Ann Arbor Hosts “World’s Largest” Biz Plan Contest This Week, $1M-Plus for Winners

12/9/10

Big dreams and lots of cash are happily colliding this week in Ann Arbor. Today begins the final three-day event for the inaugural Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, which organizers are calling “the world’s largest business plan competition.”

The event at the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex is expected to feature 50 companies from the state and around the world and 28 student teams from Michigan public or private colleges. The competition, which has a company track and a student portion, is awarding more than $1 million in cash prizes as well as in-kind services, staffing, and software, according to its website. That at least places this contest among the largest of its kind, a group that includes the Mass Challenge competition in Boston, which awarded $1 million to 16 startups in October.

“The goal of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is to highlight Michigan as the destination for innovation, and we feel the world has listened,” said Mike Finney, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, one of the competition’s lead organizers, in an e-mail. He added that the competition received nearly 600 entries from companies around the world and students from around the state. This “exemplifies that Michigan is dedicated to attracting and growing new business.”

The New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan—an eight-year, $100 million philanthropic effort—has provided a $750,000 grant to Ann Arbor SPARK to support the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The other founding groups are Automation Alley, the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan, Macomb OU-Incubator, and TechTown. The competition has received additional support from the AARP, Ford Motor, and more than 30 other organizations, according to organizers.

There’s a lot at stake for the contestants. The top winner of the company portion of the competition will be awarded $500,000. And the 50 company semifinalists represent some of the best technology and life sciences startups from both Michigan and elsewhere. For example, the list includes Ann Arbor-based Compendia Bioscience, a provider of analytics software for cancer research, which has some of the largest drug makers in the world as clients. The semi-finalists also include companies from outside of the Great Lake State, such as Somerville, MA-based Sproxil, which took the top prize in the IBM SmartCamp of Boston this year with its mobile technology to prevent consumers from purchasing counterfeit drugs.

Though the purse is much smaller ($25,000 grand prize), the student side of the competition appears to feature some plans for potentially big businesses. For instance, Own, a group from Ann Arbor, has developed a point-of-sale system for coffee shops that operates on Web software and enables remote access to sales data. Also, eHealthX, which has taken up the challenge facing doctors who want to exchange medical records, has developed Web software that enables physicians to use their existing e-mail accounts to share patient data with all the encryption, monitoring, and authentication needed to comply with standards, according to the group’s YouTube presentation.

The student winners will be announced on Friday and the company winners on Saturday, the final day of the event. We’ll be back after the weekend with the names of the groups that will claim more than a dozen prizes.

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