Health-Care Startup CEOs Weigh Pros and Cons of Launching Companies in Michigan

The 2018 Michigan Growth Capital Symposium provided the perfect forum for a panel of startup executives to weigh the pros and cons of launching venture-backed health-care companies in Michigan. The pros far outnumbered the cons.

The “Big M” is a big plus for startup founders and chief executives in Ann Arbor, according to Jennifer Baird, a serial entrepreneur who is currently the founder and CEO of Trove Analytics, a digital health predictive analytics company

“I love building companies in this community,” she said. “The University of Michigan has one of the leading medical schools and research facilities, as well as tremendous engineering talent, which is very accessible. People are excited about innovation. They have passion and want to see things through. This continuity is very important to startups.”

Kurt Skifstad, the CEO of ArborMetrix, cited the evolution and maturation of the statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem and the resurgence of Detroit, “the original Silicon Valley,” as two key contributors to Michigan’s more favorable startup climate.

“It’s now more attractive for people to come here,” he said. “There’s more opportunity. We’re seeing large exits and re-fertilization of the community.”

Mark Forchette, president and CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies, relocated to Michigan from Silicon Valley. “This area offers access to sophisticated capital, talent and service providers,” he observed “We have everything we need [to build health-care startups].”

Recruiting talent, especially from the coasts, has been challenging for some startup executives, but they’ve found novel ways to overcome the problem.

“It’s a challenge for us as a biotech company to recruit talent,” explained Dan Rhodes, president and CEO of Strata Oncology. “If you join a company in the Bay Area or Boston and it fails, there are 15 others you can go to. But in Michigan, if the company doesn’t succeed, it’s a problem. So, I’ve spent a lot of time training people here in our technology rather than recruiting them. They stay with you and are very loyal.”

Sundu Brahamasandra, the president of NeuMoDx Molecular and the former co-founder of HandyLab, noted that while Michigan has “good talent in certain areas,” it lacks talent in other areas. “It is difficult to get people in [from the coasts], and they are expensive [to hire] and don’t stay,” he said. “However, some people can work remotely, so they don’t have to move here.”

The panelists agreed that the MGCS is helping to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem and put Michigan and the Midwest back on the map as a place where investment deals get done and VC-backed health-care startups thrive.

“The symposium and similar events are important, because people see something is happening,” Forchette said. “Now more VCs from the coasts want to come here.” Panel presented by Arboretum Ventures

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