Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Student startup scores spot with national incubator

By Nicole Casal Moore
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Student-founded startup Fetchnotes, with its cloud-based note-jotting and organizing system, recently won a spot in the prestigious business accelerator program TechStars.

The company, launched by University of Michigan undergrads in late 2011, spent two terms in U-M’s own student-business incubator TechArb and counts more than 19,000 users. Fetchnotes has relocated to Boston for a three-month stint.

Jumpstart for startups

As part of the 1 percent of startups that make it into TechStars, Fetchnotes receives $18,000 in financing, access to more than 100 mentors, and an optional $100,000 in venture funding upon graduation. The program began in 2007 in Boulder, Colo., and has five locations, each of which host around 10 companies per session. Of the 126 companies that have been through the program so far, 96 are active, 13 were acquired, and just 17 failed. The average venture funding per company is $1.5 million, according to TechStars’s website.

“We’re excited about this new opportunity to build the best business we possibly can,” says Alex Schiff, Fetchnotes co-founder and a senior in the Ross School of Business.

Managing information overload

Fetchnotes aims to corral short notes like to do’s, ideas, and shopping lists for its users, and in so doing, relieve their minds, Schiff says.”There’s just too much stuff for people to keep track of mentally today,” he says. “They use sticky notes and apps and end up with hundreds of things to sift through. We want to help make sense of the overload, and help people share the important things with the people that matter.”The system lets users call, text, email, or type notes directly into their account through a phone, smartphone app, desktop widget, or web browser. One can categorize notes with hashtags for easy retrieval. Users may view a category directly in the app or in their web account, or they can text the category’s hashtag to a special Fetchnotes number. Users also can attach files to notes, and soon will be able to add items to other users’ lists.

Hitting on all cylinders

Accompanying Schiff and Lee are seniors Alex Horak, in computational informatics, and Michael Marsh, in computer science in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, as well as engineering student Matt Brandly. The students are taking time off school, but they assure that they’ll be back to finish in the future.”I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, and I’d encourage more people to take the same risk,” Horak says. “Don’t be tricked into thinking your career starts after some internships and graduation. You can use the time while you’re in school.”Fetchnotes is one of more than 100 student-founded companies that have been through U-M’s TechArb since 2008.”I’m super excited for Fetchnotes,” says Moses Lee, assistant director of student ventures at the College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship. “I think this is a testament to the U-M entrepreneurial ecosystem that support student entrepreneurs and encourages disruptive ideas. We have watched in amazement as the team hit its milestones and executed on all cylinders.”

Nicole Casal Moore

Nicole Casal Moore

NICOLE CASAL MOORE spent five years as a newspaper reporter covering natural resources, agriculture and environment, as well as state and county governments in California and Virginia. She worked as an online magazine editor and public affairs manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver for five years. She has been a science writer and public relations representative at Michigan News and the U-M College of Engineering since 2007. Follow her on Twitter: @UMengineering and @UMncmoore.