October 29, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

MEMBER NEWS: Portfolio Company Vestaron Corp. racks up $14 mln Series C

Vestaron Corporation, a company that designs environmentally friendly insecticides, announced today the final close of its Series C Financing. Anterra Capital, based in the Netherlands, added $4M to the $10M previously announced to bring total funding to $14M. Anterra Capital is jointly funded by Moonray Investors, the proprietary investment arm of FIL Limited, the parent company of Fidelity Worldwide Investment, and Rabo Private Equity, the proprietary private equity arm of Rabobank. The round also included Cultivian Sandbox Ventures, Southwest Michigan First Life Science Venture Fund, Open Prairie Ventures, Pangaea Ventures, Michigan Accelerator Fund and others.

“I’m very pleased to welcome Anterra to the Vestaron team. Their perspectives will be greatly valued on the Board of Directors, and their experience in food and agriculture will be invaluable to us going forward,” said John Sorenson, CEO of Vestaron. “We’re overwhelmed to have attracted so much interest from the international venture capital community.”

Philip Austin, a Partner in Anterra Capital, said, “We’re delighted to be supporting Vestaron. We’ve been watching the Company for several years now, and we feel the time is right to make an investment in this groundbreaking company. The commercialization of their first product is proving that natural peptides can be a valuable source of novel insecticides providing farmers with a crop protection tool that has the power of chemicals with the safety profile of biologicals.”

Vestaron exploits the natural insecticidal properties of a class of peptides which have potent insect killing potential, but which are safe to humans, birds, fish, and the environment, including honeybees. These peptides utilize new modes of action that have never before been used for insect control, and therefore do not suffer from insect resistance. In addition to the bioinsecticides, the Company is putting the genes for the peptides into crop plants, and is modeling the active sites of the peptides to identify synthetic mimics that also have a favorable safety spectrum.

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October 29, 2014 @ 1:23 am

MVCA Executive Attraction Program helps lure tech start-up vet back from coasts

shaneAfter years on the tech scenes in San Francisco and New York, and with serious start-up and customer acquisition successes to his credit, Shelby Twp. native Shane Bliemaster watched Southeast Michigan’s tech industry growth with more than just passing interest.  And, in return, the burgeoning tech start-up scene wouldn’t stop trying to connect Bliemaster to the right opportunity back in his home state.  A few introductions to the right people in Michigan, and Shane was quickly just a few conversations away from landing back in Michigan permanently.  ”Everyone was so helpful when I would come back to visit.  They would tell me: ‘Here’s who you should meet…” and introduce me to someone else in Southeast Michigan’s tech community.  Eventually I found my way to (Nutshell CEO) Joe Malcoun and they were looking for a VP of Marketing with my background.  It was a perfect fit,” said Bliemaster from Nutshell’s Ann Arbor offices.

Nutshell hired Bliemaster to be their first VP of Marketing through the MVCA Executive Attraction Program, offered to MVCA members to help offset recruitment and first-year salary expenses for senior-level positions at their portfolio companies.  MVCA member Detroit Innovate, a Series A-1 investor alongside Barracuda Networks, Cahoots, and CKM Capital, helped Nutshell secure the award.  Patti Glaza, of Detroit Innovate, says: “This is a great example of how the state, the investment community and entrepreneurs are working together to build a stronger start-up ecosystem.  This is just the start of the talent ramp Nutshell will be executing on over the next few years, and we’re grateful the MVCA Executive Attraction Program could help us secure an ideal candidate like Shane.”

Becoming the new VP of Marketing of a company that’s never done marketing might seems like a daunting task, it’s one Bliemaster finds exhilarating.  ”Nutshell is a cloud-based Customer Relationship Management platform that was started with a small seed investment, and the team focused intently on building the best product.  They’ve grown without any marketing, so being able to build on that is exciting.   I feel incredibly lucky and excited to have the opportunity to join such a talented team in Michigan where my skills can contribute to building something great.”

Now that he’s officially part of the Michigan tech scene that helped him get back home, Bliemaster is ready to share the Nutshell story with the world.  ”Nutshell caters to the small business owner, as opposed to other well-known CRMs which are built more for huge enterprises.  We make it simple for users to get started right away and the interface is friendly and fun.  If you haven’t heard of Nutshell yet, you’re going to.”

The MVCA Executive Attraction Program is designed to increase the number of venture-backed executives in Michigan and has been expanded to include all C-level and senior sales and marketing positions at venture-backed firms.  It provides assistance with recruiting and first-year salary expenses associated with hiring exceptional talent at qualified MVCA member portfolio companies, with the goal of increasing the universe of successful portfolio companies in Michigan.  For more information on this and other MVCA programs, please visit www.michiganvca.org/mvca-programs.


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October 21, 2014 @ 9:18 am

MEMBER NEWS: Portfolio company Tetra Discovery Partners Announces Additional Financing and Formation of Scientific Advisory Board

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (October 16, 2014): Tetra Discovery Partners (“Tetra”), a drug discovery company developing a portfolio of innovative drugs for psychiatric, neurological and inflammatory diseases, today announced additional private financing. The company has received additional financing from previous seed investor Grand Angels, as well as an investment by Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation (JJDC).

Tetra additionally announced the formation of its Scientific Advisory Board, comprised of four prominent experts in the field of neuroscience and psychiatric drug development:

  • Catherine D. Strader, Ph.D., Founding Partner, Synergy Partners, R&D Solutions, LLC and former Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer, Schering-Plough and Vice President and Site Head, Merck Research Laboratories
  • Scott A. Reines, M.D., Ph.D., former Senior Vice President, Central Nervous System, Pain and Translational Medicine, Janssen Research & Development, LLC
  • James S. MacDonald, Ph.D., Founding Partner, Synergy Partners, R&D Solutions, LLC and former Executive Vice President, Preclinical Development, Schering Plough Research Institute
  • Jeffrey S. Nye, M.D., Ph.D., Vice President Neuroscience Innovation and Scientific Partnership Strategy, Janssen Research and Development, LLC, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, former Chief Medical Officer of Research and Early Development at Janssen

“These new funds will support additional work aimed at the filing of our first Investigational New Drug (IND) application for our cognition drug candidate in 2015,” said Mark Gurney, Ph.D., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tetra. “Thanks to the strong, continued backing of Grand Angels, our grant support through the NIH Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network (BPN), the National Institute of Aging, and the National Institute of Mental Health, and now this early strategic investment by JJDC and other investors, we expect to initiate human clinical trials for our first product in either Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia next year.”

“Tetra Discovery Partners reflects the sort of innovative, high quality research being conducted in Michigan that our firm was created to support,” said Jody Vanderwel, President, Grand Angels. “Our belief in the strong potential of Tetra’s science, and the outstanding progress that the company has made in its lead program focused on the treatment of cognitive deficits and serious neurological and psychiatric diseases is now further supported by this new co-investment from JJDC.”

“Tetra welcomes the investment from JJDC and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, which reflects their stated aim of accelerating early stage innovation,” commented Dr. Gurney.

Commenting on the Tetra Scientific Advisory Board appointments overall, Dr. Gurney said, “Each of these individuals is an industry leader whose many years of expertise in the field of neuroscience drug development will be invaluable to our company as Tetra advances its subtype-selective PDE4 allosteric modulators for neurological, psychiatric, and inflammatory diseases into clinical development and eventual commercialization.”

About Tetra Discovery Partners

Tetra Discovery Partners (http://www.tetradiscovery.com) uses structure‑guided drug design to discover mechanistically novel, allosteric inhibitors of phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4).  The company’s research focuses on developing new treatments for cognitive impairment in schizophrenia, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The company is a recipient of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network cooperative research agreement, a $50 million program across 15 NIH Institutes and Centers.  The Blueprint program supports drug discovery research collaborations with early stage biotechnology companies and academics to develop effective therapeutics for nervous system disorders. The company also receives major funding through the National Institute of Aging, and the National Institute of Mental Health Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Tetra Discovery Partners is headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan and maintains a business office in the Cambridge Innovation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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October 15, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

Meet Kathryn Gardner, new MVCA Venture Fellow at Arboretum Ventures


Welcome back to Michigan, Kathryn Gardner, MVCA’s newest Fellow!  Kathryn starts her Fellowship at Arboreum Ventures, and we asked her to introduce herself to our MVCA community:

How did you find out about the Fellows program?  What advantage do you think the Fellows program gives younger professionals and venture firms when trying to make a match?

I learned about the Fellows Program during the recruitment process to Arboretum Ventures. We believed that being part of the program would allow me to network with others in the industry since I am new to venture capital and recently moved back from Chicago.

The Fellows Program has many advantages, but I believe that the most important is aligning fit within the industry. In venture capital fit is very important, from having a good management team, to investing in companies that fit specific criteria, and most importantly employee fit. The Fellows Program is a great avenue for aligning those not currently employed with a fund and those funds that need to add team members.

What are you most looking forward to being a Fellow ?

Being a part of the Fellows Program will provide me with additional opportunities to meet and network with many individuals in the venture capital community. The education portions of the Fellows Program will also be extremely beneficial to my success in the industry. I am looking forward to learning from others and networking as I grow into my role at Arboretum. I am also excited to be part of a program that looks toward revitalizing Michigan’s economy.

What will you be doing at Arboretum?

As an analyst at Arboretum, I will primarily be evaluating prospective investments and performing detailed due diligence on promising companies in the healthcare space.  My role will also involve supporting portfolio companies and assisting with fundraising.

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years?

In ten years I would like to own my own business, hopefully with family. It’s always been a dream of mine to have my own company and I know working in the venture capital industry will provide me an invaluable foundation to build that dream.

What attracts you to the venture capital industry?

There are many attractive aspects of venture capital, but what really hooked me was the opportunity to help invest in life-changing technologies. I believe that the best way to grow the economy is to build small businesses and provide them pathways for success that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them. I am looking forward to developing in my role as an analyst and contributing to the venture capital community in Michigan.

What’s your dream deal (the venture backed firm you wish YOU had spotted first!)?

WebMD. It has become the “go to” for self-diagnosis, or checking symptoms prior to calling your doctor / going to the ER. The practice of checking WebMD saves time and money in the healthcare system because doctors and nurses can focus on patients that are currently in their office / department, patients can save money on a co-pay or time spent waiting for a doctor and insurance companies do not have to pay for costly services doctors perform.

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October 15, 2014 @ 11:43 am

MEMBER NEWS: Portfolio Company Delphinus Medical Technology Adds VP Engineering

Chris Sanders Added to Delphinus’ Executive Team as Vice President of Engineering

Seasoned Ultrasound Expert to Guide Development Advances

PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP, Mich. – October 14, 2014 – Delphinus Medical Technologies, Inc., the first company to design and manufacture a whole breast ultrasound system that incorporates circular transducer technology, announced today that Chris Sanders has joined the executive team as vice president of engineering. He comes to Delphinus with over 20 years of extensive global innovation and manufacturing expertise in the medical ultrasound domain.

Prior to Delphinus, Sanders was Director of Ultrasound Research and Development at Toshiba Medical Research Institute, USA, where he led the global research group that drove the advancement of matrix array transducer design. With his direction the team established collaborative partnerships with renowned research institutions and generated multiple publications and strategic medical patents.  During his 17 year career at Siemens Medical Solutions Corporation, he held numerous senior management positions. Recognized for attracting expert talent and leading international development teams to exceed corporate objectives, while Senior Director of Product Management, he steered the global launch and commercialization of several new product lines, leveraging multi-dimensional cross-platform synergies that streamlined the time-to-market process and increased margins substantially.

“Chris is a superb addition to the Delphinus team,” said Mark J. Forchette, recently appointed president and chief executive of Delphinus. “He brings a great depth of expertise and knowledge realized by the accomplishments he achieved during his tenure with leading medical imaging corporations.  We look forward to his guidance and vision directing our research and development teams, as we advance our SoftVue technology to address the need for innovative solutions in breast cancer screening.”

Sanders earned his baccalaureate degree in mathematics from the University of Colorado, Boulder Colo., with an emphasis in computer science. He also holds a Management of Technology Certification from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve, Cleveland.

Delphinus is the first to introduce an automated whole breast ultrasound system that utilizes a ring transducer technology to transmit and receive ultrasound signals. SoftVue captures reflection echoes from all directions around the breast and gathers transmitted signals coming through the breast, something no other ultrasound system, currently available, can do. With a short scan time of one to two minutes per breast, SoftVue presents a volumetric image map of the whole breast, providing a consistent and uniform exam without reliance on operator skill and technique.

About Delphinus Medical Technologies, Inc.

Delphinus Medical Technologies, Inc. is a pioneering medical imaging company that has developed SoftVue™, the first circular array transducer technology that has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance. The patented technology is a whole breast ultrasound tomography imaging device that delivers no radiation, requires no compression, and images the entire breast with a single scan. SoftVue is indicated for use as a B-mode ultrasonic imaging system and is not intended to be used as a replacement for screening mammography. Delphinus is capitalized through principal investments by Arboretum Ventures, Ann Arbor, Mich., Beringea, Farmington Hills, Mich., and North Coast Technology Investors, Ann Arbor, Mich. For more information, visit www.delphinusmt.com.

Contact Information:
Debra Saunders
VP, Marketing and Sales
Delphinus Medical Technologies, Inc.
Tel:  +1.734.233.3088
Email: dsaunders@delphinusmt.com

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October 14, 2014 @ 11:59 am

MEMBER NEWS: Open Prairie Ventures’ portfolio company Vesteron in New York Times

Venture Capitalists Return to Backing Science Start-Ups

Vestaron makes an eco-friendly pesticide derived from spider venom. Bagaveev uses 3-D printers to make rocket engines for nanosatellites. Transatomic Power is developing a next-generation reactor that runs on nuclear waste.

They all have one thing in common: money from Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

After years of shying away from science, engineering and clean-technology start-ups, investors are beginning to take an interest in them again, raising hopes among entrepreneurs in those areas that a long slump is finally over. But these start-ups face intense pressure to prove that their science can turn a profit more quickly than hot tech companies like Snapchat and Uber.  Read more>>

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October 9, 2014 @ 11:23 am

New Richmond Ventures principal Andy Stefanovich offers ex-pat view of Detroit

Andy StefanovichFor Andy Stefanovich, Creative Principal at New Richmond Ventures in Virginia, any reason he could find to return to the city he grew up exploring was good enough to jump on a plane.  “I was a Grosse Pointe kid who spent most of my time running around downtown Detroit, hitting every Tiger game I could.  I love Detroit like nothing else, it’s part of my soul, so my wife says I create excuses to return.”  But Stefanovich had a legitimate reason to visit the Motor City in September, as he joined 200 “ex-pats” from Detroit for a two-day Detroit Homecoming.  Attendees were treated to a front row seat to city newsmakers and national thoughtleaders, and given a tour of the transformation of the city they all used to call home.

Stefanovich’s background is firmly rooted in creative, innovative thinking, something he says he saw over and over again in his trip back to Detroit.  Over 20 years ago, he co-founded Play, a Richmond-based creativity and innovation consultancy that globally changed the way business does business.  At NRV, he engages entrepreneurs in creative conversations to clearly articulate their vision, shared values, messaging, marketing strategies, social media plans, etc.  A nationally recognized innovation thought leader, Stefanovich is also the author of “Look at More,” an Inc. bestseller that was cited by Advertising Age as one of the “Ten Marketing Books You Should Have Read” in 2011.

In his venture capital role, Stafanovich invests in companies that personify the story and personality of the founders, people who have heart and soul and conviction behind their business idea.  He found entrepreneurs and change agents in Detroit with those traits in abundance.  “I think you saw even the mega-superstar investor Warren Buffet impressed by the industrial fortitude of Detroiters as he made a promise to invest in  its automotive industry (which he made good on in a huge way by buying Van Tuyl Group, the nation’s largest privately owned auto dealer network, for an undisclosed sum).  The best investors find companies that have an industrial nature in their DNA, and that’s so at the core of Detroit.”

Stefanovich was impressed by a tour of the new Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center on the Riverfront, and also the Ride and Drives the group did on Belle Isle. While on the island, he bumped into the park commissioner who listed all the activity there on a random Saturday.  “It’s nothing like when I was growing up and only time anyone went to Belle Isle was for the Grand Prix race,” he remembers.

His days in Detroit made him reflect on what makes a city like Detroit change from downtrodden to great.  “The homecoming event showed us that Detroit’s a lesson in revitalization–not gentrification or economic development and not just because necessity breeds change, but it’s because the spirit of the people is so amazing and they want to work hard.  We’re kind and hospitable in the southeast and I love the business climate, but Detroit has a deep heritage of industrialism that really helps drive activity with its grit and determination.” He was so impressed by the sites and initiatives he saw that he, along with a few other local businessmen, plan to send their associates back to Detroit for a few days, to witness the city through younger eyes and find program ideas to bring back to Richmond.  One his favorite quotes of the visit was a young Detroit-based entrepreneur who said the reason he stayed in Detroit was because the city was “big enough in the world to matter, but small enough that I can matter.”

Stefanovich left the Homecoming event with plans for a Detroit “pied-a -terre”, a place to stay when he’s back in the city he loves, which he imagines happening more often after discussions with Detroit Venture Partners about mentoring some of their investments.
“I told my wife I won’t have to invent excuses to come back anymore,” he says with a smile.

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October 7, 2014 @ 9:50 am

MEMBER NEWS: Investing in Traverse City’s Next Big Idea

by Beth Milligan, Traverse City Ticker

northernmichiganangels“Instead of Traverse City being the Cherry Capital of the world, we want the city to be the Tensioning Capital of the World.”

Chuckles follow the joke by financial advisor and presenter Gary Rakan of Hurricane Safety Systems, a Traverse City-based technology firm that produces treestand attachment systems and other tie-down products for hunters. The company is looking for investors – and so is presenting its pitch at a morning meeting of the Northern Michigan Angels (NMA).

NMA formed in 2012 with a two-fold mission: to help invigorate the region’s economic base “through the rapid growth of early-stage companies,” and to provide its roughly 18 members a “compelling financial return on their time commitment and invested capital.” In its short life, the angel investment group has entertained 36 pitches, investing in nearly a dozen Michigan companies including Altus Brands, Silikids, Advanced Battery Concepts and GreenLancer Energy.

Founding angel Ron Hurd says the group typically gravitates toward technology and manufacturing firms, but last week’s event included the group’s first agricultural presentation. Dan Vogler of Harietta Hills Trout Farm in Harrietta tells the gathered crowd his company has just secured a 20-year lease to open a second facility in Grayling, and is in the process of closing on a $210,000 loan from the Traverse City Area Chamber Foundation’s Regional Revolving Loan Fund.

“We want to increase our live (fish) weight production from 200,000 pounds to 600,000 pounds annually,” Vogler explains. With product already spoken for through a partnership with distributor Superior Foods Company, the company seems like a surefire investment opportunity – though Vogler will have to wait at least a day to learn how this particular group feels.

The meeting also includes a conference call pitch from RetroSense Therapeutics, an Ann Arbor-based biotechnology company NMA has invested in previously. The firm is seeking a second round of funding to help develop a “game-changing gene therapy” that will restore vision in patients suffering from blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and advanced dry age-related macular degeneration (advanced dry-AMD). There are currently no FDA-approved therapies to improve or restore vision in patients with such conditions.

“If a subject starts out blind and then they can see, that’s a powerful demonstration of efficacy,” CEO Sean Ainsworth tells investors.

After NMA members discuss the pitches in a closed-door lunch meeting, NMA Executive Director Deanna Cannon says she typically lets companies know within a day or two if there is enough interest to circulate investment term sheets. Rather than operating as a managed fund, members decide individually if they want to invest, with a minimal $5,000 investing requirement – lower than many angel groups’ standard minimum of $25,000.

NMA is rarely short on entrepreneurs looking for money – many are “starved for capital,” says Hurd – but finding members is a different matter. Securities & Exchange Commission regulations mandate that angel members must be accredited investors, meaning they must have a net worth of at least one million dollars (not including the value of their primary residence), or have income of at least $200,000 each year for the past two years.

But Hurd points to a legislative push to loosen those regulations – as well as new and emerging forms of investment, like crowdfunding – as potential opportunities to make NMA membership accessible to a wider audience in the future.

“People have this impression of us as fat cats sitting around, or being like the (TV show) Shark Tank,” says Hurd. “But it’s not like that. We’re here to help small businesses grow. We’re just trying to provide capital these companies can’t find anywhere else.”

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October 6, 2014 @ 10:38 am

Congratulations Carrie Jones and Ted Serbinski, Crain’s Detroit Business 40 Under 40 winners!

Two members of the MVCA community were honored this week with Crain’s Detroit Business 40 Under 40 awards, recognizing young business high achievers.  Congratulations to the immediate past executive director of the MVCA Carrie Jones and Detroit Venture Partners partner Ted Serbinski for this great honor!  In addition, Crain’s is sponsoring a 40s Facebook contest allows readers to “Like” 40s honorees — with the 40s honoree with the most “likes” receiving $1,000 to donate to the charity of his or her choice.  Let’s all support Carrie and Ted!

Carrie-Jones 40Ted Serbinski

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October 3, 2014 @ 9:11 am

Hellooooo Washington, D.C.! Part 3: Vote YES on MVCA!

By Emily Heintz, Associate Director, MVCA

Today I am writing from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court!  Today is the legislative day of my trip and my last day in D.C. so I thought it would be a good idea to write from a landmark.  Be sure to read the first two posts from my great Washington, D.C. adventure on behalf of MVCA.

My primary goal for today was to discuss the tremendous growth of the entrepreneurial and investment community in Michigan and see how we can be more collaborative with legislatures in their efforts in the future.  Yesterday I was presenting to people on how we deliver our message and today I was delivering it big time!  The last five years have been years of such growth in Michigan that it was easy to spread the excitement around a couple of these historic buildings in D.C.  The upward trend in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Michigan in terms of startups formed, angel investors and number of deals all point toward the state’s growing role in the national venture capital community.  So I wanted to know how we can leverage these successes to be more helpful to our DC partners and how they can use their national platform to be more helpful to us!

One of the meetings I had today was with David Weinberg from Congressman Gary Peters’ office.  Rep. Peters is the co-chair of the U.S. House Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship – a team of people that promotes legislation to help new and small businesses grow.  I first met with David Weinberg a couple months ago and he was very helpful in arranging to have Rep. Peters speak at our Town Hall event in August.  We have also partnered with Rep. Gary Peters in the past on Startup Day.  It was a great conversation, as always, and their office is excited to be supportive of the investment community in Michigan.

David Weinberg would like to stay in the loop on initiatives that MVCA is working on and be supportive in any way that they can.  They are very excited about some of the upcoming changes we are making to the research report survey that will allow us to tailor it for legislators.  He thought this was going to be a really valuable addition.

Another great meeting I had today was with Sarah Shrive from Senator Stabenow’s office.  Sarah was someone I had heard about from several  people on my trip so I was very excited to finally get to meet her!  Her office is very focused on key tax issues and is starting to think about possible tax reform in the coming years.  We had a great discussion about the upward trends in the innovation community and also touched on a few opportunities for incentives might help spur more activity.  She was very interested hearing more about the entrepreneurial and investment community’s needs in terms of business climate in Michigan and how their office might be able to help.

Sarah Shrive would love to come out to Michigan to meet with a group of entrepreneurs, angel investors, and venture capitalists to hear your thoughts on tax reform and other business issues that you face.  I will be reaching out when she is out in the coming months to set up a roundtable with a few members and their portfolio companies to provide her with some feedback.

Representatives  from Rep. Gary Peters’ office and Sr. Stabenow’s office, in addition to other legislators, will be attending our annual dinner so make sure you stop them, say hello, and tell them first-hand about all the amazing things happening in Michigan!!

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The MVCA is a non-profit trade organization designed to bring together venture capital industry participants in the state of Michigan. The organization's goal is to grow and sustain a vibrant venture capital community in Michigan.
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