Republican Governor elect-Rick Snyder attended an event on campus to hear the winners of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition — a program Snyder said is a preview of what he envisions for the future of the state.
“You are getting a snapshot of what I believe will happen 365 days a year in Michigan’s future,” Snyder told a crowd gathered at the North Campus Research Complex on Saturday. “We’re going to go out, and we’re going to make this an entrepreneur and innovation state.”
The competition, developed by Ann Arbor SPARK — a company to which Snyder founded — and other organizations, aims to promote economic growth in the state of Michigan. On Saturday, several start-up companies won prizes of up to $500,000 for their work.
Awards were presented at the culmination of a three-day event, featuring presentations, panels and networking opportunities as well as speeches from Snyder and University President Mary Sue Coleman. The ceremony took place in the University’s North Campus Research Complex and both student and professional finalists were chosen from among 600 entries to be awarded over $1 million.
Ann Arbor SPARK, a non-profit business incubator, was given $750,000 in funding from the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan to create the program on behalf of the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan.
In her opening remarks, Coleman said the competition is crucial for recognizing business efforts to revitalize the state’s economy. While many students were focused on Saturday’s hockey game against Michigan State University in Michigan Stadium, Coleman said the competition should be just as exciting for the University since it is making strides to improve the state.
“This is our field of dreams, and you embody our aspirations, for a thriving and innovative Michigan,” Coleman said. “There is a lot of excitement in Ann Arbor for the hockey game, but the real story in Ann Arbor is the talent and ideas that are present in this room.”
Coleman added that the finalists in the competition are Michigan’s future and play a critical role in changing the state’s struggling economy.
“We are now ready for you, your products, your services, your technology and your solutions,” Coleman said. “The real winners are the people of Michigan. All of us benefit from your creativity.”
In his keynote address, Snyder presented five key strategies on how to create an atmosphere conducive to innovation in the state. The tactics include harnessing and improving technology, infrastructure, capital, people and culture. Snyder said that without all of these things, achieving success as an entrepreneur would be difficult.
“If you are missing any of these, it’s going to be extremely challenging to create an innovative and creative environment,” Snyder said.
Snyder said that programs like the Accelerate Michigan Innovative Competition allow Michigan to highlight talent within the state and showcase companies that are working toward economic development.
“We have the most talented people in the world in our state,” Snyder said. “And we’re making great progress, but we need to continue that organizational effort.”
University of Michigan student teams won all four of the cash awards in the student team portion, totaling $60,000. University students Zaher Andraus, Vimal Bhalodia and Matthew Neagle received the $15,000 first runner-up prize for their company Reveal Design Automation — a business that develops software tools to authenticate digital chips in electronics.
Bhalodia, a graduate student in the Business School, wrote in an e-mail interview Saturday that in addition to the monetary award his team received, they also gained important skills in networking and career development.
“We’ve found the experience of pitching in front of and networking with members of the investment community and other people interested in sponsoring innovation to be extremely valuable,” Bhalodia wrote. “While the prize money is nice, some of the leads we walk away with for both business development as well as funding were just as important.”
Bhalodia also wrote that the competition has the potential to make an impact on both the state of Michigan and the University.
“We think it can have a huge impact on Michigan’s future,” Bhalodia wrote. “Showcasing the best companies in the area and giving them a forum to meet and learn from like-minded entrepreneurs as well as experienced members of the investment community is invaluable to helping these companies succeed.”
“Accelerate Michigan is a perfect complement, offering another high profile opportunity for U-M to showcase its best innovations and brightest entrepreneurs,” he added.
ReGenerate, a company that developed the Compact Organic Waste System, which produces a renewable source of electricity and nutrient-rich compost, from the conversion of unwanted and expensive organic waste, won the grand prize in the student competition. COWS is aimed at university cafeterias and supermarkets.
Armune BioScience of Kalamazoo won the grand prize of $500,000 in the company competition. The company works to create protein-based examinations for cancer, helping doctors and patients decide on more specialized treatment options.