Accelerate Michigan 2016: One Day, One Location, 36 Semi-Finalists

The 36 semi-finalists competing in the annual Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, the state’s largest business plan competition targeting mid-to-late-stage startups, have been announced.

Although this year’s edition, overseen by Invest Detroit for the first time, has been helpfully streamlined to one day and one location, still at stake is more than $1 million in cash prizes and in-kind services (legal, marketing, creative, etc.). More than that, Accelerate Michigan winners are usually considered among Michigan’s most promising startups to watch. Winners will be announced during the finals, which take place Nov. 3 at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Martin Dober, Invest Detroit’s vice president, said his organization came to manage the event after being involved the past two years as one of its producers. “It was put up for bid, we applied for funding, and took the reigns,” he explained. “It’s been housed in Detroit the last few years, so it made sense for a Detroit organization to take over.”

Dober said when last year’s attendees were surveyed about what they found most worthwhile about the competition, listening to startup pitches and networking topped the list. “We also heard that people thought it was too long, which is why we’re consolidating it into a single day at a single venue. People will hear pitches in the morning, and the winners will be announced at night.” Dober also said there would be fewer panel discussions and no keynote speaker this year.

Dober said that in an effort to further engage investors, Invest Detroit has coordinated with the Michigan Venture Capital Association on this year’s competition. The MVCA will hold its annual awards gala in Detroit the night before Accelerate Michigan in the hopes that investors will stick around and listen to the company pitches the following day. “It really is a partnership we haven’t had previously, and by engaging the MVCA’s  membership, it should bring in more investors and better startups,” he added.

Outreach was also a little different this year. “We were trying to reach beyond the Smart Zones as feeders,” Dober said. “We also wanted to reach out to accelerators and universities, and we wanted to be more thoughtful about outreach to minority communities. We got rid of the sector-specific prizes because we wanted to be able to highlight more than one company in each sector.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the whopping $500,000 grand prize awarded to the top startup; the runner-up will get $100,000, same as in past years. Dober said Accelerate Michigan is meant to be a major showcase for the Great Lakes State’s most promising startups, and that was the guiding mission when Invest Detroit began reformulating this year’s event. “We really want to highlight the best of the best,” he said.

Xconomy readers will recognize many of the companies pitching. Among the semi-finalists are SPLT, the enterprise ridesharing service that came out of Techstars Mobility; Movellus Circuits, the University of Michigan spinout developing patent-pending clock-generator technology for microprocessors; Golfler, a golfing app that Google called the second-best sports app of 2015; smart gun startup Sentinl; and MakerOS, which offers 3D printing services for DIY tinkerers. To see a full list of the semi-finalists, click here.

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