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University of Michigan’s Desai Accelerator kicks off first-ever virtual cohort

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ANN ARBOR – University of Michigan’s Desai Accelerator has launched its 2020 cohort online.

Like most university programs during the coronavirus pandemic, Desai has moved its operations to a virtual platform. The accelerator invests in early-stage tech-enabled startups each year, and this year five teams made the cut.

According to program leaders, it is the most diverse cohort the accelerator has had to date.

Over the course of the next ten months, Desai will provide the teams with funding, national visibility, tailored mentorship opportunities and other resources to help their startups off the ground.

Managed by the University of Michigan Ross School of Businesses’ Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Services, the Desai Accelerator will guide the businesses from early-stage development through pitches to external investors.

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Here is a breakdown of this year’s companies, according to Desai:

  • For Dearborn (4D) - aspires to be the largest and most impactful media company representing Arabs and Muslims through authentic content. Audiences can feel proud of how they are depicted in 4D, which in 2019 launched its first production: the Dearborn Girl podcast.
  • Lillian Augusta - revolutionizes Black hair care by offering plant-based braiding hair, an alternative to the traditional plastic-based braiding hair that causes discomfort for women who wear it and plastic pollution in our environment. Combating plastic pollution will require solutions on all fronts, and Lillian Augusta’s contribution is hair without harm.
  • Nochi - a studio creating games with educational content in the form of young adult, visual novel entertainment while providing game-related experiences and merchandise related to its original IPs. Nochi’s developed apps combine the two genres of manga (graphic novels) and gaming.
  • Vitresoft - a privacy conscious Brain Computer Interface startup, which developed a revolutionary pair of earphones that allow users to connect with themselves, friends and the digital world using their minds. Utilizing a patent pending approach, users and developers will have access to an intuitive digital toolset, allowing them to create expressive art, share intimate experiences and have a deeper insight into their own thoughts and emotions.
  • YourCheck, Inc. - allows anyone to obtain their background checks and a Trusty score, indicating the individuals’ trustworthiness based on the company’s unique algorithm. YourCheck, Inc.’s mission is to become the Credit Karma of background checks.

This year’s cohort has a unique challenge of navigating the dynamic economic landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the current environment, it’s more important than ever that startups truly understand how to meet customer needs," Angela Kujava, managing director of the Desai Accelerator, said in a news release.

"The Desai Accelerator provides cohort companies with the resources, guidance and mentorship to do just that, and we’re thrilled to be able to honor our commitments to seed capital, programming and hiring right now. Our programming will have an enhanced focus on revenue generation and sales as understanding how to bring in cash is mission-critical for these early-stage companies.”

WATCH: Managing Director of Desai Accelerator talks tech in Ann Arbor

Desai offers its teams 10 paid interns, regular meetings with established mentors and additional support from industry experts.

To learn more about the Desai Accelerator, visit www.desaiaccelerator.umich.edu.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.