Startups Alive, Well and Growing in Michigan

By November 15, 2011

We are all quite familiar with entrepreneurial activity along the East and West Coasts.  They have captured our attention for some time.  Yet, few think of Michigan as an area of growing innovative and entrepreneurial activity.  Fewer still would think there’s any money to be had here.

In 2010 Michigan startups captured announced investments of $151.6M, up 13.8% over 2009.  And with that growth in capital came more outside investors.  For instance, Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures, invested $23.5M in Detroit, Michigan’s EcoMotors.  In addition, a group of investors including Fund for Strategic Investment in France, came together to make the largest single investment of 2010 at $51.7M for Cerenis Therapeutics.

Smacked hard in the face in 2008/2009, with a population of 9.9M (2010 Census), the state lost 230,000 jobs in 2009 alone.  Since 2000, nearly 1 in 5 jobs overall were lost.  Now, the point here is not to paint a woe-is-me portrait.  Instead, it highlights just how stark a reality Michigan has faced and the realization of a driving need to reinvent itself.

The drive toward reinvention is no more clearly illustrated than by entrepreneurial efforts like the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The Accel­er­ate Michi­gan Inno­va­tion Com­pe­ti­tion is an inter­na­tional busi­ness plan com­pe­ti­tion designed to high­light Michi­gan as a robust and vibrant venue for inno­va­tion and busi­ness opportunity.” (Accelerate>>Michigan)

Early-stage technology companies submit a ~6 page business plan, competing to win the world’s largest business plan competition, with more than $1,000,000 in cash winnings, plus in-kind awards of services, staffing and software.  The $500,000 Grand Prize consists of $250,000 as a cash award and $250,000 as a convertible note*.  (There is also a student competition within the overall competition.)

The past two years I have been one of the first-round business plan evaluators.  It has offered a unique insight into the range of creativity springing up that highlights Michigan as a center for innovation.  Even as a local resident, it has been simply amazing just how much creativity and raw innovation there is here.

The business plans I have reviewed have included, Alternative Energy, Green (of all sorts), PEV Charging, Solar, Biomedical, Transportation, and Information Technology.  Overall, there are 9 sectors the ventures compete in:

  • Advanced Materials
  • Advanced Transportation
  • Alternative Energy
  • Defense & Homeland Security
  • Information Technology
  • Life Science
  • Medical Devices
  • Next Generation Manufacturing
  • Products and Services

In 2010, the grand prize winner was Armune BioScience. Armune Bio­Science is a mol­e­c­u­lar diag­nos­tic com­pany devel­op­ing a prostate can­cer diag­nos­tic test uti­liz­ing autoan­ti­bod­ies. The second place winner was Arbor Photonics.  Arbor Pho­ton­ics is devel­op­ing high-power fiber laser solu­tions for advanced mate­ri­als pro­cess­ing and defense appli­ca­tions.  (2010 winners)

If you haven’t thought of Michigan as a solid source of innovation, as a state proving it can be more than ‘just cars,’ you need to take a closer look.  The creativity, the innovation, the sheer range of new ideas simmering and growing in Michigan is incredible.


Image credits
(1):  BreAnn Bennett
(2): Tony Hage