16 Michigan Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2014

From college students to venture backed CEOs, I can assure you these people are worth keeping in your sight this year. 

There’s no denying that Michigan breeds top tier business talent. Take Larry Page (born in East Lansing), Tony Fadell (born in Farmington Hills), Eric Lefkofsky (born in Detroit), and even William Hewlett (born in Ann Arbor) for example. With all of the excitement and energy buzzing around the growth of tech hubs across Michigan, I wouldn't be surprised if the next big startup was birthed from someone with ties to the state. Now if you're wondering if I think they'll stay here to build their company, that’s a discussion for another post.

Below you'll find 16 people that I believe are prime for a major success, sooner or later. They all come from different walks of life and are doing somewhat different things, but are each talented and share the drive & determination needed to succeed.

Chase Lee

Chase Lee is the CTO of Ambassador (Techstars NY ‘11), Co-Founder of Fetchnotes (Techstars Boston ‘12), and manages Hackers & Hustlers, the popular Facebook group. Prior to physically meeting Chase in October of 2012, I watched him and Alex Schiff from a far. For me it was inspiring watching two guys around the same age as me break all of the “traditional rules” of running a business. They hustled 4+ months of server space by singing karaoke, converted a PR nightmare into site traffic growth, and have raised a little under $500k in funding. From the brief interactions I've had with Chase over the years I can assure you that this guy has the hustle, network, and intelligence to do something massive. Plus, from my experiences I'd say he’s nice, resourceful, and extremely helpful. Stay on the look out for Chase!

Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the CMO of backstitch and a Co-Founder of Bamboo, a members-only collaborative workspace and community in Detroit. There he leads all operations and community efforts with co-founders Brian Davis and Mike Ferlito (Owner of Anytime Fitness Detroit). As someone who personally knows Dave, I can tell you that he is extremely passionate about contributing to the revitalization of the city. When he’s not working on backstitch, he spends the bulk of his free time helping others, including kidpreneur Asia Newson (aka Super Biz Girl). I don't know what’s in store for Dave this year, but I expect nothing but great things.

Nancy Xiao

Nancy Xiao is the General Manager & Co-Founder of Creators Co-Op, a live-in collaborative space for high potential entrepreneurs on the campus of UMich. She is also a Global Facilitator & Organizer at Startup Weekend and was a key member of the MPowered team last year. I met Nancy a few years back at 1000 Pitches and have always been impressed by her down-to-earth personality and wits. On top of that, I think she’s probably the only person I know who graduated from high school with an Associates Degree and is expected to receive her Bachelor’s this summer. Truthfully, out of this entire list, I'd say she has the greatest potential to impact the world. Her experiences are far beyond her age and her reputation and network carries weight in the community. I'll be watching to see what she does after college and you should too.

Jeff Bargmann

Jeff Bargmann is the Founder & CEO of PhotoDrive, a beautiful photo organization tool for the iPhone and iPad. He is also the developer behind organization apps that have been downloaded 10M+ times and shipped on tens of millions of computers sold by Dell and HP. One being Bins, the popular Windows task-bar organizer, covered in PC World’s Top 100 Products of 2011. Jeff and I met last year, and I was stunned to find out that he was a solo-founder — and impressed with the fact that he was a full stack engineer, could design, and was months away from earning an MBA at Ross Business School. Unlike most, he’s a rare breed of talent that oozes creativity. Last I heard, he had plans of moving to San Francisco. It’s suck that we're losing another talented entrepreneur, who could drive change with the right team and resources. Either way Jeff, I got my eyes on you.

Dave Fontenot (Right)

Dave Fontenot is the Founder of MHacks, one of the largest college hackathons in the country with over 1200+ developers and creatives in attendance consistently. As an event producer I know first-hand just how difficult it is to bring people of that scale together, and it gets even harder when you're trying to attract a portion of the crowd from out of state. It also doesn't help that hackathons of the size Dave dreamed of were considered impossible a few years ago — but like most successful entrepreneurs, that didn't stop him. He put a small team together of students from the University of Michigan and hustled over $50k in funding from companies like Facebook, A16Z, Google, and MailChimp to cover their expenses. With 3 successful events under his belt, each with record-breaking amounts of projects, Dave is quickly putting an infrastructure in place to scale MHacks to other hubs across the country, if he wants. And with the team he has and community support he’s been receiving, I personally think he’ll be able compete with the likes of Angel Hack and Launch. Although I don't know Dave personally, I am a huge fan of what he’s doing and am amp'd to see what he does next.

Edward Tang (Left) & Allan Evans (Right)

Edward Tang and Allan Evans are the Founders of Avegant, the Ann Arbor based startup that’s commercializing the next generation of projection display technologies. Their first product Glyph combines virtual retinal display and audio in a pair of headphones, made for the average consumer to use. After nothing but stellar reviews at CES in Vegas, the two have announced a 10-city public beta tour and a Kickstarter campaign that has crushed it’s initial goal of $250k, raking in over $935k with 17 days left to go. With a bulk of finished products expected to ship later this year, I expect Edward & Allan to make a lot of noise in the wearable tech space, maybe even through a merger or acquisition. Either way, expect great things from these two — this is their year!

Andrew Landau (Left) & Ryan Landau (Right)

Andrew & Ryan Landau are the Founders of Chalkfly, a Detroit-based startup that sells office supplies online. Since founding their company in 2012, they became the first Bizdom team to go on to raise venture funding, closing a $750k Series A led by DVP and Ludlow last March and reportedly brought in $2M in rev their first year. I haven’t had the chance to meet Andrew yet, but I did meet Ryan last week. Our interaction was brief, but he came across as intelligent and quick-witted. I expected nothing less, considering all of the good things I’ve heard from others about the two. And prior to meeting Ryan, I’ve always said that Chalkfly was one of my favorite startups in Detroit and praised them for the ethnic and gender diversity amongst their team. I still think they have a long way to go before they’re able to attain a significant amount of market-share away from Office Depot, OfficeMax, or even Staples — but they’re off to a good start. I look forward to watching these two grow over the next few years.

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan is the Founder and Editor of Michipreneur, an online publication built to empower entrepreneurship and strengthen exposure for startups in Michigan. On the site Amanda publishes original content and details on resources, events, and funding information. She also works as a freelance content marketer and social media manager, helping local organizations like D:Hive and Bamboo Detroit grow their communities. Like most of the people on this list, Amanda is slowly climbing the ranks of the state’s most influential people in startups. She’s keen to helping others and can be easily considered the nicest person I’ve ever met. I expect Amanda to make Michipreneur a household name among entrepreneurs this year.

Mike Vichich

Mike Vichich is the Co-Founder and CEO of Wisely, an app that helps people find great places to eat and shop based on consumer spending behavior. He also co-founded a mobile app development school named Develop Detroit, that was quietly acquired by Grand Circus last year. With Wisely, Mike’s goal is to democratize access to data. And in my opinion, he’s off to a nice start with over 50k+ downloads in the iOS app store and plans to release an Android app this month. His team is also planning to track other card issuers besides American Express in the coming weeks, and are developing a merchant tool that should be released this summer. I don’t know Mike personally, butI hear he’s a decent guy and if he can execute, his startup could be on the brink of something big.

Ryan Vaughn

Ryan Vaughn is the Co-Founder & CEO of Varsity News Network, a web platform built to support high school athletes. He founded the company in 2010 and have raised a total of $1.09M in funding, including $500k won at Accelerate Michigan’s Business Competition last November. With the funding Ryan plans to add more engineers to his team, develop and release a mobile app, and expand nationally. As an avid sports fan, I understand the problem Varsity News Network solves and appreciate the value delivered. I think Ryan has a unique opportunity in front of him to create the high school version of ESPN, but only if he and his team moves fast — which is exactly what I think they’re planning to do. I’m sure this won’t be the last time you hear Ryan’s name.

Erik Torenberg

Erik Torenberg is the Founder and CEO of Rapt.FM, a web platform for rap artists to network and compete with each other in video-chat style battles. After winning Startup Weekend at UMich in 2012, Erik moved his company to Detroit to participate in Bizdom’s accelerator program. There he grew his team to 3 full-time employees and several part-timers and interns. He also closed a partnership with Tommy Boy Records to host a singles distribution competition during their public beta. These days Erik is packing up for a move to San Francisco after being accepted into 500 Startups 8th batch of companies. I expect him to come back to Detroit as a better and more well-rounded CEO, with experiences and connections that have lasting value. I’m not sure if Rapt will be Erik’s big score in business, but I guarantee you it’s coming soon. Keep Erik on your radar.

Raj Vir

Raj Vir is a 20 year-old student at the University of Michigan that’s majoring in Computer Science and Entrepreneurship. Originally from Beverly Hills, Raj is in his sophomore year and has already developed a host of projects that have received notoriety from leading tech publications and blogs including DiggintheFuture, an algorithm that accurately predicts the front of page Digg over 63% of the time, and Hack My Facebook, a site that let’s you simulate a Facebook hack created at PennApps ‘12. He also developed the mobile app for Chill, a social video discovery platform, as a Product Intern a few years back. I expect that Raj will leave school to start a company soon, so expect his tradition of hacking together unique projects to continue.

Andrew Rauh

Andrew Rauh is an accomplished software engineer in his last year of college at the University of Michigan. In his short 20 years, he has worked on the UpTo, Dominos Pizza, and Fathead Big Shot apps. He also worked as an intern for Path and is currently working on a project for Apple’s iOS that includes pictures and videos. With a great resume and hefty rolodex of contacts, I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew landed himself a job at a top startup or built his own idea after he graduates this summer. Nevertheless, I suspect that he’ll have a great career either way.

Emily Hay

Emily Hay is the Founder and CEO of Hay There Social Media, a social media consulting and management firm based in Birmingham. As a regular in the local media, Emily is a contributor to the Internet Advisor show on WJR 760 AM and appears often on Live in the D on WDIV Local 4. After leaving her comfortable job at The Fulkerson Group mid-2011, Emily has grown her company to 6 employees and has built an influencer for-hire marketplace called the socialgig™ . I was lucky enough to meet Emily some time last year and I must say she’s a true expert in her field. I’d also consider her supportive, connected, and passionate about helping women start their own businesses. Take it from me, Emily is someone who should definitely be on your radar this year.

That’s it! I’m sure there are others worthy of being on this list, but after a weekend of research these are the fine folks that I’ll be watching this year.

What do you think about this list? Who else would you add? Tweet me your thoughts. I’d love to continue the conversation.