Desai Accelerator Basks in Success of 2015 as New Cohort Starts

The University of Michigan’s Desai Accelerator, a joint venture between the school’s College of Engineering and Ross School of Business that is open to anyone regardless of university affiliation, has chosen its 2016 cohort. Six tech startups were selected from the more than 80 that applied; 83 percent are Michigan-based, 33 percent have female founders, and 66 percent have a connection to U-M, according to the university.

“We’re very excited about the companies this year,” said Kelly LaPierre, the accelerator’s managing director. “The success of last year’s companies helped encourage high-quality applicants.”

LaPierre singled out the growth of two of last year’s companies, Companion and Diverse Note, to highlight what the Desai Accelerator has so far achieved. Companion, which came into Desai in 2015 shortly after winning the university’s Michigan Business Challenge competition, is a peer-to-peer safety app that allows friends and family to remotely monitor their loved ones as they walk home alone. It now has over a million users and has penetrated the global market, with London as one of the app’s top three cities in terms of customers. Diverse Note, a company that helps employers recruit diverse job candidates, has successfully pivoted from working primarily with government clients to making corporate connections. Both companies, LaPierre said, attribute their growth in part to the training and capital they received at Desai.

The 2016 accelerator program kicked off earlier this month and will run through August 19, with a demo day event planned for August 4. Each company in the accelerator gets a $25,000 investment, office space in downtown Ann Arbor, access to service-provider resources, and mentorship from U-M’s alumni network. This year, Desai participants will also get some help from seven U-M student interns, who will contribute logo design, front-end development, market research, and administrative duties.

“The internship process was really competitive—more than 95 people applied,” LaPierre said. “It’s a great way to get our students exposed to the startup world.”

LaPierre said there were a few trends of note among this year’s applicants. “There were a handful working on some form of neuroscience, which was an interesting trend, and also a handful related to servicing small- and mid-size businesses, especially in financial services.”

Now in its second year, the Desai Accelerator is funded by the Desai Sethi Family Foundation, the Davidson Foundation, the Wadhams family, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. For more about the 2016 cohort, see the list below.

Ash & Anvil: Two Venture for America fellows founded this Detroit-based online retailer selling shirts for hard-to-fit shorter guys. After a successful first production run, the company is joining Desai to try and figure out how to scale.

Clash Audio: Back in the day, he was a rapper who went by the stage name of Sledge. Now, Brandon Sledge-Mellon is an entrepreneur running a music streaming service that uses human curation, neuroscience research, and popular music theory to analyze and distill millions of songs into a database. Sledge-Mellon, a U-M alum, recently relocated back to Ann Arbor from Los Angeles, where he was working in the music industry.

Gaudium: The runner-up in this year’s Michigan Business Challenge, Gaudium is the creator of anime-style mobile games. The company’s first game, Armor Blitz, is expected to be released in the fall.

MySwimPro: A social fitness platform for swimmers and triathletes, the company fosters motivation and gives users access to different training regimens. MySwimPro counts Peter Vanderkaay, U-M alum and four-time Olympic medalist, as an advisor.

Roomations: This crowd-sourced interior design website’s goal is to make home decoration easy and affordable online. Users upload a picture of the room they want to make over, and they’re connected to freelance design professionals. The idea for Roomations was inspired by co-founder Katie Miller’s volunteer experience at a nonprofit organization in southwest Detroit, where she used her design expertise to help small-business owners renovate their storefronts.

Sultant: Founded by two Princeton grads who happen to be African American, Sultant is a cloud-based, software-as-a-service platform that offers small businesses insights and advice regarding their financial decisions. CEO Jared Crooks previously worked at Capital One servicing small-business customers.

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