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Unveiling Michigan’s Brightest Startups and a $25,000 Grand Prize Winner at Ann Arbor SPARK’s Boot Camp Celebration

Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem applauded four early-stage companies Wednesday evening at Ann Arbor SPARK’s Entrepreneur Boot Camp Celebration. The companies, Hippo Creates, STEMpro, Tackboard, and PolicySwift pitched their ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to receive a $25,000 investment.

Taking home the Best of Boot Camp grand prize was Tackboard, a manufacturing plant application that immediately alerts managers and support function groups of down machines, helping save plants tens of thousands by minimizing downtime. Founder Josh Porter had a vision for the product and visited a number of tech hubs around the country before launching the idea. After speaking with Ann Arbor SPARK, he moved from southern Indiana to the area to pursue his business idea. Settling at Cahoots, a local co-working space, he quickly connected with Andrew Holmes, who, captivated by the idea, was eager to collaborate with Porter.

In addition to the great mentorship and other resources provided by Boot Camp, Porter and Holmes made a significant pivot after completing the program — a complete rebrand. “We wanted the name to reflect how our product serves as an information hub in the manufacturing space while conjuring a very familiar concept,” said Porter. 

When recognizing Tackboard, judge Will Grenawitzke noted that the founders’ passion and experience were immediately noticeable to judges. “The product has a clear commercialization path as a result of their deep understanding of the problem and the challenges associated with arriving at and implementing a solution.” 

Hippo Creates, runner-up in the Boot Camp Celebration, is led by co-founders Ewen Nicol and Dean Skolnik. Skolnik brings his rich experience as a second-time entrepreneur to the venture. Hippo Creates is developing a clinical practice software that promotes an enriched internship experience between students and clinical professionals with the goal of improving students’ compliance and lowering the barriers to completing a PA program accreditation. 

Boot Camp Celebration judge Matt Okoneski, Director, Venture Investments at Red Cedar Ventures stated, “Hippo Creates is addressing a real unmet need of supporting and training physician assistants (PA), as the number of new PAs has decreased in recent years. PAs are a vital part of the healthcare workforce. It’s a huge challenge and their solution was a very tangible idea. We look forward to seeing how the solution evolves over time.”

Entrepreneur Boot Camp is an intensive program to help entrepreneurs of early-stage, technology-driven companies quickly determine if they have a viable business opportunity and focus on crucial next steps. Based on Lean Startup principles, Boot Camp guides participants through the process of customer discovery to validate their ideas and develop the path forward.

Learn more about Ann Arbor SPARK’s Boot Camp.