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2016 MVCA Annual Awards Dinner Recap

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MVCA closed its year with their signature event, the 2016 MVCA Annual Awards Dinner, celebrating the successes of the entrepreneurial and investment community in Michigan.  Chief amongst those successes: more Michigan startups have received more venture backing than ever before.  In 2015, there were 74 companies that received $282 million from Michigan venture capital firms, representing a 48% increase in the last five years.

The Annual Dinner, timed this year to coordinate with Invest Detroit’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition the following day, brought members and guests from around the nation to the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit, a city with a legacy of innovation and entrepreneurial ingenuity.

MVCA Executive Director, Maureen Miller Brosnan, welcomed the attendees by highlighting the significance of the host city.  “Detroit is fertile ground to grow new businesses.  And when we look at MVCA, this is also fertile ground for growing new leaders, especially our hard working board members whose dedication to our organization can’t be praised enough.”  She thanked all MVCA board members who will continue their term in 2017.   Brosnan also recognized the legislative education efforts of the MVCA lobbying partner, Muchmore Harrington & Associates, and supportive legislators, including Representative George Darany, Representative Jim Runestad, Senator Steve Bieda, Regional Manager for Senator Gary Peters Corri Wofford, Representative Leslie Love, and Senator Coleman Young.

MVCA Board Chairman, Tony Grover, praised the rebirth of the host city and compared the progress Detroit has made as a complement to the work MVCA members have done to grow and revitalize the economy around the state.

Keynote Speaker, Bob Lutz, retired Vice Chairman of General Motors Co., was brought to the MVCA by the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), an organization whose focus on global mobility issues dovetails with a planned MVCA initiative to examine the future of the mobility industry in Michigan.  The 2017 NAIAS Chairman Sam Slaughter hosted the conversation with Mr. Lutz, where he admitted he used to be critical of venture capitalists for not being patient, but he now has a growing appreciation for the role of the VC in the lifespan of a company.  “You position a company for its next stage of growth, and that’s important,” he said.  He declared autonomous vehicles are coming, “whether we like it or not” in stages, beginning with “super cruising” on freeways.  He foresees a truly autonomous vehicle in just 15-20 years, looking like telephone booths that are standardized for operation in an urban environment and electronically linked in a seamless train on the freeway traveling at 200+ miles an hour. “This is where the train and the car converge,” he predicts.  “All of us love to drive, because we think we’re pretty good at it, but if you’ve been in traffic, you realize we’re not.”  Lutz thinks there is an opportunity for venture capitalists to think about autonomous transportation solutions, which will demand “tremendous amounts of innovation.”

The evening’s awardees included three exceptional companies and two individuals, honored for reaching impressive milestones and making important contributions to the entrepreneurial and investment community.  The winner of the MVCA “100” Award for its second $100 million fund, Detroit venture firm Fontinalis Partners, plans to continue investing in high growth companies efficiently moving goods, people, and services across all modes of transportation.  “Mobility is so much more than autonomous vehicles and car service apps.  It’s a huge space in which Detroit and Michigan is uniquely positioned to excel,” said Chris Thomas, partner of Fontinalis Partners.

MVCA Capital Event of the Year, Millendo Therapeutics’ $62 million Series B funding round, was Michigan’s largest healthcare transaction in 2016.  MVCA members Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and 5AM Ventures helped the company reach this milestone, allowing the Ann Arbor-based biotechnology company to double the size of its team and continue clinical programs for first-in-class, disease-modifying treatments for endocrine diseases caused by hormone dysregulation.  Andy Spencer, Millendo’s Vice President, Preclinical Research and Development, accepted the award and thanked the investors, whose confidence in the company helped him move his family back to Michigan from Silicon Valley.

Early stage funding from the State of Michigan, Blue Water Angels, the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund managed by Ann Arbor SPARK! were critical to RetroSense Therapeutics winning the MVCA Exit of the Year Award.  Acquired for $60 million by pharmaceutical giant Allergan, RetroSense developed a gene therapy designed to cure blindness for those with a retinal degenerative condition.  Angel investor Terry Cross and Ken Kousky, President of Blue Water Angels, accepted the award on behalf of founder Sean Ainsworth whom he praised as having worked diligently “eight days a week” to bring sight to blind people.

The surprise of the evening, the MVCA Up-and-Coming Investor of the Year Award, was given to Evan Ufer, Partner at Plymouth Venture Partners.  He thanked colleague Ian Bund for helping bring him back to Michigan and mentoring the next step of his career.  “I’m honored to be part of the Michigan venture capital community and look forward to working with many of you in the future,” Ufer said.

Dr. David Brophy, professor of finance at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and winner of the MVCA 2016 Above and Beyond Award, is a 50-plus year member of the venture community as an educator, investor, advisor, trustee, director and author.  He’s also a visionary, having spotted the need for an event where entrepreneurs could showcase ideas and connect with early-stage investors.  The event he founded 35 years ago, the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, grew into the Midwest’s premier gathering of high-growth companies in new and emerging technologies.  MVCA Board Chairman Tony Grover thanked him for his important contributions to the VC community, followed by video accolades from longtime colleagues, friends, and former students.  Brophy thanked the MVCA, saying he’s “so proud of this organization and the professionalization of what you do.  The sense in this community of giving back and help companies progress is remarkable.”  The evening ended with a group photo of Dr. Brophy and many of his former students in attendance, now adults and fellow members of Michigan’s venture community.

Thank you to our sponsors; Michigan Economic Development Corporation, North American International Auto Show, Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, GM Ventures, Plymouth Ventures, Hopen Life Science Ventures, and Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss for helping the MVCA make the 2916 MVCA Annual Awards Dinner a great success.