As soon as I walked into the Cobo Center for the Accelerate Michigan pitch competition, the first thing my colleague told me was:
“Network the shit out this.”
I looked out into the sea of men in dark suits that camouflaged with the colors of the carpet, and business-savvy women who perfectly navigated the terrain of entrepreneurship like a BizGrid (ask me if you don’t know that reference).
It was a 15-hour work day for me. An exhaustive day full of yawns, awkward laughs, introductions, coffee spills, and WTF’s. Accelerate Michigan is that rare moment in your journey of entrepreneurship where you’re like; “So much money- oops, I MEAN opportunity! Wherever shall I start?”
So here’s the run-down of the largest pitch competition in Michigan. (Did I mention the money?) Oh yeah, there’s over $1 million dollars in prizes.
This year, Accelerate compacted all the pitches, judging and awarding in one full day and their schedule was broken down by meals. By 7am, all the food was laid out with coffee, tea, and judges. Yes, the judges arrived early and their badges are ribboned with the word, “JUDGE”. If you go next year, this is the chance to talk to them before they get into their panels and turn soggy with business pitches. I asked one if he had done his research on the businesses he was surveying. Turns out he didn’t; but hey, one down plenty to go.
It was lunchtime when I cleaned up my 2nd coffee spill and most of the student pitches have already ran through with the semi-finals scheduled soon after lunch. You can’t possibly have heard all the pitches since the times overlapped. So it’s best to read up on the businesses the night before and circle the ones that interest you most. A friend of mine who also attended said very honestly;
“Most of them I didn’t like.”
So spend your time on the ones that you do, and network in-between. Also, badges are (big!) marked with that person’s name and business he or she is associated with, making it a lot less weird to walk up to them if you’ve done your research.
By dinner everyone knows who the student and company finalists are. It was 8pm, we already heard the all the companies' final pitches on the big stage and most attendees were sticking to their known circle rather than network. For the second half of the event, I was on edge and twitching for a company finalist called Sentinl. Omer Kiyani is the founder and engineer of Identilock, a gun lock accessory that attaches to most handguns and can only be unlocked with an authorized user’s fingerprint. In the end, he won $25k and the grand prize of $500k went to Detroit company, SPLT, "a transportation platform revolutionizing shared commutes for enterprises and non-emergency medical transportation.”
The student grand prize of $10k went to Orindi, an outerwear company that specializes in winter masks for the extreme adventurer.
Personal favorites (I should get sponsored for this):
Besides Identilock, another company that impressed me was VoyHoy, a travel booking startup that aggregates cheaper options for travelers in Latin America. For example, maybe booking a plane to your destination is $600, so VoyHoy will recommend going halfway by bus or train and then finishing the rest by plane for about $200. The market is for cost-conscious citizens of Latin America.
ProNav was another favorite of mine despite the fact that I don’t like fishing. It’s a consumer product that allows fishermen and fisherwomen to store and share anchor points on their boats for a productive fishing experience. Basically, it’s a GPS device installed in your boat, controlled with an app on your phone and it takes you were you need to go. I need this in my personal life.
Check out acceleratemichigan.org for more jazz on what happened.
Did you attend? Don’t be selfish and tell me about it!