Return on Influence is the New ROI

Insights from MGCS Keynote Speaker Adam Lilling, Founder and Managing Director of Plus Capital

Adam Lilling, MGCS 2016 Michigan Ross Zell Lurie InstituteAs an investor for the stars, Lilling provides the advice, access, architecture, execution and investment to enable high-profile influencers to make the biggest return on their name and fame. At the same time, he helps them use the power of business to effect change far beyond the sphere of stage, screen and sports. “We advise celebrities and their teams on everything from how to write a check into a venture capital investment all the way to how to become the co-founder of their own company,” said Lilling, BBA ’92, who earned his own credits over two decades as an Internet entrepreneur and startup innovator. “We think about their influence as venture capital.” And, he adds, their ROI as return on influence. The value of that venture capital is determined by reach (how far a celebrity’s voice or image goes), resonance (what authority and trust they bring to a topic) and relevance (how regularly they engage in a particular pursuit).

Hollywood stars and sports figures always have had considerable influence on the public and the ability to help companies sell products and attract attention through paid endorsements and promotions. What’s different today, according to Lilling, is that the advent of social media has allowed celebrities to open direct channels of communication with audiences and to scale the number of followers astronomically. Ellen DeGeneres, one of Lilling’s first clients, is a case in point. “Now Ellen reaches more people online than she does on her television show,” he says.

Influence and audience, however, are not enough. “You can lose those in a minute,” Lilling says. “Authenticity is key.” Celebrities who provide that authenticity want more in exchange these days. Basketball star Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers was given a half point of equity just to wear a set of brand-name headphones and later made $30 million on the sale of the company, according to Lilling. “Authenticity equals equity, not cash,” he explains. “We’re in this moment in time where we have people who are so authentic and rich that they’d rather take a chance on a company to make another billion dollars versus $100 million dollars. We spend time determining the balance between equity value and endorsement value.”

In addition to using their names and social-media networks as venture capital, some of Lilling’s clients, such as actor Kevin Spacey, act as silent early stage investors in companies that are working to bring about positive change. Increasingly, stars and starlets are launching their own product brands rather than endorsing those of other companies. Actress Reese Witherspoon recently launched Draper James, a line of designer women’s clothing, and raised $10 million in venture capital. Degeneres also took the plunge into retail business and launched ED, a lifestyle brand of women’s apparel, accessories and home décor that personally connects her with consumers around the world. “She’s the brand behind the brand,” Lilling says. “The amount of revenue she can drive with licensing deals makes your head spin.”

But deal making is not necessarily the pathway to success, Lilling insists. “Most deals fail because they were just deals,” he says. “When the deal is authentic, then it’s worth it.”

To learn more about MGCS visit Follow conversations surrounding the symposium through #MGCS2016 on Twitter.


High-Profile VCs Adam Lilling and James Flynn Share Top Billing at 2016 MGCS

Two high-profile venture capital investors, Adam Lilling and Jim Flynn, will share top billing as the featured keynote speakers at this year’s Michigan Growth Capital Symposium on May 17 and 18. Coming from markedly different personal and professional backgrounds, the two top-performing VCs will provide insights into their carefully honed investment styles and strategies, and offer tips on the industry sectors, syndication partners and exit options and timing that deliver the best long-term results.

MGCSvcspeaksmall“Adam and Jim are Ross School graduates who represent success in venture capital investment fields that are central to our Michigan opportunity set: Internet services and health care,” says Professor David Brophy, MGCS founder and director of the U-M Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance.

On Tuesday at noon, Lilling, the founder of PLUS and the managing partner of the venture fund Plus Capital, will tell how he manages venture-capital investing, equity-driven partnerships and start-up operations for Hollywood’s rich and famous. More than a dozen top celebrities have engaged Lilling to put their time, money, brand and social network into play at high-potential private companies throughout the business growth cycle. A 1992 Michigan Ross graduate, Lilling sharpened his investment instincts and skills by spending two decades in the trenches as an Internet entrepreneur and startup innovator. He co-founded LaunchpadLA in 2009 to build Los Angeles’ “silicon beach” tech community and previously launched three startups, one with backing from Richard Branson and Virgin Entertainment Group.

On Wednesday morning, Flynn will recount his progression at Deerfield Management from 2000 when he joined the firm to the present. Starting with a focus on pharmaceutical companies, Flynn began co-managing Deerfield with founder Arnold Snider in 2004. After Snider’s retirement, Flynn assumed full oversight of investment activities and management of the company, which has offices in New York City, Shanghai and Switzerland. Since then, he has expanded Deerfield’s investment scope, developed the Deerfield Institute’s market research capabilities and created the Deerfield Foundation to benefit disadvantaged children. Flynn’s prior investment analytics experience at Alpharma Inc. and Kidder, Peabody & Co., and his business development activities at Furman Selz laid the foundation for his leadership role at Deerfield.

Making its debut this year at the symposium is the Michigan Venture Partnership, a high-powered networking initiative designed to promote greater connectivity and synergy among U-M alumni who invest across a variety of sectors. The partnership will kick off with a morning reception on Tuesday and feature comments about commercializing university research and inventions by experts from U-M Tech Transfer and Osage University Partners. “The symposium provides a natural gathering opportunity for the hundreds of U-M alumni who are investing in venture capital in all parts of the world and who are interested in the upside potential of our transformational research,” Brophy remarks.

Panel discussions, led by seasoned investors and entrepreneurs, will drill down on critical issues related to health-care innovation, medical software and other disruptive technologies. “Health care is a major global investment area,” Brophy remarks. “Here in the Michigan and the Midwest, we have the hospital systems, research universities, talent pool and venture funds that can give us an edge over other parts of the country. We need to work at what we’re good at.”

Many of the Great Lakes region’s most promising entrepreneurial companies will showcase their products and services during formal presentations to angel and venture capital investors at the symposium. Technology-transfer specialists from seven leading Midwestern research universities also will give previews of exciting ventures emerging from their institutions during the third annual University Research Pitch Track.

“The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, the original venture fair, now in its 35th year and emulated globally, continues to fuse finance, entrepreneurship and economic growth for the betterment of all,” Brophy concludes.

To learn more about MGCS or to register, visit Follow conversations surrounding the symposium through #MGCS2016 on Twitter.

University of Michigan and KPMG Unveil 2016 QuantumShift Graduates

First annual entrepreneur recognition and leadership program seeks to help highly successful entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and KPMG LLP, the U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm, today announced graduates of QuantumShift, a week-long entrepreneurial development program recognizing successful entrepreneurs and executives of U.S. high-growth private companies.

“No matter how much business experience an individual has – and those selected for this year’s program are among the most knowledgeable in the country – the need and importance of reinvigorating the entrepreneurial spirit is never-ending,” said Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “The business leaders who participated in this year’s program were able to learn from each other by sharing their own unique experiences and walked away with a refreshed ability to take their already successful organizations to the next level.”

QuantumShift is a collaborative project between KPMG LLP and the Ross School of Business. Unlike other recognition-only entrepreneurial development programs, QuantumShift is rooted in sustained learning, networking and collaboration. The program provides an opportunity for participants to learn from a wealth of talented professionals – including distinguished Ross School of Business faculty members – and offers graduates access to the Fellows Network, an exclusive peer-to-peer network focused on ongoing problem solving, development and mentorship.

Zell Lurie University of Michigan Ross QuantumShiftThe diverse class of participants represents some of the top entrepreneurs and executives in the country. As a group, the participants’ organizations average $62 million in revenue and have a combined total revenue of $2.4 billion. Together, they have a three-year growth rate of 149 percent, and more than half of the executives were named to the 2015 Inc. 5000 list.

“We were blown away by the expertise and knowledge the inaugural QuantumShift class brought to this year’s program,” said Brian Hughes, national leader of KPMG LLP’s Private Markets Group. “We’ll continue to follow these gifted business leaders throughout their careers, and are looking forward to watching each of their enterprises reach new levels of success.”

The following participated in this year’s QuantumShift program, held May 1-6, 2016 at the University of Michigan:

  • Manoj Agarwal, CEO, US Tech Solutions
  • Jason Albanese, CEO, Centric Digital
  • Bruce Ballengee, CEO, Pariveda Solutions, Inc.
  • John P. Borneman, Ph.D., CEO and chairman, Standard Homeopathic Company and Hyland’s, Inc.
  • Lauren Boyer, CEO, Underscore Marketing
  • Vance Brown, CEO and co-founder, Cherwell Software
  • Ricky Caplin, CEO, The HCi Group
  • Jaswinder S. Chadha, CEO, Axtria, Inc.
  • Oni Chukwu, CEO and president, etouches, Inc
  • Ryan J.Q. Clark, CEO, PeopleShare, Inc
  • Megan Driscoll, CEO and founder, PharmaLogics Recruiting
  • R. Gregory Eisner, president, Engineers Gate
  • Sloan D. Gaon, CEO, PulsePoint
  • Nick Gesue, CEO, Lancaster Pollard
  • Dinesh Gulati, CEO and managing director, IIT, Inc.
  • Avi Gupta, CEO and founder, SmartZip Analytics
  • Vinita A. Gupta, co-CEO and founder, Apex Resources, Inc.
  • Oisin Hanrahan, CEO and co-founder, Handy
  • Mike Harris, CEO, Zonoff
  • Joe Hessling, CEO, 365 Retail Markets
  • Sylvester Hester, CEO and president, Global Automotive Alliance
  • Craig Hubbell, CEO, PlayNetwork
  • Jay Kulkarni, CEO, Theorem Inc.
  • Carl Joyner, CEO, TRIOSE, Inc.
  • Michael Kaiser, CEO, People’s Care
  • E. Davon Kelly, CEO and president, NOVAD Management Consulting LLC
  • James Kilkelly, CEO, Apto Solutions, Inc.
  • Wan Kim, CEO and Brand Owner, Smoothie King Franchises
  • Tony Knopp, CEO, TicketManager, Inc.
  • Amy V. Kothari, CEO, My Alarm Center
  • Paulo Lima, co-founder and president, IT Cosmetics
  • Peggy McHale, principal, Consultants 2 Go
  • Abdul K Naushad, CEO, PayCommerce Inc.
  • Jeff Nelson, CEO and president, Healogics, Inc.
  • Chris Onan, co-founder and CFO, Galvanize
  • Eric Schweiger, M.D, CEO and founder, Schweiger Dermatology Group
  • Gary Solomon, Jr., president, Solomon Group
  • Timothy W. Wallace, CEO, iPipeline, Inc.
  • Wade Wyant, CEO and president, ITS Partners

Zell Lurie University of Michigan Ross QuantumShift

This year’s QuantumShift participants were vetted through a nomination and application process beginning in September 2015. To qualify, candidates must be the founder, owner and/or CEO of a private, U.S. company and have a meaningful personal stake in their companies’ success. Their companies must be private, have an established revenue base, show a strong record of revenue growth and have a clear objective of continued growth. A final list of qualified nominees was reviewed by the Michigan Ross QuantumShift Admissions Committee, with the top 40 candidates selected for admission to the program.

Following completion of QuantumShift, graduates become members of the QuantumShift Fellows Network, a business support association providing them with opportunities to convene with fellow peers at scheduled in-person regional events and an annual National Fellows Conference.

To learn more about the 2016 QuantumShift graduates, visit and follow #QuantumShiftUS on Twitter.

James Flynn, Deerfield Capital Management and Adam Lilling, Plus Capital to Headline Midwest’s Leading Venture Capital Event

35th Annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium Hosts Speakers from Leading Investment Firms Across the U.S.

Today, organizers of the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS) unveiled its expert speaker line up for the 35th annual event, which serves as a conduit for introducing early stage and emerging growth companies seeking funding to U.S. investors prospecting deals. The 2016 program will feature keynote addresses from James Flynn, managing director of Deerfield Capital Management and Adam Lilling, founding and managing partner of Plus Capital. MGCS will also feature informative panels on topics ranging from the impact of healthcare reform, medical software startup challenges and a new Tech Transfer “Alley” that will provide a larger platform for Midwest universities to spotlight Tech Transfer offices and their emerging company spin-outs.

Michigan Growth Capital Symposium Zell Lurie Institute University of MichiganHosted by the Ross School of Business’ Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies with support from the Michigan Venture Capital Association, this year’s Symposium will be held May 17-18, 2016 at the Marriott Resort in Ypsilanti, Mich. More than 450 entrepreneurs, researchers, investment professionals and business executives are expected to attend for networking, company presentations and panel discussions. The conference has a track record of attracting high-quality investors from around the country each year.

Influential Industry Speakers

The program will kick off with a keynote address from Adam Lilling who currently serves as founding and managing partner of LA-based Plus Capital, a firm that manages early-stage venture capital investing, equity-driven partnerships and start-up operations for top celebrities from Hollywood, music and sporting. Kicking off with the keynote on day two will be from James Flynn, managing partner of Deerfield Capital Management, a New York-based multi-billion dollar venture capital firm with a focus on healthcare investment. Flynn oversees the firm’s investment activities as well as the day-to-day management of the organization.

The program will also feature high-caliber speakers representing entrepreneurs, researchers, investment professionals and business executives who will lead informative discussions on pivotal industry issues. Confirmed speakers include:

  • V. Kadir Kadhiresan, PhD, Vice President, Venture Investments, Johnson & Johnson – JJDC, Inc.
  • Robert Crutchfield, General Partner, Harbert Venture Partners
  • Michael Liang, PhD, Partner, Baird Capital
  • Jeffery J. Stolte, Partner, Providence Ventures
  • Tom Shehab, MD, Principal, Arboretum Ventures
  • Julia Owens, Ph.D. President & CEO, Millendo
  • Bob Smith, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Research & Development, Pfizer
  • Jim Evans, CEO, Socrates Analytics
  • Martin Felsenthal, Partner, Health Velocity Capital
  • Jonathan Murray, Managing Director, Draper Triangle Ventures
  • Kurt Skifstad, PhD, CEO, ArborMetrix
  • David Neustaedter, Worldwide Research & Development, Pfizer
  • Mark Woodka, CEO, OnShift
  • Matt Bell, Principal, Cultivian Sandbox Venture Partners
  • Matt Bower, Partner, Varnum
  • Jim Adox, Managing Director, Venture Investors
  • Kirsten Leute, Senior Vice President of University Relations, Osage University Partners
  • Rik Vandevenne, Director, River Cities Capital Fund
  • Karen Spilzewski, RiverVest Venture Partners
  • David Wentzloff, Co-CEO & Co-founder, PsiKick; Professor, EECS, University of Michigan
  • Manny Stockman, Associate, Osage University Partners

University of Michigan Selected to Host 2017 Coulter Investment Forum

In related news, organizers of MGCS also announced that as part of the 36th annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, May 16 and 17, 2017, the University of Michigan will hold MGCS in conjunction with the Coulter Investment Forum.

Each year, the Coulter Investment Forum, sponsored by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, showcases 30 emerging life sciences companies that have originated in Coulter Translational Research Partnerships at one of 16 universities. This one-day event is an exciting opportunity to preview 25 to 30 life science companies seeking seed to early-stage investment. Company participation is restricted to those with innovations that have been vetted through the Translational Research Partnership Program at one of the 16 university partners using the Coulter Commercialization Process. This documented process uses business like processes to accelerate academic innovations to the market to improve patient care. Solutions range from device to imaging, diagnostics to therapeutics.

Selecting the University of Michigan and MGCS as the host venue for 2017 underscores the dynamic and growing venture capital and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Midwest. In fact, start up and venture capital activity in the Midwest–which boasts talent from prestigious research universities like the University of Michigan and an affordable cost of living–has outpaced the rest of the country in terms of growth. According to a recent report conducted by the Michigan Venture Capital Association, over the last five years, total capital under management has grown 47 percent in Michigan, but fallen 17 percent nationwide and the amount invested in Michigan has grown 295 percent, compared to 97 percent nationwide.

“For the past 35 years, the caliber and content at MGCS has evolved from a few people discussing entrepreneurial venture capital trends to a nationwide event that attracts some of the most prestigious investors and budding entrepreneurs in the country,” said David Brophy, professor of finance and founding director of MGCS. “We are honored – but not surprised – that the Coulter Investment Forum, a conference that celebrates university startup companies from across the world, has chosen Michigan to host its 2017 event, and we are looking forward to collaborating with them as we prepare for next year.”

The 36 companies selected to present at this year’s 2016 Michigan Growth Capital Symposium will soon be announced. To learn more or to register, visit and follow conversations through #MGCS2016 on Twitter.

About the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS)

MGCS is the original university-based venture fair, which was first held in 1979. This nationally attended two-day event provides an opportunity for investors to connect with up-and-coming Midwest businesses and learn about emerging technologies. The Symposium offers the opportunity to build relationships with an unparalleled business network of distinguished private equity industry leaders, leading university research faculty and entrepreneurial business professionals. MGCS is presented by the Center for Venture Capital & Private Equity Finance and the Zell Lurie Institute at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business with support from the Michigan Venture Capital Association and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

About the Stephen M. Ross School of Business
The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan is a vibrant and distinctive learning community grounded in the principle that business can be an extraordinary vehicle for positive change in today’s dynamic global economy. The Ross School of Business mission is to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. Through thought and action, members of the Ross community drive change and innovation that improves business and society.

Ross is consistently ranked among the world’s leading business schools. Academic degree programs include the BBA, MBA, Part-time MBA (Evening and Weekend formats), Executive MBA, Global MBA, Master of Accounting, Master of Supply Chain Management, Master of Management, and PhD. In addition, the school delivers open-enrollment and custom executive education programs targeting general management, leadership development, and strategic human resource management.

MGCS Industry Insights – Jaffe Redoubles its Efforts to Engage and Advise Entrepreneurial Michigan Companies

Michigan Growth Capital Symposium Zell Lurie Institute Ross School University of MichiganThe proliferation of entrepreneurial companies in Michigan has prompted Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C. to expand the legal resources and reach of its Emerging and Growth Business Practice Group in recent years.

“We’ve had a long history of representing early-stage companies and working with them throughout their business life cycles, from raising seed money through their ultimate exits as a sale or an IPO,” says Jeffrey Weiss, a partner in the law firm’s Southfield office. “Now we are making a concerted effort to get in front of more inventors and technologists who are starting these companies, as well as investors, and to become more visible in their communities, so we can get in the door at an earlier stage.” As an entrepreneurial-minded law firm, Jaffe has demonstrated greater flexibility on hourly fees and a willingness to work out creative solutions that accommodate the legal needs and financial constraints of early-stage start-ups, he adds.

Last year, Jaffe represented a long-term client, Delphinus Medical Technologies, Inc., headquartered in Plymouth, Mich., in a $39.5 million Series C round of financing, which closed in August. It was the single largest amount of venture capital ever raised for a health-care imaging company in the Midwest and for a medical-device company in Michigan, according to Weiss, who received his BBA and his law degree from the University of Michigan. In other high-profile matters, the firm also represented each of HandyLab and Accuri Cytometers in recent acquisitions by Becton, Dickinson and Company and assisted ePrize when it was sold to Catterton Partners, a consumer-focused private-equity company, in 2012.

Weiss customarily encourages entrepreneurs to bring in experienced legal counsel as soon as they have developed a business concept. There are several key reasons for this engagement early in the business life cycle:

  • Intellectual-property protection – “As an entrepreneur, you want to protect your idea and know-how immediately,” Weiss says. “The passage of time only hurts you.”
  • Business structure – “Structuring the company properly from a tax standpoint is critical at the outset, and clearly documenting all aspects of the operation of the business, from ownership to employment and other matters, only helps avoid problems down the road,” Weiss explains. “If there’s ‘too much hair on the deal,’ it will pose difficulties later on.”
  • Venture financing – “Entrepreneurs want to be sure they are presenting a nice neat package to a potential financing source,” Weiss remarks. “We help companies best position themselves for financing and resolve any legacy issues. Financings can be difficult at any stage, and we want to minimize such difficulties, so that a lender or investor can understand the opportunity as quickly and easily as possible.”

Jaffe is a regular sponsor of the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, where many of its clients are among the start-up companies making pitches to investors. “It’s a good networking opportunity for us,” Weiss says. “We find it helpful to know all the players in the area, both on the company side and the investor side. This helps us generate deal flow.”

Register to attend MGCS 2016 by visiting Follow conversations about the Symposium through the hashtag #MGCS2016 on Twitter.

About the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS)
MGCS is the original university-based venture fair, which was first held in 1979. This nationally attended two-day event provides an opportunity for investors to connect with up-and-coming Midwest businesses and learn about emerging technologies. The Symposium offers the opportunity to build relationships with an unparalleled business network of distinguished private equity industry leaders, leading university research faculty, and entrepreneurial business professionals. MGCS is presented by the Center for Venture Capital & Private Equity Finance at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business with support from the Michigan Venture Capital Association.

University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund Invests in Conversa Health

The Social Venture Fund, in collaboration with the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, today announced that it has participated in the Series Seed B convertible note round for Conversa Health, a rapidly growing San Rafael Calif.-based patient engagement company. The Social Venture Fund was part of a syndicate of early-stage health care investors.

The Social Venture Fund, the nation’s first student-led impact investing fund, invests in and supports innovative, for-profit companies that place social and environmental impact at the heart of their business models. The Fund is managed by a team of approximately 40 MBA and BBA students – many of whom are pursuing dual-degrees with education, environment, health, law and public policy – along with faculty advisor Uday Rajan, the chair of the finance department at the Ross School of Business. The Fund, which has seven active investments, focuses in four key industry verticals: health care, education, food systems and environment and urban revitalization. In addition to the dollar investments it makes, the Social Venture Fund conducts consulting projects for its portfolio companies, from market sizings and pricing analyses to financial models and pitch materials to support companies’ future business development and fundraising needs.

“Investing in companies with a purpose is an increasingly important mandate both for our students and for the investing world as a whole,” said Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute. “The Social Venture Fund has done a great job choosing a company that has good prospects for a strong exit as well as the potential to change the way our health care system interfaces with patients for the better.”

Conversa Health, the Fund’s first direct investment in the health care space, aims to improve patient engagement, adherence and health outcomes through a software as a service (SaaS) platform that provides hospital systems with an automated way to bridge the gap in communication that occurs between visits. Conversa’s main product, “Digital Checkups,” uses data-driven algorithms to generate personalized clinical questions, patient education, reminders and alerts triggered by a rich profile of each patient, including data from Electronic Health Records (EHR), biometric monitoring devices (i.e., wearables, glucometers) and Patient Generated Health Data (PGHD) derived from Digital Checkup responses. This information is analyzed and fed back into the EHR and other care management systems to alert the care team about patients that are in need of guidance, support and intervention.

Priori Social Venture Fund Michigan Ross Zell Lurie InstituteA team of seven students, led by Christine Priori, MBA/MPH ’17, sourced the deal and conducted in-depth due diligence on the company. The Fund’s rigorous deal sourcing process began with screening nearly 160 companies that submitted applications and narrowing the pool to five companies that would undergo the three-month due diligence process. For Conversa, this process included analyzing the company’s management team, its product’s effectiveness and market potential, its financials and revenue model and its potential to create positive social impact. The team interviewed numerous industry experts, including leaders in the patient engagement space, the Fund’s health care advisors and key thought leaders and purchasers at large hospital systems.

“I was continuously impressed by the intelligence and dedication of my fellow fund members as they diligently researched and clearly articulated the possibility of investing in this company and industry,” said Priori. “Leading this due diligence team has accelerated the refinement of both my analytical and leadership skills, while cementing my interest in social impact and corporate responsibility.”

The team determined Conversa would be a strong investment for the Fund due to the company’s potential to enhance the way health care is provided. “We believe in the product’s ability to improve patient adherence, serve as a conduit to foster communication between patients and their doctors and ultimately improve patients’ health outcomes,” said Logan Pitts, BBA ’16, a member of the due diligence team. “We also have great confidence in the caliber and experience of the entire management team and the company’s traction with thought-leading providers and health IT distributors. Finally, the management team’s deep-seated interest in developing a continued, working relationship with the Social Venture Fund is a very important factor in arriving to our decision.”

“We were impressed with the thoughtful and rigorous due diligence process the Social Venture Fund went through,” said West Shell, co-founder and CEO, Conversa Health. “We were delighted to have them on our team to help work on business building and research projects that will drive Conversa’s innovation and social value impact.”

About the Social Venture Fund

The Social Venture Fund is a leader in university-based impact investing, with several active investments. The Fund’s previous investments include Powerhouse Dynamics, LearnZillion, Mytonomy, Loveland Technologies, and Jack and Jake’s. To learn more, visit

University of Michigan Student Startups Excel at World’s Largest Business Plan Competition

More than $400,000 in Prize Money Awarded to Promising Young Companies in IT & Biotech Sectors

Ann Arbor, Mich. – April 18, 2016 – The Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business today announced that two University of Michigan student-run startups have been awarded substantial prizes at this year’s Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC), the world’s largest and richest graduate-level business plan competition. Neurable and PreDxion Bio, the two winning teams, both started their successful business plan competition seasons at the Zell Lurie Institute’s Michigan Business Challenge, and together took home $430,000 in total cash prizes and investment dollars at RBPC, which took place April 14-16, 2016.

University Michigan Ross Rice Business Plan Competition Win Zell Lurie InstituteBeating out more than 400 original business plan submissions and 40 competing teams, Neurable took second place in the competition, earning the $50,000 Second Place Prize, as well as the OWL Investment Prize of up to $280,000. Co-founded by Ramses Alcaide (PhD Neuroscience ’16) and Michael Thompson (MBA ’17), Neurable has created the first non-invasive brain-computer interface (BCI) that allows for real-time control of software and physical objects. Neurable’s fully functional prototype incorporates proprietary, patent-protected technology developed at the University of Michigan’s Direct Brain Interface Lab. Neurable’s technology has already allowed people to control wheelchairs, robots and even a full-sized car in real time with no training and at a significantly lower cost than existing BCI technologies.

University of Michigan Ross PreDxion Bio Zell Lurie Institute Rice Business Plan CompetitionPreDxion Bio took home the $100,000 TiE Boston Angel Investment Prize. Co-founded by Walker McHugh (MSE Biomedical/Medical Engineering ’17) and Caroline Landau (MBA ’16) PreDxion Bio™ is a precision medicine diagnostics company with a beachhead product called MicroKine™, a patent-pending near-bedside diagnostic device that measures proteins in the blood of critically ill patients. MicroKine delivers this information in less than 30 minutes–ten times faster than that of any existing technology on the market–from a single drop of blood, providing physicians with the information to precisely tailor treatments to a specific patient’s immune response.

“The Rice competition is one of the largest and toughest competitions in the nation. Having two Michigan teams rise to the top of this very competitive field validates the notable talent and innovative technology coming out of our university,” said Stewart Thornhill, executive director, Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. “The funding they’ve received from this competition, in addition to the feedback they’ve gathered and the network connections they’ve made, will significantly help both teams advance their ventures.”

University of Michigan Ross Neurable Zell Lurie Institute Rice Business Plan CompetitionIn the spirit of the Institute’s action-based approach to learning, intercollegiate competitions provide further opportunities for students to refine their plans, expand their networks, receive funding and learn about other aspects of their startup. Student teams from across the university receive in-depth training and support from the faculty and staff at the Zell Lurie Institute, including business development, refinement and presentation sessions. This guidance ensures students from multiple disciplines have the solid business foundation necessary to commercialize a great idea.

“The recognition and funding from a competition the scale of Rice is an amazing achievement for our team and for the growth of Neurable,” said Alcaide. “Everyone at the Zell Lurie Institute and the Office of Technology Transfer has provided invaluable support and expertise since day one, coaching and guiding us to a place where the judges and potential investors could fully recognize the promise of our technology. The additional mentorship and support from TechArb and the Center for Entrepreneurship set us up for success.”

“The entire PreDxion Bio team is overwhelmed by the show of support we received at Rice. The $100,000 we are taking home will be allocated to funding manufacturing devices that will revolutionize the way we treat and manage critically-ill patients,” said McHugh. “Our time at RBPC has shown us what an incredible place the University of Michigan is to start a student-run venture. The support we have received from the Zell Lurie Institute, Fast Forward Medical Innovations/MTRAC, the UM Coulter Program, the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law School Entrepreneurship clinic has been exceptional and a definite driver of our success.”

Neurable and PreDxion Bio are among the many successes for University of Michigan teams on this year’s business plan competition circuit. Earlier this year, PreDxion Bio took home the Pryor-Hale Award for best business for $25,000 and the Williamson Award for $5,000 for the most outstanding business and engineering team at the Michigan Business Challenge, and Neurable was a finalist in both the Michigan Business Challenge and the Startup Competition at the University of Michigan. Student teams have also competed at the Thought for Food Global Summit in Zurich, the Venture Capital Investment Competition at the University of Colorado Boulder, the Undergraduate Venture Capital Investment Competition Global Finals at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the Cardinal Challenge at the University of Louisville and the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The RBPC ends the season for intercollegiate competitions, and the strong showing by Neurable and PreDxion Bio capped it off well for the University of Michigan.

For more information on the Michigan Business Challenge or related entrepreneurial student competitions, please visit