U-M biz accelerator's Demo Day features inclusive tights, sustainable pickleball paddles, and more

Businesses offering inclusive athletic wear, personal breathing devices, video tours, and sustainable sporting equipment were in the spotlight at yesterday's 2021 University of Michigan (U-M) Desai Accelerator Fall Demo Day. The companies' founders – who are all members of the accelerator's 2021 cohort – pitched their businesses at the virtual event and touted their solutions to real-life problems they have personally experienced. 

"These innovative folk are not only presenting their businesses," says Angela Kujava, managing director of the Desai Accelerator. "They're also showing all the incredible strides that they have made in the last eight months."

The Desai Accelerator is a seven-month program, during which participating startups receive funding, tailored mentorship, hands-on training, national visibility, and connections to investors and other resources to help their businesses become successful and sustainable. The program kicks off in May with a boot camp and culminates with the December pitch competition.

"What's unique about this year's pitch competition is that all four businesses were post-revenue when the accelerator started. So they were replicating what was working for them and expanding," Kujava says.

One of the competitors, Aurora Tights, is a niche performance athletic brand that has received kudos in "Essence" magazine. The company creates and sells shade- and size-inclusive tights for women of color, and athletes in performance sports such as ice skating, dance, cheer, and gymnastics. 

"Aurora has been innovative in selling tights in five shades, two styles, and seven sizes, but they've recently expanded to include not just women, but anyone who needs tights," Kujava says. "They're very cool and have been seeing lots of recognition and success in expanding their business-to-business offerings."

Another company, BreezeBubble, makes face masks with a flexible edge design. Founder Arohi Jain is from India, where she learned that her aging parents' outdoor activities were being curtailed because of pollution. So she set to work to create a mask that would provide them with high comfort, breathability, and protection. The company's next venture is a high-tech version of this mask that features a fan component to increase breathability even more.

"Here is someone who just wanted to solve a problem for her parents, but little did she know that soon everyone in the world was going to need a mask," Kujava says. "BreezeBubble started a Kickstarter campaign and reached their goal within 48 hours."

Renters can now better imagine how they might experience living at a particular property thanks to another pitch competitor, Tour.Video. The pioneering video-based digital leasing assistant can be installed as an overlay to any apartment website.

"What they're doing is creating these adventure-style videos for companies who traditionally rely on in-person tours," Kujava explains. "It widens the options and convenience for renters who now have another option aside from looking at a static video on YouTube. It's like having a real, in-person tour where people can guide their own way through."

Conscientious athletes who desire high-performance, sustainable sporting equipment should be all ears about what the fourth competitor, Revolin Sports, has to offer. The company utilizes cutting-edge, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable materials and sustainable manufacturing processes to make pickleball paddles and accessories. The company's efforts are quite timely, Kujava explains, because pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. She shares that founder Hugh Davis (a U-M engineering student) began playing as a very young person and realized that the paddles available on the market were not of good enough quality.  

"These paddles have greater sustainability and vibration-dampening technology that's in the paddle and helps people who have chronic tennis elbow," Kujava says. "What's incredible is that some people who have used the paddles have reported that their tennis elbow has gone away."

Kujava encourages people to show their support for these startups by going to their websites and perhaps even picking out some seasonal gifts. 

"It's still tough times, but we have these wonderful companies still making things happen and grinding it out. It's a great bit of excitement and goodness, and we should all support their entrepreneurship and commitment to their purpose," she says. 

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Desai Accelerator.