U.P.’s Orbion Space Technology Wins $500K Accelerate Michigan Prize

Midtown Detroit hosted two events this week that are among the biggest in the Southeast Michigan startup community: the Michigan Venture Capital Association’s annual awards gala, and the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, where 36 early-stage tech companies competed for nearly $1 million in cash and prizes, including a $500,000 grand prize.

Although both events have been around for a while, they felt more at home in Detroit this year, as if they were settled in and comfortable with their surroundings. The lavish MVCA gala was held on the practice ice at Little Caesar’s Arena, the newly built home of the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Accelerate Michigan, held at the Masonic Temple, was rollicking at times in the best possible way, sort of like a house party teeming with jovial neighbors. Both events felt distinctly less white and male than in previous years, which was a breath of fresh air.

Another refreshing change? The array of companies pitching at Accelerate Michigan. Because this is a smaller startup ecosystem, it can sometimes seem like the same companies are always on stage at these kinds of competitions. Not so with this year’s edition, where the grand prize winner was from the Upper Peninsula—farther away from Detroit than Washington, DC, as the MEDC’s Fred Molnar pointed out from the podium. There was also a very diverse mix of sectors represented in the competition. Without further ado, here are this year’s Accelerate Michigan and MVCA award winners:

Accelerate Michigan

—$500,000 grand prize: Orbion Space Technology (Houghton, MI) develops systems to propel small satellites into space for big data projects.

—$100,000 first runner-up: Mi Padrino (Ann Arbor) offers online crowdfunding and event planning sin fronteras for the Latinx community. Users can plan, create, and share milestone celebrations with friends and family.

—$50,000 second runner-up: Alerje (Detroit) has created cell phone cases for people with food allergies that carry a slim epinephrine auto-injector and notify 911 in emergencies.

—$20,000 third runner-up: Carma Car (Detroit), a 2017 Techstars Mobility alum, is a month-to-month car subscription service that includes insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance in the fee.

—$20,000 up-and-coming award: Novolux Biosciences (Houghton) is a Michigan Technological University spinout developing proprietary, high-brightness dyes for biomedical applications.

—$10,000 people’s choice award: SpellBound (Ann Arbor) is a therapeutic tool that uses storytelling and augmented reality to help kids cope with medical treatments.

MVCA Awards

—Capital event of the year: LLamasoft, the Ann Arbor-based company making supply chain modeling and design software, has seen exponential growth over the past decade. It was recognized by the MVCA for a partnership with San Francisco’s TPG Capital that was announced in the spring. Although the value of the partnership was not disclosed, TPG reportedly now has a majority stake in LLamasoft.

—Community impact award: The annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, which founder David Brophy likes to call “an overnight success 36 years in the making,” connects early-stage companies with venture capitalists and strategic investors from Michigan, the Midwest, and across the country. When out-of-state investors want to dip a toe in the Great Lakes State, this is often the first place they come.

—Entrepreneur(s) of the year: Xconomist Dug Song and Jon Oberheide, founders of cybersecurity company Duo Security, took home the honors despite stiff competition from Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert and HandyLab co-founder Kalyan Handique. Song and Oberheide accepted the honor on stage with a half-dozen members of the company’s leadership team, giving it an MTV Awards feel that only intensified when Song led them in a round of dabs, which he said he was doing at the request of his 12-year-old. (Awwww.) After closing a $70 million Series D round in October, Duo Security became Michigan’s only startup valued at more than $1 billion.

—Lifetime achievement award: Ian Bund, founding partner at Plymouth Growth Partners. Forty years ago, when Michigan hardly had a venture capital community to speak of, Bund was on the front lines playing an instrumental role. Today, the state is home to more than 30 VC firms thanks in part to his hard work.

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