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Aubree's to serve free Thanksgiving meals at Depot Town location

Aubree's Pizzeria and Grill is bringing free Thanksgiving meals to its Ypsilanti location and hoping to continue doing so for years to come.

 

Anyone is welcome to enjoy a free meal at Aubree's Depot Town location, 39 E. Cross St., from 12 to 4 p.m. on Nov. 23, Thanksgiving Day. Volunteers will serve traditional Thanksgiving fare like turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

 

Aubree's offered free Thanksgiving meals at its Marquette location for the first time last year. Members of the French family, who own the Aubree's brand and several restaurant locations across Michigan, wanted to expand the offering to Ypsi and Adrian this year. They decided to make it happen after identifying enough family members, friends, staff, and residents who were interested in volunteering at each location.

 

The three Aubree's locations will serve 350 pounds of turkey, plus a variety of side dishes. Hope Clinic is allowing the Depot Town location to use its commercial kitchen to cook the turkeys because the restaurant doesn't have enough ovens to handle the turkeys that will be served up in Ypsi. The restaurants will have backup pizzas ready to serve in case they run out of Thanksgiving fare.

 

Aubree's president Andy French anticipates the free Thanksgiving dinner will become an annual event. He says he and his family are excited about the idea of the offering becoming part of their tradition every Thanksgiving.

 

"Our intention is to just give back, especially in Ypsilanti. That’s where we started and the town has supported us for 46 years," French says. "We’ve been very grateful and we have a history of giving back to the community. This is just another way we can continue to do it and we’re excited for it."

 

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.


Photo by Doug Coombe.

Tech Homecoming connects out-of-towners with Ann Arbor tech industry on Thanksgiving Eve

Ann Arbor SPARK's annual Tech Homecoming event is billed as a way for out-of-towners to connect with Ann Arbor's tech industry while they're in town for Thanksgiving, but the event is also just a lot of fun.

 

"If I go to a dreary networking event, I don't go back," says John Fisher, managing partner in software company Atomic Object's Ann Arbor office. "Last year's event was well-attended and fun, and it tells you something that we're going back."

 

The 2017 Tech Homecoming event takes place from 4-7 p.m., Nov. 22, at Fred's, 403 E. Washington St. in downtown Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor SPARK organizes the happy hour-style event on the night before Thanksgiving, generally known as the biggest bar night of the year. Fisher and two other Atomic Object employees attended their first Tech Homecoming last year, and Fisher says it was a great way to establish and strengthen connections.

 

Last year, Fisher and his co-workers ran into the head of a company they'd worked with before, and that gave them an opportunity to catch up and strengthen the ties between the two companies. Fisher says it's also nice to commiserate with other business owners who have many of the same challenges.

 

While Atomic Object hasn't recruited any employees from the event, Fisher says he thinks Tech Homecoming presents a strong pool of candidates to draw from.

 

"On the recruiting side, it would be valuable if we just find the one right person," Fisher says. "A lot of students are attending the event with the intention of returning to or staying connected to Ann Arbor. That's really valuable with how competitive hiring is in the development field, to find people who want to stay in southeast Michigan long-term."

 

The event is free, but organizers request that participants register at the Eventbrite page for Tech Homecoming.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of John Fisher.


Ann Arbor's first meadery to open in 2018, featuring Michigan-made ingredients

Ann Arbor's first meadery, Bløm Meadworks, is aiming to fill a niche for gluten-free drinkers as well as hardcore craft beer drinkers who are looking for something different.

 

Co-founder Matthew Ritchey will combine his brewing and finance experience with co-founder Lauren Bloom's interest in local food systems to open the downtown mead and cider business in 2018. The pair took possession of retail space on the first floor of 100 S. Fourth Ave. in downtown Ann Arbor in early November and are hoping to open for business in early 2018 after a round of construction is completed, Bloom says.

 

The name of the business is both a nod to the product and to Bloom's family name.

 

"We liked the idea of a bloom, which is tied into our business, because it's dependent on honey and fruit and the bee population," Bloom says. "But it's also inspired by my family name, and we did a little riff on that as a nod to my surname as originally spelled and mead's Scandinavian roots."

 

Ritchey has a background in finance and spent some time as head brewer and co-owner at Begyle Brewing Co. in Chicago, while Bloom worked in the nonprofit sector helping organizations that focus on local foods.

 

Ritchey's discovery that he had a gluten allergy, combined with the fact that both honey for mead and apples for cider can be sourced locally, led the pair to create Bløm Meadworks.

 

"Both apples and honey have such incredible flavors and aromatics," Bloom says. "Our brewing and fermentation happen at a lower temperature [than beer] so you can retain those amazing flavors and smells."

 

Bløm's meads will differ from most common meads by being less sweet and lower in alcohol, in the range of 5-7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) instead of the 12-13 percent ABV typically found in meads.

 

"They're on the drier side, carbonated, with a brighter and lighter feel," Bloom says.

 

Bløm Mead's space on Fourth Avenue will contain both a production area and a tap room, and four types of mead will be available in cans for retail distribution. One is a standard mead, made simply of honey, water and yeast. Another is a "ciser," or half mead and half cider. A third is hopped with Michigan hops, and a fourth is a "gin botanical mead," flavored with lavender and juniper.

 

Bloom says it was important to both owners that all ingredients be sourced from Michigan. They have already built relationships with local honey producers for the mead, King Orchards in northern Michigan for cider apples, and Hop Head Farms for the hops in their hopped mead.

 

Updates on the opening of the business will be posted to the Bløm website as well as to the business's Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Tonwship. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Bløm Meadworks.


GenZe builds smart, connected electric bicycles in Ann Arbor

An electric bicycle that can track physical effort and distance covered, or alert its owner if it's stolen, is being built in Ann Arbor.

 

The 200-series e-Bike is the newest product from GenZe, a Silicon Valley-based company with manufacturing operations in Ann Arbor.

 

GenZe, a division of the the global company Mahindra Group, began operations in Ann Arbor in late 2015, first putting electric scooters on the market. The company also put out an earlier model of the electric bicycle, but those were not connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone app in the way the 200 series bikes are.

 

Terence Duncan, vice president of design and product management for GenZe, says the smartphone app enhances the experience of bicycling, no matter what you're using the bike for.

 

"People buy bikes for different reasons, like community, recreation, and fitness," Duncan says. "A strong aspect of the app allows you to track the amount of exertion you're putting into the bike. The bike has an electric assist, but you can choose how much assist you want."

 

Riders commuting to work might want lots of electric assist so that they don't end up sweaty and disheveled when they arrive, but might choose a lower amount of assistance on the way home so they can get more exercise. Riders with low fitness can also start with a high level of electric assistance and gradually lessen that assistance as they get in better shape.

 

Duncan says the app connection is likely to prove popular with people who already like personal activity-trackers like the Fitbit.

 

"You can look over the data from the last two months and see how many miles you've ridden and how much effort as a human being you've put in versus the electric motor," Duncan says.

 

The bikes can also be programmed to alert their owners if they're taken out of a certain area or tipped over. They can also be used in "walk mode," in which the electric bike runs at about one mile an hour to help a rider move the bike up a set of stairs, whether that's a few steps encountered during a commute or a longer staircase.

 

Tom Valasek, chief marketing officer for GenZe, says it might seem odd to have a headquarters in California and manufacturing operations in the Midwest, but Ann Arbor was an ideal choice because of the automotive expertise in metro Detroit and the engineering talent coming out of the University of Michigan. Southeast Michigan already has a "sophisticated" vehicle industry in place, he says.

 

"The company was conceived in Silicon Valley, but when it comes to manufacturing prowess and engineering, that talent is coming out of Michigan," Valasek says.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of GenZe.


Community partnerships to expand college scholarships for Ypsi students

The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), the Ypsilanti Area Community Fund (YACF), and Bank of Ann Arbor have announced that they're partnering to expand an existing scholarship benefiting low-income, minority, or first-generation college students graduating from Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS).

 

An event announcing the extension of the Mary Williams Gillenwater Scholarship and a separate partnership between YCS and the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR) was held Tuesday evening at the Eagle Crest Resort and Golf Club, 1275 S. Huron in Ypsi Township. The event was sponsored by Bank of Ann Arbor.

 

Shelley Strickland, vice president for development at the AAACF, announced the Gillenwater Scholarship's inclusion into the AAACF Community Scholarship Program. The scholarship is named after a late Ypsi resident, Mary Williams Gillenwater, whose estate has provided the opportunity for YCS high school students to pursue a college education.

 

The assets of the Gillenwater Trust are available for the scholarship in perpetuity and will now be managed by Bank of Ann Arbor. The scholarship will now also be supported by donors who are able to make contributions to the new Gillenwater Legacy Fund. YACF co-chair Greg Peoples announced that an anonymous donor has contributed $10,000 to the fund and agreed to a dollar-for-dollar match of up to an additional $10,000. Multi-year scholarships will now also be available through the program for the first time, and a college success coach will be available to scholarship recipients.

 

"As a professional educator, I know through research that there's nothing stronger to help students succeed than partnerships with nonprofit organizations," Peoples said. "Our local schools need the public, the private, and the nonprofit sector to collaborate to help our students succeed."

 

NAAAHR founder and chairman Nathaniel "Nat" Alston also spoke at the event about his organization's partnership with YCS as a result of NAAAHR's decision to bring its national conference to the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest in late September 2018. Alston decided to support YCS by lending the organization's time and talent after meeting with superintendent Ben Edmondson in September.

 

"After listening to Dr. Edmondson and his vision for Ypsilanti schools, I said to our board, 'We have got to get involved,'" Alston said.

 

NAAAHR will provide pro bono services to YCS in helping the district adapt educational best practices from Howard County, Md.'s highly ranked public school system. Other collaborations between the two organizations are expected as the relatively new partnership develops.

 

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

 

Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.


Aquaro Histology raises $9.8 million to launch technology automating microscopic tissue study

Studying tissue samples under a microscope might not seem a particularly high-risk profession, but by some measures it's an unusually difficult and dangerous job.

 

Greg Krueger, vice president of sales and marketing for Ann Arbor-based Aquaro Histology, says histologists – who study the microscopic anatomy of tissues – might turn the crank on a tissue-slicing microtome half a million times per year.

 

"There's a mantra in histology that it's not if you'll have a repetitive motion injury, but when," Krueger says.

 

Aquaro recently completed a $9.8 million fundraising round that will allow the company to launch its first product, the Aquaro ASM, which Krueger says is designed to make that repetitive process "a little safer."

 

The Aquaro ASM, which stands for automated section mounting, automates the process of cutting cells from a tissue sample and mounting them on a slide. Vince Alessi and Nolan Orfield founded Aquaro, inspired by Alessi's college experience in a histology lab.

 

"Vince had to do thousands and thousands of slides, and he was always nicking his finger on blades," Krueger says. "He thought there had to be a better way, and he spent his time finding a better way to do it." The result of that search was the first iteration of Aquaro ASM.

 

Krueger says ASM is more revolutionary than it sounds. There have been other advances in histology, but cutting and mounting has been done the same way for the last 70 years with no major changes until now.

 

Since Alessi's first model, the company has refined the product based on feedback from beta testing. That feedback led to a switch from multiple buttons for inputting commands to a touch screen, and a change from storing slides horizontally to vertically.

 

The latest round of funding will allow Aquaro to expand its sales staff and research team, create add-on products, and send the latest iteration of the tool, now refined from that early feedback, to market.

 

"We expect to make our first sales before the end of the year," Krueger says.

This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Images courtesy of Aquaro Histology.


By the Sidewalk food tours offer new way to experience Ann Arbor's culinary scene

Ann Arbor has increasingly become known as a foodie haven, and this November a food tour business called By the Sidewalk will begin offering newbies and townies a new way to experience the city's culinary destinations.

 

By the Sidewalk owner Aniruddh Gala moved to Ann Arbor from Raleigh, N.C., in July, but he had been making culinary excursions to the city with his girlfriend for many months before that. Gala had been working as a supply chain engineer but was looking for an opportunity to start a business of his own when he took his first food tour in Montreal.

 

"It struck me instantaneously that it was a good way to spend some time, get to know the area better, and eat a lot of good food," Gala says.

 

He chose to run his tours in Ann Arbor because the city had all the right elements to make a walking food tour a success.

 

"The food scene is thriving, there's a bustling downtown, and wonderful, energetic foot traffic. Conditions are ideal," Gala says.

 

The first few tours will take place at lunchtime on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and will focus on Kerrytown and downtown Ann Arbor. "Classic Ann Arbor" tours cost $47, all-inclusive, and last about two-and-a-half to three hours. Private and customized tours can be arranged as well. Once he grows his customer base, Gala says he'd like to expand to other areas and offer tours with other themes, as well as expanding tours to Tuesday through Thursday.

 

He says his tours will be appealing to first-time visitors as well as people who have spent their whole lives in the Ann Arbor area. Gala emphasizes that the tours are centered around food but are designed to give "a taste of everything Ann Arbor has to offer."

 

"We're going to include the history, architecture, culture, and trivia behind the Tree Town," Gala says. He plans to include both eateries and non-food-related Ann Arbor landmarks on the tour. Notable local food businesses including Zingerman's Deli, Argus Farm Stop, and Isalita are listed as "food partners" on By the Sidewalk's website, but in order to maintain the "element of surprise" Gala won't reveal tour destinations in advance. He says he hopes to provide "moments of unexpected discovery, even for local people."

 

Tours will be capped at 16 people so that everyone gets a bit of personal attention, and attendees should plan on walking one to two miles over the course of the tour. Most stops include both vegetarian and omnivore options. Food allergies and dietary restrictions can be accommodated if noted during registration, Gala says.

 

For more information or to sign up for a tour, visit By the Sidewalk's website or call (734) 548-9532.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Aniruddh Gala.


U-M tech commercialization programs receive $2.66 million in state funding

A recent funding renewal will allow two University of Michigan (U-M)-administered programs to continue their mission of supporting collaboration among state universities and spinning off technologies developed at universities into startup businesses.

The Michigan Strategic Fund – an oversight board for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) – approved $1.4 million for the Michigan Corporate Relations Network (MCRN) and $1.26 million for Technology Transfer Talent Network (T3N), funding each program for another year.

 

"The state continues to fund these programs because they show results," says Stella Wixom, executive director of the U-M Business Engagement Center and principal investigator of the MCRN grant.

 

MCRN started in 2011 as a collaboration between six state universities but has since expanded to include all 15 state universities. T3N, also created in 2011, was started with help from the MEDC to provide talent programs and resources to support the commercialization of university projects.

Talent resources provided by T3N include a fellowship program, a mentors-in-residence program, university post-doctoral fellowships, and a statewide talent resource network.

 

"These programs touch on three key areas that are integral parts of commercializing technology: business engagement, technology transfer, and research," says Denise Graves, MEDC university relations director. She says the renewed funding will allow both programs to "expand and refine" the work they're doing supporting all 15 public universities across Michigan.

 

While the focus of both programs is on finding commercial channels for university-created technologies, much of the work they do is about "building relationships," Graves says.

 

That relationship-building includes setting up mentorship programs and getting interns into small and medium-sized businesses.

 

Graves says mentors with "deep industry knowledge" are matched with faculty to help them commercialize technology, get first customers and funding, and provide feedback to faculty on what they need to do to make the technologies viable in the marketplace.

 

Wixom says the state is interested in exposing students to small and medium-sized companies that students might otherwise overlook. The grant money will help students get internships in those smaller companies.

 

"A lot of those companies are thrilled with the talent and convert those internships to full-time positions, and the students are more interested in staying after having hands-on experience at those companies," Wixom says.

 

Wixom says it's important to note that the collaborations among state universities to create technology spinoffs is "a really unique offering."

 

"It makes us competitive in the country in terms of companies locating here," Wixom says. "I've talked to folks in Texas and Mississippi who are trying to emulate this model. The partnerships and support from the state make us attractive and friendly to businesses."

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of MCRN and MEDC.


Pittsfield Township solar lighting company wins Pitch Ypsi $5,000 competition

A Pittsfield Township-based company that creates customized solar lighting solutions, Solartonic, was the winner of the second Pitch Ypsi $5,000 business competition on Oct. 26.

 

Entrepreneurs in eastern Washtenaw County who have an idea for a new business or for growing an existing business were invited to submit a pitch at the Pitch Ypsi website, and organizers winnowed the field down to the four best entries. Finalists then pitched their ideas to a panel of judges during the finale at the downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market, 16 S. Washington St. The other finalists were Gutland Games, Star Studio by Angel, and Tinker Tech Consulting.

 

Solartonic co-founder Brian Tell says his company has participated in other pitch competitions, but those events were usually either focused on technology or more specifically on solar innovations. The diverse Pitch Ypsi format was new to his company.

 

"It was an unusual event. This was the first competition where we were going up against a hairdresser, a therapist, and a guy creating board games," he says. "I thought it was a blast, but it was a little bit of a mystery what the Pitch Ypsi team would be looking for."

 

In addition to the cash prize, Solartonic won marketing services as well as law services from Varnum, Attorneys at Law, one of the sponsors of the competition.

 

"For a small company like us, those two in-kind prizes are as valuable, if not more so, as the financial award," says Tell. "It's timely, and we can really utilize those services."

 

Solartonic currently consists of Tell, his co-founder Harry Giles, and a few others who are "in it for the sweat equity," Tell says. The company hires people on a temporary basis for big projects, but Tell says he expects the company to start hiring full-time staff soon.

 

The two founders met in 2009 and shared a vision of wanting to make solar technology products that were "cool-looking and not ugly, of high quality and high design," Tell says. In 2012, they got the chance to do that by building solar modules that wrapped around a light pole and powered the light, a product unlike anything already on the market.

 

Eventually, the team decided they needed to offer a complete solution that included the solar panel, the light pole, and smart controls. Solartonic has since created custom lighting solutions for a number of companies, including a project in Dallas and a demo project in Detroit for NextEnergy.

 

Tell says the Pitch Ypsi win will allow Solartonic to grow its Ypsi operations and possibly expand into a larger building on its current site, as well as supporting a new sales office the company just opened in London. Tell says the company plans to build on its current momentum and open a small sales office in the southwest of the United States, possibly in Phoenix or Dallas.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Solartonic.


Ann Arbor joins national "10-minute walk to a park" campaign

Ann Arbor has joined 133 other cities and towns across the United States in the "10-Minute Walk" parks advocacy campaign started by The Trust for Public Land, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the Urban Land Institute.

 

The goal for the initiative is that all residents should live within a 10-minute walk (about a half-mile) of a park or green space. The U.S. Conference of Mayors also recently passed a resolution urging all mayors to actively pursue the goal.

 

Ann Arbor already meets this goal in nearly every neighborhood, according to Colin Smith, parks and recreation services manager for Ann Arbor. There are a few places where the University of Michigan owns a large chunk of land, and in those areas, the walk to the nearest park may be a little over 10 minutes, Smith says.

 

The Trust for Public Land is currently mapping park access in cities across the country. Starting in 2018, the campaign organizers will start working with selected cities on strategies and policies to promote the 10-minute walk goal. Reaching the goal is expected to involve changes in how parks are financed and constructed, along with zoning changes and making sure park access goals are included in each city's master plan.

 

Before it joined the initiative, Ann Arbor already had a goal in its master plan for having a park within a quarter-mile of every residence, and this distance is walkable in 10 minutes for most people, Smith says.

 

The Trust for Public Land says that having easy park access for all residents is important for a number of reasons, ranging from physical health benefits to a sense of building community as neighbors meet and socialize in nearby parks.

 

"Ann Arbor certainly recognizes and appreciates the value a park can bring to a neighborhood," Smith says. "Supporting this 10-minute walk idea nationwide is important, because a lot of things a park can provide are a great benefit for any community."

 

Information and maps for each of nearly 160 parks in Ann Arbor can be found at the Ann Arbor Parks and Recreation website.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
Image courtesy of 10-Minute Walk campaign.

Zingerman's to open new retail candy shop this weekend

Zingerman's latest standalone business, the Zingerman's Candy Manufactory, will mark its grand opening with treat samples and candy-making demonstrations on Oct. 28 at 3723 Plaza Dr., Ste. 3, in Ann Arbor.

 

The Candy Manufactory has been running as a wholesale business since 2009 out of a space inside Zingerman's Bakehouse, with products being sold at retail stores around the country and through the Zingerman's mail order business. However, the candy manufacturing business ran out of production space in recent years. Staff had been discussing moving for almost two years, says retail store and marketing manager Allison Schraf.

 

The company moved into its new location between two other Zingerman's businesses — Zingerman's Coffee Co. and Zingerman's Creamery — in May, with a "soft opening" of retail operations in late August.

 

Schraf says the community response to the announcement of the candy store's opening has been "amazing" and proves that the company's idea to open a retail space was a winner.

 

"Nothing substitutes for people being able to walk in and hear about our candy, taste it, and see it being made," Schraf says.

 

The store will offer Zingerman's marshmallows, candy bars, roasted nuts, and other products such as bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. But 30 percent of the inventory will be hard-to-find candies from other manufacturers around the globe, like French Broad chocolates, Shraf says.

 

The candy store will host a grand opening celebration from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28. Guests are invited to watch the candy production process, sample various sweet treats, and enter a drawing for a collection of candy valued at $200. Children who visit will be given a free Halloween-themed book, and all visitors are eligible for a 20 percent discount on purchases all day.

 

"We think the grand opening and the discount will be a great way to thank the people who have been supporting us and buying our candy for so many years," Schraf says. "We want to make it a big, fun party and show that we put our heart and soul into everything we make and all the service we give."

 

More information about the grand opening is available at the Zingerman's website.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Zingerman's.


How empathy carried Duo Security to a $1 billion valuation

Asked what recently propelled Duo Security to a valuation over $1 billion, chief technology officer Jon Oberheide mentions a concept that isn't often associated with high-tech businesses: empathy.

 

He notes that when a large company has a prominently reported security breach, other cybersecurity companies engage in the software industry's version of "ambulance-chasing," calling or emailing the company's security team to try to sell their product immediately.

 

In contrast, Duo's sales team sends pizzas and energy drinks to the company's security team with a note expressing empathy for their pain and inviting the company to call Duo when they come up for air.

 

The Ann Arbor-based cybersecurity company's approach certainly seems to be paying off. Duo raised $70 million in a recent round of financing, placing the company among the small handful of venture-backed private companies worth $1 billion or more. The company also recently celebrated another milestone, exceeding 10,000 customers worldwide.

 

Oberheide and his co-founder Dug Song began the company in 2009 with the intention of staying in the Midwest.

 

"We knew we wanted to start a company together and stay in the Midwest, and specifically in Ann Arbor, given the talent pool available in our backyard," Oberheide says. "We set out to solve the biggest problem in the world at that time, cybersecurity."

 

The company currently has more than 500 employees, with about 350 in Ann Arbor and the rest in San Mateo, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and London.

 

Oberheide says the company's good reputation and credibility make it stand out to investors. At this point, Duo doesn't need to seek out investors because investors are seeking them out instead. It's the company's empathy with both tech staff and end users that makes Duo's product so user-friendly as well, Oberheide says.

 

"It's a back-to-basics story for us," Oberheide says. "Other companies build security for networks of systems. We build security for people. Security is the fundamental problem that organizations of all shapes and sizes face, and we focus on doing that very well in a highly useable way."

 

Oberheide says this latest round of funding will allow the company to develop new products and expand into other industries and geographic regions. The team will also expand as the company gains new clients.

 

"We're always expanding the team," Oberheide says. "For the past eight years, we've doubled in size every year, so it's a brand new company every year, a new set of teammates. But that means we grow faster and learn faster, and I expect that to continue in the future."

This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Duo Security.


Ann Arbor's second annual Atomic Games challenges programmers to build an AI in a weekend

Daniel Michelin, a senior at Kalamazoo College, was the clear winner in the 2017 Atomic Games Ann Arbor, a computer programming challenge that requires participants to create an artificial intelligence (AI) over one weekend.

 

Custom software company Atomic Object has hosted the games for three years in Grand Rapids, and for two years in Ann Arbor. The games help the company identify talented programmers and to occasionally recruit participants who do well.

 

"Atomic Object, over its 16-year history, has had difficulty hiring developers straight out of college," says Jonah Bailey, a managing partner in the Ann Arbor office who organized the Ann Arbor games. "What college teaches is a highly theoretical base that will serve them well throughout their career, but what they often lack are technical skills and a chance to apply that theory in practice."

 

The Atomic Games require contestants to log into a server where a "boilerplate" game is uploaded. Last year's game was a version of Connect Four, while this year's game was similar to the popular strategy game Starcraft. Over one weekend, participants program a real-time strategy AI to play the game. The contestants' AIs then face off against each other, and the winning developer takes home a $500 prize. Seventeen programmers competed for the prize in Ann Arbor last year. This year 21 participated over the long weekend of Oct. 20-23.

 

Bailey says Michelin won "pretty resoundingly." He says Atomic Object doesn't just look for winners but also looks for participants who get up and running quickly, who offer to help others, and who generally show "outstanding leadership abilities."

 

Bailey also says students who had a passion for programming before they entered college often do well in the games. That was the case for Michelin, who took a programming course in middle school and went to summer camp for programming during high school.

 

Once in college, Michelin initially thought he would study political science but switched to computer science and math his sophomore year. While studying at Kalamazoo College, Michelin has participated in other coding challenges and even runs a few coding competitions with fellow students.

 

"I really like being challenged to think a lot in the span of a little bit of time," he says. "But I have only taken one machine learning class and have never done anything with AI, so I actually thought I was going to get my butt whipped by kids from the University of Michigan. I was surprised that I won."

 

He attributes his success in the Atomic Games to the fact that he plays a lot of chess and other strategy games, which helped him during the programming challenge.

 

"He really got the game, understood it, and worked hard over the weekend," Bailey says.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Atomic Object.


Ypsilanti Community Schools hosts "Girl Magic" event to empower middle-school girls

Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) hosted a daylong self-empowerment event this week to teach middle-school girls about inner and outer beauty, wellness, girl power, and more.

 

About 90 girls participated in the event, called Girl Magic, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at Ypsilanti Community Middle School. The day began with opening remarks from Lips and Hips founder Yodit Mesfin Johnson and ended with closing remarks from Dyann Logwood and Nyambura Njee of the Women's and Gender Studies Department at Eastern Michigan University. In between the opening and closing remarks, groups of about 15 girls rotated through six breakout sessions, which were led by female community leaders.

 

Ypsilanti Community High School assistant principal Djeneba "DJ" Cherif taught the girls how to dress appropriately in different situations during a session called "Fashionista: Dress to Impress." Another session called "Fashion on the Fly," hosted by Vanina Gilmore of Indigo Forest, focused on sewing, hemming, and repurposing clothing. The girls learned how to admire and care for natural hair during a session called "Moxie Magic," led by Original Moxie owner Rachel Blistein.

 

A session called "Beauty and Power," hosted by Johnson of Lips and Hips, taught girls about the importance of self-affirmation and inner beauty while they learned how to make organic lip gloss. Theresa Arnold-Robinson of the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools taught the girls about positive coping skills, reframing negative thoughts, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy skills during a session called "#HealthyMindsMatter." Another session called "Girls Talk: Courageous Conversations," hosted by Morghan Williams of the Corner Health Center, focused on wellness, hygiene, body changes, and body images.

 

Kharena Keith, coordinator of wellness and community partnerships for YCS, says Girl Magic gave middle-school girls the opportunity to receive non-academic support that they usually couldn't get during a regular school day. She says the event also allowed them to learn about some of the resources available to them in their community.

 

"The K-12 educational system does not really teach the whole child," Keith says. "We don't cater to everything that a young person really needs to succeed in school and in life, so it's up to the schools to supplement and support students and offer them extra enrichment opportunities. If we all recognize as staff and as a community that young ladies are not getting vital information that they need then it's up to us to coordinate opportunities for them to get that information. So that's what this is about to me, is to take a day and talk about the power that exists in you and the resources that exist in the community."
 

The community partners came together organically for Girl Magic because Keith works with some of them in different capacities through her role at YCS and some of them are part of a community of female entrepreneurs. A few of the community partners, including Original Moxie and the Corner Health Center, had been talking to Keith about doing an event for young female students for about a year. But the idea really started to come to fruition over the summer after Blistein reignited the conversation through an email to Keith.

 

"That’s one of the things I'll say I love about businesses in Ypsi. ... So many of them are really interested in figuring out how they can give back," Keith says.

 

YCS officials hope to continue hosting Girl Magic as an annual event and to expand it to Ypsilanti Community High School. The middle-school girls who participated in the event filled out evaluations so the administrators and the community partners can figure out how they can make improvements for next year.

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

Photos by Taryn Reid.


Ypsi Bike Co-Op nears end of successful first season

The Ypsi Bike Co-Op is wrapping up its first season of offering free bike tune-ups and repairs at the Ypsilanti Farmers Market in Depot Town.

 

The co-op's goal is to help those who rely on bikes for transportation, as well as showing them how they can fix their bikes and keep them in working order on their own. Sometimes a visitor will grab a screwdriver and work on his or her own bike with guidance from an Ypsi Bike Co-Op member.

 

"A lot of the folks that we really like to help are folks who ride their bikes for transportation, like they need it to get to school or a job, and we really want to keep that population rolling on safe bikes and help teach them to do it themselves," says Georgina Hickey, a co-founder of the co-op.

 

Ypsi Bike Co-Op has been at the Depot Town farmers market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. since mid-May. The group's presence will continue until Oct. 28, the last Saturday before the market closes for the season. The group plans to take some time over the winter to plan and prepare for next season. The co-op is considering hosting workshops on specific bike repair tasks (like repairing a flat tire or lubricating a bike chain), as well as the possibility of maintaining a booth at the downtown farmers market on Tuesdays next summer.

 

Hickey says the co-op had repaired 310 bikes at the market as of Oct. 14. The group doesn't charge people for tune-ups or repairs, but it encourages donations to help pay for bike parts and materials so the effort can continue.

 

The Ypsi Bike Co-Op is affiliated with Bike Ypsi, a 10-year-old community group that advocates for local cyclists by promoting bicycle awareness and cycling safety, and hosting cycling events. Some members of Bike Ypsi, including Hickey, started talking about forming a co-op about three years ago and finally decided to do it this year. Hickey says the two groups complement one another because Ypsi Bike Co-Op is focused on bikes and Bike Ypsi is focused on rides.

 

The co-op is always looking to connect with people who want to donate old bikes or get involved in the group. Hickey says the group operates under a "peer model" through which members of the group share bike expertise with each other. Throughout the season the group has accumulated several new members who have helped man the booth and teach repair or tune-up techniques with other group or community members.


Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

Georgina Hickey and Nathan Voght photo by Brianna Kelly. All other photos by Christine Gibler and Ryan McGavock.
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