U-M Business Competition Awards $90K to Student Startups

I don’t have any children, but almost all of my girlfriends do. I remember a time early last decade when they were constantly shipping maternity clothes back and forth to one another to avoid spending money on an entirely new wardrobe. They could have used a website like Fashion Forward Maternity,  an online boutique that allows pregnant women to “borrow” maternity clothes without paying retail prices—and this year’s Michigan Business Challenge winner.

Forty-five teams competed in the 29th annual Michigan Business Challenge, a business-plan competition for innovative University of Michigan startups. What makes the competition unique is that it has four rounds and lasts about four months, with a March Madness-style process of elimination along the way. The final round has four teams giving a three-minute pitch to investors and U-M alumni, who then spend 20 minutes picking apart each idea.

Fashion Forward Maternity was founded by a U-M business student and an alum of U-M’s business program, who have spent the past nine months bootstrapping and building their business. In a press release, the founders credited the Michigan Business Challenge with helping them refine their business model.

In addition to Fashion Forward Maternity ($22,500), the big winners were Converge Medical Technologies ($12,000), a medical device company that makes products to measure brain function, and @FingerTips ($16,000), a company that builds devices that enables blind people to use touch-screen electronics. In total, the Michigan Business Challenge awarded $62,000 in prize money.

Ten startups won $500 Dare to Dream venture-shaping grants, funded by Detroit Xconomist Tim Mayleben, to help further business ideas that covered everything from smartphone technology to spinal orthoses to collecting rural population data in India. Other winners of Dare to Dream awards were @FingerTips ($10,000); Beet Box ($5,000), which promotes healthy eating through community outreach; Digital Maxim ($2,500), a specialty ebooks publisher targeting immigrant populations; EVStation ($1,500), an app that connects drivers to charging stations for electric vehicles; Thrively, an online platform that allows business professionals to communicate with one another; and Torch Hybrid Marine Systems, which is developing hybrid-electric marine propulsion systems. In total, $27,000 was awarded.

Several teams will go on to compete in national and regional business-plan competitions; in 2011, winning U-M teams brought home more than $326,000 in cash and prizes.

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