U-M’s Michigan Business Challenge Awards Top Student Startups

The Michigan Business Challenge, the University of Michigan’s annual business competition for innovative, student-led startups, ended Friday after a four-month process. More than $129,000 in grants and prizes went to the winners, including Applebaum Dare to Dream and Mayleben Venture Shaping grants.

New this year was a social impact track, which organizers hoped would attract more startups working on projects to benefit the public good. “It’s given those kinds of teams a chance to shine,” says Sarika Gupta, managing director of U-M’s Zell Lurie Institute, adding that startups working to improve the lives of others can sometimes get lost in the shuffle at other business competitions.

This year’s big winner is Companion, a peer-to-peer app that allows family and friends to keep an eye on U-M students as they walk home late at night and allows public safety organizations to analyze the resulting data to determine the best place to station police officers. Companion took home the $20,000 award for best business, as well as awards for best undergraduate team ($2,500) and best marketing ($2,500).

The runner-up best business, which also snagged an award for having the best engineering team, was RainDance Recovery, which designs mobile water distillation rigs (RainMakers) that can filter the water that oil wells naturally produce. RainDance Recovery won a total of $15,000.

The winner of the $15,000 social impact track, which was co-sponsored by the Erb Institute and the Center for Social Impact, went to Blueprints for Pangaea, which hopes to establish a systematic method of collecting unused medical supplies from local hospitals for use in developing countries.

An Applebaum Dare to Dream grant of $5,000 went to South Asian Flavors, a food startup that offers savory, yogurt-based dips. Dare to Dream grants of $1,500 went to Autoscientist.com, a website thatautomates data scientist operations by using machine learning to understand what data scientists are looking for in every new dataset; BetterHope, an online store for “products made with dignity;” Incearch, a referral-based recruiting website; Pet Perch, pet beds that can be secured to their owner’s bed; and Range Massager, which offers users real-time deals based on their location.

Seventeen teams walked away with $500 Mayleben Venture Shaping grants, with ideas that ranged from a training suit for emergency situations to an app that allows those with food allergies to search and filter fast food restaurant menus, to a matchmaking site for urban Indian youth.

Many of the competition’s winners will go on to compete in regional and national business plan contests.

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

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