On March 29, the Cove hosted Wolverine Angels Night, a collaborative event between Michigan University alumni and Applied Innovation, where three different startup founders shared stories and successes about their startups. Wolverine Angels was created to connect the world of investors, entrepreneurs, and executives in the University of Michigan community.
Wolverine Angels invests in the best opportunities, regardless of affiliation to Michigan. A portion of the investment returns is donated to entrepreneurial programs at University of Michigan. Shane Kelly, Founder and Managing Partner of Wolverine Angels, MC’d the evening and began with an emphasis on the support of early businesses. According to Kelly, a startup is “one of the hardest things you will ever do.” He notes that actively seeking out promising startups to offer advice, mentorship, clients, or funding are key ways to benefit the business community and give back. Wolverine Angels (WA) reflects this attitude. Eventually, Kelly wants to have a virtual mentorship program to further encourage entrepreneurial growth. Finishing his synopsis on WA, Kelly welcomed the event’s first presenter, Bennett Washabaugh, CEO and Co-founder of TenantBase.
Washabaugh graduated from the University of Michigan and moved to Chicago, where he became a commercial real estate broker. Although he loved his job, Washabaugh realized “an inherent problem” with the industry in communicating with small businesses looking for office leases. Upon further research, he realized that these underserved companies make up 81 percent of the market. “No brokerage model exists to effectively service these small tenants at scale,” Washabaugh explains. Recognizing the issue, he seized the opportunity to create TenantBase, a convenient consumer based platform for small business lessors. Through this website, companies have full control of searching and deciding on spaces while maintaining a connection with an experienced advisor in order to navigate the intricacies of real estate jargon. TenantBase offers exclusive deals, popular and recommended spaces, high quality pictures, and monthly rental rates so clients have an easily navigable experience. So far, the company has done exceedingly well with only two markets – Nashville and Irvine. However, it recently secured a Custom State partnership which removes barriers to 65 markets and allows TenantBase to access even more small companies as potential clients.
Eddie Lin, CEO and Co-Founder of Nexus Edge, delivered the second presentation. Through a brief example involving autocomplete suggestions on Google, Lin proved the disparate state of young people in the job market – college graduates are either not finding jobs or are underemployed. “That’s why my Uber driver had an engineering degree from UPenn,” Lin jokes. Jobs, Lin notes, are no longer posted on job boards as everything now centers around networking. Taking issue with the underutilization of the millennial population, Lin developed Nexus Edge, an AI driven virtual career services platform that provides students career support via video chat with mentors. Using the tool involves a three step process. First, a student answers questions regarding interests, fields of study, and potential career goals. Once completed, the website creates a “personalized roadmap” that includes articles, jobs, and LinkedIn learning resources. After that, the student is paired up with a mentor with matching experience and, as research suggests, makes the student 40% more likely to get a job. Lin values the face to face interaction with the client and even joined the Cypress College faculty to engage more with his client base. Lin notes, “High engagement is so important. You can’t just reach out to people in the ivory tower.” With this attitude and a key partnership with LinkedIn, Lin plans to connect Nexus Edge with even more educational institutions and benefit an increasing amount of determined students.
Brock Christoval, the co-founder of Wayfinder startup Flyspan spoke last. An experienced entrepreneur with a history working in the defense industry, Christoval knows the importance and potential of drone technology. A tool popular among police departments and other agencies, drones serve a clear purpose in the surveillance community. Unfortunately, the data overload from drones prevents quick decision making, which is a key component to many organizations that use drones. As a result, Christoval co-founded Flyspan which provides real time analytics, as it is captured, with drones. The software, Flyview, benefits clients in three areas: extraction, management, and analytics of the data. It allows, say, the chief of police to see the data from a drone without ever leaving her workspace. The potential for this technology is high as the market is predicted to be worth 126 billion dollars by 2022. The way Christoval sees it, “In 50 years, you’ll look up and the sky will be filled with autonomous vehicles.” His company seeks to benefit the ever growing development of machinery for the future.