West Michigan Firms Business Plans Get Financial Boost

May 20, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS – A trio of West Michigan firms were among the winners of the first phase of Great Lakes Venture Quest’s annual business plan competition.

Roger Newton, GLVQ board chairman, and Carol Lopucki, state director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center, presented nine awards last Wednesday to winners of Phase I of the competition at Grand Valley State University. Winners received $10,000 each while runners-up took home $5,000 checks.

The grand prize winner for the west region was Spinal Cord Regeneration, a Kalamazoo company developing and commercializing a treatment for spinal cord injuries. The two runners-up were Smart Writer, a Norton Shores company creating a highly interactive application to teach writing in college-level courses, and SiteLive, a Grand Rapids company that provides Web sites for car dealers where prospective car buyers can get instant message answers to questions.

Smart Writer, developed by sisters Sherri Barber and Leian Royce, was created in April. The sisters have created a software program that will guide college students in beginning writing classes through the process of writing a paper.

“It takes the student through the program and the entire time they are writing,” said Barber. “There is a logical process to writing and often students are too concerned about the mechanics, spelling, paragraph limits and everything else. Meanwhile, the professor has to focus on lecturing and doesn’t have the time to take with each student on their specific problem areas.”

With the Smart Writer program students are guided through each step of the writing process and are creating a rough draft the entire time, often not even realizing they are actually writing the paper. When a student runs into a problem area, they receive feedback, so it is tailored to each student’s need.

“Our hope is that, to begin with, this software will be a supplement to English classes and a required material,” said Royce. “We are looking for professors to require the software for the first three to four papers, and then maybe for the fourth or fifth paper require that the student write the paper without the help of the tool. By then, the process will be instilled in the student and they will be able to naturally write the paper.”

Smart Writer has been a family affair. Their father is a Ph.D college professor with a financial planning background; Barber is a CPA and has a business background; and Royce’s experience lies in software development. A sister and a brother are attorneys, and another sibling has experience with design.

“We are just trying to figure out what our last sibling can provide for us as a hair dresser,” Barber said, smiling.

The grand prize for the north region went to Agen BioSense, a Lansing company specializing in sensors for rapid detection of pathogens such as salmonella, anthrax and listeria. The two runners-up were TJ Pulse, a Midland company commercializing a compact electrical energy device — an ultraceptor — that delivers significantly more power than batteries, and Intellicon, an East Lansing company developing a suite of “intelligent control” applications to virtually eliminate power system outages worldwide.

In the east region, the grand prize winner was Neural Intervention, a Dexter company commercializing neural engineering research for directly communicating with the brain, such as treating brain vessel defects from inside the vessel to sustain brain function. The two runners-up were Mobius, a Detroit company developing technology to enable customers to engineer high-performance, low noise, mixed-signal, system-on-chip solutions, and Adaptive Materials, an Ann Arbor company manufacturing low-cost, reliable solid-oxide fuel cell modules for residential, commercial and automotive applications.

Upon departing the awards ceremony, each of the 102 participating teams was given feedback from the judges regarding their business plan and where improvement could be made for Phase II. Applications for the second phase are due March 15, and the awards ceremony will be held on April 8. For more information on Phase II of the competition or the entrants and winners of Phase I, check out the Web site, www.glventurequest.com.

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