Innovation & Job News

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Ypsi business owners team up to host networking events for fellow entrepreneurs

Two young Ypsilanti entrepreneurs are teaming up to host community business mixers in an effort to create and strengthen relationships between current and aspiring entrepreneurs in Ypsi.


Deonta "Tay" Doss, owner of Friends Closet, and Olisa Thompson, owner of MAX Marie, will host their second community business mixer at Friends Closet, 731 W. Cross St., on July 27 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Those who attend the event will have the chance to mingle with other local entrepreneurs, introduce themselves and their businesses, and receive advice from Ylondia Portis, owner of BrandHrt Consulting, Digital Insights, and Strategy.


Doss says the goal of the event is to "bridge the gap" between existing business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, and "to bring everyone together in Ypsilanti."


Thompson says one of her favorite parts of the community business mixers is getting to meet "the person behind the business."


"As an entrepreneur from around here, I want to meet new people who are likeminded and are interested in entrepreneurship, getting advice, connecting, and networking," she says.


At the first community business mixer at Friends Closet on March 30, about 30 attendees had the chance to meet and exchange contact information with local officials and entrepreneurs, including the owners of Cultivate Coffee and Tap House, Maiz Mexican Cantina, and the Jamerican Grill food truck. Doss says many of those who attended the inaugural mixer were friends of his.


"They came out to support me and in return, they met a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs," Doss says.


Doss and Thompson plan to host a community business mixer every few months. They eventually hope to bring the event to other local businesses.


Friends Closet also hosts many other events, including art shows, concerts, independent movie screenings, listening parties, open mics, and brand launches.


"Friends Closet has definitely provided a space and a vibe where people can come and express their art, whether it’s clothing, fashion, poetry, food, [or] music," Thompson says.

Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter 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.

Deonta Doss and Olisa Thomspon photo by Brianna Kelly. Mixer photos courtesy of Nick Azzaro.


Ann Arbor's EyeSucceed partners with Google Glass on food industry application

Ann Arbor-based EyeSucceed, an NSF company, has formally partnered with Google to come up with new applications for Google Glass in the food safety industry.


NSF has been providing audits of food service operations on Google campuses across the country for several years, as it does for numerous other companies. Since February 2015, EyeSucceed has been working directly with the Glass team to pilot food-industry applications of Glass, including remote food safety and quality audits.


"At NSF, we do over 150,000 food safety audits around the globe every year," says Tom Chestnut, co-founder of EyeSucceed and senior vice president of food at NSF. "One thing we realized was that the food safety picture is one that hasn't changed much in the last 20 to 25 years."


Back in 2013 the buggy first iteration of Google's hands-free assisted reality Glass device raised privacy concerns, and the product launch is generally considered a public relations disaster for Google. But over the last few years, a prototype for the new Glass Enterprise Edition has been in the works at X, a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet. The new version of Glass and Google's partnership with EyeSucceed were announced the same week in mid-July.


EyeSucceed uses Glass as a platform to monitor food employees in real time as they follow step-by-step requirements to complete job tasks, alerting them when they make a mistake and displaying corrective action. Information from these sessions can be uploaded to the cloud, and analysis of the collected data can lead to improvements in the process.


Chestnut says that soon after starting the pilot food inspection project with Google, NSF realized the newly-revised technology had the potential for "great applications" both within NSF and across many types of industries. For instance, an employee in the U.S. can monitor the work going on in another country without having to send an employee to physically oversee operations in dangerous, war-torn areas.


Glass is already being used in manufacturing, and Chestnut says hardly any planes have been made in the last couple years without using this type of technology.


Chestnut says that with the U.S. food industry employing more than 20 million people, there is likely to be a "great benefit" from using the new technology.

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
Photo courtesy of EyeSucceed.

Saline joins local autonomous vehicle industry with French automaker's arrival

Washtenaw County's reputation as a hub for autonomous vehicle research and development got another boost with the announcement that French company NAVYA will soon begin manufacturing its ARMA autonomous shuttle vehicles at a production plant in Saline.


NAVYA's electric ARMA shuttles seat up to 15 people. About 45 of them are in use around the world to date. Eventually, autonomous vehicles may operate on the open road, but currently most applications of the ARMA vehicles are focused on smaller, enclosed areas, such as providing shuttle service in an amusement park or around the campus of a large hospital complex. NAVYA expects the North American market for this type of vehicle to explode in the next three or four decades.


NAVYA first became interested in the southeast Michigan region after Ann Arbor SPARK hosted a French mobility delegation in 2015.


"They were interested in exploring the U.S. market and were exposed to the stuff happening in Mcity and the American Center for Mobility and generally automotive culture in southeast Michigan," says Phil Santer, senior vice president of business development at SPARK.


The city of Saline already has a core of international businesses, including a couple other French companies, and a solid tech business community. Santer says that created a "pretty welcoming atmosphere" for NAVYA.


"Places like Saline are hitting above their weight class," Santer says. "There's so much technology and innovation going on, and you don't find such really interesting things going on in another community of similar size somewhere else."


The French company wanted to settle somewhere in the greater Ann Arbor area, Santer says, in part because "we have a heritage of having a reliable supply chain for automotive vehicles." NAVYA officials decided that the 20,000-square-foot facility at 1406 E. Michigan Ave. in Saline, formerly warehouse space for American Soy, would best meet their needs.


NAVYA is expected to make about $1 million in capital improvements and create about 50 jobs. As a result, the company netted a $435,000 Michigan Business Development grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.


"This certainly adds to Saline's technology cluster, and we hope this will be a driver and validation point for other international mobility startups to invest in the greater Ann Arbor area and around Michigan," Santer says.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at
Photos courtesy of NAVYA.

North American Tech Tour to bring investors, entrepreneurship events to Ann Arbor in August

Investors, entrepreneurs, and bloggers Paul Singh and Dana Duncan will bring events and fellow investors to Ann Arbor when their North American Tech Tour stops here Aug. 8-10.


Singh, who is former managing director of the Washington, D.C.-based 1776 startup incubator and coauthor of the Results Junkies blog, says he began investing in startups in 2009. At that time, his focus was on visiting San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but he soon noticed that many companies in those areas had started somewhere else – sometimes in other countries but often in smaller towns in America's heartland.


"So, in version one of the tech tour, I figured I'd get on an airplane and find these companies before they went to Silicon Valley," Singh says. He did that for about five years and racked up a quarter of a million miles in travel.


Singh decided he really needed to drive instead of fly if he wanted to visit communities farther away from major airline hubs, and that he needed to spend more than a day or two in each place to get the most from his visit.


"It dawned on me that if I took my house to those places, it'd be more comfortable than living out of a suitcase in a random hotel, so in late 2015, I bought an Airstream trailer," Singh says.


In spring of 2016, he took his trailer to visit these cities in the heartland for several days to a week, visiting 70 cities in a year and a half. He also brought other investors along with him, so they could see for themselves that there are many great places to invest in outside of Silicon Valley.


Singh says each visit is unique and tailored to the specific city, but some components of the tour remain the same. In each location, he establishes daily "office hours" so startups and entrepreneurs can come in and talk to him and the other investors that travel with him.


The tour also hosts a couple of events open to the general community, made up of panels and keynote speakers, as well as one or two roundtables focused on getting to know local investors. Singh also likes to do an informal tour of each community he visits to get a sense of where community members hang out and what company work cultures are like.


The tour's Ann Arbor visit will include office hours every day, and a "Fireside Chat" on the evening of Aug. 8. On Aug. 9, morning sessions on angel investing and other startup topics will be followed by afternoon office hours and a stop at the A2 BrewTech Meetup at Dominick's bar in Ann Arbor.


On the last day of the tour, participants will visit Ann Arbor's autonomous vehicle facility, Mcity, followed by visiting a co-working space. There will be one last chance for office hours and then a farewell party before the tour leaves for a mobility startup event in Detroit.


More event details and registration information are available here.


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


Photos courtesy of Results Junkies.

YpsiTasty grub crawl highlights Ypsi restaurants who source locally

This Tuesday evening the A2Y Regional Chamber and Growing Hope will use the fourth annual YpsiTasty grub crawl to highlight businesses that use local farmers to source their ingredients.


Katie Jones, director of marketing and events for the A2Y Chamber, says the chamber had been doing grub crawls in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti for several years when, in 2014, Growing Hope approached the chamber asking to do an Ypsi-specific grub crawl with some "local Ypsi flair."


"We decided to figure out how to do one in Ypsi and have the participating restaurateurs focus their items on locally-sourced ingredients," Jones says.


To further that mission, the Ypsi Food Co-op and Ypsilanti's Tuesday farmers market will be included as stops on this year's YpsiTasty event.


"It's important that people know they can stop in and meet the farmers that provide some of the ingredients that have gone into the taste options they will experience later that night," Jones says of the farmers market.


Jones says she's glad to see that Ypsi's food scene has grown since 2011, when she first started going to grub crawls.


"Back in 2011, we had all the old regular restaurants downtown, but since then we've highlighted Depot Town and businesses on Cross and River streets and further down Michigan Avenue," Jones says. "This year, we have a good mix of the old trusty restaurants like Haab's but also newer ones like Ma Lou's and the Ypsi Alehouse."


This year's complete list of grub crawl destinations includes:

Aubree's Pizzeria and Grill

Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse

Encuentro Latino (at Ypsilanti Farmers Market until 7 p.m.)

Go! Ice Cream

Haab's Restaurant

Ma Lou's Fried Chicken

MAIZ Mexican Cantina

Ollie Food and Spirits

Red Rock Downtown Barbecue

Ypsi Alehouse


The Wurst Bar


Tickets cost $25, and participants should arrive at their first destination between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. After receiving a ticket, participants can visit each location on the grub crawl once until 9 p.m. More information and registration is available at the A2Y Chamber's website.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at
Photos courtesy of the A2Y Regional Chamber.

Social network for the chronically ill among U-M Desai Accelerator's summer cohort

A company that helps connect people with chronic illnesses for social support is one of four startups comprising the latest cohort at the Desai Accelerator, a joint venture between the University of Michigan's (U-M) Ross School of Business and U-M's College of Engineering.


The Ann Arbor business accelerator nurtures startups who are past the earliest stages of development but not yet seeking external investors. This is the first year Desai has hosted two cohorts in one year.


Participants in the 13-week summer accelerator program include Find Your Ditto, a mobile social platform for those with chronic illnesses; Ascape Audio, which creates uniquely-designed wireless earbuds; Gwydion, a virtual reality software firm specializing in the post-secondary education and research field; and TwoScoreTwo, which makes products for secure data storage and unhackable money transfers.


Brianna Wolin, co-founder of Find Your Ditto along with partner Parisa Soraya, says the $25,000 investment that comes along with being chosen for the accelerator is great, but it's the people they interact with that are making the difference.


"It's great to be surrounded by people providing mentorship, networks, and resources for fundraising," Wolin says. "It allows for greater connections and plans for securing early adopters who can push us to the next level."


Find Your Ditto's mission is near and dear to Wolin's heart, since she has been living with celiac disease and Type 1 diabetes since she was 4 years old.


When Soraya put up a Facebook post asking to interview someone with a chronic illness, Wolin responded. The two hit it off, and Soraya got special permission to include Wolin, then an undergrad, in a an innovation competition sponsored by U-M's School of Public Health.


The two proposed an online platform that helps people with chronic illnesses find others with the same condition living nearby so they can support one another, filling a gap in existing services.


Right now, people with chronic illnesses can get in-person coaching at hospital-run support groups, but they have little control over when support group sessions are held or what topics are covered. On the flip side, people can get support day or night from online forums, but those lack the in-person component.


Find Your Ditto allows those suffering from chronic illnesses to decide when and how often to meet in person and what topics will be discussed, Wolin says.


Since that student competition, the two co-founders have been through several pitch competitions and an early-stage accelerator. They hope that the Desai experience will lead to even greater investments in the company's future.


"We're forever grateful for that belief, that trust they have in the importance of what we're doing and our ability to scale our business," Wolin says.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at
Photo courtesy of Brianna Wolin.

Ann Arbor's Applied Fitness Solutions hosts fitness challenge to benefit Ozone House

Ann Arbor's Applied Fitness Solutions (AFS) recently raised $3,075 with a charity challenge benefitting Ozone House, a nonprofit that helps homeless and runaway teens in Washtenaw County.


AFS is an Ann Arbor-based business that offers fitness and nutrition coaching in person and via mobile app. After clients meet with a fitness coach, they set exercise and nutrition goals and are encouraged to make it to AFS' gym at least twice a week. If a client reached his or her attendance goal over the four weeks of the charity challenge, half of his or her signup fee was donated to Ozone House.


Heidi Ruud, Ozone House's marketing and communications specialist, has been a client at AFS for some time. Sawyer Paull-Baird, fitness director at AFS' Ann Arbor location, says Ozone House was a natural choice when AFS management talked about charitable projects.


"Part of our mission is to unite, empower, and enrich the communities we serve," Paull-Baird says. "The main way we do that is through health and fitness, but we also wanted to partner with like-minded local charities."


The funds raised during the challenge were presented to Ozone House in late June, but AFS will continue supporting Ozone House by hosting a charity garage sale Saturday, July 29, and Sunday, July 30.


Over the course of the 10 years AFS has been operating, the business accumulated many pieces of used exercise equipment in its storage unit, and employees kept planning to clean it out but never did, Paull-Baird says.


"I thought it would be a good idea to do a garage sale and donate the proceeds to our charity partner," he says. "It's also a nice opportunity to increase awareness of what Ozone House does."


More information about the charity garage sale is available on the AFS Facebook page.


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


Photo courtesy of Applied Fitness Solutions.

Ann Arbor's ForeSee launches product to help banks better connect with customers in the digital age

As technology changes every industry, banks and financial institutions that focus on creating positive customer experiences will have the edge – but how banks will do that isn't always clear.


That's according to Jason Conrad, vice president at Ann Arbor-based customer analytics firm ForeSee and head of its retail banking practice. While some banks are betting that automated tellers and mobile banking apps will mean they can close physical branches, others are refocusing on brick and mortar.


"Some banks are opening more branches to reinforce that connection with the community as a strategic, competitive advantage," Conrad says.


Choosing the right strategy can be tough, but ForeSee thinks its new retail banking solution, an extension of its existing customer experience product suite, can help banks better understand their customers.


ForeSee's new retail banking solution is a suite of tools and apps added to its preexisting ForeSee CX Suite. It measures customer data across various channels from desktop web applications to mobile apps to physical branches and call centers and helps banks analyze who their customers are.


"Banks are facing technological upheaval in digital space," says Conrad. "There are literally hundreds of companies making them rethink how they are serving customers. Banks that measure success through the eyes of customers will thrive in the era of technological disruption."


Conrad says research with a dozen retail banks showed they were all nervous about the rise of financial technology, or "fintech," and what it means for traditional banks. They want to know what drives customer satisfaction as well as how to improve retention and customer loyalty.


Banks need to develop a clear understanding of who their customers are, and then decide the "next best action," which Conrad describes as combining what the customer wants from the bank with figuring out how the bank can best focus limited time and resources.


Next comes taking action on the information the bank has gathered so it can optimize its customers' experience across all points of contact, whether an online portal or a physical bank branch.


Finally, Conrad says, banks should take a holistic view of the products and services they offer, understanding not just the technicalities but the human side of things, since banks often interact with customers during huge milestones such as buying a first car or first home or saving for college.


"Banks need to move from simply retaining business and earning loyalty to connecting with customers in an authentic, meaningful way," Conrad says. "And then a funny thing happens: they sell more and make more money, the consumer is happy, and everyone wins."


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


Photos courtesy of ForeSee.

Ann Arbor defense contractor develops autonomous-vehicle spinoff at SPARK Ypsi

Having adapted its military artificial intelligence work to Ann Arbor's burgeoning autonomous-vehicle industry, Soar Automotive recently "graduated" from the Ann Arbor SPARK East business incubator in downtown Ypsilanti.


Soar Automotive is a less traditional tenant for a business accelerator. The company is a spin-off of Ann Arbor's Soar Technologies and used the business accelerator as a temporary office space while it searched for a permanent home.


Soar Technologies provides contract research and development work for the U.S. Department of Defense, applying artificial intelligence techniques to military problems. Spin-off Soar Automotive will adapt some of those same technologies to the field of self-driving vehicles, says Soar Automotive president Andy Dallas.


"We focus on developing technologies that emulate human behavior," Dallas says. "Like human drivers, the technology can deal with imperfect data, project into the future what may be happening, and adjust its driving based on that. It deals with complicated situations more robustly than other approaches you hear about."


Dallas says an ex-employee of Soar Technologies had used SPARK's business incubator in Ypsi and recommended it when Soar Automotive was conceived of as a spin-off business.


"We needed a place to stay while we were looking for real estate, and that ex-employee spoke well of the Ypsi facility, and we liked what we saw," Dallas says.


The spin-off used the incubator for office space from February through early May, when the company moved out of the incubator and into its current space at 1665 Highland Dr. on the south side of Ann Arbor.


Dallas says Soar Automotive currently has six employees and may double its staff in the next six months. Staying in the Ann Arbor region made sense for a number of reasons. Dallas says many of Soar's existing employees live in Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor is an attractive community to live in for new recruits as the company prepares to hire more employees.


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


Photo courtesy of Soar Automotive.

24/7 coworking space opens in Ypsilanti with accessibility in mind

Ypsilanti has joined the local coworking movement with the opening of GoWork at 9 S. Washington St. in downtown Ypsi.


Kyle Thibaut, GoWork cofounder and head of technology, says he and GoWork's other two cofounders (Andrew Sereno, head of operations, and Clayton Smith, head of community) envision their coworking space being not just a convenience for entrepreneurs and startups, but a hub for building community.


The three cofounders decided they wanted to bring the coworking concept to Ypsilanti and began brainstorming and searching for a space in March. They powered through permit and licensing issues and remodeling the space and were able to get the business up and running in a remarkably short time, opening to the public June 1.


GoWork aims to set itself apart from other coworking spaces by emphasizing four key elements: accessibility to all, 24/7 access, community resources and events, and comfort and amenities.


Thibaut says the cofounders aim to provide the lowest-cost local coworking space by far, and GoWork provides a digital key code so that patrons can access the space at any time. Not having to have an employee staff the building 24/7 helps keep costs low.


Comfort and amenities include providing a variety of seating options, lockers, and mailboxes, as well as snacks and drinks.


The community-building piece is something that will take longer to roll out, Thibaut said.


The cofounders are already participating in Ypsi's "First Fridays" events and will continue to do so. At a future First Friday event, visitors will have the opportunity to have one free, professional headshot taken for a LinkedIn profile or other social media profile.


The cofounders also envision having clinics, workshops, and lessons in the space. Additionally, GoWork wants to connect its users to other professionals in the area, helping entrepreneurs and startups working out of the space connect to experts with knowledge about legal matters, finance, marketing and advertising, and other services, Thibaut says.


"That's fairly far out in the future, but that's the vision," Thibaut says. "We want to connect people within the space and connect people in our coworking space to people out in the community offering services."


GoWork is offering space completely free for the month of June, both to draw in potential users and to get feedback on how the space could be improved. After the free period, users can buy day passes or get a monthly membership that includes priority access to a private conference room.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at
All photos courtesy of GoWork.

AOL cofounder's business pitch bus tour to award $100,000 in Ann Arbor stop

The Rise of the Rest bus tour, showcasing startups and promoting entrepreneurism, will hit Ann Arbor on Oct. 11.


Rise of the Rest is an initiative of Revolution, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm founded in 2005 by AOL cofounder Steve Case.


This will be the sixth iteration of the biannual tour, which stops in five different cities in the U.S. heartland each time. The tour brings about 10 hours of programming to each city, including a business pitch competition with eight finalists. Applications are being accepted now through Aug. 30 for the business pitch competition, which will net the winner a $100,000 investment.


Anna Mason, director of investments for Rise of the Rest, says Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York historically receive about 75 percent of all startup investments in the U.S., but Rise of the Rest aims to put a spotlight on dynamic regions outside of those three hubs.


"Our very first stop on our very first tour was Detroit, and because of the lessons learned and the rise of regional entrepreneurial communities, we were particularly excited to be back in the southeast Michigan region," Mason says.


Mason says Ann Arbor was attractive as a Rise of the Rest stop for a number of reasons, including the fact that Ann Arbor has strong economic development organizations supporting entrepreneurship and broad community engagement with the tech industry. The Ann Arbor area's mobility industry hubs were attractive as well, Mason says.


Perhaps most important to Rise of the Rest, a dense network of local and statewide investors are based in Ann Arbor.


"We were particularly excited and encouraged to see that, and we're looking forward to getting to know that group of local investors," Mason says.


The Oct. 11 event will open with a private, invite-only leadership breakfast bringing together participants from the private and public sector, ranging from local government officials to university representatives to regional investors and local startups.


Then the participants go on an "ecosystem crawl," visiting four or five companies ranging from early-stage startups, who might even still be in a business incubator or accelerator, up to pre-IPO or other late-stage startup companies.


The second half of the day involves a "fireside chat" with Case, the pitch competition, and a community happy hour.


Mason says pitch competition judges look for bold ideas that "swing for the fences." They also look for a dynamic team with solid leadership and a business idea that is likely to employ a large number of people locally or regionally once it's scaled up, Mason says.


"We're looking for an idea that has the potential to be game-changing for the industry," Mason says.


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

Photo courtesy of Rise of the Rest.

Workit Health to take addiction recovery program on the road in Airstream trailer

Workit Health is taking its addiction recovery program on the road in an Airstream trailer that will visit underserved areas around Michigan starting in July.


Founded in Oakland, Calif., Workit is a private online service to help people break addictions. The company has a northern office in Ann Arbor, and co-founder Lisa McLaughlin is originally from Michigan. McLaughlin says those "deep roots" in Michigan inspired Workit to kick off a tour of five communities in the state.


Lenawee and Livingston counties were identified as communities to visit early in the trip, McLaughlin says, but Workit is keeping the itinerary fluid so the team can go where it finds the greatest need.


"We want to develop a deep understanding of where there are treatment gaps," McLaughlin says. "That can mean people are not moving from detox to outpatient care, or they're not living somewhere close to appropriate addiction care."


A team composed of a medical assistant, nurse practitioner, and a doctor will do assessments and develop personalized treatment plans for those who visit the trailer. The team will also get patients up and running on Workit's online program, where patients can receive regular counseling and assignments to help with addiction recovery.


McLaughlin says the trailer tour is an "evolution" of Workit's ongoing mission.


"We've done incredible work in the earlier stages of addiction, getting people into the program through our website or through their employers," McLaughlin says. "But with this giant opioid crisis, it became inevitable that we'd be dealing with later-stage cases."


She says the trailer program is just one way Workit can help brick-and-mortar health systems meet the urgent need for addiction recovery services.


"It's very clear that a last-mile solution is needed and there's no time to lose," she says. "We're not going to wait until all these health systems catch up. We have all the pieces, and we're putting them together and bringing them to you."

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


Photo courtesy of Workit Health.

China's Camel Energy to add 41 jobs with new Pittsfield Township R&D center

Chinese-based battery manufacturer Camel Energy recently announced it will establish a research and development headquarters in Pittsfield Township on Varsity Drive.


The company's parent corporation, Camel Group Battery Academy Co., employs about 6,000 people in China. Camel Energy received support from Ann Arbor SPARK and a nearly $300,000 incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, choosing Ann Arbor over other U.S. sites in California and Texas.


The company will invest $4.6 million in the new R&D headquarters and expects to add 41 jobs here.


Phil Santer, senior vice president of business development for SPARK, says most of the jobs will be related to engineering or technical R&D, with a few managerial or sales positions as well. Zubo Zhang, president of Camel Energy, is expecting to move with his family to the Ann Arbor area and bring a handful of Chinese colleagues to the location as well.


Santer says foreign investments are an increasingly important part of Michigan's economy, but foreign businesspeople often are more familiar with America's east and west coasts than the heartland.


"With foreign company attraction, we're often overcoming the perception about these well-known areas like California or New York or Boston and need to raise awareness of the cool stuff going on in Michigan," Santer says. "For instance, 76 percent of all automotive R&D happens in Michigan. That's a nice fact that people respond to."


Santer says Camel Energy was interested in locating where automotive R&D talent is concentrated.


"Around the Ann Arbor region and throughout Michigan, there's this focus on electrification and energy storage, and they wanted a location where they could tap into the talent here," Santer says. Camel Energy focuses on traditional car batteries in its China market but wants the Pittsfield Township site to focus on development of higher-efficiency batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, he says.


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

Argus Farm Stop to open second location in Ann Arbor's Burns Park

Argus Farm Stop is gearing up to open a second location in Ann Arbor's Burns Park neighborhood at 1200 Packard St., with a grand opening tentatively set for August.


Bill Brinkerhoff and Kathy Sample launched the first Argus Farm Stop in summer 2014 just outside downtown Ann Arbor on West Liberty. Brinkerhoff and Sample created what they saw as a "next-generation" farmers market, open year-round, seven days a week, and featuring produce, dairy, and meat from more than 140 local farmers and producers. Producers set their own prices and keep 80 percent of the sale price. The shop also includes a popular coffee bar.


"We love farmers markets, but they are limiting for some people, only being open one day a week," Sample says. "The sense of community at a farmers market can't be beat, but some people just can't shop on a Wednesday or a Saturday."


The idea for the Burns Park location came about after a Burns Park resident approached Brinkerhoff and Sample about creating a new market in his neighborhood.


"He saw an abandoned building in a vibrant neighborhood and thought it shouldn't be that way," Sample says.


Brinkerhoff and Sample coached the man and connected him with the builder they used to remodel their West Liberty location, but he ultimately decided he wasn't in a position to quit his job to take on opening a market. But by that time, Sample says so much effort had been put into the new market that it seemed a shame to let it go to waste. So she and Brinkerhoff stepped up to turn the building into a second Argus location.


The new business will bring the building at 1200 Packard full circle, as it was a neighborhood market from the 1930s through 1960s. Sample says Burns Park is ideal for Argus in many ways.


"We felt it would support the business model with enough people who care about local food and enough of a population to support the coffee bar, for that sense of community," she says.


Sample says her main goal is to strengthen the local food ecosystem, and she hopes the Argus model will spread around the country. She says she gets so many inquiries about how to set up a similar store in other communities that she hopes to someday soon build a portal on the Argus website to help interested parties figure out if it's feasible in their communities.


"We put about $1 million into the hands of farmers every year at our current location, and I think we can duplicate this in our other store," Sample says.


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

Photo courtesy of Argus Farm Stop.

Washtenaw Community College-led consortium to develop workforce for American Center for Mobility

Washtenaw Community College (WCC) will form a consortium of community colleges to develop mobility industry training programs at the American Center for Mobility's (ACM) automated vehicle testing and development facility in Ypsilanti Township.

WCC is already partnering with Wayne County Community College District and is in talks with Macomb Community College as well, according to Brendan Prebo, associate vice president of marketing and communications for WCC.

Prebo says the partnership between WCC and ACM was a natural choice because the community college is located in the "center of the mobility universe."

"We have MCity (the University of Michigan's connected vehicle research and test facility) here a few miles away, University of Michigan engineering school in the area, and ACM in Ypsilanti Township just down the road," Prebo says.

Prebo says WCC began looking into training employees to work in the mobility industry several years ago. The school established its own Advanced Transportation Center to develop certificate and college credit programs for mobility careers.

"What we're doing with ACM at Willow Run is a natural extension of activities we've already undertaken in this area," Prebo says.

WCC will establish an office on ACM's campus, and Prebo says it will be initially staffed with two or three people by the end of June. The office will allow WCC staff to coordinate with ACM to develop mobility curricula, certificates, and degrees, as well as apprenticeship and internship programs.

Additionally, WCC will allow students interested in a bachelor's- or master's-level program to accrue credits at WCC at about a quarter of the cost of attending a state university, and then transfer those credits to a four-year program at a university.

The consortium is also talking about ways that connected vehicle engineering and other issues related to mobility could be introduced to curricula at the K-12 level. One way would be integrating mobility skills and knowledge into preexisting summer camp programs aimed at students ages 8 to 18, Prebo says.

Prebo says there's a lot of excitement about the announcement, but it will take time to build the consortium as well as develop classes and other programs.

"We're really just in the beginning stages of building some of those programs, but we look forward to having more to announce in the months ahead," Prebo says.

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

Photo by Bill Milliken Jr.

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