Ringing the Startup Bell

When the Innovation Partnerships’ team returned to our office in September 2021, we were quick to welcome back the cherished tradition of in-person bell ringing ceremonies.

University of Michigan inventors and startup founders get to celebrate the launch of their company by ringing the startup bell in a celebration of the hard work and long hours that lead to the positive impact they and their company will have for years to come.

As per ceremony tradition, inventors and founders are introduced by the Licensing Manager who helped them on their path to startup. This journey is often years in the making, with many interactions between the academic founders, the Innovation Partnerships team and other partners in the startup ecosystem. The Mentor-in-Residence (MIR) who assisted the faculty/founders, also speaks about their journey. Stories are shared, laughs are had. The work, dedication and impact are celebrated. Kelly Sexton, Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation Partnerships, presents founders with a commemorative award. Bryce Pilz, Executive Director of Licensing and Strategic Alliances, presents them with a copy of Rich Sheridan’s “Joy, Inc”, a book by a local entrepreneur and thought leader that has positively influenced our team’s work culture.

The event is capped by a triumphant ring of the bell, as well as photos of the team. For U-M startups interested in scheduling their bell-ringing, please contact Diane Bouis, Innovation Manager, Startup Incubator to schedule the event.

Since September, the following eleven startups have rung the bell at the Innovation Partnerships’ office –  here are some of their comments:

Bell Ringing – January 18, 2022  |  Simeone Marino and Ivo Dinov (Founders), GrayRain

“Thank you for your hospitality in January – it was amazing to see your terrific group, connect face-to-face …with Jim “The Whip” Arthurs, Drew “The Iron Man” Bennett, Maggie, Mark and everyone else. This would be hard to arrange during the good times, I’m impressed you managed it like pros during the pandemic.

Simeone, Ronak and I had a great time at the ringing of the GrayRain Innovation Partnerships’ Startup bell. It was a welcome recognition of the past efforts and a boost for our prospective activities. To be honest with you, now we are motivated to work hard to get another chance at ringing the bell, at the next GrayRain Phase or with another activity. For us, “ringing the bell” increases the pressure to meet the high expectations that come with a startup launch.

Thank you all for your support and nurturing of the Michigan entrepreneurial spirit.”

– Ivo Dinov

Bell Ringing – December 7, 2021  |  Jose Alvaro, Founder, MBrace

Bell Ringing – November 30, 2021  |  Xudong (Sherman) Fan, Founder, ChromeX

“Innovation Partnerships is very resourceful and provides wonderful service to the U-M research community. Without Innovation Partnerships, many technologies that we developed would have stayed inside the lab. The interaction with Innovation Partnerships is very easy going and they help me in every step towards eventual commercialization and ringing the Innovation Partnerships Startup bell.”

– Sherman Fan

Bell Ringing – November 10, 2021  |  Ian Richardson, Founder, Mineurva

“The Startup bell tradition was a fantastic way for our team to get together and recognize all of the people that worked together to get the project off the ground. It truly was a network of combined effort involving the university labs and clinics, Innovation Partnerships and our mentors, and the startup itself, all working together to bring novel University of Michigan technology to market with the end goal of improving patient care. The Startup bell ceremony was a great way to get everyone in the same room and celebrate the progress we’ve made and look to the path ahead.”

– Ian Richardson

Bell Ringing – November 9, 2021  |  Steven Young, Founder, Xondas

“Xondas took a long long time between reporting the PI’s invention to Innovation Partnerships and finally signing a license deal for the patent. Our company had several false starts and a few promising ideas that evaporated when businesses we were talking to got acquired or changed course. All this is to say I spent a lot of time in building 520 working with Innovation Partnerships staff, or just having chance conversations in the coffee nook with other entrepreneurs and advisors. That all changed when the pandemic hit and your offices closed to outsiders. Everyone kept working of course, but it wasn’t the same. The bell ringing ceremony was the first time I stepped foot in your offices in almost two years. It was a treat to reconnect with old acquaintances and see signs of life finally returning.

Also, the bell is a lot louder than it looks.”

– Steve Young

Bell Ringing – October 27, 2021  |  Eugene Chen, Founder, GeneToBe

“Thank you for all your help. When you [Innovation Partnerships] partner with us, we will secure success together, and we feel engaged as a team. We feel like we have a great team moving towards success.

Keep in touch. Feel free to reach out and we can help each other.”

– Eugene Chen

Bell Ringing – October 22, 2021  |  John Hollingsworth and Mark Newman, Founders, Eebu Health,

“The bell ringing was a great symbolic moment for me. When I began this journey with my co-founder and fellow University of Michigan professor, Mark Newman, we were new to the world of start-ups. Innovation Partnerships provided great support for us to be able to convert our idea into a real solution that is now making a difference for providers and patients. Innovation Partnerships helped us with the process of customer discovery and in developing a fund-raising pitch that eventually secured us 2 grants. However, it was about much more than just a pitch and the initial money. The process of developing the pitch allowed us to really understand our idea in the context of a business opportunity and to think about its strengths and risks more acutely. That preparation also allowed us to recruit a CEO and CTO to take the business to the next level.

Now, we’re working with 4 different departments across 3 provider organizations. And, Eebu is the key player in helping Michigan Medicine build out a solution to track and follow-up with patients on active surveillance for prostate cancer across Michigan. This work is in collaboration with Michigan Urological Surgery Improvement Collaborative (MUSIC) and integrates with Michigan Health Information Network (MiHIN)—this helps us coordinate with other initiatives in the state. Phase 1 went live in January to work with one provider organization, and phase 2 just began to add three more.

Perhaps without Innovation Partnerships, we would still be just an idea. So, there is obviously still a long way for us to go, but the bell ringing, to me, was a moment symbolizing a milestone and encouraging me to reflect on how far we’ve come.”

– John Hollingsworth

Bell Ringing – September 29, 2021  |  Sherif El-Tawil, Founder, HiPer Fiber

Bell Ringing – September 28, 2021  |  Chinedum Okwudire, Founder, Ullendo

Bell Ringing – September 15, 2021  |  Sridhar Lakshmanan, Founder, M-Vision, Inc.

“It was quite joyous. We were flattered to be in such good company, such as May Mobility and Refraction AI. Some of those companies are very well known, and the founders are friends of mine. They have closed multiple funding rounds.

We came there with our full team to mark the occasion, and there were four of us. We brought some swag, ceramic coasters, to pass out. Keith Hughes was emcee. As engineers, we are not practiced in selling ourselves. Keith was very good at prompting us and as a result we covered many bases with his help. I got to see the Mentor-in-Residence, Rich Zvosec, for the first time in person.

We brought our robot with us so people could see it. Under other circumstances, we would have demoed the robot, but there were too many people. [We] projected a video of the robot.”

– Sridhar Lakshmanan

Bell Ringing – September 8, 2021  |  Jeff Sakamoto, Founder, Zakuro LLC,

“Zakuro would not have happened without the support of Innovative Partnerships.  Innovation Partnerships is a beautifully-orchestrated, one-stop-shop for translating campus research into commercialized technology. Their support and experience allow profs like me to pursue startups in earnest. There are a few good folks in particular I have to thank.  Meera is the Mentor-in-Residence who played a critical role in guiding me and the Zakuro team (Drs. Norma Sosa CEO and Nate Taylor COO). Her wisdom, experience, calming demeanor, and connections were instrumental. Keith Hughes, is the gatekeeper of our 25+ U-M patents. Keith’s experience, support, and foresight allowed my group, colleagues, and me to establish a substantial intellectual property portfolio that legally protects our ideas. Meera and Keith’s connection to the greater U-M network also connected me with Rafael Castilla at Michigan Invests New Technology Startups – MINTS. Without THAT critical connection and Rafael’s faith and support, Zakuro would not be here today!

I also would like to thank Bryce Pilz for all of his support and patience with what has been a complicated, delicate, and intense endeavor. I thank Jay Ellis, Mike Psarouthakis, and Chuck Cole for their help in the earlier days and my former student Dr. Travis Thompson for his contributions over the years. Of course, I also have to thank Kelly Sexton for her support, forward-thinking, and for moving innovative partnerships forward, onward and upward.

Thank you Innovation Partnerships!”

– Professor Jeff Sakamoto