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!”