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Ann Arbor SPARK positions startups for success in major competition

There was an overarching theme in the missions of the startup companies who won the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition: care in community.
  • The first place, $500,000 winner was SPLT; a company devoted to changing the way people commute worldwide, focusing specifically on underserved markets.
  • JOOL Health was awarded third place overall and won $50,000 for their purpose driven solution to promote a healthy change. JOOL is a mobile and web-based solutions that support purpose-driven health engagement for individuals
  • Movellus Circuits was awarded a $25,000 prize, focusing on research and how to make computer chips more efficient.
For Anya Babbitt and Yale Zhang, their vision to help bring Ann Arbor into the future of transportation has lofty goals. Babbitt and Zhang had very specific purposes in mind for starting mobility company and transportation platform, SPLT. Their vision is to change the way people meet and move worldwide, and reformat cities of the future.
“I hate driving,” Zhang said. “One of the biggest barriers of living in America is that you need a car to get around. I come from a background of 10 years in transportation and we want to find a way to help improve the transportation of people; this industry is very fascinating.”
SPLT is partnering with Lyft to help patients reach nonemergency medical appointments on time, which has tremendous impacts in underserved markets.
“Ann Arbor SPARK has been a tremendous place for our team to learn and grow; it’s a place we now call home,” Babbitt said. “They have enriching workshops, industry experts that come in, networking events and they connect us to the community. It feels like a family to us.”
Zhang said that SPLT received a lot of great guidance from SPARK in preparation for the competition.
“They helped us with the layout of our pitch and many of our slides came from different times we have received coaching from SPARK,” Zhang said.
Babbitt first became interested in transportation from researching congestion in large cities. Through technology and innovation, she wants to relieve these cities of congestion.
“Entrepreneurship is something that is really unique and SPARK is the epicenter of entrepreneurship in Michigan,” Babbitt said. “We have benefitted from working alongside some of the best entrepreneurs in the state and country and benefitted from the resources SPARK has given us. They helped us refine our pitch and business plan, gave us individual mentors and helped us reshape business in the way we look at customer engagement. This wouldn’t have been possible without their help.”
Each company has a specific purpose to not only grow their business in order to better serve their clients and users, but to also contribute to the growing prosperity in the city that made it all happen – Ann Arbor.
“Ann Arbor SPARK was very supportive in helping develop our website and just very supportive overall; it’s great to have them in our community,” said Victor Strecher, founder and CEO of JOOL Health. “SPARK keeps great talent in this region interested in staying here. We feel like Ann Arbor is a hotbed of very strong talent in software engineering, marketing and sales, and SPARK is a hub of that talent. SPARK provides a nice anchor and keeps our ecosystem thriving.”
Strecher is also a professor at the University of Michigan in the school of public health and often encourages his students to seek entrepreneurship. He said his personal mission is to help people find greater meaning in their lives and JOOL is an extension of a greater personal mission for him.
“With JOOL, I want to transform the wellness industry by focusing on well-being, programs for people and precision models of how to help each individual,” Strecher said. “JOOL wants people to have real health, that aligns with their own purpose in life.”
Movellus Circuits is a company that stemmed from Muhammad Faisal’s doctorate research in accessing technology that has to do with improving performance of computer chips and power consumption.
“My goal was to research how to make chips more efficient and we got interest from companies like Intel that were also curious about this technology,” Faisal said. “This technology has commercial value and I’ve always wanted to do a startup, since I worked at one in college.”
Faisal said his startup is going strong and customers value his company’s technology, which brings in money from Silicon Valley to the Ann Arbor area. Movellus Circuits, located downtown Ann Arbor, started in April 2014.
“I came to Ann Arbor for my Ph.D. seven years ago from Toronto, so there was a bit of a culture shock,” Faisal said. “But there are a lot of things to do in Ann Arbor and it is pretty diverse; it’s grown on me. I see my really talented colleagues move to California and not even consider applying locally after they graduate. There is no need to do that. There has to be a way to retain talent here.
All of Faisal’s employees are engineers who graduated from U of M and he wants to find a way to keep more engineers in Ann Arbor.
He said SPARK has been really helpful, especially in helping his company hire their first intern and continuing to help them hire interns, who have now stayed on with Movellus Circuits full time.
“The team at SPARK have been great supporters,” Faisal said. “They add so much value to our company.”
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