Want Money? Get Money: 3 Successful Startups that Began with a Jump Start Grant

By Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern

About once a day, I get an idea that could (or most likely not) make me millions of dollars. The thoughts are endless: windshield wipers for my glasses, water fountains that spout Blue Frost Gatorade, a selfie stick that isn’t awful or illegal in Disney World; the list goes on and on. Regardless of whether my ideas are genius or not, the biggest hurdle is finding where and how to take that first step from “idea in my head” to something that really exists. Turns out Sir Richard Branson doesn’t accept business concepts drawn on the back of a coffee-stained comm syllabus as a viable investment plan. Who knew?

This is where The Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jump Start Grants come in. Since 2011, The CFE has been giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to students and teams who have an amazing idea they are trying to test out or turn into a business. Six times per year, students can apply to receive up to $2,000 to get their entrepreneurial ambitions…as it says…jump started!

Thousands of startups have filed through CFE’s Jump Start Grant program as that critical first step in moving entrepreneurial ideas forward. While those who discover their idea is a “no-go” are just as important as those who launched a business, here are 3 Successful Start-Ups that Began with a Jump Start Grant that are on their way to making it big:

 

 

  1. Morning Brew: Your Daily Fix of Everything Business.

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People all across the country are starting their day with a fresh, hot (-off-the-press) Morning Brew. No, I’m not talking about your triple, Venti, soy, no-foam latte, extra-hot. Morning Brew is an intellectual wake-up, designed to be a quick and easy one-stop-shop business news source. Because, let’s be real, no one has time to read the Wall Street Journal front to back anymore. MB comes out daily in a newsletter format, with interesting content that is relevant to anyone, whether you are working in business or not. Co-founder Austin Rief says that MB is also distinguished by it’s conversational, edgy and at times, humorous delivery of content.

The Morning Brew story began last year, when a few students at the Ross School of Business decided that business news was not fun or enjoyable for people to read (especially for us younger people). Their first idea was to send out an email to fellow students and friends with an attached PDF of an interview with a well-known business executive or leader. They wanted to keep people up-to-date with what’s most important to know about in current business news, right from the source. The team grew to two editors and six writers as more and more students were demanding the content. But, how did this team get out of the Ross basement and turn a “crappy” PDF into a nationally read newsletter?

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            In the Winter Semester of 2015, the MB team applied for a Jump Start Grant, which gave them the boost in cash they needed to turn a simple email into one of the University’s most successful student startups. After receiving the grant, Morning Brew was able to contract their first newsletter management service, Mail Chimp, fund a professional campus rep program, pay legal fees, obtain an LLC and of course, get some stellar swag for marketing. Morning Brew has now grown tremendously, gaining solid readership and subscription in 46/50 states, 20+ countries and at least 50 college campuses. In addition to being featured daily on BroBible, Morning Brew is highly regarded as a credible source of news among many important industry leaders such as JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs.

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And it all was launched with a Jump Start Grant.

 

 

  1. InFusion Technologies: Powering the Future. Today.

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            Ever wonder how smart U-M students are? Let’s consider this startup team who developed their idea in high school. A few years ago, Alex Cox, who is now a junior in LS&A, learned that up to 50 percent of a building’s energy use goes towards the heating or cooling. Alex’s ambitious first thought was: That’s not right, I can fix it. From there, a green-energy company was born. Alex and his team studied the market and saw that we mainly heat buildings with high environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels. With Alex’s energy smarts, his team of engineers, and a marketing whiz, InFusion Technologies began to sketch out a prototype for a machine that could split water molecules to directly pump hydrogen into natural gas lines, leading to a decrease in CO2 emissions and natural gas use.

10425127_602551829874928_5869997380261444901_nIn the Winter Semester of 2014, InFusion (formerly known as Go Green Technologies) applied for a team grant, receiving $1,500 to build their first archetype. With their grant, they were able to buy tools and materials to start building their hydrogen generator. Alex says: “Without our Jump Start Grant, this would’ve been impossible. The prototype couldn’t have been produced without CFE.” This was just the spark the team needed to bring their idea to reality.

Today, InFusion is breaking into the clean energy market on multiple fronts. Beyond developing their hydrogen technology, they also offer solar panel installations and cleaning, along with a project in-the-works for making trucks more efficient. The business is continuing to grow as they see more and more corporate and individual customer demand.

 

And it all was launched with a Jump Start Grant.

 

 

 

  1. Funkin’ Seeds: Freshly Seasoned Pumpkins Seeds with a Funky Crunch.

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            All of the best ideas start in mom’s kitchen, right? That was the case for five fraternity brothers in AEPi. Jared Robins’ mother made the world’s best, seasoned pumpkin seeds. She would send him a package of seeds, and they wouldn’t see the light of the next day. When these five guys enrolled in UC270 Entrepreneurial Creativity, their assignment was to create a business that would thrive. That’s exactly what they did. With the help of Professor Eric Fretz, Mrs. Robins’ seasoned seed recipe went from home-kitchen treats to taking over the streets of Ann Arbor. The team of Robins, Rosenburgh, Silverstein, Barse, and Cohen transformed the ever-popular seasoning into their own delicious creation. And Funkin’ Seeds was born. The crew of Funkin’ boys were making seeds, with their new and improved seasoning recipe, in kitchens across campus, trying to keep up with the never-ending demands from Greek life students, athletes, and even A2 locals. These seeds are the snack for fall. If you don’t believe me, just ask our hero Jim Funkin’ Harbaugh…

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            With a consumer market that was begging for this healthy, delicious snack, the team applied for a Jump Start Grant in the Winter Semester 2015. The grant helped Funkin’ buy bulk supplies such as seeds, labels and seasoning to grow their customer reach and keep our campus fed. Funkin’ Seeds also received startup advice from Matt Gibson, CFE’s Undergraduate Director, which led to more than $2,000 of free legal help from Varnum Legal. Since receiving the Jump Start Grant, Funkin’ Seeds has been able to start cooking from a commercial kitchen, realizing their dream of making a Michigan-Made product that students love.

 

And it all was launched with a Jump Start Grant.

 

 

 

 

Ok, so maybe seasoned pumpkin seeds, revolutionized business news, and molecule splitters are cooler than a Gatorade fountain…but, whatever. The point is that no matter how big your idea ends up growing (or not), you have to be bold enough to take the first step towards making it work in the world. That’s what CFE’s Jump Start Grants are here to help you do.

Stop rolling that idea around in your head – DO something about it! Apply now for your own kick-start of cash. The first round of grant applications are due Sunday, October 4, so don’t wait: Apply here.