I'm Wes Huffstutter and I like all things startup, technology and venture capital.
With Ann Arbor’s Fetchnotes starting the TechStars Boston program I started to reflect on the development of our entrepreneurial ecosystem. I’m a college football fan and, if you are like me, watch recruiting in college. There is always a town with a great program that pumps out several college stars. Ann Arbor is getting closer to being that for startups. Sure the Bay area is like the California, Texas, or Florida of football recruiting. Lots of people playing football almost year-round so you can play the odds that there will be a 6-6 receiver that runs a 4.4 forty with hands of Gorilla Glue. Imagine if you saw a small town, lets say 110,000 people, pump out D-1 prospect after D-1 prospect. 5-star recruits …not to mention a bunch of 3 and 4 star recruits (which many times turn out to be all-pro after college.) As a scout, you’d keep your eye on that place. Startup scouts, keep your eye on Ann Arbor.
Measuring stars in football is hard enough and it’s just as difficult in startups. In football you look at skills and measurables but credibility often goes to the ones who have received “big-time” offers (the pinnacle, of course, is the University of Michigan.) The startup world is similar. You look at the company’s skills and measurables and their offers; accelerator programs and (more importantly) venture investors.
We have had some good activity here in A2. Fetchnotes started TechStars Boston this week. But like college football, they don’t always play for the home team. Occipital went to TS Boulder but stayed there. Olark went to YC and partially stayed, they have a presence here at the Tech Brewery. Other A2 YC companies are Chirply and Farmlogs and then there is Ambassador (OK, actually Birmingham, MI) and TempoDB to round out TechStars for team A2. I’m hoping that Fetchnotes will come back after their stay.
The home team:
But it is Ann Arbor community that is so Awesome. Dug and JonO are killing it at Duo. There are many entrepreneurial programs and quality mentors. Check out the great companies in “the brewery”. The entrepreneurial culture seems to gets better every day. It reminds me of something that Jason Mendelson of Foundry Group said, he pointed out that in great entrepreneurial communities like Ann Arbor, the members want all the local startups to succeed. (The valley is moving towards an “It isn’t enough that I succeed, you have to fail” mentality.) In communities like Ann Arbor and Boulder, the mentality is that a rising tide lifts all ships. I have always referred to it as “entrepreneurial karma.” I help 15 entrepreneurs and a different 5 entrepreneurs will help me.
Ann Arbor has entrepreneurial karma.
Smart people live here and it is a good place to be and start a company. We have great companies forming and they are attracting investment from outside funds such as Google Ventures, True Ventures, DFJ Mercury, Khosla Ventures, and more. Lean startup guru Steve Blank is investing in the area (eLab.) Funded companies that have a significant A2 presence have investors such as Lightspeed, Rho, Sequioa, etc. (The names are just as impressive on the life science side: Frazier, 5am, Arch, InterWest, Clarus, Venrock, etc.) The local VC environment is picking up. Newer funds Detroit Venture Partners and Resonant Ventures are very active in engaging the community and working with entrepreneurs. Established funds like RPM Ventures and even North Coast are actively investing in software startups.
The eyes are starting to look here and much of this has to do with the University of Michigan. For starters, Tech Transfer does a good job commercializing the $1.24 Billion of research in its labs. The students are highly sought after. Places like the TechArb, Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Zell-Lurie Institute have a large population of students talking about starting companies on campus. The Law School’s new Entrepreneurship Clinic is taking off like a rocket. Dana and Bryce and their student teams offer great advice. In the short time (less than a year) the clinic has been around they have worked on (real) financing documents, IP, contracts, corporate structures, and more. I have worked with Byrce Pilz for many years and he is an exceptional attorney. What a tremendous asset for students.
With a well attended New Tech Meetup, a great resource/co-working space in the Tech Brewery and even our local economic development agency, Ann Arbor SPARK, geting it…Ann Arbor is a great place to be a “Startup Guy.”
And if the next big thing comes from Ann Arbor, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.