UM Launches Desai Family Accelerator To Help Startups

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and its College of Engineering have launched a new institution called the Desai Family Accelerator, dedicated to helping Michigan startups gain ground.

The accelerator will support early-stage ventures as they reach the critical phase between early development and the point at which they seek external investors.

Funding and support for the accelerator is being provided by the Desai Sethi Family Foundation, founded by Bharat Desai, a 1981 UM alumnus and founder of the technology services company Syntel Inc., and the Davidson Foundation.

UM officicials said the accelerator will be managed by the Ross School’s Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship. They said the addition of the accelerator will expand on existing entrepreneurial programs and courses offered by both entrepreneurial programs that include a wide array of action-based learning opportunities and support, such as business plan competitions, grants, seminars and the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization program.

“Support for entrepreneurship and education are core to the mission of the DS Foundation, and the Desai Family Accelerator brings these two elements together in perfect harmony,” Desai said. “This is a very personal cause for me, since I have first-hand experience navigating the challenging journey from student to entrepreneur. We look forward to seeing significant success stories emerging from this Accelerator, and believe this initiative will provide a boost to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and encourage the establishment of new and innovative ventures in Michigan.”

Forbes magazine in 2013 listed Desai No. 239 on its list of the nation’s 400 richest people, with a net worth of $2 billion.

Companies selected to participate in the accelerator will have access to:
* Mentoring from faculty and one of the most expansive alumni networks in the country
* Office space at Pillar Technology in downtown Ann Arbor
* Investment with funding from the program to help advance their ventures
* Staffing support by engaging entrepreneurial students via internships and other programs

Said Tom Frank, executive director of the UM Center for Entrepreneurship. “Most successful startups have multidisciplinary backgrounds, so the joint work of the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Zell Lurie Institute for this Accelerator will offer a complete value proposition to the companies who are involved. Our goal is to create and support more ventures from Michigan-based teams.”

Added Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute: “Tom and I both saw tremendous potential for positive impact that an accelerator could have in a budding entrepreneurial hub like Michigan. We also see it as a valuable learning opportunity for students across the University. While there are a variety of incubators, very few of our peers offer this type of accelerator and we are excited to launch this program for the companies and students alike.”

Kelly LaPierre has been named Managing Director of the Desai Family Accelerator, where she will lead the execution and development of the program, including the establishment and management of investments, and the mentoring and counseling of the program’s early startup businesses. LaPierre will also work closely with the region’s business and campus communities to further these relationships.

LaPierre joins the Accelerator from Detroit-based Grand Circus, a technology training institute funded by Detroit Venture Partners, where she served as director of marketing and operations. Previously, she has worked with a variety of startup companies at the Boston-based investment fund TechStars and at the Detroit-based entrepreneurship accelerator Bizdom.

“Having grown up in Michigan, I always wanted to return to be a part of the economic development in the state,” said LaPierre. “I’ve seen the impact that an accelerator can have on the startup ecosystem, and as a UM alumna, I am excited to replicate that in Ann Arbor. The Desai Family Accelerator will be a very unique addition to the resources that are available to startups in the area.”

In the coming weeks, information on the application process will be made available. It will be open to any Michigan-based startup, even if there is not a UM affiliation. To learn more, contact LaPierre at

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