University startups swept the 2014 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week.

Eight University startup teams, composed of student and alumni, submitted applications to the competition, which aims to encourage innovation. Five of the teams — AlertWatch, Cribspot, HeelSecret, SkySpecs, LLC and Turtle Cell — sailed from one round to the next, eventually receiving prizes ranging from $5,000 to $500,000.

Kristen Kerecman, Innovate Blue communications manager, said students are independently taking the first steps in turning their fledgling ideas into realities at an unprecedented rate.

“We have a really thriving entrepreneurial community around U of M and we have a lot of resources to support it,” Kerecman added. “I think it says a lot about the student initiative.”

Competitions to facilitate the partnership of investors and later-stage startups. The focus helps to create business networks and grow promising local ideas, benefiting the state — hence the “Accelerate Michigan” title. At the end of the event, which is separated into rounds, the organization awards a collective $1 million to 10 new businesses.

Four of the 10 teams receiving prize money have roots at the University.

SkySpecs, LLC took the grand prize of $500,000. SkySpecs is working toward improving the safety of drones, which often crash to the ground, through technology they call “Sense and Avoid,” said University alum Sam Debruin, SkySpecs chief operating officer.

This technology allows drones to better avoid obstacles and operate more safely while also increasing economic efficiency. The technology is being developed in two of the startups’ products: the Guardian, a “co-pilot” that completely takes over flight control when a collision is likely, and the Wingman, which allows the pilot to prioritize missions by automating the complexities of flight.

“Drones are about to be everywhere,” Debruin said. “For us, to be drone people and really think of ourselves as shepherds of this industry, we saw a collision point coming where drones are getting more and more popular, but the safety aspects are really keeping pace with the flight aspects.”

Debruin graduated from the University in 2012 with a degree in computer engineering and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science engineering. He said considering the ways in which drone technology can change the world became a top priority.

SkySpecs was accompanied at the competition by a variety of software and online websites. Cribspot, a website that acts as a marketplace for student housing in college towns around the country, has amassed more than 60,000 users as of late September.

The website, founded by 2013 University graduates Evan Dancer, Tim Jones and Jason Okrasinski, took second place and received $100,000.

Okrasinski said the goal of the company continues to be improving the transparency of what’s available in terms of student housing.

“There’s a huge emphasis on mobile apps and being able to do everything on the go,” Okrasinski said. “We’re moving towards a more flawless mobile experience and working to build that up.”

Okrasinski said the University has recently pushed entrepreneurship and its students have become more enthusiastic about taking chances with their own ideas. Okrasinski cited the University’s new entrepreneurship minor, the influx of innovation-focused funds and the ways in which courses incorporate guidance from established startup founders.

“When we started Cribspot, it would have been hard to imagine all of this enthusiasm around startups,” Okrasinski said.

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