Michigan launches “world’s largest” startup competition

The proliferation of startup incubator or accelerator programs has made it tough for most to stand out among the crowd. So the way the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition chose to do it, is by offering what it claims is the “world’s largest” cash award – $500,000 – to the winning business pitch.

The only condition is that the winner has to set up shop in Michigan.

“Seventy years ago we were Silicon Valley,” said David Egner, executive director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, which provided $750,000 – in the form of a grant – of the more than $1 million in prize money for the competition. “That DNA is still here and we need to re-highlight the activities that are already happening and the things we need to do in Michigan to return it to its innovative roots.”

The contest is the collaborative efforts of four of the state’s biggest incubator programs: Ann Arbor Spark, Automation Alley, Macomb-OU INCubator and TechTown. The competition will be accepting proposals from startups around the globe through October 6 and will award the grand prize on December 12th. There is also a secondary competition just for students with concepts for longer-term business viability, which runs through October 22.

The competition defines “startups” as seed stage innovation-based companies that have not raised more than $1 million in funding, don’t exceed $1 million in annual revenue, address a market size of at least $500 million and who have the ability to get to $20 million in annual revenue in the next five years.

Egner hopes that by stipulating these stricter parameters the AMIC contest will ultimately produce a winner with more upside than traditional incubator programs that are solely tied to a university. To illustrate, Egner pointed to some Kauffman Foundation research that showed independent accelerator programs that have a broader scope “have greater success than those that are typically only connected to a business school.”

Michigan VC’s Top Ten list

Mina Sooch is one venture capitalist who knows how to captivate a crowd.

The chairman of the Michigan Venture Capital Association took a page out of David Letterman’s playbook by introducing her own Top Ten list at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, an annual event hosted by the University of Michigan in the small college town of Ypsilanti, about 20 miles west of Detroit.

Sooch, a managing partner for Michigan-based VC firm Triathlon Medical Ventures, talked about some of the challenges her state faces in getting deals done with entrepreneurs and boosting the amount of VC dollars invested locally. The latest report by the MVCA showed Michigan had fallen slightly from No. 16 to No. 19 overall in 2009 and that overall VC investment had dropped by nearly 50 percent, from $246 million in 2008 to just $131 million last year.

In an attempt to accentuate the positives, Sooch debuted her list of “Top Ten Reasons Michigan Will Succeed”: