The last time we wrote about Banza, the Detroit-based startup producing protein-heavy pasta made from chickpeas, the company was so new it didn’t have a website yet. What a difference 18 months makes. Last night, Banza took home the $500,000 grand prize in the annual Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.
As a first-of-its-kind product, Banza, the company says, is the only highly nutritious pasta that “looks, cooks, and tastes” like traditional pasta. Banza has raised $1.3 million to date, and founders Brian and Scott Rudolph told Accelerate Michigan judges that they would use the prize money to increase their capacity while still maintaining their proprietary manufacturing process.
“We are inundated with orders, running every day including weekends,” Brian said during the company’s presentation. “If we should win this contest, it will allow us to meet the demand for our products and scale well beyond our current limitations. The opportunity will be a game-changer for our business.”
The winner of the student portion of the competition was CARt, an interface that allows grocery stores to communicate with ride-sharing services to help get low-income customers access to fully-stocked places to buy healthy food. A customer sends a text to CARt, CARt pays a taxi or ride-sharing service to give a customer a ride to the store, and the customer pays CARt a subsidized fare. So far, the company has run two pilot programs in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
There were a total of 10 finalists—see the list below—in the non-student competition; unless otherwise indicated, the finalists each won $25,000 sector-specific prizes. Notable this year was the plethora of women-led companies among the finalists: Akervall Technologies, QTEK, and Workit Health all have female founders.
Accelerate Michigan is one of the largest business competitions in North America, awarding a total of $1 million in cash and prizes. The 10 finalists were chosen from 54 semi-finalists.
—Neuvokas ($10,000 Peoples Choice Award): Headquartered in Calumet, MI, this startup manufactures fiber reinforced polymer rebar, which can replace steel reinforcement in concrete at the same price.
—FlexDex Surgical: A University of Michigan spinout, FlexDex has made a pilot product called the Infinity Needle Driver, a laparascopic instrument and accompanying software platform that enhances the capabilities of minimally-invasive surgical tools.
—Genomenon ($100,000 second-place prize): Based in Ann Arbor, Genomenon makes software that automates genomic sequencing interpretation.
—Lawn Guru: Located in suburban Detroit, Lawn Guru is an app that allows users to connect with lawn care professionals and order services on demand. When we talked with the company a few months ago, it expected to add snow removal capabilities to the app soon.
—Levanto Financial: Just three months after launching, this company developing next-generation personal financial planning software was a finalist at last year’s competition, too.
—Micro-LAM Technologies: This Battle Creek, MI-based company is working on technology and tools that deliver precision machining capabilities for brittle surfaces like ceramics, semiconductors, glass, and metals.
—QTEK: Headquartered in Chassell, MI, QTEK has developed Surfion, a patented copper-based antimicrobial additive that is safe to use in plastics, paints, wood composites, and other materials.
—Akervall Technologies: Akervall is the maker of the thin, flexible Sisu mouthguard for use in dental procedures.
—Workit Health: Based in Ann Arbor, Workit Health provides a digital health solution that guides high-risk substance abusers through a 90-day adaptive recovery, utilizing harm reduction techniques to discreetly support a self-guided program.