Mich. startups pitch at UM venture capital symposium

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti — Thomas Davison hadn’t been back to his hometown of Brighton in decades, but when he heard about the work being done at the medical device startup FlexDex Surgical, he knew he wanted to be involved.

“This is what I consider disruptive technology,” said Davison, who is now the company’s chairman and CEO.

A hand-held surgical device being developed by FlexDex Surgical allows surgeons more movement and stability during endoscopic procedures. The device began with two doctors at the University of Michigan who were trying to make surgical sutures easier for themselves. It will be on the market by the first quarter of next year.

It was important for the company to remain in Michigan, said Davison.

“We have a pool here of engineers from the automotive industry,” he said. “Now those engineering talents are being directed in other areas.”

FlexDex Surgical was one of more than 30 startups that gave presentations Tuesday at the 34th annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. The event seeks to link entrepreneurs from Michigan and the Midwest with investment capital by inviting venture capitalists from around the country to listen to pitches.

The companies, which are in their early or growth stages, include representatives from health care technology and business technology. They are seeking anywhere from $1 million to $20 million in equity funding.

“It’s important for any startup to really get invested in the process,” said Ian Charles, CEO of Ann Arbor-based LifeBlood, which is pioneering a blood test to detect multiple sclerosis. It promises to reducing testing costs, uncertainty and discomfort for patients.

“It’s things like this where people know you’re in the market,” said Charles. “It’s a good way to get out there.”

The annual event was started by David Brophy at the Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. He said he founded the event because he saw a gap in funding that was available to Michigan companies.

“We recognized that while we had a lot of technology in Michigan, we had a hard time commercializing it and bringing in investment,” Brophy said during a luncheon at the Eagle Crest Marroitt in Ypsilanti. “The whole question was how do we get professional investors. Since we had none, we thought up this program.”

Keynote speaker Brad Keywell, a Michigan native who co-founded and then sold Groupon for a profit, told a crowd of nearly 500 that building connections at an event like this can make all the difference.

“Capital is plentiful,” Keywell said, “but the value of those who can help you on your journey is invaluable.”

Keywell, who attended the University of Michigan’s business and law schools, said the state can continue to produce industry-changing startups, but failure needs to be an option.

“Our laws are designed to promote failure through the bankruptcy culture,” he said. “So why can’t our society accept those who are willing to take a risk and fail?”

The annual symposium is known for attracting high-quality investors since its inception in 1980. More than 1,000 companies have secured more than $1 billion in funding since then through the program.


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