Varsity News Network and Soletics win big at innovation competition

Two ventures that were born and raised in Grand Rapids won the top awards at last week's Accelerate Michigan's Innovation Competition business, with Varsity News Network taking home a check for $500,000.

Ryan Vaughn, founder and CEO of Varsity News Network (VNN), pitched his business -- a web platform that makes it easy for high school Athletic Directors to manage social communication, and automatically creates media coverage for the athletes and sports programs in the process.

With the award, Vaughn is looking to expand his product offering and grow his team by adding 2-3 software developers. "We are thrilled to win the Accelerate Michigan competition. Their investment will allow us to expand our product offering and develop our mobile platform" said Vaughn.

Vaughn says the award goes beyond the monetary too. "It's a huge honor to be recognized at a statewide level in a competition that historically is won by life science companies. It is also a recognition of the I.T. movement in the state."

Soletics, a business developed by a team of students from Grand Valley State University, took first place in the student competition, winning $25,000. "Team Soletics" includes Michael Kurley, Vanessa Gore and Lindsay Noonan. Soletics has designed solar-powered athletic gear, targeting winter sports enthusiasts. It was one of four teams from GVSU competing in the statewide competition. 

Kurley says winning the competition has "provided validation" for their business, which was started last October while at GVSU. Beyond validation, he says the money will go a long way toward creating their minimal viable product and puts them on track to have their product ready for next winter. 

Kurley credits the support system, including StartGarden, GR Current and the GVSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation,  as being key stakeholders in their success.  "They all helped us make an idea into reality."

Jeff Royce Director of GR Current says both victories are strong evidence of the local support in the region for entrepreneurship and highlight how the organizations that Kurley referenced can serve as catalysts for innovation in the region.

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is an international business competition designed to highlight Michigan as a venue for innovation and business opportunity.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
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