Providing startup grants to startup companies

By Ellie Ashford

A Michigan college’s Innovation Fund is helping new companies grow.

Macomb Community College (MCC) in Michigan supports entrepreneurial innovation in a big way.

MCC’s Strategic Fund partners with JPMorgan Chase & Co., to support early-stage companies with high-growth potential. Since July 2015, the Macomb Innovation Fund has awarded $1.6 million to 29 companies.

Last month, the fund awarded $100,000 to Munetrix, a data science and advisory firm that provides analytics, planning, transparency and compliance tools for state and local governments and school districts. The cloud-based platform is designed to help public institutions better understand and communicate their financials with stakeholders and use predictive analysis in planning.

Skypersonic, a company that develops drones for commercial, agricultural and civil uses, received a $25,000 award. The drones can fly, roll and travel on the ground using technology based on the original concept of autonomous vehicles.

The $25,000 grant is aimed at supporting early-stage businesses taking the initial steps in market introduction. The larger funding award is designed to advance the progress of emerging companies toward larger-scale funding. Companies receiving this award must provide matching funds from another source and must commit to repaying the Innovation Fund.

Education opportunities

“Encouraging, stimulating and supporting innovation is an important facet of creating and sustaining economic vibrancy,” says MCC President James Jacobs. “The Macomb Innovation Fund is not only helping to fill a gap in support of startups, but is also directly connecting Macomb Community College students with distinctive learning experiences to foster their capacity to innovate.”

This program is aligned with MCC’s mission to spur economic development, while also providing meaningful educational opportunities for students, says MCC spokesperson Jeanne Nicol.

Selected companies are required to support students through such activities as mentorships, internships or giving presentations in product development classes. Companies that receive the $100,000 award have to provide at least one paid internship for at least 16 weeks.

Whether students are interested in starting their own business or not, exposure to promising startups helps students learn to be flexible, develop new perspectives, fit into different types of workplaces and learn to think in an entrepreneurial way, Nicol says. And they also get an idea about what it takes for a business to succeed.

Representatives from the award-winning companies also mentor finalists in the MCC Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Student Pitch Contest. The top three students in the 2017 competition received a total of $6,000 to invest in their business concept.

The first-place winner, Jennifer Georgievski, a business management student at MCC, received $3,000 to support her new company, Round the US, which manufactures mementos out of spent military cartridges. The cartridges are flattened and engraved with personal messages to honor veterans and active military personnel.

Selecting winners

MCC and JPMorgan Chase have each contributed $1 million to the Strategic Fund. JPMorgan Chase’s contribution is part of its $150 million commitment to Detroit’s economic recovery.

To be eligible for the award, companies must be located within one of the nine counties in metropolitan Detroit served by MCC.

The 2017 winning companies were selected from a field of 17 qualified applicants. Each company went through a two-stage process, pitching first to a screening committee comprising professionals with expertise in the marketplace. The highest-rated companies moved on to a selection committee consisting of professionals with experience in business management, finance, law, manufacturing and technology. Final awards are approved by the MCC Foundation.

Since the program is only two years old, it’s too early to determine its success rate, Nicol says, although the companies funded to date have attracted $5 million in investments.

One awardee that’s been particularly successful is Banza, a company that makes healthier pasta from chickpeas, which received $100,000 from the Innovation Fund in 2015.

Another is SPLT, which received $100,000 from the fund last year. SPLT is an enterprising carpooling platform that partners with corporations, universities and municipalities.

Adopting a good idea

According to Nicol, the idea for the program came from Lorain Community College (LCC) in Ohio. The LCCC Foundation launched an Innovation Fund in partnership with Innovation Fund Northeast Ohio to assist local entrepreneurs. It provides grants of $25,000 and $100,000 to help technology companies get off the ground and scale up.

Read the full story at CC Daily. And talk about it at LinkedIn.

Ellie Ashford

Ellie is associate editor of AACC’s Community College Daily.