State Allots $6.8M to Invest Michigan Fund for Seeding Tech Startups

4/10/14Follow @XconomyDET

The Michigan Strategic Fund board announced today that is has designated $6.8 million in new state money for the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0, an investment fund targeting early-stage tech startups statewide. It will be managed by Invest Michigan, a new Detroit-based nonprofit led by Charlie Moret, a Connecticut transplant who most recently served as TechTown’s managing director of technology-based entrepreneurship.

“Early-stage tech startups should view [the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0] as a partner willing to engage and help them,” Moret says.

As with the state’s first Pre-Seed Fund, which is fully invested and managed by Ann Arbor SPARK, the money for the fund announced today has been allocated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Paula Sorrell, the MEDC’s vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation, will take a seat on Invest Michigan’s board along with Martin Dober, a former MEDC exec and current vice president of business development at Invest Detroit; Mark Bennett, an attorney and serial entrepreneur; Marianne Fey, an advertising executive, entrepreneur, and angel investor; and David Gregorka, a partner with Baird Capital in Ann Arbor and advisor on technology transfer to state universities.

Moret says Invest Michigan is still in the process of looking for office space, but it hopes to be open and actively looking for startups to fund by June. Invest Michigan also plans to hold community office hours starting that month, which will be open to all entrepreneurs in search of advice and resources.

Of the $6.8 million allocated to the fund, $5.8 million will go toward supporting tech startups and $1 million will go toward helping universities get technology and spin-out startups to market. Moret expects the university tech transfer piece to be fully fleshed out by the fall.

Moret says Invest Michigan will be on the lookout for opportunities to co-invest with state VC firms and angel investing groups. It plans to partner with the Michigan SmartZone Network, which provides business assistance and incubation, to find startups in need of early capital. “We’ll also work with the SmartZones to get companies investment-ready if they’re missing some of the necessary elements,” Moret adds.

Moret moved to Michigan just 16 months ago, after a long career running Connecticut’s Pre-Seed Fund and the CTech and TechStart incubators. He feels Michigan is at “a tipping point” in terms of existing opportunities for startups.

“Entrepreneurs can reach money quicker in Michigan than a lot of other places,” he says. “I think Michigan is a leading state now in supporting early-stage tech startups. It’s an extremely robust system, with the state, philanthropic organizations, corporate, and private all participating. It’s far exceeding my earlier expectations.”

Moret describes a recent experience where he was looking at potential office space downtown, only to discover an incubator with three startups flying under the radar in the Ford Building. “That’s what’s happening now,” he says. “There are all these pop-ups where startups are coming in and people are looking for the next venture. We can see the amount of activity escalating at a nice, rapid rate.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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