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Here, There, Then Back Again

Founder and CEO of Mobatech Greg Schwartz is a man who took what is becoming the traditional Michigan graduate path to success after finishing his education at the University of Michigan: he left. Drawn by the energy, diversity and opportunity afforded by larger urban areas, Schwartz headed for New York City, where he certainly found success. But in 2006, Schwartz returned to Michigan, setting up shop for his family and his business in good old Ann Arbor. With unemployment topping the charts and an economy that seems to have forgotten which way is up, why on earth would a successful young entrepreneur come back?  

Born and raised in Birmingham, Michigan, Greg Schwartz earned his degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. There he worked for Deutche Bank and then later served as Director, Digital Business and Product Development for Warner Music Group, where he oversaw digital business deals and development.      

“It was a phenomenal experience, but my passion was Mobatech, which I was running on the side,” says Schwartz.

Schwartz had founded Mobatech in 2002 while still in Ann Arbor. His initial inspiration was kindled by a course taught at the University of Michigan by Professor Elliot Soloway on software for Palm handheld devices and pocket PCs. Mobatech is a consumer applications company for mobile devices. It produces personal productivity and lifestyle applications. Its flagship product, and still one of its most successful, is Mobile Checkbook, a digital application that assists users in tracking spending. Other products include mobilebartender and datepedia.  

In its seven years, Mobatech has achieved phenomenal growth and success. Today it offers products for about 250 devices. Mobile Checkbook is currently the number one finance application in the BlackBerry App World. Schwartz wanted one simple thing: to reinvent solutions for living, like personal financing and social life, with an emphasis on user experience. One of the early entries into the mobile software state, Schwartz enjoys a large number of distribution channels and partners such as Sprint, T-Mobile, Sony Ericcson, and many more.  

CONCENTRATE: There you were, living in Manhattan and achieving a high level of success with Warner Music Group. What brought you back to Ann Arbor?

GREG SCHWARTZ:  My passion for the subject and for Mobatech, and the desire for this company to get to the next level are essentially what brought me back to Ann Arbor. It really came down to two main things. One: This is where I was born and raised, where my family is, and that is important to me. Two: It’s much more reasonable cost-wise to start up in Michigan. My wife and I decided to relocate to the Midwest where it all began and focus on doing business here—and also to take advantage of the connections available in Ann Arbor to University alumni.  

I had also just learned about the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan College of Engineering, a relatively new program. Being an alumnus, I wasn’t sure of the exact path I was going to take – that program really gave me a starting point. Initially they introduced me to the folks at Ann Arbor Spark, who opened up a number of doors – including one to Rick Snyder, who is running for Governor of Michigan. It was a really neat path to start at the University and end with someone as experienced and knowledgeable as Rick. A number of doors opened that would not necessarily have been possible in any other location. Ann Arbor gave me the ability to leverage the connections in the community that Ann Arbor has been fostering in terms of engineering and technology.

CONCENTRATE:  Now that you are back and bring the perspective of a larger city with you, what are some things that Ann Arbor could do to encourage more growth and success?      

GREG SCHWARTZ:  I think it really comes down to encouraging small business growth in Ann Arbor. Right now it seems that all the funding and resources within the state fall into a couple silos: these being life sciences, new energy, biomedical, etc. I think there’s an opportunity to go beyond those silos, and to take more interest in the many emerging technology startups.   

While there are wonderful resources in Ann Arbor, they do focus attention in these specific sectors I mentioned. I’d like to see more focus on IT, software development, and specifically, mobile technology.   

CONCENTRATE:  What kind of reception to your mobile technology company did you encounter in Ann Arbor?  

GREG SCHWARTZIn Ann Arbor I feel that there is definitely an understanding and enthusiasm about mobile technology. The reaction in the Ann Arbor community has been wonderful. There are fostering programs like A2 Utech, a once-a-month gathering of entrepreneurial companies that do pitches – like a meet and greet. All these different groups are really helping to foster entrepreneurial companies and that is really valuable, even thought it’s not quite at the scale necessary.

CONCENTRATE:  As a former New Yorker, if you could take anything from New York and place it in Ann Arbor, what would it be?

GREG SCHWARTZ:  Ann Arbor has an incredible atmosphere but there is an energy and excitement in New York that you don’t find anywhere else in the world. You have people in New York that are so motivated to push their potential to be the best they can be – and it spawns an energy that’s really incredible. I don’t think Ann Arbor is necessarily lacking that – it just doesn’t have the same number of people and businesses as in Manhattan. What I do think can happen is that we see more small businesses come to Ann Arbor, whether they are  restaurants, technology companies, nightlife, bars, etc. There is room to really establish that diverse and energetic culture that you have in every street in New York.

CONCENTRATE:  What bright spots are there in Ann Arbor for you? Does anything scratch the surface of what is available in New York?  

GREG SCHWARTZ:  I love Kerry Town. Zingerman’s Deli is one of all time favorites.  I’m also a big Michigan football team [fan] – the Big House is the best spot in Michigan – and seeing 100,000 people coming together for a big game? Not even New York can rival that.

CONCENTRATE:  How can Ann Arbor cultivate the kinds of qualities you find attractive in New York City, like enhanced diversity, more energy, support for young new companies, etc.?

GREG SCHWARTZ:  It really comes down to providing access to resources and capital for startups. I think between the University of Michigan, the city, and the state, that if there were smaller amounts of funding being given out to more startups -- especially in the tech and startup sectors – you would encourage quite a bit of growth. These companies need seed funding to get on their feet. By the way, as I mentioned, Ann Arbor Spark is doing a great idea of helping move us into that direction.

In this case a lot of money would be end up being reinvested into the Ann Arbor area. More people with new software or tech concepts would come to or stay in Ann Arbor to go through the buildup phase.  

CONCENTRATE:  What’s in the near future for Mobatech in Ann Arbor?

GREG SCHWARTZ:   We are currently looking for full-time and contract developers, and we will be rolling out some updates to our existing projects as well as starting on some new and innovative products. 

Leia is a freelance writer in Ann Arbor.  Her previous story was MASTERMIND: Lou Glazer.  Send feedback here.

Photos:

Greg Schwartz

Phones

Professor Elliot Soloway

Mobatech Enabled

Greg Schwartz is a BIG Michigan Fan


All Photos by Dave Lewinski



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