Desai Aims to Foster Collaboration

By Amanda Lewan on June 3rd, 2016 / Comments

Up at the Mackinac Policy Conference this year we spoke with Managing Director of the new Desai Accelerator Kelly LaPierre. Kelly joined Desai for their first cohort last year, announcing a new class just a few months ago (see the six startups in the summer 2016 class here).

Kelly shared with us why a “founder friend” approach is important, and her hopes for more Detroit and Ann Arbor collaboration.

What is the Desai Accelerator? 

The Desai Accelerator is a joint effort between the Ross college and the college of engineering at the University of Michigan.  The program is based in Ann Arbor. The first cohort was last year in 2015 summer and we just invested in six more startups. We created our structure to differentiate ourselves through the University of Michigan network. This comes from the alumni population that are mentors, sponsors, and students. I have seven students working with our startups now and 95 applied to work. They are so excited about the entrepreneurial environment.

We talked before about how your setup to be founder friendly. Can you share more about this approach and the culture there?

We’re very founder friendly. When we invest in the companies we invest in a founder friendly way. It’s called a SAFE investment, that converts to equity or debt at a later day.

Plus you have access to talent from the university to help you design, develop, and come up with new ideas. All of the students are working on different companies and they all collaborate together. They are all based in our location in Downtown Ann Arbor and work side by side on a day to day basis. We are invested in each other’s success. A high tide raises all ships and that’s the culture we facilitate and encourage. They can learn in that process and help one another do well.

Some are from Detroit, Yispi, etc and most return back to their roots but still have a presence and stay connected to the Ann Arbor office. It’s not just a one time thing. We want them to come back to connect and be in this community in Ann Arbor.

Why are you interested in tech entrepreneurship and working with entrepreneurs?  

I think what most drew me to entrepreneurs was the energy they have. They are so passionate about their work. Even if it’s something I know nothing about, or can’t relate to, working with someone who loves something deeply is inspirational. The tech side of things is interesting because it can be applied to so many areas. It can make so many things easier and simpler. That to me is innovation. 

What do you hope to see for the next 5-10 years in the startup community?

I really hope within the startup community here, that Ann Arbor and Detroit start collaborating more. They are geographically so close together and can benefit from the different things happening. I also hope that entrepreneur expands beyond tech. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in the state of Michigan to be entrepreneurial in the arts and music and restaurants and local business. That’s where i hope to see the community evolving. Let’s take what we’ve learned from tech successes we’ve had and apply them to other areas.

Learn more about the Desai Accelerator here. 

About the Author

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan

Editor @michipreneur. Co-founder Bamboo Detroit. Follow me @Amanda_Jenn. I love telling the story of entrepreneurs and innovators.