Michigan’s investment symposium welcomes Silicon Prairie startups


David Brophy speaking at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium

Next month’s Michigan Growth Capital Symposium marks the 37th anniversary of the Ann Arbor-based venture fair. The symposium is the longest university-based venture fair of its kind, showcasing Midwest companies seeking funding and attracting top-tier investors from across the U.S.

“The investment landscape is constantly changing in reaction to the economic and legislative climate both here in the Midwest and the broader United States,” said David Brophy, director of the Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance at the University of Michigan. “The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium allows us the opportunity to hear from world-class speakers and learn from each other while forging and strengthening the relationships that will continue to move the Midwest’s entrepreneurial economy forward.”

Brophy said the venture fair started it as a local event in Michigan, but it has expanded over the years to be Midwest-regional. It’s grown to include investors from all over the country, including both coasts, and even some from foreign countries.

While Michigan is positioned outside the traditional boundaries of the Silicon Prairie, the state is proving to be an important component to the Midwest’s rise of technology and innovation with contributions to the advancement of healthcare, agriculture, transportation, software and technology applications.

“Many of the industries that had been very strong in the Midwest in the past and had taken a dip in the last 40 or 50 years, are beginning to come back,” said Brophy. “The biggest story is probably the decline of the automotive industry here in Michigan, but that’s been transformed and coming back, and is now married to technology. A lot of the activity here has a lot to do with the application of high-technology to transportation, autonomous vehicles and smart roads.”

Brophy said the belief used to be that Michigan companies, particularly those in Detroit, had to move to the west coast to survive and grow. But now the trend has shifted, and companies are moving to Michigan. The state is also seeing fewer people leaving after graduating college, people returning who have moved away, and newcomers moving to the state.

“We’re beginning to attract people,” said Brophy. “There’s a lot of reasons for people to want to come here. […] The fact that we have been and we continue to be a magnet for investors around the country is a very powerful, positive factor here in town and at the university.”

Brophy said he would like to see companies from Nebraska, Iowa and beyond come up to Michigan to take advantage of their cluster of investors and activity during the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.

Last year’s symposium was attended by over 550 people. Brophy said founders of early-stage companies, spanning a wide range of verticals and sectors, networked with angel investors, VCs and technology transfer professionals from several dozen top-ranked Universities.

“This is a great opportunity for anyone who is in the business of building a company to get out here and not only meet investors, but meet potential customers and sources of critically important talent,” said Brophy. “The more people you expose your company to, the better off your company is.”

Brophy said that as new places like Ann Arbor and Michigan continue to gain traction as innovation centers, the rest of the country will take note and recognize a change in the technological landscape.

“Technology is not confined to Silicon Valley,” said Brophy. “We’ve got a ways to go but [Michigan’s] whole transformation is being led by the entrepreneurial activity that’s been going on, particularly around technology.”


Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.