25 August 2010

Start-Ups Pitch Plans to Panel at NextWave

The Detroit Free Press

Groups aim to set course for new state economy 
Henry Ford's entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in southeast Michigan.

On Tuesday, a group of Michiganders pitched their business plans to a panel of judges, hoping their start-up companies would be chosen for a spot at NextWave, a new for-profit business incubator in Troy that plans to invest in and help fledgling firms grow.

These would-be entrepreneurs have dreamed up everything from a vertical stacking garage door with storage racks to a new mobile communications app for doctors. All came to NextWave needing help with everything from marketing and mentoring to money.

It's unlikely that all eight start-ups will succeed, but together they signal that a new Michigan economy, one that's less dependent on making cars, is slowly gaining traction in the midst of the recession.

"Michigan is a very talented place," said Amjad Hussain, managing partner and founder of NextWave, which hopes to invest in at least 30 companies by launching a $25-million venture capital fund.

The eight start-ups, who were chosen from a pool of 20 applicants, will have to wait until next week to find out whether any or all of them will be selected for NextWave.

On Tuesday, these entrepreneurs took turns standing at the front of a small auditorium in NextWave's Troy office building. Each had 20 minutes to wow the judges with a business plan and answer questions in something that resembled American Idol minus the singing.

"At this stage in my life, I'm ready to follow my own passions," entrepreneur Thomas Talboys told the judges during his presentation. The pitch session even included two guest judges, Kathleen Ligocki, an auto industry executive, and Rich Sloan, co-founder of StartupNation.

Here's a brief rundown of some of the business plans being hatched:

• Store-n-Door: Talboys wants to reinvent the lowly garage door and give homeowners another place to store their stuff. His vertical stacking garage door is less expensive, quieter and 40% faster than what's found in most homes today. The doors also free up space for storage racks that can hang underneath garage ceilings.

• Build-A-Wear: Lisa McAree and her brother, Ken Ericson, want to make it easy for every young girl to be a fashion designer. They aim to sell pre-designed clothes patterns for tween girls that can be mixed and matched according to individual tastes. Think Build-A-Bear Workshop, except this involves clothes for real people. The duo plans to operate online first and then add retail stores.

• HosComm Systems: If Adil Akhtar, the chief of oncology at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, and Muhammad Ahmed, an Eastern Michigan University engineering professor, get their way, pagers will become a thing of the past at hospitals. They have created an app for smartphones that will give doctors, nurses and other health care professionals a better way to communicate, reducing medical errors and cutting costs. The system is to be tested in October at Beaumont.

• WealthExpress Trading Systems: Futures traders Tony Castiglione and Matt Dahn have devised an automated futures trading platform to help consumers and hedge funds boost their investment returns.

• IP Tech Works: Jason Pak and Jim English say today's patent searches can be done better, faster and cheaper. They hope to revolutionize the patent-search industry by deploying a new software program, low-cost patent researchers in India and Pakistan and a network of courier firms.

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