Business contest aims to grow entrepreneurial roots in Michigan


In an effort to boost the Michigan economy and train the next generation of high-tech entrepreneurs, a new statewide contest aims to arm university students with the resources and skills to launch successful startups in the state.

The Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize will award more than $100,000 in prizes Friday to teams of students and researchers from across Michigan.

In addition to dollars, it offers participants intensive startup training based on the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. Launched in 2011, I-Corps is a seven-week startup acceleration program designed to help students and researchers identify and evaluate potential applications and business opportunities for their technologies.

“This is a way to keep Michigan talent in the state,” said Amy Klinke, contest director and associate director of corporate relations at U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which is administering the contest.

“When you start a company, you don’t do it in a vacuum. We’re connecting students to local mentors and venture capitalists and engaging them in the Michigan entrepreneurial ecosystem. The hope is many will stay due to the roots they’re growing through this program.”

The new contest will be the first time the I-Corps curriculum is available to undergraduates. The curriculum is being taught by a team of experienced entrepreneurial educators, serial entrepreneurs, and investors from across the state. The I-Corps educational component is a unique aspect of the competition.

“Most business plan competitions are a beauty contest. I-Corps ensures there’s a viable business model before moving forward. Even though prizes are awarded at the end, the Michigan Collegiate Inventors Prize is primarily a training program, not a competition,” said Jonathan Fay, I-Corps program director and associate director of entrepreneurial practice at the Center for Entrepreneurship.

More than 81 teams applied from more than 16 colleges and universities across the state. Judges interviewed teams and selected participants based on their technology, how they differentiate their venture in the marketplace, team experience and commitment.

They selected 23 teams, including:

• Savant — Hidden in patients’ DNA are data that could help make cancer treatment more effective, and a team from U-M is working to reveal it. Savant has created a way to mine individual patients’ genetic information for clues about which treatments would be most effective.

• iSuture: This surgical simulator from U-M would train surgeons in the best ways to stitch after abdominal surgeries.

• Safe Sense — A head-impact sensor to help detect concussions in football players is the goal of this student team from Western Michigan University. They’re developing printed sensors that could be stuck to both rigid and flexible surfaces.

• Carbon Cash — This app to help students reduce their carbon footprint is being developed by Michigan State University students. It allows users to monitor a building’s electricity use, learn ways to minimize usage, and compete with peers to be the most energy efficient. Saving carbon dioxide also earns them discounts, gift cards, and merchandise from retailers through an environmental rewards platform.

Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday at Stamps Auditorium on North Campus. Six finalist teams will be chosen earlier in the day and they will pitch their ventures to the audience before the winners are announced.

“We want to empower students to think critically but creatively and to continue to make progress when the program ends,” Fay said. “The goal is to make them self-sufficient and more successful.”


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