Ann Arbor-based Court Innovations has created software that can navigate local online court systems for civil infractions and is used Grand Rapids, Highland Park, Ypsilanti, and East Lansing. Next up, expanding into New York, Florida, and California.
Few things are as effective at closing a deal as getting the customer to interact with the product. Seeing is believing is not just a cliche, but the way Court Innovations grows its business.
"As soon as they see it operating they see the value in it," says MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations
. "They really get it and want to start using it."
The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has a software platform that most people would love to see in their local judicial system. Litigants using Court Innovations' software can navigate their local court system online for things like civil infractions. Think less standing in line in a court house and more clicking on a mouse pad at home.
Sounds simple enough, right? It made enough sense that the University of Michigan's Third Century Initiative
bankrolled a $3 million development of the university spinout's software last year. However, integrating it into everyday life means finding a way to get buy-in from bureaucracies and local populations, two segments that are notorious for not cooperating on what seems like simple solutions.
Those are the biggest challenges Cartwright and her team of six employees and four interns face at Court Innovations. Getting bureaucratic buy-in has been focused on selling the idea to the leadership in local courts first, and then the people who would use it. The first judges who bought in, all Michigan-based, proved enthusiastic.
"They were really wanting to help their communities with our technology," Cartwright says.
Today Court Innovations software is used in courts in Grand Rapids, Highland Park, Bay County, Ypsilanti, the city of Wayne, and East Lansing. Cartwright hopes to expand that list to a dozen courts by the end of the year.
Getting them to do that usually requires an in-person showing of the software in action. The tactic has proven so effective that Cartwright plans to begin expanding beyond Michigan in states like New York, Florida, California in the next few months.
"We're looking to expand out-of-state," Cartwright says. "I don't know if we will get any this year but that is a goal of ours next year. ... There are seven or eight states that look attractive to us."
Getting the judges to buy-in can be the easy part. Even getting the support staff in the courts can seem easy once they see the efficiencies created. Getting the litigants and users to buy-in is another significant hurdle.
"That is one of the fun challenges because its more on the consumer side than the business-to-business side," Cartwright says.
Bumping up usership is the key to increasing scale for Court Innovations. While most people using their local justice system would prefer not to spend hours of their day in a court house, that is the system they know. For now Court Innovations is relying on word of mouth to build usership, but its team is working on ways to make clicking on its software the go-to move for litigants instead of the typical waiting in line.
"It's just the same as any other business challenge," Cartwright says.
Welcome to the Year of the Gazelle, an exploration of the fastest-growing startups in southeast Michigan by the Startup team and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (NEI). Not only will we identify the local gazelle companies that are perfecting innovative new products, creating jobs, and generating lots of revenue, we will give you a full accounting of each one. The stories behind the entrepreneurs that build these businesses. The investors that back them. The resources they leverage. How they have all worked together to build Metro Detroit's new economy, and how they plan to do it in the future. In return we will only ask you to do one thing: keep up.