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High school sports platform wins $500K

November 18, 2013
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High school sports platform wins $500K grand prize
The athletics website for South Christian High School in Grand Rapids is powered by Varsity News Network. Photo via

A Grand Rapids-based platform for high school sports websites plans to expand farther “across the country” after winning the $500,000 grand prize at an international business competition.

Varsity News Network has won the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, which offers more than $1 million in prizes and awards.

The guest list at the event last week at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall included investors from 77 global firms, 50 entrepreneurs and 35 student competitors from all over the world.

The competition is a collaboration among the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Quicken Loans/Opportunity Detroit, the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan and the New Economy Initiative.

Grand-prize winner

Being picked as the winner out of such a talented and impressive crowd was quite a surprise, said VNN Founder and CEO Ryan Vaughn.

Vaughn said that the win was a celebration of and testament to the hard work of VNN’s 21-person team.

VNN will use the prize money to develop its mobile strategy by creating and releasing a mobile app, Vaughn said.

“We’re also in the process of a national expansion,” Vaughn said. “Right now, we’re in about 13 states, and our goal in 2014 is to expand our reach across the country. The award plays into our overall state expansion. It was on our roadmap, and now we have the resources.”

VNN’s success is due to the fact that it solves communication problems for athletic directors, Vaughn said.

Vaughn said athletic directors can be overwhelmed keeping up communication with the different stakeholders of high school sports, especially when everybody is using so many different types of social media.

Vaughn said VNN won the competition, because it takes a complex problem people face and makes it simple, offering one platform for everybody to use.

West-side representation

Vaughn also noted that VNN’s win possibly signaled a shift in the identity of the competition.

Historically, the competition has been dominated by businesses from the east side of the state, often in the life sciences industry, Vaughn said.

But with VNN’s win, along with the success of Soletics, a Grand Valley State University student startup, the tides could be shifting.

Soletics took home the evening’s Grand Award of $25,000 in the Student Competition category.

“It’s pretty cool to have to west side businesses win it,” Vaughn said.

Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition winners, 2013

Company Sector Awards, $25,000 cash prize

NextEnergy Transportation and New Mobility Award: Wave Aircraft

DTE Alternative Energy Award: Inmantech, Inc.

Masco Advanced Materials Award: Lite Brake

Comcast Information Technology Award: PlanReaction

Life Science Award: Cure Launcher

Medical Device Award: ENT Biotech Solutions

Next Generation Manufacturing Award: AutoBike

Products & Services Award: PinDrop, Inc.

People's Choice Award, $10,000 cash prize

Turtle Cell

Student Competition Award

Grand Award Winner, $25,000: Soletics 

Second Prize Award Winner, $15,000: SIB Medical Technologies, LLC

Third Prize Award Winner, $10,000: AirFuel

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