Ann Arbor startup and University of Michigan (U-M) Law School spin-out Court Innovations has attracted $1.8 million in its Series A funding round, allowing it to expand its mission to make justice more accessible to all.
CEO MJ Cartwright says the funding will allow Court Innovations to expand its Matterhorn product, which facilitates a variety of online interactions between defendants and the court system, nationwide.
"We're thrilled that BELLE Michigan Fund led the round, and from there, we were able to get Northern Michigan Angels excited about what we were doing," Cartwright says.
Private investors and an online equity crowdfunding platform also provided part of the $1.8 million raised.
Contributing $50,000 was U-M's student-led Social Venture Fund. The Social Venture Fund's core areas of interest are education, food systems and environment, health, and urban revitalization. An online product for processing court cases might seem like an odd match for the fund.
"But if you think about the areas they are working in, criminal justice fits with that fairness element. Making justice accessible to everybody actually impacts all of their core areas," Cartwright says.
A number of online portals already allow people to pay for traffic tickets and other ordinance violations online, but Matterhorn allows defendants to do more than that in cases of civil infractions and lesser misdemeanors.
"We also allow them to give reasons for why they may have been pulled over for a traffic ticket, or they can say they don't have the cash to pay upfront and want to set up a payment plan to pay off a fine over the next two paychecks," Cartwright says.
Cartwright says the idea for Court Innovations came about when U-M law professor J.J. Prescott was batting around ideas with students about how to reduce the outstanding warrants and unresolved cases bogging down courts.
Pilot programs proved that the technology worked and that people would use it. Next, Court Innovations had to prove that courts participating in the pilot program could be converted to paying customers. The company also conducted studies that showed that, in participating courts, the number of fines paid in full and cases closed increased, and time spent on cases dropped.
The program started in Michigan with about 18 or 19 courts participating, then expanded into Ohio and more recently Arkansas.
Cartwright says she believes the program was attractive to so many investors because everybody knows somebody who has had a negative experience dealing with the court system.
"People understand it and see the potential for it very easily," Cartwright says. "Combine the social impact with the strong business impact, plus our proven outcomes, and it's a nice combination for a broad range of people to get excited about."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Court Innovations.