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ACE '14 Draws 1,000 For Tech Entrepreneurship; Pitch Contest Names Winners

LIVONIA (WWJ) -- Tech-based entrepreneurship has become big business in Michigan.

Just ask the 1,000 people who attended Thursday's Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship, or ACE '14, at Livonia's Burton Manor.

The event featured 10 panel discussions on everything from customer acquisition to getting funding to building prototype products to breakthrough technologies.

A panel discussion called "The Secret Life of Detroit's Tech Scene: Who Knew There Was So Much Going On?" covered the Detroit Creative Center, the TechTown business incubator, the startup accelerator Bizdom, the Detroit coworking space Bamboo Detroit, and COVERd, a mobile loyalty rewards program for independent grocery stores that is part of TechTown's program.

Panelists said they were surprised at the depth of support resources in Detroit to take a tech-based business idea from idea to opening the doors (or the website). And Phil Coleman, co-founder of COVERd, said he was surprised because "I thought Detroit's startup scene would be more competitive, but in fact it's very collaborative."

Maria LaLonde, recruiting and development leader at Bizdom, said "what's really surprising to me is how quickly we've been able to grow one of the fastest growing tech startup communities in the world. If you start with a few key components, you can make more progress than you imagined possible."

A session called "Get Out of the Building! Meet You Customers" included plenty of useful information on getting more business from entrepreneurs Carl Lewis, co-founder of Lift3D, an exercise technology provider, John Dyer, president of Ugly Dog Distillery, and Grace Hsia, CEO of Warmilu, a provider of a heat pack for neonatal care.

The event also included 72 exhibitors, which included both startups showing off their wares and entrepreneurial support companies and organizations, including electronics manufacturers, social media marketing consultants, software developers, law firms, tech incubators, universities and accounting firms.

The event also included an elevator pitch competition and an evening keynote from Peter Bloom, board chairman of, named the most innovative charity in America by the Stanford Business School.

The newly christened MiQuest, a merger of the Great Lakes Entrepreneurs Quest and the Small Business Foundation of Michigan, presented awards to the mid-year winners in the fourteenth year of the statewide GLEQ Business Plan Competition at ACE '14.

Six entrepreneurs pitched their ventures in the hopes of winning the coveted ACE Elevator Pitch Competition trophy.  James Friedrich, Native Traits LLC of Kalamazoo, is the premier developer of native genetic traits that make corn resistant to drought. Native Traits was selected as the winner by judges Lauren Bigelow, CEO, Growth Capital Network;  Terry Cross, founder, Windward Associates, LLC;  Dale Grogan, managing director, Michigan Accelerator Fund; and  Mark E. Hooper, CPA, founding member, Andrews Hooper Pavlik and board member, Capital Community Angels, Inc. 

Other candidates vying for the trophy were Jeff Johnson, Supported Intelligence, LLC of East Lansing; Michael Kurley, Soletics of Grand Rapids; Ansgar Strother, A2B Bikeshare of Ann Arbor, Naren Balasubramaniam, Hospital Connect of Farmington Hills; Jason Beale, RegainGo of Detroit; and James Friedrich, Native Traits, LLC of Kalamazoo.

More than 200 Michigan-based entrepreneurial ventures were registered for the GLEQ Business Plan competition, which attracts a wide range of innovation-bases businesses in alternative energy, IT and software, advanced manufacturing, food safety, green chemistry, medical devices and life sciences. The competition's twice-annual program accommodates both idea-stage ventures and companies with up to $3 million in cumulative sales.

Award winners in the Emerging Company category are:

First Place Award - $5,000. Inventev.  Represented by Dave Stenson, founder and CEO, Detroit-based Inventev brings mobile power generation to commercial fleets utilizing medium-duty trucks.  Through a patent-pending drive system, the company uses the same devices that electrically propel the vehicle to generate power for electrically-driven accessories on a job site. Electric utilities and telecommunication providers, for example, need a source of electric power at job sites without the fuel use, emissions, and noise of extensive idling or the expense of trailer-mounted generators. Additionally, Michigan Growth Capital Symposium awarded a presentation slot for Inventev at the MGCS event in June.

Second Place Award - $3,000. Phasiq Inc. Represented by Arlyne Simon, co-founder and vice president of technology development, Plymouth-based Phasiq provides an ultra-specific diagnostic platform for detecting protein biomarkers in biological samples. Phasiq's technology addresses the shortcomings of protein microarray technologies, namely accuracy and cost of test development, which are necessary to advance the use of protein microarrays in life science research and clinical diagnostics.

Third Place Award - $2,500. Campus Commandos. Represented by Adam Grant, CEO, Detroit-based Campus Commandos is a campus marketing firm that helps major brands like HP, eBay and Nike sell products to college students through student ambassador programs. These programs often experience difficulty in recruiting, high turnover, and poor student performance. To address those issues, the company is launching a mobile application that organizes a large pool of available candidates and motivates them to accept and complete marketing tasks by using challenging game-based incentives.

Award winners in the New Business Ideas category are:

First Place Award - $2,000. Micro-LAM Technologies LLC. Represented by Deepak Ravindra, co-founder and CTO, Kalamazoo-based Micro-LAM offers leading edge technology that increases productivity, provides a better surface and reduces tooling and finishing costs for companies that would benefit from the softening of hard materials and reduced brittleness during machining. The company provides an easily adaptable tool that delivers precision machining capabilities for ceramics, semiconductors, glass and metals, leading to greater efficiency and improved profitability.

Second Place Award - $1,500. Sentinl LLC. Represented by Omer Kiyani, founder/CEO, Detroit-based Sentinl offers  Identilock,  a new and safe way to secure hand guns. Using fingerprint technology, it allows for split-second access to a loaded gun by the gun owner, while simultaneously keeping it safely locked and unusable when in the hands of others. Sentinl was coached by Stew Nelson.

Third Place Award - $1,000. Wave Aircraft Inc. Represented by Perry DiClemente, founder, West Bloomfield Township-based Wave Aircraft shortens total travel time with a specially designed aircraft. Amphibian planes do not fly high and fast. High and fast business class aircraft cannot land on water.  By combining the best features of both, Wave Aircraft is the first to offer the business-class market a single aircraft that will go virtually anywhere, land anywhere, and get there fast. Wave Aircraft was coached by Scott Hotz.

Additional GLEQ Business Plan Competition Awards

Vision to Action Challenge Award.  YouKnowWatt founders Steven Sherman and Jack Dean were awarded the Vision to Action Challenge Award, for having achieved significant milestones in advancing their venture. The founders clearly articulated a vision for their company and identified strategic challenges they are facing and put a plan in place to address those challenges. The Ann Arbor-based company is a startup in the residential energy efficiency market. The company's go-to-market product is a software service called for home performance professionals (energy auditors and general contractors) to optimize their relationship with homeowners and strengthen their close rate. The YouKnowWatt team was coached by Richard Miga.

GLEQ Coach Recognition Award. Nancy Mathias, a professional, credentialed business coach, was awarded the GLEQ Coach Recognition Award for her volunteer work with early stage ventures in the GLEQ Business Plan Competition.  Her firm, Birmingham-based Focus Leadership Development LLC, provides individual, team and organizational development, strategic visioning, training programs, and meeting facilitation. Her clients include for-profit corporations, non-profit organizations and professional associations. She coached University Pharmacy in this round of the competition.

GLEQ Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award.  Rich Daniels, founder/CEO of Dowagiac-based RNS Packaging received The Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award. He was nominated by his business coach, Fred Pieplow, of St. Joseph, who applauded Daniels' openness to coaching and his non-stop enthusiasm for the FunPak Premium Packaging product he created. His loose-fill packaging is 100% biodegradable, 100% compostable, and uniquely marketable. It does away with toxic, static Stryrofoam packing peanuts and non-sustainable plastic air pouches. Daniels is a Desert Storm veteran and is committed to hiring veterans and producing a product that is safe for our families, pets and planet.

Winning ventures were selected by 85 volunteer judges, including venture capitalists; angel investors; university-based tech transfer, engineering and business staff; and economic and business development professionals.

MiQuest president Diane Durance announced the spring 2014 GLEQ Business Plan Competition will open for registrations on Monday, Feb. 10. 

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