Michigan Founders Fund Will Boost Entrepreneurs and Community Impact

The Michigan Founders Fund today announced it has been established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to serve the needs of entrepreneurial growth and community impact across the state.
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The Michigan Founders Fund today announced its establishment as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to support entrepreneurial growth across the state. // Stock Photo
The Michigan Founders Fund today announced its establishment as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to support entrepreneurial growth across the state. // Stock Photo

The Michigan Founders Fund today announced it has been established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to serve the needs of entrepreneurial growth and community impact across the state.

The MFF network of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have pledged 1 percent of equity, profit, or investment carry from their businesses into a fund for state-based grantmaking. The amount of seed capital was not provided.

Michigan Founders Fund is a spin-off of the Ann Arbor Entrepreneurs Fund, an initiative of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation that was launched in 2019 with a focus on Washtenaw County.

The newly established and re-structured organization is dedicated to serving the needs of communities throughout the state of Michigan and has 40 pledged members.

“There has never been a better time to be a founder in Michigan, or an investor,” says Trista Van Tine, executive director and co-founder of Michigan Founders Fund. “We are at an inflection point for high-growth entrepreneurship and its long-term impact in our state. At Michigan Founders Fund, we are leaning into this momentum because we know the significant economic, social, and cultural gains that come from successful tech ecosystems.”

According to data from Pitchbook, in 2020 more than 60 new ventures launched in the state that are focused on financial services, the future of the workforce, health care, mobility, and more.

Michigan also is the fastest growing state for VC investment (886 percent growth between 2016 and 2020, according to Crunchbase) and in recent years, Michigan has seen its cities ranked at the top of multiple lists showcasing innovation hubs.

From companies that were launched since 2010, there are more than 675 active, venture-backed startups in operation representing thousands of advanced sector jobs.

“Technology is a great equalizer,” says Dug Song, a co-founder of Michigan Founders Fund, chief strategy officer at Cisco, and co-founder of Duo Security in Ann Arbor. “To generate wealth via technology, you don’t need to have come from money. You don’t need to have land. You don’t need to have factories, raw materials, or natural resources.

“But to generate community wealth, tech founders and their companies need to be intentional about building a larger success that benefits all. The growing impact of Michigan’s tech sector gives us the opportunity to build an innovation economy where all belong, and I couldn’t be prouder of the founders and teams who have committed to building a more inclusive future for all.”

Michigan Founders Fund will provide startup leaders with programming and company-building support, culture-building tools, data, and a simple mechanism for philanthropic giving designed to create stronger, more inclusive communities across the state.

“Looking at the combined resources throughout the state, Michigan has all the makings of a thriving tech hub. Now is the time to amplify the Michigan story,” says Adrian Fortino, board treasurer and managing director of the Mercury Fund. “For us, the earlier in the startup lifecycle that we can support founders and get them connected to one another, the more we can drive density and inclusivity. This drives capital and talent attraction, necessitating a broader cultural shift in how our economic development entities and regulators view this sector in the state.”

Adds Van Tine, “Our work is designed to further equity, inclusion, and a ‘give where you live’ ethos, meaning more founders will be empowered and equipped to financially support their communities and address key issues our state struggles with.”

One MFF program driving equity and inclusion practices in the tech ecosystem is the MFF Future Founders Program, a DEI-focused internship program to provide underrepresented students with a pathway into the startup industry and to help companies develop or strengthen their DEI initiatives and access local and diverse talent pools.

In 2021, more than 75 students applied from colleges across the state and 12 students were hired for different startup companies, of which 58 percent identified as female and 92 percent BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color).

Now in its second year, 20 companies from Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Ann Arbor have signed on to offer paid internships to underrepresented, Michigan-based undergraduate students and more than 145 students have applied. Bank of Ann Arbor has also signed on to provide multi-year financial support to the program.

Joining the organization to lead community engagement and manage the Future Founders Program, is Sarah Craft, formerly Detroit director for Venture for America.

Michigan Founders Fund has appointed a new board of directors, co-chaired by Song and Bhushan Kulkarni, co-founder and CEO of InfoReady. Fortino will serve as treasurer. The organization states it will continue to build out a small, diverse executive board through 2022.

The organization also appointed a 12-person Advisory Council to accelerate its founder network and support programs, including:

For more information, visit www.MichiganFoundersFund.org.

For DBusiness magazine’s 2022 Michigan Venture Capital Report, visit here.

DBusiness also provides the most comprehensive list of all the VC firms, family funds, private equity firms, angel investors, and more in Michigan. It can be found here.

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