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One major problem was that each time we thought we had found a killer app for the materials, we followed that idea only to learn that (1) the materials did not easily incorporate into the commercial process; or (2) while our material gave the commercial product significantly improved properties (strength, fire retardence, etc.) the resultant modified product was not initially tested to have sufficient advantage to whet the appetites of the potential client, or (3) we placed reliance on published data on performance of a commercial product which we thought we enhanced by more than an order of magnitude, when in fact the true numbers were hidden by the manufacturers as trade secrets and our materials only offered a marginal gain.

There is a lesson in all of this.  With technology, market pull works far better than technology push.  Not so very different from other product areas.  This was the most expensive loss I have taken in angel investing, and a number of friends came along too. You would think that I had learned my lesson in the 1980’s with my first company, which while successful (Inc. 500 in 1989) and providing a more than satisfactory exit for our investors, failed miserably on two technology push product ideas.

There are myriad ways for Tech companies to fail.  This is the story of one such failure and why it happened, at least in the opinion of this author.  The invention was a superior kind of chemical material with wide potential applications across multiple major industries. Several patents protected these inventions.  As lead investor, I led two rounds of Angel Investment totaling over $800k, accompanied by several state grants and investments adding $400k and federal SBIR funding more than $1 Million. These funds came after Millions in grants had been used to develop the materials at Michigan State University.

What was the problem?  Why did this commercialization not succeed? Well, therein is the story.  Of course there were multiple issues such that after less than three years, the Company closed its doors and returned its technology license to Michigan State University.  But the salient issue was that while the new materials could significantly improve commercial materials in diverse applications, no one case was compelling enough to forcefully argue for commercial adoption which would require at least some changes in production. So no Corporate Knight in shining armor came to our rescue.

It did not help that it took us more than a year to supply large volumes of the materials to potential sponsors (multiple liters of very light weight powders weighing a kilogram or more).   We were able to build a pre-pilot plant to do that, and design was complete on a much larger scale pilot plant.

First, what is DTX Launch Detroit? It is a program of the Detroit Technology Exchange (DTX), a programmatic partnership between TechTown Detroit, Bizdom, Invest Detroit, the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), Henry Ford Innovation Institute, Next Energy and TechStars Mobility-Driven by Detroit. DTX, supported by MEDC’s Michigan Strategic Fund and the New Economy Initiative, is designed to recruit and groom talent for tech entrepreneurship opportunities for Detroit-based startups.

DTX Launch Detroit is a 10-week summer accelerator for college students and recent graduates aspiring to launch a tech-based/tech-enabled startup. In its third year, the 2015 Launch Detroit application is live; more information and a link can be found at http://techtowndetroit.org/entrepreneur/labs/launch-detroit/. Participants will receive a stipend of $2,500 per individual (up to $7,500 per venture team) to test out their entrepreneurial dreams.

This year, there is a new option for selected teams: For those teams that wish to participate but do not have a well-formulated business idea, the DTX partners have been soliciting project ideas/technologies from industry partners. These projects are of known significance, provide the opportunity to work directly with an industry adviser, and offer the possibility of employment with the industry sponsor.

From the very beginning NEF has been supporting the program with pitch instruction and coaching. Some student graduates have gone on for further coaching at NEF and have even had a turn in the Pitch Pit.  Launch Detroit culminates with a public showcase, giving participants the opportunity to make that polished pitch to potential partners, advisors and investors.

 

For those entrepreneurs and researchers in the energy space, NextEnergy is a great resource.  They’ll now be offering monthly updates on funding opportunities.  See Danny Allen’s blog for more information:http://www.nextenergy.org/danny-allen-manager-venture-services-venture-for-america-fellow-nextenergy-funding-findings-staying-on-top-of-funding-opportunities

Members of the New Enterprise Forum coached the Michigan Business Challenge Semi-Finalists and Social Impact Finalists on February 13th at the Ross School of Business. Coaches met with 8 teams and provided feedback on their 15-minute presentations. In addition, members of the NEF board served as judges for Round 1 of the Challenge.

The Michigan Business Challenge is a campus-wide, multi-round business plan competition thru which student teams have the opportunity to win cash prizes totaling over $75,000, gain feedback from judges, and expand their business network. 80 teams pitched to judges on December 5 and only 22 advanced to the next round, which occurred on January 23. Eight teams were then chosen as Semi Finalists and four were selected as Social Impact Finalists. The Finals held Friday, February 20th. 

Companion, a peer-to-peer public safety app, took home 1st Place and $20,000. Blueprints for Pangaea, which sends unused medical supplies to developing countries, won the Social Impact Award and $15,000. Ben Rathi, CEO of Blueprints for Pangaea, said "The Michigan Business Challenge not only improved our ability to concisely present our business plan, but more importantly, it afforded us an opportunity to receive critical feedback on our venture."
 

Some teams, including the 2013 2nd Place winner, Exo Dynamics, go on to receive further coaching from NEF and eventually become Showcase Presenters at the NEF Forum meetings.

" With the announcement last Monday of Ned Staebler taking over as CEO of Detroit's TechTown (http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20150302/NEWS/150309987/ned-staeble...), and the nomination last Thursday of Betsy Creedon, TechTown Director of Entrepreneurial Services, to NEF's board, it's important to affirm how much our relationship with the business accelerator and incubator has solidified over the last few years.  At the board's retreat in 2011, we had set an objective to start participating and supporting the fast developing entrepreneurial scene in Detroit,  but it took the arrival of Charlie Moret at the head of their tech entrepreneurship program, the following nomination of Sheu-Jane Gallagher, Betsy Creedon 's predecessor, to our board,  and the continued support of Paul Riser, who replaced Charlie last year  to establish a working relationship that has allowed our volunteer coaches to support TechTown's boot camps, and other mentoring events and business plan competitions as well as seeing an increasing number of Detroit based companies participating in some of our pitch pit competitions or becoming  showcase presenters after going through our coaching process.  This has been very positive and we're excited to have Betsy on our board to build on what's been accomplished!"

Those attending ACE’15 last month were the first to see it. NEF has a new brand identity and is proudly showing it off.

Let’s back up a little. Early in 2014 the NEF Board of Directors created a new marketing committee and nominated Board member Jane DeLancey, DeLancey Design, as chair. The Committee’s mission was to develop a new brand identity. Committee content lead, Elizabeth Sikkenga, Crisp Strategy, describes the need best, “When NEF started out 29 years ago, there weren’t many other organizations doing anything similar, but the field has grown hugely since then. It’s much harder now to get your message across, especially to busy entrepreneurs, so NEF’s branding really matters.”

For a starting point, the committee reviewed the in-depth third party survey NEF conducted in 2013 of current and former members, stakeholders, companies that we coached and others in the entrepreneurial community. Results of this survey were a major driving force for the formation of the committee and the decision to rebrand NEF’s identity.

Using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, Sikkenga then led the committee through a brand discovery designed to discover how NEF could best differentiate itself from other local organizations that offer services to entrepreneurs. The results of this analysis served as a foundation for developing NEF’s new brand identity.

One of the outcomes was to define key characteristics and the brand promise. Key characteristics include: respect, helpfulness, generosity, community and education; our coaches have credibility and experience. The brand promise is, “We interact with the business community to everyone’s benefit: coaches, coachees, investors, and other stakeholders. Each interaction with NEF will lead to new ideas, improvements to existing presentations, and new contacts and networks in the entrepreneurial community.”

At the completion of this process, a Creative Brief, approved by the Board last October, was created as a guide for developing the visual brand. Q Ltd., Ann Arbor, was engaged to create the logo. Q Ltd was outstanding in delivering a great new logo that came with new Identity Guidelines defining colors, fonts, placement of tagline, etc.

At Q Ltd’s suggestion the Committee agreed to also have them jazz up our 29-year-old tagline. Of half a dozen presented by Q, “Coaching. Perfecting. Connecting” was the unanimous choice.

With a shiny new logo and jazzy tagline in hand the Committee set about implementing the new brand. An 8’ tall banner, a new tabletop banner, brochure, business cards, name badges were created; the website was completely overhauled to show off the new brand—all in time for unveiling at ACE’15.

After almost a year of strategizing, reviewing, planning, agonizing and debating there are many folks to thank. Committee members would likely agree with Elizabeth, "One of my favorite branding strategy projects ever! It was such an honor—and so much fun!—to help NEF refine and shape their brand.”

It’s a long list and we want to be sure each person gets their proper credit so here goes:

Marketing Committee:

Jane DeLancey, DeLancey Design; chair

Elizabeth Sikkenga, Crisp Strategies; content lead

Members from the NEF Board of Directors:

Helen Ewing, Ewing Group

Francis Glorie, Glorie Associates

William McPherson, McPherson Commercial Capital

Gerry Roston, Pair of Docs Consulting

(joined mid-year) Terry MacEwen, ABC Awesome Business Counselor

Additional members:

Tina Bissell, Michigan Initiative for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Annie Wolock, Keystone Media

Logo design and tagline:

Q Ltd., Ann Arbor

Christine Golus, creative director

Katie Chang, designer

Paul Koch, writer

Banner and brochure design:

Kevin Ryan, Alfa Jango

Business cards, name badges, website:

Gerry Roston, Pair of Docs Consulting

 

Forget about a lemonade stand, kids today can start up higher growth opportunities. Kidpreneur is showing them how. Thanh Tran created Kidpreneur to train kids K-8 in web design, coding, robotics, 3D printing, game development and entrepreneurship. Their new office space in Wixom is gaining a lot of attention.

All kinds of hands on learning opportunities are available. Classes vary in term length to accommodate the interest level of the child and some are available on Skype. At the end of the class, students pitch their idea to classmates. Workshops are used to familiarize a child with a technology before deciding if they want to take a class. Parents can book a party where children can play computer games safely with their friends. Kidpreneur also hosts events for the family as another means to introduce technology at an early age. The programs are a great way to remove the fear out of using and creating with technology.

In an interview with Sarah Schmid of XconomyDET, Ben Seidman, Kidpreneur’s Business and Marketing Manager, explained that they are working on a kit with lessons kids can work on at home. “We want them ultimately to come and learn with other kids, but if that is not possible, this is the next best thing. Each box, geared toward kids in sixth through eighth grades, will contain a toy kit, projects, and a coupon. We’re really excited because it will allow us to reach people outside of our usual realm.

Currently, Kidpreneur is about 25% full and is anticipating to be around 50%-70% full at the end of this year. They are seeking investors to expand their current offerings and have their eye on out of state expansion plans. For now, they are focusing on maximizing their potential before scaling up.

Last year was a good year for entrepreneurs in the state of Michigan. If you want to start a business, qualified help is around the corner, a phone call away, and on the Internet. Michigan has been investing in entrepreneurs in multiple ways with: training programs for every stage of development; support organizations designed to connect entrepreneurs to resources; incubators providing space & technology; business plan and pitching competitions to promote entrepreneurs to the right business connections; all in addition to capital funding.

“According to the 2014 Metrics Report released by MEDC’s Office of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Venture Capital (EIVC), 248 new tech companies were created in Michigan last year. An average of 240 new tech companies have been created each of the last three years with an average of 1,100 new tech jobs each year.”

Over the past five years, Michigan has seen an increase of venture capital firms. The state’s total is now 35 firms who recognize the increase in entrepreneurial opportunities the state offers.

The Michigan entrepreneurial climate now ranks 6th improving from 44th in comparison to other states. This is good news from our Governor, Rick Snyder in his state of the state address in January.

With all of these programs in place, 2015 is bound to be an exciting year of continuing growth.

Three southeastern Michigan start-ups - Genomenon, AdApated and Detroit based LevelEleven - have been selected to present at the Google Demo Days Showcase in April. This event takes place at Google's Silicon Valley facilities and provides exposure to a wide range of tecnnology experts and investors. For more details please visit the following link:

http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20150123/NEWS/150129910/3-tech-star...

Genomeno and AdAdapted have both presented as New Enterprise Forum showcase presenters after having gone through the NEF presentation coaching program. For more information on becoming a showcase presenter please visit:

http://newenterpriseforum.org/BecomeShowcasePresenter

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