FirstIgnite Lights Up The TCNewTech Stage

Local Entrepreneur Wins October Pitch Prize

FirstIgnite was the audience favorite at the TCNewTech pitch event on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, winning the $500 prize provided by 4Front Credit Union. Co-Founder and CEO, Chase Bonhag presented his emerging startup, FirstIgnite to TCNewTech’s in-person audience at The City Opera House. The event was also live-streamed on the TCNewTech Youtube Channel and LinkedIn.

The event opened with an engaging Quick Tip on the topic of “Using ‘Finders’ to Find Capital” by Matt Bower of the Grand Rapids firm Varnum Attorney At Law. Matt serves as outside general counsel with a concentration in software, SaaS, information technology, IoT, data analytics, and other technology-based companies. After Bower’s presentation on the problems to avoid when using a Finder, each of the 3 entrepreneurs gave their five-minute pitches.

The Line-up of Entrepreneurs

FirstIgnite matches companies with university experts to solve their toughest scientific problems. The Traverse City-based startup, officially completed the Y Combinator startup accelerator last summer and recently raised a seed round from investors. Bonhag is based in Traverse City and is a former VC investor in university research (Illinois Ventures) and corporate innovation (TechNexus). FirstIgnite CTO and Co-Founder, Cody Pawlowski and Chairman of the Board Robert “Shea” Bonhag joined Chase Bonhag to receive the winning prize and later made connections with the TCNewTech community to share their plans for growth.

Gordon Briley of Briley Fitness finished second in a close race with his innovative multi-purpose semi-autonomous rover. The Axel MPR has many applications but Briley is initially focusing on the 2.5 billion dollar Sports Gun Target Practice market. Briley holds one full patent and two provisional patents on products he created for the fitness industry. He is seeking funding to build a prototype, funding his first product order, and professional mentorship to help launch his Traverse City business.

Co-founder and CEO, Craig Tucker of VERN Health recently participated in the XlerateHealth Demo Day in Flint, Michigan, and is now seeking seed funding for his technology. V.E.R.N. offers real-time analysis of emotions in communication. Their AI delivers emotional intelligence for a number of applications but is focusing on healthcare providers. The service improves a computer’s understanding of human emotional communication. Muskegon-based Vern Health is seeking $1.5 million for fund development.

In addition to the three pitch presenters, Jay Meldrum gave a brief presentation on the exciting establishment of the Michigan Tech University workspace in downtown Traverse City.  

After the entrepreneurs presented their ideas to the hybrid audience, they answered questions about their companies and awaited the contest’s results, cast by people online and in-person via SMS text messaging poll. In the end, the audience selected FirstIgnite to take home the $500 prize provided by 4Front Credit Union.

TCNewTech strives to energize a community of entrepreneurs by showcasing new tech ideas and facilitating connections at their monthly pitch contests with the end goal of expediting the launch of startups in Northern Michigan. Anyone with an entrepreneurial idea is encouraged to submit their ideas to TCNewTech. No idea is too big or too small – TCNewTech wants to hear it all!

TCNewTech sponsors include Michigan Broadband Services, Susan Soffredine Rauser with State Farm Insurance, SCORE, Northern Michigan Angels, Michigan’s Creative Coast, and AccessPoint.