Electric Cycles and Software For The Soul: A Tale of Two Startups—and Whether They Plan to Stay in Michigan

5/13/10

Peter Scott, president of Current Motor, an electric scooter and motorcycle company based in Ann Arbor, MI, had just finished his 10-minute pitch on the opening day of this week’s Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, when he was immediately taken aside by Lauren Flanagan of Douglas, MI, who is with Phenomenelle Angels Fund in Madison, WI. What seemed like a serious conversation followed. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, when angel meets entrepreneur? Did sparks fly?

I did not get a chance to ask Scott until Day Two of the conference, and he hinted that, yes, he might have finally found an angel funder to take the lead and help get his company from one prototype electric scooter to mass manufacturing and distribution. He would not say if Flanagan, or somebody else, ended up being that angel. He did tell me that she’s decided to take the lead and start organizing other angels behind his company. So, mission accomplished for at least one satisfied customer at the symposium—one in which it was emphasized, as I reported yesterday, that venture funding for seed stage companies is pretty paltry in Michigan.

Nevertheless, Current Motor is in Michigan at this very early stage of its development. When/if the company hits the big time, will it stick around? Well, I asked that question of Current and another Michigan company, representing disparate industries, presenting at this year’s symposium. I also asked CircleBuilder Software, a Franklin, MI, company that produces social networking software for faith-based organizations.

Current just closed on a $50,000 microloan from the First Step Fund, newly created by the New Economy Initiative, a Detroit-based philanthropic partnership. With that money, the company should be good to go to production level, says Scott. Right now, it has one prototype out to a first customer, is working on a second and third, and has deposits for another 10. “But we still need a large chunk of change to accelerate our progress,” Scott says.

“From a fund-raising perspective, no, Michigan is not the place to be,” he says. The reason, in his view, is that despite the current push among the Detroit automakers toward electric vehicles, the region still is not “electric-minded.” In California, Scott says, they’ve been working on EVs for the past 10 years. There’s already a green mindset out there, and that is where the likely customers are for his electric motorcycles. Current’s first market will probably be San Francisco, Scott says.

So, why is he in Michigan at all?

“What is easier out here, is, oh my gosh, we have a ton of people we can draw on … Next Page »

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