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Ann Arbor Spark

July 15, 2019

Ann Arbor SPARK Awards $25,000 to “Best of Boot Camp” Winner Nickels

Daniel Capadilpo and Joseph Gracia (with daughter) of Nickels, pose with Entrepreneur Boot Camp mentor Lee Gorman.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – JULY 15, 2019 — ANN ARBOR, MICH. — At the conclusion of its latest Entrepreneur Boot Camp, Ann Arbor SPARK awarded Nickels its $25,000 Best of Boot Camp prize and Perch its $10,000 runner-up prize. The winners were selected by an esteemed panel of experts, based on the business’s investor pitch.

Boot Camp is designed for entrepreneurs who are prepared to assess and validate the feasibility of their business concept, build a business model, and find beta customers. Participants get hands-on assistance to test ideas over an intense multi-week program, interacting with multiple mentors and early stage investors.

“A healthy tech economy commits resources to make sure that startups are encouraged and given every opportunity to succeed,” explained Bill Mayer, vice president of entrepreneurial services. “Entrepreneur Boot Camp is how startups in the Ann Arbor region get on the on-ramp for this type of support. Throughout the experience, we see entrepreneurs pivot, decide to not pursue an idea, and position themselves for future company development and investment.”

The winning company, Nickels, is a behaviorally informed digital guide designed to defuse the pitfalls that undermine borrowers during repayment.  It is focused on reducing borrowers’ student loan default rates while becoming their trusted financial guide as they enter the working world.

“SPARK’s Boot Camp is a great introduction to the Ann Arbor tech community and the network of resources available to entrepreneurs,” said Nickels founder Joseph Gracia. “I met a number of great mentors throughout this process.  Also, the Boot Camp’s continued emphasis on pitching our venture helped us to refine our story and crystalize our vision as a startup.”

Perch founder Akira Nishii makes his pitch during the Best of Boot Camp competition.

Ann Arbor SPARK’s Entrepreneur Boot Camp runner-up Perch is an online employment platform specialized for researchers in academia and industry.

“SPARK’s Boot Camp helped us refine our investor pitch and clarify our business plan,” explained Akira Nishii, Perch founder. “We were also able to get connected to incredible mentors, who we’ve continued to interact with even after Boot Camp. Our next steps involve obtaining a critical mass of users onto our platform to build a sustainable two-sided market.” 

About Ann Arbor SPARK

Ann Arbor SPARK, a non-profit organization, is advancing the region by encouraging and supporting business acceleration, attraction and retention. The organization identifies and meets the needs of business at every stage, from start-ups to large organizations. Ann Arbor SPARK collaborates with business, academic, government, and community investor partners. For more information, please call (734) 761-9317 or visit www.AnnArborUSA.org.