Venture Capital Gathering Showcases Michigan's 'Secret Weapon': Collaboration

A 450-person gathering in Detroit’s Eastern Market this week made it clear Michigan sits at the intersection of development in the mobility space, Midwestern affordability and investor interest.

Venture capitalists from as far away as Tokyo were in attendance at the Michigan Venture Capital Association awards dinner, which recognized moves made in 2018 like Cisco Systems, Inc. CSCO’s $2.35-billion acquisition of Duo Security.

The dinner is typically held in November, but was moved up to October to coincide with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Start MI Up: Michigan Venture Forward, a multiday venture capitalist, angel investor and startup networking event that began with a trip by Gov. Rick Snyder to Silicon Valley.

“It’s an amazing example of Michigan’s secret weapon, which is our ability to collaborate,” MVCA Executive Director Maureen Miller Brosnan told Benzinga.

Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, an Ann Arbor-based fund-of-funds, hosted its UnDemo Day on Wednesday with a “hot list” of 50 startups at the University of Michigan, she said.

In 2017, 68 Michigan startups received $179 million in venture capital funding, according to the MVCA.

Governor: 'Mobility Is One Of Our Greatest Future Opportunities'

Snyder, who is in the final months of his second term as Michigan’s governor, said Start MI Up began when he met with entrepreneurs in California with Michigan ties.

“How do we welcome someone back now?” he said, adding that a need existed for an event to bring entrepreneurs and investors in the startup phase to the state much in the same way Crain’s Detroit Business’ Detroit Homecoming event attracts more established entities.

The visiting venture capitalists toured Michigan startup hot spots this week, including The American Center for Mobility autonomous vehicle testing facility in Ypsilanti.

“Mobility is one of our greatest future opportunities we need to emphasize,” Snyder said.

The Award Winners 

Jody Vanderwel, the retired president of the venture capital firm Grand Angels, received the MVCA’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award, which is selected by the organization’s board of directors.

The following three award winners were selected by a vote of MVCA members: 

  • The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition received the Community Impact Award. The runners-up were Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and TechTown Detroit.
  • Strata Oncology received the Up-and-Coming Company of the Year Award, besting Blue Medora, Clinc and May Mobility.
  • Duo Security bagged the Exit of the Year Award and was in the running against nuTonomy and SPLT.

“Being first means having a responsibility to lead,” Duo CEO Dug Song said, referencing the cybersecurity firm’s status as Michigan’s first unicorn, or $1-billion startup. “In this region, we have such tremendous talent that has yet to be activated,” he said, naming development, affordability and public transit as Michigan’s greatest needs. 

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Duo Security CEO Dug Song accepts the Michigan Venture Capital Association's Exit of the Year Award from Renaissance Venture Capital Fund CEO Chris Rizik on Tuesday, Oct. 2 in Detroit. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

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