MI Angel Fund Invests $1.7M in Arborlight to Speed Commercialization

I hear and see a lot of startup ideas, but few have impressed me like Arborlight’s LightWell indoor lighting product. Imagine very real-seeming daylight illuminating the center of a windowless office building, as if a skylight and clear weather were conspiring to improve your mood. The company’s potential was instantly clear.

It seems the Michigan Angel Fund agrees. The organization announced this week that it led a $1.7 million round in Arborlight to help the company further commercialize its offerings.

Skip Simms, managing director of the Michigan Angel Fund, said his group has been watching the company for the past couple of years, after it emerged with promise from the University of Michigan’s tech transfer program.

“Their product is ready to be sold commercially,” Simms explained when asked why the Michigan Angel Fund was interested in backing Arborlight. “It has the wow factor, and we believe they’re ready to go to market in a big way.”

Simms said Arborlight is unique in that it provides something—realistic, LED-generated, simulated daylight at the click of a button—that others promise but don’t deliver. The LightWell looks and behaves just like a skylight. It can be tuned to geography and time, tracking the position of the sun throughout the day and mimicking the varying color, intensity, and directionality of daylight as experienced through traditional windows and skylights. Users can change the color, intensity, and even time preferences of the light using mobile devices or a switch on the wall.

Besides improving a building’s aesthetics, Simms said, the LightWell also provides many of the same health benefits as sunlight. “That might not be the primary selling point, but the benefits are real,” he added.

Arborlight has also received support in the past from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund and grants from Ann Arbor SPARK, where Simms also serves as senior vice president. The LightWell is currently being beta tested in several buildings.

The Michigan Angel Fund has $2 million in capital and more than 70 accredited members; it was established in 2012 and it’s the largest angel investing organization in the state. Simms said the Michigan Angel Fund closed a second fund just this week, and it expects to make four to six investments from that fund in 2015. Simms said the first fund, which invested in Arborlight, will invest in one more company and then its portfolio, which currently has eight companies, will be complete.

Simms also said Michigan’s angel investor scene continues to grow. “Between the two funds, we will have attracted more than 90 qualified investors to participate more actively than they have before,” he said. “The pipeline just keeps getting bigger and more robust. I think the ecosystem, in the past 10 years, has helped entrepreneurs better prepare for investing. We’re excited.”

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