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UM’s Frankel Fund Invests In Online Human Verification Developer

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The University of Michigan central campus.

The University of Michigan central campus.

(credit: istock) Technology Report
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The Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business announced that the Ross School’s Frankel Commercialization Fund, the country’s first student-led pre-seed investment fund, joined a syndicate of investors in a Series A round $750,000 investment into Are You a Human LLC.

This is the sixth investment by the fund and the first by its consumer team.

Are You a Human is developing the next generation of online human verification tools, used by millions of Web sites to ensure their users are humans, and not scammers, robots, automated programs or spammers.

The technology offers a number of improvements on the current mode of verification, the Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA), which most people will recognize as the distorted text Web sites occasionally ask users to type into a box when users are completing forms or buying tickets.

The investment in AYAH was led by Detroit Venture Partners, which last week announced that Earvin “Magic” Johnson joined the firm as a general partner. The AYAH investment also includes participation by the First Step Fund, also of Detroit. The investment funds will be used for product development, beta testing, and customer acquisition.

“The investment by the Frankel Commercialization Fund and other investors will allow the company to quickly test its product and business model in the marketplace as a preferred alternative to the current CAPTCHA approach to Internet security,” said Tyler Paxton, AYAH CEO. “The support, diligence, and mentorship by the Frankel Commercialization Fund has been a valuable source of assistance and validation throughout our development process, and we look forward to their continued guidance moving forward.”

Paxton founded AYAH while pursuing his Masters of Business Administration at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and recruited four other MBA students to start the company with him. Two members of the Frankel Fund, Benjamin Blackmer (MBA ’12) and Biswaroop Palit (MBA ’11), were part of the co-founding team at AYAH. The company was founded in September 2009, joined the Ann Arbor incubator TechArb in the fall of 2010, and received support from both the Ross School of Business’ Zell Lurie Institute and the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship throughout the 2010-2011 academic year.  In April, the company was awarded a Dare To Dream Integration grant of $5,000 by the Zell Lurie Institute. The company also competed at the Rice University 2011 Business Plan Competition and placed second out of more than 500 applicants and 42 participants, earning $154,000 in prize money.

“The Frankel Fund is particularly pleased to make this investment since the Are You a Human founders were all active participants of the Zell Lurie Institute’s programs and represent the very best of Ross students,” according to Thomas S. Porter, Executive-in-Residence at the Zell Lurie Institute of the Stephen Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “The founders are a formidable team well qualified to take advantage of their exciting new internet security concept.”

The pre-seed Frankel Commercialization Fund is believed to be the only student venture capital fund of its kind, with a focus on the commercialization of ideas and the formation of new companies.  Frankel Fund participants evaluate and invest in early-stage entrepreneurial opportunities, learn about the commercialization evaluation process and how to be a seed investor. The unique program was formed to provide action-based learning opportunities to students interested in entrepreneurial and venture capital markets, and to provide early-stage funding to explore the commercialization potential of business ideas born at UM and other local research centers. The program complements other entrepreneurial and venture capital programs at the Ross School, including the $5 million Wolverine Venture Fund and the Social Venture Fund, student-led venture capital funds sponsored by the University’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

More at www.zli.bus.umich.edu.

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