Ann Arbor startups made a splash last week at Michigan State University (MSU) in the annual Greenlight Michigan business plan competition. Swim coaching app MySwimPro took the $40,000 grand prize, while eco-friendly animal feed producer Kulisha took the $6,500 first place award in the undergraduate category.
The business plan competition organized by MSU's entrepreneurship office, Spartan Innovations, is open to entrepreneurs from the entire state. The competition focuses on early-stage businesses, and applicants are required to have been in business for less than two years.
Prizes are sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the MSU Federal Credit Union.
Paul Jaques, director of community and student engagement for Spartan Innovations and co-creator of the Greenlight program, says the 2017 competition attracted 178 applicants, the most since the program was started. A panel of seven judges chose 22 finalists to make presentations at the March 29 competition.
"One thing we are looking for are companies that are going to go on to the next thing, that will use the investment to create jobs," Jaques says.
Jaques says MySwimPro won the top prize because judges believed the prize money would allow the company, which makes the top-ranked swim coaching app for Apple Watch, to "get to the next level."
"They have already won quite a few competitions in the area and around the country, and they were named the number one app on the Apple Watch," Jaques says. "They're looking to grow and to possibly be acquired by a larger company."
Kulisha won in the undergraduate category for having a truly unique concept that complements Michigan's vibrant craft beer industry, Jaques says. The company uses black soldier fly larvae to turn food waste into an eco-friendly animal feed.
"They are putting units outside craft beer places and having mealworms feeding on waste byproducts," Jaques says. "The way the team was put together and the way they presented their idea was great, and something the judges had never seen before."
Ann Arbor-based SAHI Cosmetics, which won the Michigan Business Challenge in February, was also a finalist in the Greenlight Michigan competition but didn't make the final cut.
Organizers say while there is a rivalry between East Lansing and Ann Arbor on the football field, the Greenlight Michigan competition is a chance to break down barriers and get people from communities all over Michigan shaking hands and making connections.
"There are amazing medical and technology developments coming out of Ann Arbor, but there are amazing things going on in the entire state, including Detroit and Lansing and Grand Rapids. Everybody has their own niche," Jaques says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by John McGraw of John McGraw Photography.