news Archive

April 24, 2014 @ 8:31 am

ProNAi Therapeutics Raises $59.5M Series D Round for Phase II Clinical Trials

ProNAi Therapeutics Inc. has collected $59.5 million after clinical studies showed that its lead drug could help non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who are running out of options.


ProNAi, based in Plymouth, Mich., develops nucleic acid therapies for cancer and other diseases. Its lead product, PNT2258, targets the BCL-2 gene to inhibit cancer cell proliferation and promote tumor cell death. Other companies working in this area include Genentech Inc ., whose pipeline includes a small-molecule BCL-2 protein inhibitor for chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


In December, ProNAi said PNT2258 showed promise in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients in a Phase II clinical trial. Eighty-two percent of patients had tumor shrinkage when receiving single-agent therapy with the drug, ProNAi said.


This Series D round will enable ProNAi to test PNT2258 in multiple Phase II studies. It will study the agent in relapsed or treatment-refractory non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including patients with diffuse B-cell lymphoma, Richter’s transformation and follicular lymphoma, the company said.


New investor Vivo Capital led the round and was joined by new investors Adams Street Partners, Caxton Alternative Management, Frazier Healthcare, Hopen Life Science VenturesJanus Capital Management ,OrbiMed Advisors , RA Capital Management and Sectoral Asset Management.


Return investors Amherst Fund, Apjohn Ventures Fund, Capital Midwest Fund and Grand Angels also participated. Valuation wasn’t disclosed.


Companies developing nucleic acid drugs face the difficulty of delivering their product into cells. ProNAi’s solution has been to incorporate PNT2258 into a lipid delivery system. It licensed access to this technology from Marina Biotech Inc. In addition to PNT2258, ProNAi’s pipeline includes DNA-interference drugs for other cancer and non-cancer targets, such as inflammation and hepatitis B.


Other developers of gene-silencing therapies include Dicerna Pharmaceuticals Inc. , which develops RNA interference drugs. Its products bring about the destruction of the messenger RNAs of disease genes. Dicerna, which went public in January, has its own drug-delivery system, a lipid nanoparticle technology called EnCore. Dicerna’s pipeline includes a treatment with potential in hepatocellular carcinoma and other solid tumors.


Vivo Capital Managing Partner Albert Cha , Peter Thompson , private equity partner of OrbiMed Advisors , and James Topper, general partner of Frazier Healthcare, have joined ProNAi’s board.


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April 23, 2014 @ 8:03 am

Growing Forward: MVCA Programs Expand Michigan’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Headshot - MVCA and Exec CommitteeA hallmark of the Michigan Venture Capital Association has long been our ability to offer members access to top-tier talent through Venture Upstart, a suite of programs designed to grow and sustain a vibrant venture capital community in Michigan.  Funded by a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Venture Upstart programs have played a critical role in building Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and have allowed our members to attract exceptional talent to both their firms and portfolio companies.

Executive Attraction Program
The former CEO Placement Program, designed to increase the number of venture-backed executives in Michigan, has been expanded to include all C-level and senior sales and marketing positions at venture-backed firms.  Renamed the Executive Attraction Program, 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 number of successful portfolio companies in Michigan.

“Recruiting the right talent is crucial for any business and venture-backed companies can struggle to attract the best candidates,” said Charlie Rothstein, co-founder and senior managing director of MVCA member Beringea. “The Executive Attraction Program will help offset hiring costs, enabling portfolio companies to build strong management teams, thereby increasing the number of thriving venture-backed companies in Michigan.”

Venture Fellows Program
Another Venture Upstart program, the Michigan Venture Fellows Program, aims to increase the number of venture professionals in Michigan and accelerate fundraising and deployment of capital into early stage companies.  Selected Venture Fellows are professionals who are early in their venture careers and are hired for two years by a Michigan-based venture firm, with the expectation that they will continue at the firm following the fellowship period. The candidates, who demonstrate a tie to Michigan and an interest in building a venture career here, are directly involved with the venture fund’s portfolio companies.  In the past five years, the number of VC investment professionals in Michigan has increased 39% compared to a 13% decrease in professionals nationally.

MVCA member Michigan Accelerator Fund used the Venture Fellows Program to hire Dr. Linda Chamberlain, a move that has benefitted the firm as well as its portfolio companies and LPs.

MVCA piece - Annual Awards Dinner
“The Venture Fellows Program sponsored by the MVCA, has been tremendously useful for us. As a smaller, first-time fund, we are constrained by staffing. Being able to have a venture fellow, particularly of Dr. Chamberlain’s experience and perspective, has made a world of difference,” said Dale Grogan, managing director of Michigan Accelerator Fund. “We now have the ability to reach more broadly for deals, to conduct deeper due diligence, and perhaps most importantly, to maintain continuous engagement for all of our portfolio companies. The translational benefit for our LPs is that we can invest with greater confidence based on our own efforts – as compared to being simply follow-on investors – and enhance our position into the leadership position as investors.”

Jared Stasik is a Michigan native who returned to the state to work with MVCA member Detroit Venture Partners, another firm that has participated in the Venture Fellows Program. He explained: “The MVCA Venture Fellows program opened the door for me to return to Michigan and be part of the emerging venture scene in Detroit. One great benefit of the program is the connections to other fellows and their firms.  These connections have helped strengthen the relationships between funds in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and West Michigan, creating a more unified venture landscape in our state.”

Jared Stasik
Angel Network Growth Program
Through over 40 awards made to six Michigan angel groups, the Angel Network Growth Program has directly supported efforts to attract more angel members and enhance deal flow. The Angel Investment Group Seed Program offers funding for administrative expenses to angel groups that invest in a Michigan-based startup company; in 2013, there were 116 active angel-backed companies in Michigan, a 137% increase in the past five years.

Jody Vanderwel, who leads the Grand Rapids-based Grand Angels said, “The Angel Growth Program has made it possible for Grand Angels to improve its due diligence process, upgrade some of its equipment, and increase its administrative support.  Those things have led to better investment decisions and new members.  We appreciate MVCA’s support of angel investing.”


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April 1, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

NeuMoDx Announces Completion of Series B Financing

Funds Product Development for High Throughput Molecular Diagnostic Platform

NeuMoDx Molecular, Inc., a privately held diagnostics company developing a new platform for high throughput, low cost molecular testing, today announced completion of its Series B financing. Pfizer Ventures led the $21 million Series B, which also included investment from Baird Capital, Venture Investors, and existing investor Arboretum Ventures. This financing will be used to fund development of the NeuMoDx 500 Molecular IVD System, a fully automated, random access platform capable of performing RNA and DNA-based assays. In addition to completing platform development, this funding will enable the company to pursue clinical trials and regulatory approvals for the system’s first assays.


“We are thrilled to have a strong investor syndicate supporting NeuMoDx during a critical period for the company,” said Jeff Williams, Founder and CEO of NeuMoDx. “We have made excellent progress over the past 24 months, and are now ready to accelerate development and validation of this exciting platform. The molecular diagnostic market continues to grow, and we see a great unmet opportunity for a system with improved workflow and a lower cost per test.”

“Molecular diagnostics are of increasing importance to the pharmaceutical industry as it pursues precision medicine approaches to new therapeutics.” added Bill Burkoth of Pfizer Ventures. “The NeuMoDx team has a deep understanding of the markets and technology in the space, and has designed an IVD platform intended to significantly reduce the cost, time, and complexity of conducting molecular-based tests for precision medicine.”

NeuMoDx began operations in 2012 after closing a $5 million Series A financing with Arboretum Ventures. Wolverine Venture Fund, a student-led venture capital fund at the University of Michigan, also participated in the Series A and B financings.


About NeuMoDx:
NeuMoDx Molecular, Inc. will provide hospital and clinical reference laboratories with a superior solution for in vitro molecular diagnostic testing. The NeuMoDx platform will offer significantly improved ease of use, considerably lower costs and dramatically higher performance as compared to other systems for nucleic acid testing. The company is led by Jeff Williams (Founder & CEO) and Sundu Brahmasandra (President), who have demonstrated success in building in vitro diagnostic companies, including HandyLab, a molecular diagnostic company which sold for $275 million in 2009.

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March 21, 2014 @ 12:24 am

Beringea Invests $3 Million in Detroit Institute of Music Education

New venture will attract young people, bring jobs to downtown Detroit


Beringea, LLC, a private equity firm providing growth capital to market-leading businesses, has announced its fund made a $3 million investment in Detroit Institute of Music Education, Inc. (“DIME”), a music education college dedicated to teaching the next generation of modern musicians. The investment will be used to launch the company’s first U.S. music college, in Detroit.


“We’re excited to bring this innovative high profile, high impact business to Detroit and provide growth capital for its launch. DIME’s education model will attract creative young people from all over the country to Michigan, while creating more jobs in the education sector,” said Charlie Rothstein, senior managing director and co-founder of Beringea.


Founded by music industry veterans Kevin Nixon, Sarah Clayman and Bruce Dickinson, DIME offers advanced music students a college-style experience in contemporary music, with expert musicians and industry professionals teaching courses in guitar, bass, vocals, drums, songwriting and music entrepreneurship. Prospective students can pursue a bachelor’s degree or diploma in Creative Music Performance, or sign up for part-time and summer music education programs. DIME expects to enroll 150 students for its 2014-2015 school year.


“The music industry is a complicated business and learning by experience can be a long route. DIME brings the information, encouragement and expertise to demonstrate how to build a successful career,” says Kevin Nixon, president of DIME. “Musicians will be playing in bands, meeting industry professionals, mastering technique, promoting their own shows, developing their brand, arranging songs, and many other exciting career development activities. Most of all, DIME students will be part of a musical community of like-minded musicians and budding entrepreneurs.”


DIME is the third music education venture for serial entrepreneurs Nixon, Clayman and Dickinson. The trio’s most recent model grew to a multi-campus college with locations in the United Kingdom and Ireland. DIME’s educational programs are built on the successful model pioneered by the founders.


DIME’s temporary location at 1520 Woodward Avenue, between John R and Witherell will serve as its admissions office and performance space. Prospective students are encouraged to visit the space and meet the DIME team and sign up anytime Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.


The space will also be equipped with a live stage and sound system, and will feature regular entertainment events. Bands and artists interested in performing in this space can contact the admissions office at 313-223-1600 or


DIME will formally open in September, when renovations are complete on the historic Bamlet Building, located at 1265 Griswold Street and owned by Bedrock Real Estate Services.  The school will occupy more than 20,000 square feet of space on four floors of the seven-story, building in Capitol Park at the corner of Griswold Street and Grand River Avenue built in 1896.


“Detroit has always been known for its music and innovative culture,” said Dan Gilbert, Chairman and Founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans. “It is fitting for the Detroit Institute of Music Education to open in the heart of downtown Detroit where the opportunities to create are endless. I can think of nothing more important than locating institutions that attract young talented people to the city. DIME is a unique entrepreneurial organization that has a proven strategy to develop top-notch musicians. The combination of Detroit’s DNA and DIME’s exciting educational model is going to be a huge success for the entire community.”

# # #


About Beringea
Beringea, LLC provides equity and/or mezzanine debt to small- and-middle market companies. The Firm, which includes Michigan-based Beringea, LLC and its London, UK office Beringea LLP, invests in portfolio companies operating in a range of sectors, including health care, clean technology, manufacturing, media, Internet technologies and specialized consumer products.


With flexible capital solutions, extensive investing experience and offices in the U.S. and UK, Beringea’s team offers its portfolio companies the resources to grow their businesses and create value for shareholders. For more information, visit


In the United States of America, Beringea operates as an SEC-registered investment advisor, Beringea, LLC. In the United Kingdom, this document is issued by Beringea LLP, a firm authorized and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Beringea LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with company number OC342919, and its registered office is at 39 Earlham Street, London, WC2H 9LT, UK. This document is intended solely to provide information regarding Beringea’s potential financing capabilities for prospective portfolio companies.


About Detroit Institute of Music Education

Detroit Institute of Music Education (“DIME”) is a music education college dedicated to teaching the next generation of modern musicians. Founded by music industry veterans Kevin Nixon, Sarah Clayman and Bruce Dickinson, DIME will offer advanced music students a college-style experience in contemporary music, with expert musicians and music industry professionals teaching courses in guitar, bass, vocals, drums, songwriting and music entrepreneurship. Prospective students can choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree or diploma in Creative Music Performance, or sign up for part-time and summer music education programs. Serious musicians can expect practical and real-world preparation for a career in the music industry upon graduation.


DIME will formally open in September, when renovations will be completed on the historic Bamlet Building in downtown Detroit. A pop-up space, located at 1520 Woodward Avenue between John R and Witherell will open Thursday, March 20 and will serve as a temporary admissions office and performance space for the college. For more information on DIME, visit or call 313.223.1600.


About Bedrock Real Estate Services

Detroit-based Bedrock Real Estate Services is a full-service real estate firm specializing in purchasing, leasing, financing, developing and managing commercial space. Since its founding in 2011, Bedrock has recruited more than 100 tenants to downtown Detroit’s Central Business District. A full listing of recruited tenants is available here. For more information, visit


About Opportunity Detroit

Opportunity Detroit is a campaign that promotes downtown Detroit as a great place to live, work and play. The campaign launched as a partnership with Quicken Loans, Rock Ventures, the Detroit Regional Chamber, and dozens of non-profit, civic and business organizations in the city. It started as a commercial, and it continues to evolve as a campaign to tell Detroit’s story as an emerging high-tech hub, and the city’s ongoing transformation from a muscle economy of the past to the brain economy of the present and future. For more information visit

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March 20, 2014 @ 11:43 pm

Invest Michigan Looks to Create Sustainable Fund for Michigan Entrepreneurs

Charlie Moret has been in the world of startup financing for a long time, but it’s been quite a while since he’s been as excited as he is to take the helm of the soon-to-be-launched Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0.  Invest Michigan will be the Fund manager and, is set to take advantage of Michigan’s unique entrepreneurial ecosystem, and show that sustainability is the path forward to the state’s vibrant future.


“Michigan is incredibly active in terms of entrepreneurship,” explained Moret of taking the head job at Invest Michigan. “Doing this in Michigan is an exciting opportunity and I look forward to being a partner with the state’s investor groups.. Working with entrepreneurs and assisting them is a chance to be part of Michigan’s future.”


Moret, who was previously with TechTown Detroit, is working now on getting Invest Michigan ready for business. The fund plans to officially launch on May 31.


With Invest Michigan, Moret hopes to take the lessons learned running TechTown’s entrepreneurial programs and a similar venture fund in Connecticut, and blend  Ann Arbor SPARK’s experience with the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund to create a sustainable fund over time.


“The Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0 needs to become a revolving capital fund,” Moret explained. “It’s important that we create a sustainable fund so that we can continue to be a viable source of capital for start-ups.”


As with the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, Invest Michigan will target startups in AgTech, advanced manufacturing, homeland defense, alternative energy, IT and life sciences.


The Fund, as its predecessor did, will also engage with all of Michigan’s 15 SmartZones.  “The SmartZones are important partners as well as the state’s investment funds and the SBDC,” Moret explained. “Bottom line: We want to make sure companies get support that reduces time to market, and that usually comes best from the combination of SmartZones, co-investors and the SBDC working together.”


Invest Michigan will have monthly conference calls with the  SmartZones and will hold monthly  office hours so clients can engage with the Fund before applying for financing.


“Two things that attracted me to Michigan was the strong supportive ecosystem that exists and the momentum,” he added. “Everyone talks about California or Boston or Colorado, but the reality is that Michigan offers startups stronger support. A key advantage to being in Michigan is that an entrepreneur can access more resources and faster than in other states.”


Looking forward, Moret sees as a tipping point in Michigan’s technology based economy.


“The work that has occurred here over years, and the number of investment funds that are now operating here – well we’ve hit the tipping point,” he said. “Michigan has momentum and all the right tools. It’s a great time to be here, and a great opportunity to be part of something bigger.”


For information on funding opportunities available through Invest Michigan, stay tuned and visit at the end of May.

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March 10, 2014 @ 6:19 am

Jim Adox on Comcast Newsmakers‏

Our board chair, Jim Adox was recently interviewed by Laurel Hess on Comcast Newsmakers. They discussed the venture capital atmosphere in Michigan and how investments in the state are on the rise.


The interview will air in a rotation on Headline News at :24 and :54 past the hour, the week of March 17th.


You can also watch the interview online now.



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February 20, 2014 @ 6:23 am

Drive Capital Recognizes Benefits of Doing Business in the Midwest

There is great venture capital news for the Midwest. Drive Capital has recognized that the next great technology company could come from right here.


“Silicon Valley is great,” he says. “But everyone forgets that 40 years ago it was just apple fields and orchards. When we look around the Midwest, we see a lot of the raw ingredients for what could potentially be a great economic driver for tech, which over time will create great industries.”


Read the whole article.


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February 17, 2014 @ 9:21 am

Michigan eLab Invests in Michigan Startups

A perfect storm of talent, ecosystem and history all contributed to Michigan eLab choosing to invest in startups in the state, but it’s a storm that was brewing for some time. Not only did Michigan’s heritage of innovation and engineering compel the founders to choose Michigan, almost all of the founding partners have roots here… and an abiding respect for the tech wizardry that’s emerged from the state.


“It’s hard to not be amazed by all of the tech giants that came from Michigan,” Michigan eLab founding partner Doug Neal explained. “Google, iPod, Nest, Twitter, Microsoft, Sun – the amazing talent behind those disruptive companies all came from Michigan. There’s just something about Michigan, whether it be talent or the network of support here or a culture of creating and building things, that make it a natural hub for disruptive technologies and talented entrepreneurs.”


Neal, who moved to California after college and soaked up the startup lifestyle, wanted to raise his family in Michigan after selling the startup he founded. And, as much as he wanted to give his family the ideal life, he wanted to give back to the state he’d called home for most of his life.


“While in California, experiencing the startup culture and launching my own venture backed tech company, I learned the importance of ecosystem and the power of a strong network,” he explained. “Michigan eLab was founded to bridge the talent, capital and customers from Silicon Valley to Michigan and invest in the next generation of technology startups that exist here.  Most non-Michigan venture funds that come to Michigan do so as part of a broader geographic independent strategy.  Michigan eLab is laser focused on bridging only two locations:  Silicon Valley and  Michigan.”


“Michigan is an underserved market, and so many investors continue to fly over our state and they’re missing tremendous opportunities,” Neal added. “We have a passion for that early, messy stage of a startup where there’s tremendous opportunity and where being able to bring the talent, capital and customers together can have tremendous impact.”


The firm is focused squarely on those high impact opportunities, specifically in digital health care, big data, mobile and technology that connects the physical world to the Internet, such as wearables, automotive technology and embedded sensors. Its first investment, in the startup Fonemine, reflects its vision for the type of startup that can thrive in the Michigan ecosystem.


“Fonemine highlights multiple aspects of the Michigan eLab approach,” Neal explained. “The company is headquartered in Silicon Valley, but we convinced them to open a design center here to tap in to engineering talent in Michigan. We were also able to connect someone from the eLab coaching network – in this instance, David Sergura, founder and CEO of VisionIT – to help the startup move forward. David is an amazing and very successful Michigan entrepreneur who brought expertise in enterprise sales and a large existing customer base to Fonemine. It’s a great example of how Michigan eLab’s network, and the network of expertise in this state, can accelerate the growth of a company we invest in.”


Although Michigan eLab just launched a year ago, it completed its first closing last fall. It’s wrapping up the fund raising on Fund I this year, and looking at other exciting investment opportunities.


“There are a lot of things that have me geeked for the coming year,” Neal said. “The significant interest from first time venture capital investors to be part of Michigan eLab Fund I is exciting and we’re seeing a growth in disruptive technology companies coming out of the ecosystem in Michigan. From low-powered sensor technology to cloud and virtualization technology.”


“It’s the technology that solves really big problems that gets everyone excited, generates interest and delivers outsized returns,” he added. “Michigan eLab is committed to finding, funding and nurturing those startups and we are looking for entrepreneurs that want to change the world!”

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February 11, 2014 @ 2:00 am

ArborMetrix Receives Additional $1.3 Million in Series B Financing From Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and Detroit Innovate Fund

National Market Demand for Performance Analytics for Surgical and Specialty Care Surging


ANN ARBOR, MI–(Marketwired – Feb 10, 2014) – ArborMetrix, Inc., a leading provider of real-time healthcare analytics, today announced that it has increased its Series B financing by $1.3 million to allow Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and Detroit Innovate to participate.


The earlier round of Series B financing, announced in July, was led by RPM Ventures (RPM) alongside existing investor Arboretum Ventures. Wolverine Venture Fund also participated in the earlier investment.


The latest investment will accelerate ArborMetrix’s national market expansion to meet surging demand for its proven real-time, risk-adjusted clinical performance analytics tools. ArborMetrix’s analytics enable healthcare providers and payers to improve the quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of surgical and other specialty care.


“We have followed the progress of ArborMetrix and have continually been impressed with its innovative approach to healthcare analytics,” says Chris Rizik, CEO of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund. “There is an acute need for actionable information that can increase the quality of healthcare and reduce its costs, and ArborMetrix is a pioneer, developing unique tools that will help healthcare providers to address these issues in ways that simply haven’t been possible before. The bar is high for Renaissance to invest directly in a company, but we were so excited by the great promise we see in ArborMetrix that we wanted to be part of it.”


The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund is a Michigan-based fund that supports the growth of venture capital in Michigan while serving as a bridge between Michigan’s emerging innovation company community and its strong industrial and commercial base.


“ArborMetrix is positioned extremely well for taking a leadership role in healthcare analytics,” said Adrian Fortino, Vice President of Detroit Innovate. “We look forward to working with the team as they scale up nationally.”


Detroit Innovate is a Southeast Michigan-focused early stage investment fund targeting technologies in the healthcare, transportation, advanced manufacturing and resource efficiency sectors.


ArborMetrix CEO Brett Furst stated, “The local support for enabling fast-paced growth in Michigan companies is incredible. We are very excited to welcome Renaissance and Detroit Innovate into the ArborMetrix fold. Their involvement in accelerating our growth will certainly open up exciting new opportunities for ArborMetrix to expand across the U.S.”


TWEET THIS: .@ArborMetrix secures $1.3 M from @RENVCF, @DetroitInnovate to help expand nationally to meet demand for #clinical performance analytics


About the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund
Formed out of the groundbreaking “Road to Renaissance” initiative of Business Leaders for Michigan, the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund (RVCF) is the largest privately funded organization of its kind in the US. The investors in Renaissance recognized the importance of venture capital in the economic growth of the State as well as the financial rewards available to investors who mine the treasure of research and innovation present at Michigan’s world-class universities, institutions and corporations. Through its investment in top tier venture firms that are active in Michigan, as well as its own co-investments in emerging Michigan companies, the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund is helping to drive forward both innovation and growth of emerging companies in the region. For more information, visit


About Detroit Innovate
Detroit Innovate was launched by Invest Detroit as an early stage fund to fuel high-growth companies in the Detroit Region. The fund is part of Invest Detroit’s family of funds that serve as catalysts for targeted economic development. The fund targets enabling technologies in the healthcare, transportation, advanced manufacturing and resource efficiency sectors.



About ArborMetrix
ArborMetrix, Inc., based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is a healthcare analytics and software firm specializing in quality measurement, cost-efficiency and performance improvement for surgical and other acute hospital and specialty-based care. The company focuses on developing rigorous data analysis and actionable business intelligence solutions that raise the bar on quality, performance, utilization and cost-efficiency for hospitals, health systems, specialty societies, quality collaboratives and health plans. ArborMetrix’s unique, cloud-based technology evolved from groundbreaking research by the company founders on improving the quality of surgical care and econometric performance measurement. For more information, visit, email or call 734-661-7944, ext. 7008.


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January 24, 2014 @ 3:58 am

Invest Detroit’s First Step Fund

Invest Detroit continues to actively support companies in the Detroit region with its First Step Fund (FSF). Based in downtown Detroit, First Step Fund is an early stage micro investment fund that was formed through an investment from the New Economy Initiative of Southeast Michigan.


While more and more funds are choosing to call Michigan home, few are like First Step Fund. In most cases, First Step Fund is the first institutional investment into a company. The industry agnostic fund has made 55 investments across southeast Michigan.  The fund has an interest in supporting women, minority and immigrant owned companies across the region.


First Step Fund’s recent investments include Avegant, Sky Specs and Kontextual. “These investments all fit First Step Fund’s overall investment strategy so well, and are the ideal representation of the range of businesses that can grow and thrive in the region,” said First Step Fund’s managing director, Adrian Fortino.


Avegant is a new platform that allows consumers to interact with media and data in new ways, and allow for new forms of storytelling.  The platform revolves around Avegant’s revolutionary virtual retinal display technology that interacts with eyes in the way that they naturally function. By reflecting light into the eyes, consumers can see media and data the way they’re supposed to be experienced: lifelike and vividly.


“First Step Fund saw an extraordinary and uniquely designed opportunity last year when we invested prior to the seed round Avegant closed late last year,” said Fortino. Avegant recently won a coveted CES Editors Choice at the 2014 Show and exceeded their goal in their Kickstarter campaign in less than four hours.


Sky Specs develops autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles that inspect infrastructure such as bridges, wind turbines, dams and sewers. SkySpecs couples the hardware with an analytics dashboard to interpret and map the massive amount of data gathered during flight.


“First Step Fund led Sky Specs’ $500,000 pre-seed round to finalize the first commercial product and effectively launch the company,” Fortino continued. “Sky Specs has market opportunities across several verticals and a remarkable team which has positioned it well with key strategic partners at a prototype stage.”


Kontextual helps companies build transparent, metric-driven cultures.  Its cloud- and mobile-based platform is the end result of decades of experience in the enterprise software market combined with cutting edge software skills and intensely beautiful interface design, all sprinkled with a healthy dose of lessons learned from social media.


“Business social enterprise software is a dynamic sector and Kontextual is positioned well with an experienced management team and great investment partners,” he added. “Kontextual fills a critical gap in the business operations software space.”


Looking forward, Invest Detroit is excited by the potential for First Step Fund as well as its recently-launched Detroit Innovate, a seed stage venture fund to fuel high-growth technology companies in the Detroit Region. Detroit Innovate focused on enabling technologies in healthcare, transportation, advanced manufacturing, and resource efficiency.


“Our deal flow has never been higher in volume and quality,” said Fortino. “We expect to continue at the brisk pace of 2013 where we invested in 10 new companies, if not more!”

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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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