Innovation & Job News

2208 Articles | Page: | Show All

New Ann Arbor company aims to strengthen Michigan's entrepreneurial ecosystem

After five years serving Michigan's entrepreneurial community as associate director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association (MVCA), Emily Heintz is becoming an entrepreneur herself.


Heintz's Ann Arbor-based company, EntryPoint, was established in March with a mission to advance entrepreneurship in Michigan. At the MVCA, Heintz led the development of the organization's annual research report. She hopes to use that same data-driven approach at EntryPoint to help economic development organizations and the startup community develop programs to support Michigan entrepreneurs through public engagement and research.


"I do a lot of analysis on the entrepreneurial community in the Midwest and want to help foundations and economic organizations craft the most meaningful programs and, long term, raise capital and run further programs that work more directly with the entrepreneurial community," she says.


Heintz says her previous work analyzing Michigan's entrepreneurial ecosystem has found many strengths, but also capital and talent gaps. Her work with EntryPoint will address those weak areas.


Heintz has built a network of partners who will assist her through their positions on EntryPoint's advisory board, including representatives of tech firms like Duo Security and numerous local venture capital firms.


"I've worked with most of them 10 years now in various capacities and they are invaluable resources in the type of work I want to put my energy toward," Heintz says. "All these people are really focused toward building a really inclusive entrepreneurial community and ensuring access to capital for entrepreneurs."


She says her initial role will be as a "connector of people and organizations," helping economic development organizations find capital and talent resources. She'll also help connect established companies to startups who can help those established companies "stay on the cutting edge of technology." One of her first projects with EntryPoint will be advising Invest Detroit Ventures on how best to structure the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition it sponsors.


Heintz says startups do have funding options, but there is an especial lack of series A funding in Michigan.


"Companies can scale up to a certain point, but help attracting the capital they need to grow, particularly in Michigan, is critical," she says.


Heintz says a main reason she decided to launch EntryPoint was that she was seeing excitement, momentum, and growth in Michigan's venture capital community.


"We've really built up great infrastructure for companies and investors," she says. "Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas pedal. Michigan needs a data-driven approach, and we need to be very intentional about the way we grow the entrepreneurial community in the Midwest over the next five to 10 years."


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

Photo by Leisa Thompson.

New downtown Ypsi makerspace aims for inclusivity, affordability

The owner of TinkerTech, a new makerspace at 216 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti, says he hopes to engage community members who may not fit the usual makerspace user profile.


"One thing I noticed in hobby shops and makerspaces is that they tend to attract a very homogenous group of people, often socially awkward white guys, a group who I consider my people," Michael Ploof says with a laugh.


Ploof says he wants to reach out to a broad cross-section of the community, so TinkerTech's membership will exhibit both demographic and experiential diversity. He intends to build connections with groups ranging from Digital Divas and Girl Develop It to the Parkridge Community Center, and to bring in users who aren't traditional electronics hobbyists.


"I'm pushing to make more connections to technology through music and art," he says. Some of the first workshops and summer camps scheduled at the space focus on unusual topics like building guitar effects pedals, modular synthesizers, and interactive art.


Ploof is sensitive to concerns about Ypsi is being gentrified. He notes that a lot of the recent economic development both downtown and in Depot Town has created "exclusive spaces that cater to one segment."


"I try to be community-minded, and getting people in here from all different parts of the city is a priority," he says. "I want to make sure it's an inclusive space and that it feels applicable and welcoming to everybody."


Ploof's journey to opening his new business wasn't a straight line. After studying biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan, Ploof spent some time working at Saline technology firm Quantum Signal and got into electronics as a hobbyist. Later he took a detour in his career path, earning an education degree from Eastern Michigan University so he could teach physics at the high school level.


"I enjoyed teaching, but not in the context of 36 kids in one class," he says.


While teaching a few students in an independent study course and seeing their enthusiasm and motivation, he realized that sort of one-on-one mentoring and teaching was going to make up very little of what he did for a living if he continued as a classroom teacher.


Ploof had been running a small electronics consulting firm on the side. He and some friends had put money aside to purchase a building to run an electronic parts store similar to Radio Shack. When the friends pulled out of the project, he still had funds set aside and decided to go ahead with his electronics store idea on his own, adding an educational component to the plan. From there, the idea for a makerspace was born.


Ploof says TinkerTech is carving out its niche in the local makerspace market by narrowing focus. Some other makerspaces can help members with projects ranging from wood and metal work to fiber arts, but TinkerTech focuses primarily on electronics.


Having a narrow focus means TinkerTech can have high-quality tools for members to use while keeping costs low, about half the price of memberships at other makerspaces in southeast Michigan. Ploof also subsidizes the cost of a membership or class at TinkerTech with the money generated by the consulting work he continues to do from his new space.


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


Storefront photo by Adarash Mishra. All other photos by Michael Ploof.

Female founders of Ann Arbor tech companies take national pledge for diversity

Several female business owners in southeast Michigan have signed a pledge, joining the national Founders for Change project that aims to increase diversity in the tech industry.


As of early May, several businesses in southeast Michigan with female founders or women on their executive teams have signed the pledge. They include Jottful, Spellbound, Foodstand, the University of Michigan's Desai Accelerator, WHIM-Detroit, TechStak, and Engage.


The pledge, which now has more than 700 signatures, reads: "I believe in a more diverse and inclusive tech industry. I am dedicated to having a diverse team and board, and when I have a choice of investment partners in the future, the diversity of their firms will be an important consideration."


Dawn Verbrigghe, founder of Ann Arbor-based web design and hosting firm Jottful, says she saw an article about the Founders for Change pledge in March and was "immediately drawn to the concept" but was a little reluctant at first to take the pledge.


Jottful is a very new company, having just started in 2017. It has a team of three currently, but is poised for rapid growth in 2018 and 2019, Verbrigghe says.


"Taking the pledge now, for a company our size in a very early stage, is a bigger deal than for some of these very big companies like EventBrite. It's a lot easier for them to take such a pledge," she says. "Funding is hard enough, so I didn't want to reduce the potential number of investment partners. But ultimately I decided I would prefer to have investment partners who are in line with the values the company was founded on."


Verbrigghe says there is already an informal network in the greater Ann Arbor area among women who own tech businesses, and she began talking about the pledge with her group of friends and colleagues who then passed it to other friends. They continue to post pictures of themselves with the signed Founders for Change pledge to the Twitter hashtag #midwestfemalefounders.


Verbrigghe calls the women who signed the pledge "brave" because it's a leap of faith to take a pledge that could potentially reduce a business' number of investment partners.


"In 2016, only 11 percent of venture capital firm partners were women," she says, while only two percent were Latinx and none were black. Additionally, all-female teams receive only 2.2 percent of venture funding.


"Think about it," she says. "If these are the people making funding decisions, it's not a surprise that women and minorities get less funding."


While the #midwestfemalefounders hashtag focuses on women in tech, Verbrigghe says she thinks having women in more positions of power is a good start, and hopes that female founders will be "more aware of the challenges" other minority groups face.


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


Photo courtesy of Dawn Verbrigghe.

New report finds robust Michigan angel investment community investing heavily in IT, life sciences

Nearly 800 angel investors invested more than $41 million in 70 Michigan companies in 2017, according to a comprehensive new report prepared by Ann Arbor SPARK.


The "Michigan Angel Community," a statewide initiative managed by SPARK and supported by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, recently completed its first annual research report about trends in Michigan's angel investment community. Some of the report's findings were presented at a "Michigan Celebrates Angels" event May 3 at the Lansing Center.


"The fact that we could identify nearly 800 (investors) was very encouraging, and I was happy to see that many," says SPARK senior vice president Skip Simms. "I believe there are many more that we probably didn't identify and think that number underrepresents (the number of angel investors in the state), but it kind of indicates there are plenty of opportunities."


Simms says angel investors are often private individuals who are reluctant to provide the information the report was seeking. To counter that, staff not only polled angel investors in the state but also requested investment data from companies that received angel funding in 2017.


The report found that the average investment was $55,000. Information technology companies received the most angel investments of any sector, with 30 companies receiving a total of $15.5 million. In contrast, only 19 life sciences companies received angel funding but they attracted larger investments, totaling $16.6 million.


"The life science industry in the state of Michigan requires more capital, generally speaking, than other types of startup tech companies," Simms says.


Simms says that figure of $55,000 was "well above the national average," according to the Angel Resource Institute Halo Report.


"They looked at 3,500 startup tech companies in the U.S. funded last year by angel groups, and the average nationally was much lower than that," Simms says, noting that it's not just the Ann Arbor area that has a "robust" life science startup community but that life sciences are very strong in Detroit and southwest Michigan as well.


Simms says the general consensus from the angel investors who attended the Lansing Center event was that it should be repeated.


"Nothing like this has been done before, and there was overwhelming appreciation for the event," Skimms says. "The consensus is that this is something we ought to do every year, to recognize and celebrate one of the key components to the success of any startup and to growing a business."


The full Michigan Angel Community report is available on Ann Arbor SPARK's website.


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


Photos courtesy of Ann Arbor SPARK.

Dexter native returns home to open Michigan office for Silicon Valley company

Carl Arft has happy memories of growing up in Dexter, creating hand-painted figurines at the What's It Shop and eating at the Captain's Table. So he was happy to recommend that his employer, SiTime, open its first North American location outside of Silicon Valley at 2830 Baker Rd., Suite 200, in Dexter.


The new office officially opened May 1 with a staff of four, led by Arft. He says he expects "rapid growth" and that the Michigan location will become "a key contributor to the company’s future success."


SiTime produces microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based timing solutions used in products ranging from mobile phones to self-driving vehicles. Arft, the company's senior director of systems engineering, has been working for SiTime since 2006. After going back to Dexter for a family visit in 2015, Arft proposed to SiTime CEO Rajesh Vashist that SiTime open a Michigan office in Arft's hometown.


The greater Ann Arbor area was a good choice, Arft says, because of "the tremendous talent and research" coming out of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Having an office in southeast Michigan also allows SiTime to collaborate more closely with automotive companies that are driving the growth of automated and connected vehicle innovations.


Arft says Dexter offers a great quality of life, a top-ranked school system, and more affordable and varied housing options for employees than Ann Arbor does. He says he thinks Dexter is on the cusp of a big transformation and is excited for SiTime to be part of that.


"Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Dexter almost doubled, making it one of the fastest-growing communities in the state," he says. "Interestingly, the median household income in Dexter is now higher than Ann Arbor. What this says to me is that successful people are choosing to relocate to Dexter in significant numbers."


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


Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor SPARK.

Iconic restaurant makes unusual move – from Ypsi to Ann Arbor

Downtown Ypsilanti's iconic Dalat restaurant has seemed on the brink of closure multiple times in recent years. However, a new generation is now taking over the business and making the unusual move of relocating it from Ypsi to Ann Arbor.


Once legal paperwork is finalized, Son Le, the son of previous owners Lang Bui and Hoanh Le, will be the Vietnamese restaurant's new manager, and his wife, Tran Nguyen, will serve as the new owner. The pair are aiming for an early June opening at a space in the Woodland Plaza shopping center off South Main Street in Ann Arbor.


Original owner Lang Bui opened Dalat at 421 Cross St. in Ypsi, but the restaurant proved so popular that she moved to a larger location at the corner of Michigan Avenue and North Huron Street in 2000.


In 2010, Bui was speaking publicly about the demands of the restaurant and looking forward to passing the restaurant into other hands when she retired. In December 2014, Bui put the building up for sale so she could retire, but said at that time that the next generation in the family-run business had no interest in taking over operations.


However, the restaurant seemed to be doing business as usual through the end of 2017, until an announcement appeared on the restaurant's Facebook page Jan. 4 noting that it was moving to Ann Arbor, with a reopening date unspecified.


Son Le says having a building in an older historic district was difficult and prompted the move. He says most property owners have difficulty understanding construction codes for maintenance and renovations.


"We just don't have enough energy or funds to keep the building in good shape," he says.


Le says his parents retired Nov. 23 and took a trip to southeast Asia, coming back to sign the sales agreement. It took the previous owners much longer than expected to sell the old property at 100 W. Michigan Ave., he says, and the deal wasn't finalized until Jan. 19.


Le says he is hoping to open the restaurant in early June, but the timing will depend on how quickly he and Nguyen can get all the necessary city and county permits.


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


Photo by Patrick Dunn.

New event to celebrate Ypsi's arts and culture ecosystem

Riverside Arts Center (RAC), 76 N. Huron St. in Ypsilanti, will host its first ever Fly Trap event, a combination of a fundraiser and celebration of Ypsi's growing arts and culture ecosystem, from 5-9 p.m. Saturday, May 5.


"While for many years we have had a successful fall event, a donor auction and dinner, we needed a handshake with the community," says Ariel Moore, outreach manager for RAC. "The idea was to have an event that was free and embraced all community members, sort of a bookend to the traditional fall event many organizations have."


The event is open to all ages and is free, though donations of $10 are encouraged to support RAC's youth art programs. Moore says the event will feature "something for everybody," and will include hands-on events for children and adults, as well as live music, free food from Go! Ice Cream and Panaderia La Bendicion Bakery, and a cash bar courtesy of Cultivate.


Kids will have a chance to make shadow puppets, and all ages are invited to make slime. Models will be provided for live figure drawing, courtesy of Love at First Try, and temporary tattoos will be available courtesy of Ypsilanti tattoo studio Brite Idea. Moore says that's part of an outreach effort with local businesses to let them know that RAC can provide a venue to enhance their business as well.


The FLY Trap event will celebrate the many partnerships and collaborations that RAC is facilitating, especially over the last year.


"Riverside has reignited its strategic plan with a focus on community-building and building an arts ecosystem," Moore says.


In 2017, RAC merged with the 10-year-old nonprofit FLY Children's Art Center, which is now an initiative of RAC under the name FLY Creativity Lab. Also in 2017, RAC received a grant from Sappi Paper Co. to rebrand and has changed its logo, color palette, and signage.


Additionally, RAC has been pursuing collaborations with Grove Studios, Eastern Michigan University's Bright Futures program, and the Parkridge Summer Festival. More recently, Riverside received funding from the Buhr Foundation to give scholarships to children who would like to attend summer art camps but don't have the means to do so.


"Our new brand reflects this work we're doing to be at the center of a lot of other people's work, using our space," Moore says. "Others have great ideas, too, and we want to be that base where people can make their creative ideas come true."


For more information about the event, visit or RAC's Facebook page.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of Riverside Arts Center.

Teens generate 25 new business ideas at new workshop for young entrepreneurs

Twenty-three middle schoolers and 13 high schoolers created 25 business or nonprofit ideas in the first two-hour Running Start workshop for young entrepreneurs last month.


Local entrepreneur Debra Power, owner of Power Marketing Research, announced Running Start's launch in autumn 2017 with the goal of having an initial workshop series start in February 2018. She later decided that was overly ambitious and moved the first series to April 21. This four-week run of the program will continue until May 12. The weekly workshops are held at GO Where Meetings Matter, 4735 Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor.


The first round of participants heard presentations from Jonathan Goldstein and Komal Doshi of Ann Arbor SPARK; Brian Christian of The Inovo Group; Beth Simon of NewFoundry; and Naja Prince, a 14-year-old who started her own business called Wag Your Tail Doggie Treats at age 11.


The first workshop had participants working through a 40-page workbook and asking themselves questions to generate a viable business ideas, including "What problem do you want to solve in the world?" and "What's a product you'd like to have that doesn't already exist?"


Power says business ideas ranged from upcycling clothing to nonprofits benefiting homeless youth to a way to provide more exposure to high school athletes.


During the second week, attendees worked on a "business grid," thinking through who their business' target demographics are and how they will sell a product. Staff members from accounting firm Plante Moran will help participants with budget exercises that show how businesses make money, and how they have to spend money on items such as employee payroll, utilities, and rent.


Power says she is learning as she goes along and may cap attendance at future sessions.


"We're learning a little about the dynamics of how these workshops work, and in the future, the ideal number of students will probably be around 20," she says. "That allows for the ultimate amount of interaction."


Power says that when she started the program, she was thinking of how she could help others, but she's surprised at what she is already gaining from it.


"I never envisioned it would be this incredibly rewarding experience for myself and volunteers," she says. "Everyone involved has said that it's one of those classic situations where you get more than you give. I am so inspired by the fact that youth are thinking entrepreneurially. It gives me hope for the future."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of Running Start.

Pittsfield Township-based technology firm Dynics to expand, add jobs

Pittsfield Township-based industrial computer systems firm Dynics is poised to grow in 2018, adding employees and square footage to its building at 620 Technology Dr.


During the Pittsfield Township board of trustees meeting April 11, the company was awarded a tax abatement on new construction with the understanding that the company will spend more than $800,000 improving the property and hiring 10 new employees to add to its current team of 77.


Dynics president and founder Ed Gatt says the improvements will add 11,200 square feet to the building for a total of 37,400 square feet, making more room for both inventory and staff.


Dynics was founded in 1997 and expanded in 2005 when it acquired Ann Arbor Technologies. The company began with an emphasis on industrial computer hardware, but over time the company has shifted its focus to adding more software and bundling it with hardware.


"The software helps sell the hardware," Gatt says. "People want to get more information off their devices so they can predict, analyze, and identify where they can work on efficiencies."


He says the new hires will work both on hardware and software, but the majority will be software engineers.


Automotive and auto parts companies including Ford and Chrysler make up a large part of Dynics' client base, but Gatt says Dynics has users in a variety of industries, including the food industry.


The company already has salespeople servicing Mexico, China, and Germany, and Gatt says he believes Dynics is well positioned to keep growing in both national and international sales.


"Software integration services are going to play a big role in industry in the future, and we're barely getting into it," he says. "We're carving a nice niche for our products so that users can collect data, manage it, and present it."


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 southeast Michigan. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of Ed Gatt.

Ann Arbor employers launch summer program designed to retain young talent

Local employers are partnering on a new summer program for college interns and young professionals in an effort to highlight some of the many opportunities Washtenaw County has to offer.


AfterWork will offer social and professional programming to participants in an effort to help them connect with one another, their community, and other businesses and organizations. The ultimate goal is to encourage college students and recent graduates to continue to live, work, and play in Washtenaw County.


"We’re really excited about it," says chief matchmaker Amy Cell, whose company, Amy Cell Talent, is managing the program. "We know that this will really support the region in terms of attracting and retaining the talent that we need."


AfterWork's founding sponsors are Ann Arbor SPARK, Arbormoon Software, Arbor Networks, Bank of Ann Arbor, ITHAKA, and Thomson Reuters. Together, the companies have committed more than 60 interns to the program. Since the goal is to get upwards of 300 interns involved, the program is still seeking additional community partners.


Throughout a decade of work in talent attraction, Cell has learned people will decide where they want to live and work based on opportunity and experience. AfterWork will call attention to the region's density of professional opportunities and its variety of social and recreational opportunities.


At least 10 outings will be hosted throughout the summer as part of the program. Some of the events include a tour of Michigan Stadium, a Gallup Park cleanup, and an Ann Arbor Art Fair meetup.


College interns, young professionals, or local employers interested in participating in AfterWork should call (734) 747-2936 or email to learn more.


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 Amy Cell Talent.

Study's early findings suggest high demand for Ann Arbor-to-Traverse City passenger rail

Passenger rail service between Ann Arbor and the Traverse City area is one step closer to reality based on early findings of a six-month feasibility study scheduled to wrap up in June.


Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, an advocacy group based in Traverse City, is leading the initiative to bring back regular passenger train service between southeast and northwest Michigan, with a goal of having it operational by 2025. Groundwork partnered with the Bay Area Transit Authority to apply for federal funds and announced that a grant was secured in early 2017.


Groundwork deputy director Jim Bruckbauer says his organization is looking at this particular route because the tracks are already in place for freight service, the state owns the tracks, and they're "still in pretty good shape."


A feasibility study for the service is being conducted by consultant firm Transportation Economics and Management Systems. Bruckbauer says the study looked at existing public input data from 2012, when the state of Michigan created a statewide trail plan, as well as at existing track conditions and travel patterns in the communities between Ann Arbor and Traverse City.


Early findings about how many people would likely use the passenger rail service are encouraging, particularly the fact that visits to the Traverse City region have been growing 4 percent per year.


"So now Traverse City and Petoskey are saying, 'Can we get a percentage of these visitors to come up by train?' The consultants are saying that, based on initial findings, there's a good case for that," Bruckbauer says.


He notes that passenger rail service would likely be rolled out in stages. The first stage would likely have special event trains taking passengers north for the National Cherry Festival, the Traverse City Film Festival, or a fall color tour, as well as taking Traverse City-area residents downstate for major events like the Ann Arbor Art Fair.


Bruckbauer says those special-event runs would allow organizers to test the market to see how many people are willing to travel the route by train.


"Then you can start building the service as demand and interest increases," he says.


Consultants are also looking at what it would take to get trains running at 60 mph along that corridor with the goal of making a five-hour trip from Ann Arbor to Traverse. Next, they'll look into what it would take to get trains going more than 100 mph, decreasing travel time even more.


A likely next step after completing the feasibility study would be deciding on the best operating structure, whether that would entail having a nonprofit or for-profit company operating the trains.


Bruckbauer says some of the money for the feasibility study came from a federal grant, but funding also came from Rotary Charities of Traverse City, the National Association of Realtors, and Traverse City-area real estate organizations.


"It's interesting to see the private-sector real estate community coming together around this idea," Bruckbauer says. "They see what rail does for the economy, for development and real estate values, when a rail goes through communities."


Though the feasibility study isn't finished yet, Bruckbauer says it's already "pretty clear that it is going to take an incremental approach to building long-term service."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at

Images courtesy of Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

EMU's Digital Divas program marks eight years of encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers

Last week Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Digital Divas program celebrated its eighth year of encouraging girls to consider STEM careers, and organizer Bia Hamed says it's getting "stronger, better, and bigger."


The biannual program invites high school girls to a day-long conference in April, with a November session targeting middle school girls. The conference features a keynote speaker and choice of two breakout sessions.


Hamed says the program began when EMU computer science professor Skip Lawber noticed there were only a few women in his classroom. He asked female students if they would run some STEM sessions for local high school girls.


"And every year since then, we've grown and grown," Hamed says, noting that the program is free to all. Organizers will even use money from private sponsors including DTE Energy and AT&T to help pay for transportation so that more girls can attend.


About 600 girls from high schools all over southeast Michigan attended this year's high school event on April 13. Approximately 6,000 girls have participated since the program's inception.


"Girls actually outperform boys in elementary school in science and math, but they get intimidated by the lack of good female role models in science," Hamed says.


Digital Divas' goal is to empower girls to change that culture. Professional women from various industries lead 90-minute hands-on breakout sessions on topics ranging from how to fly a drone to how to make your own cosmetics to how to build a mobile app.


This year, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell opened the event, and the keynote speaker was Neetu Seth, president and CEO of Ann Arbor data management company NITS Solutions. Seth earned both her bachelor's degree and her MBA from EMU and came back to inspire the next generation of girls interested in STEM careers.


Hamed says many EMU alumni have returned to give back to the program.


"Several of Skip Lawber's students who have graduated and are working in various fields came back to host breakout sessions," she says, adding that a number of volunteers at this year's events were participants in past Digital Divas programs.


"There was an almost-magical energy in the room," Hamed says of the event. "It has been a great experience."


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


Photos courtesy of Eastern Michigan University/Debra Burke.

SPARK annual meeting highlights: Tackling Michigan's fear of the future and a new summer tech event

At Ann Arbor SPARK's annual meeting Tuesday, keynote speaker David Egner told the crowd at Eastern Michigan University's Student Center that he could sum up all the things that hold Michigan back in one word: fear.


Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, made an unlikely comparison between southeast Michigan's response to the decline of the auto industry and New Orleans' response to Hurricane Katrina. Egner said Michigan had "the same natural disaster" as New Orleans, but our response to that disaster has been far slower and less confident.


"I still hear the phrase once in a while: 'We're only one good Chevy away from the best rebound in the history of southeast Michigan,'" Egner said. "Although the (automakers) have done a very good job of diversifying, especially around this issue of mobility, we still are holding on to that past because we're fearful of what lies ahead."


Egner said that fear leads to multiple liabilities for our region and the state, including our talent deficit, high barriers to college education, crumbling infrastructure, and low self-image. He said those liabilities hold us back from our potential to be a national or international leader in mobility, freshwater research, inclusivity, and other areas.


Egner outlined three solutions to that problem: carefully crafting a vision of our future, creating opportunity for reasonable discourse, and working to connect our present to our future. He emphasized the idea that the baby-boomer-era tradition of "climbing the ladder" to career success is antiquated, suggesting rock climbing as a more apt modern metaphor.


"(Rock climbers) never go straight up," Egner said. "They have to find the opportunity for the next big toehold, moving up, and a lot of times they have to move backwards or move sideways to move up."


Egner's themes of envisioning and embracing the future echoed several announcements SPARK made at the annual meeting about its short- and longer-term organizational plans. SPARK president and CEO Paul Krutko celebrated the conclusion of the economic development organization's 2012 five-year plan, and announced its new 2018 strategic plan.


The plan includes some interesting new goals. Among them are helping more companies to scale as Duo Security has, encouraging company location and growth east of US-23 in Washtenaw County, and working with the city of Ann Arbor to improve the attractiveness of the State Street-Eisenhower Parkway corridor.


Krutko also announced a new SPARK event called A2Tech360, which will run June 13-15. A2Tech360 serves as an expansion of SPARK's successful Tech Trek and Tech Talk programs, which respectively offer a self-guided walking tour of Ann Arbor tech businesses and TED-style talks by local tech leaders. Tech Trek and Tech Talk were held on the same day last year, but this year they'll be just two components of the multi-day A2Tech360 event.


A2Tech360 activities on Wednesday, June 13, will be focused on connecting local companies to investors. Programming on Thursday, June 14, will include the new Meeting of the Minds summit for local mobility leaders and SPARK's annual FastTrack awards for high-growth businesses. Tech Trek and Tech Talk will take place on Friday, June 15. Washington Street between Division Street and Fifth Avenue downtown will be closed June 15 for two new events: Live at Tech Trek, a musical event featuring two live bands and a DJ; and Mobility Row, where 20 mobility companies will show off new technology to the public.


Krutko also announced that SPARK plans to continue scaling up A2Tech360 to eventually become a weeklong event. The event is one of SPARK's key goals under the talent attraction focus area of its new strategic plan.


Patrick Dunn is the managing editor of Concentrate and an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer for numerous publications.


Photos courtesy of Ann Arbor SPARK.

WCC hosts Smart Cities Symposium focused on using technology to solve urban challenges

A Smart Cities Symposium April 6 at Washtenaw Community College brought together about 140 city planners, engineers, administrators, mayors, and economic development leaders for a day of discussion on how to use technology to meet the new challenges cities face.


Michelle Mueller, vice president for economic, community, and college development at WCC, says there are a few common misconceptions about "smart cities."


"A lot of people think smart cities are about making the city digital and about technology, but it's really about solving complex community problems using technology as a vehicle to pinpoint where we are and using information to solve those issues," Mueller says.


Mueller says much of the conversation around "smart cities" has been focused on connected and autonomous vehicles. But symposium organizers wanted to feature talks and panels that included energy and smart grids, water issues, and more.


Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering and chief technology officer at Ford Motor Co., was the first speaker of the day, "setting the stage for what's happening in the auto industry," Mueller says.


Next up was Dr. Toni Antonucci, professor of psychology and senior research scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research Life Course, who talked about the demographics of aging and what that means for city planners.


Other speakers included Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, on how technology and big data can make cities more inclusive and prosperous by attracting and retaining talent; Camilo Serna, vice president of corporate strategy at DTE Energy, talking about the smart grid and how to improve energy infrastructure; and Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, talking about the future of transportation infrastructure in Michigan.


The event concluded with a panel discussion featuring James R. Sayer, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute; Craig Hupy, public service area administrator for the city of Ann Arbor; and Eugene W. Grant, mayor of Seat Pleasant, Maryland.


"A lot of folks think that if they're from a small town, they don't have to deal with smart city issues or don't have the competitive advantage to bring in business," Mueller says. "But Mayor Grant is from a small rural town of about 5,000 people, and he did it."


Serving as an example of gathering data for making data-driven decisions, Grant made the case to taxpayers that a vacant house pulls down the value of houses around it by as much as 13 percent. He created a business case for buying up vacant properties, fixing them up, and reselling them, investing the funds raised back into development.


"It addressed the societal problem of vacant houses and, by showing that the program would raise the value of all homes in the city, residents were really able to get behind it," Mueller says.


Mueller says WCC would like to build on the symposium's momentum by applying to the National Science Foundation to have the college designated a "regional center of excellence."


"We've done so much work in this area. I think we're positioned well," Mueller says.


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


Photos courtesy of Washtenaw Community College.

Duo Security opens Detroit office in Bamboo Detroit coworking space

Opening a Detroit office was always a matter of "when" more than "if" for Ann Arbor tech company Duo Security.


That's according to Duo chief information officer Raffaele Mautone, who helped lead the company's recent expansion into Detroit. Duo celebrated its first day in business at co-working space Bamboo Detroit, 1420 Washington Blvd. in Detroit, on April 9.


Duo began its search for the right location in Detroit about a year ago. The company has been a part of the Detroit community for years, Mautone says, and it's been "watching Detroit being disruptive and grow."


"We looked at other locations, but Bamboo aligned with our culture and had what we look for in a building and in a partner," Mautone says.


Duo transferred 30 employees from its Ann Arbor team of around 300 to the Detroit office, where they are currently occupying temporary digs. Mautone says the company chose employees for the Detroit office based partly on what roles needed to be filled and partly on which employees already lived closer to Detroit than to Ann Arbor.


Before the year is out, Duo's Detroit team expects to take over the entire 9,000-square-foot sixth floor at Bamboo. That space will allow the Detroit office to grow to somewhere between 75 and 90 employees, depending on how the space is designed during the build-out phase, Mautone says.


Mautone says that although he is focused on growing the Detroit office, Duo continues to expand in Ann Arbor as well. He expects growth to happen at both locations "organically."


"We love doing tech talks and doing community outreach, and we've joined events here where people from Ann Arbor were invited to talk about the region and how we can grow together," Mautone says. "We think adding the Detroit office complements what's already going on between the two cities and creates a region that allows the local tech community to grow."


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


Bamboo photos courtesy of Bamboo Detroit. Raffaele Mautone photo courtesy of Duo Security.

2208 Articles | Page: | Show All