Numerous local startups among 2016 Accelerate Michigan semifinalists

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition has announced its 2016 semifinalists, and several Washtenaw County startups are again among the Michigan businesses who will make their pitch for a shot at winning up to $500,000 next month.

The state's largest business plan competition, Accelerate Michigan awards more than $1 million in cash and prizes each year, including a $500,000 grand prize. Narrowed down from nearly 200 applicants across the state in nine sectors, this year's field of 36 Accelerate Michigan semifinalists includes Ann Arbor's ContentOro, JOOL Health, Movellus Circuits, PreDxion Bio, ShapeLog, and Workit Health

Workit co-founder and CEO Lisa McLaughlin knows firsthand how much an Accelerate Michigan win can mean. Her company took home Accelerate's IT sector award last year, and she says the achievement and $25,000 prize were a "pivotal milestone" during a challenging time for the young business.

Since then, McLaughlin says she and her colleagues have made significant progress that they can't wait to share.

"[Michigan Economic Development Corporation]-sponsored programs like Accelerate have been key to our early development process, and we will always be grateful for the deep local support we received," McLaughlin says.

Founded in Oakland, Calif., in 2014, Workit is a digital health program designed to help people overcome addiction. Users receive one-on-one coaching from professional counselors while completing a set of personalized online exercises. Workit is offered as a health benefit for employers to provide to employees and their families for now, but there are plans to eventually make it available directly to the public.

A native Detroiter, McLaughlin moved back to Michigan last year to grow Workit's clinical and business development teams in Ann Arbor, which she describes as one of "few communities where interdisciplinarity is the norm."

"Our core developer is an engineer and neuroscientist [and] most of our team has hybrid degrees in multiple disciplines," she says. " Where else do you find these magic people?"

McLaughlin has spent the last 15 years in recovery herself, which is how she first met Workit's cofounder, Robin McIntosh, in 2009. She has also lost several friends to addiction.

"It started and remains a company driven by our deep commitment to our purpose," she says.

With overdoses on the rise across Michigan, McLaughlin sees Accelerate as an opportunity to not only help grow her company, but also make a difference in her own community.

"It feels great to be out there competing to scale a new channel for the lost and the living," she says.

Accelerate Michigan is operated by the community development financial institution Invest Detroit with support from organizations including the New Economy Initiative, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Ann Arbor SPARK. The competition finals will take place Nov. 3 at Cobo Center in Detroit.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
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