Five startup businesses receive funding through MCC

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published July 29, 2015

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Last May, Mahesh Lunani left his position as vice president of a large corporation to pursue the goal of starting his own company.

It was a gamble, but one that is paying off.

Lunani was among five business owners named as recipients of the inaugural round of awards from the Innovation Fund Macomb Community College, powered by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The five local technology-focused startup businesses received a total of $275,000 in funding, and were recognized during a ceremony July 21 at the Macomb University Center on MCC’s Center Campus.

Lunani’s Rochester Hills-based company AQUASIGHT, along with GAP Quality Systems, located in Southfield, and KTISIS, located in Sterling Heights, each received $25,000 awards. The $25,000 awards were designed to support early-stage companies.

MyFab5 and TurtleCell, both Ann Arbor companies, each received $100,000 awards, which were designed to advance the progress of emerging companies toward larger-scale funding. 

Lunani, GAP Quality Systems CEO Gracemary Allen; KTISIS principal Stephen Chue; MyFab5 co-owner Omeid Seirafi-Pour and Jeremy Lindlbauer; director of brand and marketing for TurtleCell, accepted the awards in person.

The five companies were selected from a field of 30 applicants. The candidates underwent a two-stage process that included pitching their business to a screening committee. The highest-rated companies then moved on to a selection committee — comprising of area professionals with experience in business management, finance, law, marketing and technology — who made the final award recommendations.

“It’s very exciting for us,” said Lunani, who addressed the crowd. “This allows us to grow, and validates the business is unique. It’s a great motivator. It just feels good to be here.”

AQUASIGHT provides a solution for water pumping systems that can be applied to surface and groundwater systems and wastewater pumping stations to identify performance issues that, once corrected, conserve energy and water.

“We want to develop our solutions where water departments have the opportunity for more efficient pumping. Water prices have been increasing across the country. AQUASIGHT is trying to curb the increases,” Lunani said. “We tap into pre-existing sensors so the department can be more efficient, (incur) less expenses and have higher quality. We censor the efficiency of what they’re pumping.”

MyFab5, which Seirafi-Pour co-owns with John Gulbronson and Calvin Schemanski, is an online marketing platform that streamlines social media marketing for restaurants. The software provides a single dashboard that can be used for automating and  streamlining the creation of custom marketing plans, analyzing audience, generating leads, creating and publishing social media posts, tracking and engaging fans, and creating analytic reports. The app can be used worldwide, including in the Detroit area, Houston, Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

“The $100,000 will help with our long-term success. It’s great to see Macomb placing some big bets in entrepreneurs. We’re very appreciative of this,” Seirafi-Pour said. “People use us to recommend places and other things restaurants can do. We talk to over 100 of our users every, single day. Our vision is to be the first place restaurants go to share content online.”

The Innovation Fund is a $2.7 million effort to stimulate economic development and job growth among promising Detroit-area entrepreneurs and next-stage businesses with high-growth potential. Funding is provided by MCC’s Strategic Fund and JPMorgan Chase as part of their $100 million commitment to Detroit’s economic recovery.

TurtleCell is thin-profile smartphone case with retractable headphones, designed as an all-in-one solution to tangled, broken and lost headphones.

According to college officials, GAP Quality Systems is an automated process for inspecting chrome-plated and high-gloss painted parts to replace the automotive industry’s current “human” visual inspection process. The computer-aided visual inspection process will allow for the establishment of numeric standards recognized by both suppliers and customers, reducing the waste of parts and environmental impact.

KTISIS is a composite container system to enable fleet vehicles to use either compressed natural gas or liquefied gas. Leveraging NASA technology related to advanced composite materials and manufacturing technologies, the universal storage system maximizes the existing natural gas refueling infrastructure.

“Right now we are developing a plan to further develop the prototype, (and) get it designed and built,” Chue said, adding the gas is for “heavy duty commercial vehicles,” including semi-trucks, buses and garbage trucks. “We already have a number of interested companies that would like to test our prototype.”

MCC President Dr. James Jacobs; JPMorgan Chase head of Workforce Initiatives Chauncy Lennon; and Rich Sheridan, an MCC alumnus and president and CEO of Menlo Innovation, in Ann Arbor, were guest speakers at the awards ceremony.

The second application cycle for the Innovation Fund closes July 31. Entrepreneurs involved in high-growth technology-focused business, such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, alternative energy, healthcare, and logistics and supply chain are eligible to apply. The companies must locate within a nine-county region consisting of Genesee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Shiawassee, St. Clair, Washtenaw or Wayne counties. Information about the application process is available at www.macomb.edu/cie.