’s goal is to promote free enterprise and the interests of small business through advocacy and education.
Fowler joined the SBAM staff in 2000 and has been president of the nonprofit organization since 2003. He began his advocacy career following his graduation from Ball State University with a degree in political science.
Fowler says he had planned to go law school after completing his undergraduate degree just like a lot of his classmates. However, a job with the lieutenant governor of Indiana, and then a stint with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, changed his career path.
“As I began learning about the issues facing small business, I became fascinated by the challenges many small businesses face. Many of those challenges are imposed by state government,” Fowler says. “My job is to understand small businesses and work to make their lives easier.”
Fowler defines an entrepreneur as “someone who has the audacity to start a business” despite knowing how hard it will be.
“They are risk takers in general. It’s a man or woman who even if they failed the first time will start another business venture,” Fowler says. “I can’t think of any individual who deserves to be given more credit despite being so maligned than the small business owner.”
In addition to his professional pursuits, Fowler is doing his part to groom future entrepreneurs by teaching in the classroom for Junior Achievement of Mid-Michigan. Junior Achievement educates youth about entrepreneurship, economics, business and free enterprise.
“All the way through school kids are taught and prepared to work for others. There is very little inclination toward going the entrepreneurial route. You have to plant the seeds early that it is possible to own your own business,” Fowler says.
Fowler, who has served as a fifth grade JA instructor since coming to Lansing in 2000, also serves as board chairman for Junior Achievement of Mid-Michigan.
Junior Achievement of Mid-Michigan, a volunteer driven, nonprofit organization, serves the tri-county area of Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties, which has over 71,000 students. Fowler says approximately 4,000 students in the area participate in JA each year.
“I think it is all about changing the culture in this state, which JA helps with. When you think back to the legacy of large corporations in this state, people could work in the plant and make a very nice living, but that culture is decidedly not entrepreneurial,” Fowler says. “I think we have to change how and what we teach about business.”
In addition to his JA commitments, Fowler serves as chairman of the Michigan Health Insurance Access Advisory Council, is chair of the Business Advisory Council of the Michigan Hospital Association and sits on the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.
Fowler lives with his wife, Lisa, and two children in Haslett where he serves as president of the Haslett Public Schools Board of Education.
Small Business Association of Michigan
120 N. Washington Square, Suite 1000
Rob Fowler, President/CEO