Innovation & Job News

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Free workshops invite Ypsi residents to create luminaries, costumes for ypsiGLOW

Ypsilanti community members are invited to participate in weekly free workshops to create glowing costumes and luminaries for the second annual ypsiGLOW, a nighttime festival in downtown Ypsi.


Drop-in "GLOWorkshops" will be held at Riverside Art Center's Off Center, 64 N. Huron St., every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until ypsiGLOW takes place on Oct. 27 on North Washington Street in downtown Ypsi. All ages are welcome, and artist facilitators will be on hand to help community members with their creations. WonderFool Productions, creator of Ann Arbor's FestiFools and FoolMoon, is hosting the ypsiGLOW workshops and event.


There's a big emphasis on making ypsiGLOW inclusive and accessible to everyone in the community. WonderFool Productions producer Adriana Zardus says one of the reasons for hosting the event is making art accessible to diverse segments of the community and getting them involved in ypsiGLOW.


Zardus says WonderFool Productions staff serve as the "creative enablers" that provide the platform and resources for ypsiGLOW, but artists and community members decide what they would like to create for the event. She says WonderFool Productions doesn't dictate or prescribe what the event will look like, so the creative vision is in the hands of the artists and community members who participate.


"One of our strategies for achieving this core goal of inclusivity was to activate other nonprofits and community groups in making their own 'glow' to bring to the event," Zardus says.


WonderFool Productions facilitates satellite workshops for specific organizations, like the Ypsilanti District Library and Ypsilanti High School, that are playing particularly active roles in ypsiGLOW. Members of the participating organizations come together at the satellite workshops to work on a cohesive project.


For example, a group of kids from Ozone House has been working with the new program director of Riverside Art Center, Trevor Stone, to design blacklight-reactive hoodies that represent what the nonprofit means to them. The kids will wear the hoodies at ypsiGLOW and then continue to wear them during the colder months. Stone also will help the kids make blacklight-reactive masks using cardboard and neon tape.


Another workshop will be held at Cultivate, 307 N. River St., beginning at 5 p.m. on Oct. 27 until the ypsiGLOW festivities begin. There will be music, face painting, and costume making for community members who want to participate in the event but weren't able to attend one of the drop-in workshops. A glow-in-the-dark processional led by musicians from the Music and Arts Guild will start at Cultivate and go through Riverside Park to North Washington Street.


The main event on North Washington Street will include dancing, street performances, multimedia projects, art installations in storefront windows, interactive art activities, and more. All of the festivities incorporate some kind of spontaneous design or performance art that presents a sense of discovery for the participating community members to experience.


"There’s going to be a lot of hidden gems up and down the street that beckon event-goers to explore and create," Zardus says. "What we really try to foster at our events is a sense of participation and engagement."


Several local businesses, including Bona Sera, Ziggy’s, and Tap Room, will host gatherings with music and dancing after ypsiGLOW. Some of the businesses plan to create special glow-in-the-dark food and drinks for the event.


For the past two years, ypsiGLOW has primarily been funded by the Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. But it's uncertain where funding will come from for future ypsiGLOW events, so a Kickstarter campaign is being held in an effort to raise $3,000 to ensure it will continue.


"The only reason why we were able to grow this event so quickly is because this community was able to get behind this crazy idea that didn't even exist yet," Zardus says. "They just totally bought it and owned it. There's not many communities that you can go into and create a brand new community art event and have people buy in and just show up in costumes."


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.


All photos by Brianna Kelly.

Entrepreneurship program for kids to launch in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor entrepreneur Debra Power wishes she had been able to attend a course or summer camp about starting a business when she was a kid. To make that dream come true for Washtenaw County children, she's started an entrepreneur education program for middle and high schoolers called Running Start.


"When I was a kid, I did every camp you could imagine," Power says. She attended space camp, civics camp, and leadership camp, but didn't have the opportunity to learn about building her own business.


"I'm really passionate about entrepreneurship and youth," she says. "I am also interested in demonstrating that, in this community and really all of Michigan, there are opportunities to build a business, to grow, to stay, and be successful."


Power says the idea for Running Start also came from an experience with grade-school girls who were developing their entrepreneurship skills.


"Earlier this year, I was doing a badge workshop for Girl Scouts, and I was watching third-graders come up with business ideas," she says. "I was surprised how sophisticated youth are about entrepreneurship."


Power is an entrepreneur herself, having founded Power Marketing Research about 16 years ago. She's made many contacts in her years as a business owner and she received nothing but positive responses after asking her network for feedback on her brainstorm of hosting workshops for young entrepreneurs. She has since recruited many of those contacts to serve as mentors in the program.


In a series of four weekly mentor-led workshops, children will develop, test, market, and pitch a business idea. The workshops will have room for 25 middle school students for the morning session and 25 high school students for an afternoon session.


Power says she knows that not everyone will become a business owner, but entrepreneurial skills are important in any workplace.


"Today, people aren't sitting isolated in a cubicle doing their job," she says. "These days, most workers are asked to come up with new business concepts, to engage in new ways, to think creatively like a business owner."


The program launches Oct. 21 with an informational meeting for parents from 1-2 p.m. at GO Where Meetings Matter, 4735 Washtenaw Ave. After a sign-up period, workshops will run from Feb. 24 to March 17, and then another session of four workshops will start up April 21.


The series of four workshops cost $199, but scholarships are available. More information is available on the Running Start website.


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


Photo courtesy of Debra Power.

13-year-old entrepreneur among speakers at Ann Arbor's fourth annual WordCamp conference

A 13-year-old web design entrepreneur from Westland will be among the speakers at the fourth annual WordCamp conference in Ann Arbor, which brings together Michigan businesspeople to promote good web development practices.


The conference will be held Oct. 13-14 at the University of Michigan Rackham Building, 915 E. Washington St. It includes time for entrepreneurs, students, and others to learn more about building websites and promoting their businesses online with the WordPress publishing platform.


The conference kicks off with a half day of panels and workshops Oct. 13, with many programs geared toward newer users. A full day of programming Saturday wraps up with a party Saturday evening.


This year's event features a number of speakers including 13-year-old Emerson Jeffries, who has a web design business called Emerson DSign, Inc. Jeffries has built or modified WordPress sites for more than 50 individuals and small businesses, all while continuing to attend school and being involved with the youth theater program Mosaic.


"It's actually a pretty funny story how I started off," Jeffries says. "My interest in building websites came out of me playing school in my basement."


All his pretend students had to go to a website to get their homework assignments, and Jeffries began building websites with Weebly, soon switching to WordPress.


His first paid job was for a friend of his father's who is an attorney. She initially asked him to create business cards for her, and when he said he didn't do that but that he did build websites, she said she needed a website as well.


"That was the day I was established as a small business, and soon after that, I registered my business with the state," he says.


Jeffries says he picks up some of his work through freelance marketplaces like Fiverr, but most of his business comes in via word of mouth. He says he hasn't really found it challenging to get clients to take a 13-year-old entrepreneur seriously, but his status as a minor does create legal hurdles when it comes to opening bank accounts or registering as a business.


Jeffries will give a talk at WordCamp on the topic of "How to Own Your Business as a Young Entrepreneur." He will cover time management, creating content, discovering your audience, and marketing.


"The most important one is time management," he says. "As a kid, you have school and you have to manage household chores and after-school activities. But you still have to impress your clients so they will take you seriously."


Admission to the WordCamp conference is $36. Ticket and conference information is available at the WordCamp Ann Arbor website.

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


Photo courtesy of Emerson Jeffries. Cory Miller photo courtesy of WordCamp Ann Arbor.

12 Ann Arbor companies named semifinalists in Accelerate Michigan competition

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition recently announced its 2017 semifinalists, and 12 Ann Arbor-area businesses made the list.


Accelerate Michigan is the state’s largest gathering of high-growth, high-tech companies and venture investors. The competition awards $1 million in prizes, including a $500,000 grand prize. Accelerate Michigan is operated by Invest Detroit Ventures with the support of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Ann Arbor SPARK, Invest Michigan, Spartan Innovations, the Michigan Small Business Development Corporation, and JR Turnbull.


All semifinalists will pitch during the morning and afternoon of Nov. 16 at the Detroit Masonic Temple. The top 10 finalists will pitch that evening during a gala awards dinner, when the grand prize is announced.


Among the Ann Arbor semifinalists is Soft Lesion Analytics, a firm whose technology allows patients and healthcare providers to speed up diagnosis by ensuring that enough cells are collected during fine-needle aspiration biopsy procedures.


"It basically comes down to biopsy quality control," says CEO and founder Michael Moore. "One out of five biopsies come back as inconclusive because they don't have enough tissue to test and say for sure if it's cancer."


That wastes the healthcare workers' time and increases patients' stress when they have to come back for another biopsy before getting a definitive diagnosis. Soft Lesion Analytics' technology does a cell count, so the healthcare team knows immediately if they have enough tissue for a diagnosis.


Moore says winning the Accelerate Michigan competition could "change things dramatically" for his company, which is still in an early stage. The prize money would help the company fund a clinical validation study it has scheduled for spring of 2018.


Moore says that just being named a semifinalist is an honor.


"It's an opportunity to start building a brand presence and get connected on a larger scale," he says.


Building that brand presence will include converting to a C corporation in the next few months and changing the company name to "Medkairos," derived from a Greek word for "opportune moment," Moore says.


Other semifinalists from Ann Arbor include:

  • Circadian Risk Inc., a company that has created a vulnerability assessment app and allows companies to create remediation plans to mitigate risk.

  • Foodstand, a company building an app that helps motivate good eating habits through community health eating challenges.

  • Kulisha, which uses insects for eco-friendly and sustainable livestock feed.

  • Mi Padrino, a crowdfunding platform for organizing, planning, and funding traditional Latino events.

  • Parabricks, a technology company providing high performance genomic analysis.

  • Plinqit, which creates a mobile app to encourage people to set financial goals to build their savings accounts.

  • Ripple Science, a company that builds web-based software to facilitate the recruitment and management of participants for clinical and translational studies.

  • Slideless, a technology company that aims to help health providers switch from glass microscope slides to digital pathology.

  • SpellBound, an augmented reality company that helps sick children deal with trauma and hospitalization.

  • TechStak, An online platform helping small businesses find technology solution providers for their outsourced technology needs.

  • Uru, an online platform that connects athletes with teams and playing opportunities all over the world.


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


Photos courtesy of Michael Moore.

Blogger creates community project to document life in Ypsi this weekend

Ypsilanti blogger Mark Maynard is encouraging other residents to join him this weekend in a somewhat spontaneous effort to document everyday life in Ypsilanti.


Maynard published a post on his blog last week announcing the project, called #DocumentYpsi2017. He hopes other Ypsi residents will help him take photos, videos, and audio recordings of little things around Ypsi that often go unnoticed, change frequently, and might be of interest years from now, like the drink menu at Haab's Restaurant or the marquee at Deja Vu. He's asking residents to take photos from Oct. 6 to 8 because he figured lots of people will already be out and about for First Fridays Ypsilanti.


Anyone who participates should share on social media using #DocumentYpsi2017. Maynard plans to upload some of his favorite submissions to his blog, while the rest will be accessible on social media as a virtual archive through the use of the hashtag. He envisions the hashtag being used years from now as an easy way to remember what life in Ypsi was like in 2017.


"It's something that I've thought about for a while, but it's just one of those things you put out there and see what happens," Maynard says. "I said, 'Well, maybe it'd be kind of cool if we just picked a weekend and we all took pictures and put them online and see what happens,' and thankfully people liked the idea and started to do something with it."


Ypsilanti High School art teacher Lynne Settles wants to get her students involved in the project, so she's encouraging them to take photos on their cellphones over the weekend. While they were in class, the students discussed Maynard's blog post on #DocumentYpsi2017 and brainstormed things they could photograph. The students who opt to participate will send their photos to Settles and share them on social media using #DocumentYpsi2017.


Ozone House's Drop-In Center, located at 102 N. Hamilton St., is also getting involved in the effort. Executive director Katie Doyle saw Maynard's blog post and decided to purchase disposable cameras to hand out to kids for them to use over the weekend. Youth opportunity director Colleen O'Brien also talked to the kids who participated in Ozone House's peer outreach worker training last week and they were really excited about the project. Ozone House plans to post the photos on its Facebook page and share them with Maynard.


Maynard hopes the project will generate enough interest to continue doing it every year and get more people and organizations involved. He foresees the possibility of Riverside Arts Center hosting a one-day art show to display some of the photo submissions or the Ypsilanti District Library making an archive of the audio recordings.


"Hopefully it'll be easier for people in the future [if they think,] 'I wonder what things were like in Ypsi in 2020,'" Maynard says. "They can put in #DocumentYpsi2020 and start flipping through thousands of photos of what life was like here. That would be kind of cool, I think."


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.

Ann Arbor businessman's $185 million deal featured in sequel to bestselling business strategy book

The authors of the best-selling business how-to book Blue Ocean Strategy found a 2008 Ann Arbor business deal so noteworthy that they decided to feature it in their new book, Blue Ocean Shift, released Sept. 21.


Just as the American housing market was collapsing and the economy was entering a recession, Ann Arbor businessman Ted Dacko turned around a struggling healthcare industry consultancy called HealthMedia and sold it for a profit to Johnson and Johnson at a price of $185 million. Impressive at any time, the feat was highly unusual in 2008.


In Blue Ocean Shift, authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne explore concrete examples of companies across various industries that succeeded by implementing the first book's strategy. Dacko's deal is cited as an example of using the Blue Ocean Strategy of creating "uncontested market spaces" in the healthcare sector.


Dacko says HealthMedia created those market spaces by finding the sweet spot between expensive but highly effective telephone or in-person coaching and ineffective but inexpensive generalized content such as websites and brochures.


But before that innovative new model of delivering health coaching could hit its stride, the NASDAQ crashed and venture capital dried up. HealthMedia's board offered Dacko a chance to turn the company around.


He chose to radically slash the staff from 85 to 18 and lived "hand to mouth," barely making payroll, for almost two years.


It was during that two-year period that the company published a randomized controlled study with Kaiser Health, proving that the HealthMedia model was promising, and Dacko first read about the Blue Ocean Strategy.


"The study showed we could really impact membership in terms of savings," Dacko says. "We could provide the efficacy of coaching at the cost structure of building a website, which was revolutionary at that time."


Dacko used the Blue Ocean principles to grow the company, and by the end of 2007, Dacko says the phone was "ringing off the hook" with venture firms that wanted to invest in the company.


The revival of HealthMedia ultimately led to the profitable sale to Johnson and Johnson, where Dacko continued to work for more than a year after the sale.


Today, Dacko's consulting firm, Arbor Dakota, shows other companies how to implement Blue Ocean Strategy and stand out from the competition.


His passion is helping to build CEO talent in the Ann Arbor area.


"In Ann Arbor, we have a number of great companies and great product ideas," he says. "The founders are people who know how to build a product but don't know how to build companies around those products."


He says that companies can't attract venture capital unless they have strong leadership.


"I find many founders don't know what a CEO does and when they find out what a CEO does, they want the title but don't want to do the job," he says. "It's a struggle to make them understand that, unless they transform from a founder to a CEO, the company isn't going to make it. Building a company requires more than a single skill."


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


Ted Dacko photo courtesy of Ted Dacko.

New door-to-door ridesharing service expands public transit options in Ypsi Township

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) has introduced a pilot door-to-door shared-ride program called FlexRide, in addition to launching expanded bus service in Ypsilanti Township.


Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for AAATA, says the portion of Ypsi Township served by FlexRide doesn't have the density to warrant a fixed route. So transportation officials needed to get creative in helping residents in that area get to the Paint Creek shopping center, the Whittaker Road branch of the Ypsilanti District Library, and other destinations in the area.


"There are a lot of residents in the area who need access to shopping or medical appointments or to get to work or school," Stasiak says. "It's a pilot service, and we may make adjustments as we go. The idea is to introduce it and see how people are using it."


After a bidding process, AAATA chose to partner with Metro On-Demand (MODE), a division of Golden Limousine, to operate FlexRide.


Currently, the service operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and for limited hours to Lincoln Consolidated schools when school buses are not running. The service costs $1 per trip each way. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and disabled riders.


Riders can reserve a ride the day before a trip or at least 45 minutes in advance for same-day rides by calling (734) 794-0377, by visiting, or through the MODE Car app. Walk-ons may be accepted at the Paint Creek Shopping Center connection point if not all seats are full.


AAATA has also expanded traditional bus service on Route 46, which includes Huron River Drive and Textile Road, doubling service in the northwest corner of the pilot service area up to Whittaker and Merritt Roads in Ypsi Township.


Both the route expansion and the FlexRide pilot program were made possible by the approval of a 2014 transportation improvement millage.


Stasiak says the expectation is that FlexRide will continue to operate for the term of the millage, and possibly beyond, if voters choose to renew the millage in August 2018. As AAATA sees how riders use the service, the authority may tweak the hours and the pilot program could be expanded.


"We hope the service will do well and we can translate it to other areas as well," Stasiak says.


Stasiak says the transportation authority doesn't feel threatened by the rise of transportation options like Uber and Lyft, adding that she welcomes collaborations with other organizations.


"That's why we're working with MODE on this service," Stasiak says, adding that collaborations create "a future that has many new ways of providing transportation."

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

Ann Arbor's Leon Speakers celebrates 20th anniversary with public event

Ann Arbor's Leon Speakers will celebrate Michigan-made audio products and its 20th anniversary in a special public event called "Michigan Made HiFi" on Oct. 6 from 4-8 p.m.


The event has been organized in conjunction with two other Ann Arbor companies, Paragon Sight and Sound and MoFi Electronics. It will take place at Paragon, 3780 Jackson Rd., Ste. H.


Several new products will be on display, with demonstrations by Leon Speakers founder Noah Kaplan, and visitors will have a chance to see the restored 1967 Airstream trailer that Leon Speakers staff use to travel to a large industry trade show.


The event will include live acoustic sets by musician Camila Ballario, pizza from the Bigalora food truck, and Michigan craft beer provided by Tippins Market.


Kaplan says Leon is partnering with the two other companies because Paragon was one of the first companies to carry Leon products. Ann Arbor-based turntable maker MoFi also was another obvious partner for the event.


Kaplan says he aims to network with other local businesses that focus on handmade and locally made products and to create a "creative campus" of like-minded companies doing things related to sound and art. That includes creating a venue for live music called the Leon Loft.


"We're trying to put Michigan on the map as people who care about quality and craft," Kaplan says.


Despite the fact that music is more easily accessible in various digital formats than ever before, Kaplan says vinyl is "fully on the way back." However, he disputes the idea that the trend is all about nostalgia.


"People are buying and trading vinyl because it speaks to people's personalities," he says. "People crave things they can touch, and they want to buy products they can see and touch and to collect something tangible."


At the same time, he doesn't shun technology and thinks that the future of buying and consuming music will be a "hybrid."


"Sometimes people will stream music on their phone, sometimes they'll play it through speakers, sometimes through headphones," he says. "I think it will be a mix of everything — a little bit of digital, a little bit tangible. It goes along with our vision at Leon Speakers of mixing design with technology."


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


Photos courtesy of Leon Speakers.

Ann Arbor-area flower growers band together to form Michigan's first flower co-op

As the consumer trend toward buying local flourishes, a new wholesale flower co-op in Ann Arbor is aiming to expand that idea to include locally-grown flowers.


A group of 11 local flower growers banded together to create the Michigan Flower Growers' Cooperative, the only flower co-op in Michigan. Members host a wholesale market on Wednesdays for area florists and designers who would like to support local Michigan flower growers.


They launched their new co-op in July at Passionflower, a studio florist shop owned by Susan McLeary at 2401 S. Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor.


The three co-owners of the co-op are all farmers from the Ann Arbor area: Alex Cacciari of Seeley Farm, Trilby Becker of Sunseed Farm, and Amanda Maurmann of Gnome Grown Flower Farm. Maurmann also serves as market manager.


"We're lagging a little behind the local food movement, but it's the same intention," Maurmann says.


Maurmann says she hopes the co-op will inspire Ann Arbor-area consumers to consider the source of their flowers as they are increasingly doing with meat, eggs, and produce.


"People may see a flower stand at an airport stand and grab them without thinking twice about who grew those flowers," Maurmann says. "I'd love for people to start paying attention to where their flowers come from. If you see someone at the farmers market, for instance, selling a local bouquet, grab that instead of roses from Ecuador and you'll be contributing to Michigan's economy."


Maurmann says year-round production is not practical due to Michigan's climate, but the co-op hopes to expand its selling season next year by opening much earlier.


"We're aiming to get the biggest bang for our buck in the longest season possible," Maurmann says. "So next year, we plan to open in April with that first round of flowers that bloom in spring, like anemones."


The market takes a 30 percent commission on sales, but reducing the marketing and transportation costs for small farmers and providing them with a robust list of customers should mean that local flower farmers still come out ahead, Maurmann says.


Currently, about 20 buyers are showing up regularly at the Wednesday wholesale market, but Maurmann says that number grows by a few buyers each week.


Though this is the first flower co-op established in Michigan, Maurmann says she hopes it won't be the last.


"We hope that more will pop up," she says. "Michigan is a huge state, and third in the country for agricultural goods. I'd love it if other growers in Grand Rapids or Traverse [City] would start up their own flower co-ops."


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


All photos courtesy of the Michigan Flower Growers' Cooperative.

National accounting and business consulting firm establishes Ann Arbor office

UHY LLP, a national certified public accounting and business consulting firm, has established an Ann Arbor office, the company's first location in Washtenaw County.


The Ann Arbor office, located at 455 E. Eisenhower Parkway, Ste. 102, opened for business Sept. 18 after extensive renovations. Jerry Grady serves as managing partner of the Ann Arbor office.


UHY has three other Michigan offices in Detroit, Farmington Hills, and Sterling Heights, with over 380 employees between them. UHY has also opened offices in Houston, West Hartford, Conn., and Miami this year.


Grady says UHY had intended to expand into Washtenaw County for a long time. The company has been serving clients in Ann Arbor, Chelsea, and Dexter, and the company recruits many of its employees from Eastern Michigan University, so opening an office in Washtenaw County made sense.


"Another reason is that we work a lot with Ann Arbor SPARK and private equity funds out here, and we have a lot of clients in Washtenaw County. We knew that by putting an office out here, it would allow us to continue our growth," he says.


The office currently has a staff of eight, with three more employees who split their time between the Farmington Hills and Ann Arbor offices.


Grady says the office space on Eisenhower Parkway made sense for several reasons. One reason is that it is close to I-94 and US-23, making it easier for employees to commute to other UHY locations.


Another reason is that the space is bigger than the company currently needs but just the right size for its expansion plans. Grady says UHY expects to add two more staffers to the Ann Arbor office in 2018, with total staff growing to between 25 and 30 in about five years.


Grady says he's looking forward to getting UHY staff involved in the Ann Arbor community and doing charitable work ranging from serving on foundation boards to running charity drives to recruiting young people for a summer leadership program.


"We've been in the area for a long time, and now we're looking to expand our footprint in the area, plant an office here, and be strongly supportive of the Ann Arbor community by getting involved in charitable organizations," Grady says.


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


Photos courtesy of UHY LLP.

Ann Arbor software firm InfoReady makes Inc. 5000 list

Ann Arbor software firm InfoReady has been ranked No. 313 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States.


The company, which was founded in 2010 as a spin-off of GDI Infotech, had revenue of $2.1 million in 2016 and showed three-year growth of 105 percent.


InfoReady president and CEO Bhushan Kulkarni says the company originally focused on a product called InfoReady Review that helps universities streamline the grant application process. However, universities started using the software for other workflow applications, and Kulkarni says that's where "the growth really occurred."


The company recently added another product, InfoReady Thrive, which helps universities create a marketplace or one-stop shop for opportunities ranging from scholarships to fellowships to study-abroad programs and internships.


InfoReady had six customers in the first year of launching the product, and grew its customer base to 18 in the second year. By the end of the third year, Kulkarni says he expects to have about 100 customers coast-to-coast across the U.S.


InfoReady currently has a staff of about 20, but Kulkarni expects that to change.


"We're having natural employee growth to support the product," he says. "We need marketing staff and salespeople, and we expect that over the next year we'll be expanding our marketing department."


Kulkarni says InfoReady's products are appealing because they aggregate all opportunities on one site. The platform helps administrators put out the word about these opportunities and target faculty who can then target students who would be a good fit.


"It has become a platform for student engagement, success, and retention," Kulkarni says. "All this information is in one place, instead of having to visit 100 different sites to see what is available."


Kulkarni also notes that the platform is easy to implement and use, requiring little effort from university tech departments.


"Most of our growth is happening because we are providing the tools and product customers can use quickly and expand and scale their programs quickly with the help of technology," he says. "The ease of use and the fact that it requires no training is what's driving the growth."


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


Photos courtesy of InfoReady.

Ypsi Township's SensiTile continues slow but steady growth

SensiTile, an Ypsilanti Township-based company that combines art and technology to create products for use in architecture and interior design, is experiencing slow and steady growth, boosted by word of mouth.


Founder Abhinand Lath started the company in his basement while he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, working on his master's thesis about using materials that bend and manipulate light.


"He made some prototypes while he was at the university, and that was the start of it all," says his wife, Vanika Lath. "He spent hours creating these prototypes and being the only person responsible for product design and gaining customer interest. It was a one-man show."


The company now manufactures custom architectural and design products from resin, glass, and terrazzo materials that interact with either embedded LED lights or ambient light.


Vanika Lath was trained as a physician but came on board her husband's company to help. She doesn't yet have an official title in her work with SensiTile and says she works on whatever needs doing at the time.


A few years after its founding, the company moved out of the Lath family's basement and into a rented space in Detroit, where their first big commission was designing materials for car-maker Saturn to use in a booth at the North American International Auto Show.


By 2008, however, the company was feeling cramped in its Detroit location and moved to its current location at 1735 Holmes in Ypsi Township.


The building had been foreclosed upon and was in a "sorry state," Lath says, with trees growing out of the dock. In other ways, though, it was a great find.


"The location is ideally suited to SensiTile's needs because we have two very distinct processes," Lath says. One process needs a very clean space, while mixing terrazzo creates a lot of dust, she says. Having a spread-out manufacturing space means the clean processes and the dusty processes can be separated.


Lath says that, at first, they wondered how they could use all the space they'd acquired. But today SensiTile may need to expand its footprint again, as well as adding on a few employees with a special set of skills that include both conceptual design and hands-on craftsman skills.


Lath says the company does very little advertising and thrives on word of mouth. This low-key strategy has resulted in a portfolio of clients from the University of Michigan to Marriott and Calvin Klein. These clients use SensiTile products in flooring, privacy screens, countertops, and more.


"Our fear earlier was what [would happen] if we get all this work and are unable to fulfill the orders, but we have now scaled up our processes and created efficiencies," Lath says. "We are hoping that a strategic and consistent inflow of projects will help support our next steps."

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


Photos courtesy of SensiTile.

Ann Arbor's Akadeum Life Sciences secures $1.5 million to develop microbubble technology

A recent funding round that netted almost $1.5 million will allow Ann Arbor-based bioscience company Akadeum Life Sciences to develop and market more products and double its staff.


The Ann Arbor company closed its latest round of financing Sept. 8, with Silicon Valley-based BioInfleXion Point Partners leading the financing round. The fund typically invests in the Bay Area, but said in a press release that the combination of the company's innovative technology and the strong team at Akadeum made the investment attractive. The core idea behind Akadeum's technology is sorting biological samples with microbubbles that target specific cells and float them to the surface to be collected.


Other investors include 5 Prime Ventures, the University of Michigan’s MINTS (Michigan Invests in New Technology Startups), Detroit Innovate Fund (part of Invest Detroit), and local angel investors.


Akadeum was founded by CEO Brandon McNaughton and CTO John Younger not long after they met by chance at a conference about seven or eight years ago. Later, when McNaughton was working at a startup and Younger was working as a professor at the University of Michigan, a mutual friend suggested they start talking with each other.


"We had a meeting, and I think both of us shared early on our interest in making an impact through innovation, developing something in the lab, and then putting it to work," McNaughton says.


They also agreed on a "lean startup" method that involved putting microbubbles in users' hands early in the development process.


"So we were basically doing development and marketing at the same time," says McNaughton. "For the life sciences, it's unusual to start getting early users before you're even done with development. In a lean startup, customer needs drive development, so you're not spending money or time on things they don't need."


Younger explains the microbubble technology that he and McNaughton have built their company on.


"When users have samples of cells, say from a clinical sample or from a patient, all the cells are like a big bowl of M&Ms," Younger says. "For the user, there's only one color they want, and they want to get rid of the rest. The technology lets us grab just the blue ones, or grab everything that's non-blue and throw it away so only the blue ones remain."


McNaughton says this latest round of funding will allow the company to launch a few products into a wider market.


"The last two years, we've focused on manufacturing microbubbles for cell separation, and now we need to decide what products we want to release," McNaughton says. "We're planning on releasing several of them. We're going to continue what we're doing, putting our products early on into user hands, and building the company."


To help with that expansion, Akadeum plans to move to a new facility at MI-HQ in Ann Arbor by the end of September and double its team from five to 10.


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


Photos courtesy of Akadeum.

Detroit's Veronika Scott on embracing "entrepreneur" label and what Ann Arbor can learn from Detroit

The University of Michigan (U-M) will host its annual day-long Entrepalooza symposium Friday, Sept. 22, at the Michigan League, featuring socially-minded Detroit entrepreneur Veronika Scott as keynote speaker.


Scott built a nonprofit called The Empowerment Plan around the idea of designing a coat specifically for the homeless and employing workers who have experienced homelessness.


Scott came up with the idea for a self-heated waterproof coat, which functions as a sleeping bag at night or a carrying bag during the day, while she was a student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.


"It's always, from the beginning, been the plan to hire people from shelters. That's really the most important part of our business," Scott says. "The coat is just a bandage for systemic issues with unemployment and poverty."


Scott says the idea is to hire formerly-homeless people to make a product they will hopefully never have to use. So far, she says every employee hired from a shelter has been able to move into permanent housing within four to six weeks of starting work at The Empowerment Plan, with zero recidivism.


Even though Scott was running her own business before she even graduated college, she says it has been difficult to embrace the label "entrepreneur."


"Growing up, nobody in my family had ever started a business," she says. "I thought entrepreneurship was something for people from the higher classes, people with wealth and connections. It took me a long time to settle into that 'entrepreneur' title."


Scott will address that struggle with identifying as an entrepreneur during her keynote speech. She says many women have a "side hustle" ranging from baking to doing hair, but don't see themselves as entrepreneurs.


"Women usually wait until they've completed something, while men will often start talking about themselves as entrepreneurs after they get the idea," she says.


Scott says she is deeply involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Detroit, and one thing that stands out about it is how most small business owners collaborate and help each other out. She thinks Ann Arbor and other entrepreneurial hubs could learn from that example.


"Everyone supports each other, because they know everyone needs to rise with the tide," Scott says. Repairing the economy in Detroit is something that needs to be done collectively, not by one person or one company, she says.


As a nonprofit, sometimes a funder won't make sense for The Empowerment Plan, but Scott will pass on the funder's information and connect them to other entities that are a better fit.


"I don't see that happening in many other cities across the U.S." she says. "It doesn't work to be isolated and protective of your network and your connections and other things you see as valuable."


In addition to the keynote address, Entrepalooza includes opportunities for networking and workshops on a variety of topics led by members of the U-M and local entrepreneurial community, including representatives from Ann Arbor SPARK, Grand Circus Coding Bootcamps, Bodman PLC law office, and the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship.


The symposium is co-hosted by the U-M Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering, the U-M School of Public Health's Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship program, the U-M School of Information's Entrepreneurship Program, the U-M School of Music Theatre and Dance's EXCEL Program, and Innovate Blue.


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

Photos courtesy of The Empowerment Plan.

Ann Arbor startup's technology used to predict damage from hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Ann Arbor startup EigenRisk's risk analytics technology is being put to the test in tracking and assessing natural disasters, including hurricanes Harvey and Irma.


The company's EigenPrism software is a real-time event monitoring and notification service for natural disasters from earthquakes to hurricanes to landslides. Users in the risk management community, such as insurance companies and corporate risk managers, can use the system to receive notifications of loss estimates while catastrophes are in progress.


One of the first tests of the new technology happened during Hurricane Harvey, when global insurance company Lockton used the platform to quickly estimate its insured loss, both personal and commercial, within hours. Previously, these types of loss estimates could take weeks to compile.


The software is being used to track losses in Hurricane Irma and damages from the recent earthquake in Mexico as well.


"The footprint of the earthquake in Mexico was available within one hour," says EigenRisk co-founder and president Deepak Badoni.


EigenRisk is rooted in Badoni's 20-plus years in insurance. He has worked with insurance companies and large brokerages, and more recently with companies that specialize in computer models for risk management.


"We started the company about three years ago when a bunch of us who worked together saw that there's a gap in the industry," Badoni says.


Insurance companies need decisions fast, and sophisticated models for pricing already existed, but there was little in the way of technology for real-time monitoring. Badoni says technology has advanced enough that analytics can be gathered within minutes instead of weeks.


"Basically, we're a tech company bringing together the best-of-breed models from multiple players, together with data from clients such as risk managers and insurance brokerages, to create actionable insights," he says.


EigenPrism gathers information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other sources to track wind speeds during hurricanes, and earthquake data from the United States Geologic Service and other partners to quickly create estimates of damage, loss maps, and alerts.


Badoni says it's an exciting time for the company right now, as it's getting national attention.


The concept for the platform has been put to the test, and several companies have been early adopters of the technology. Now, Badoni says, it's time to grow.


The company's next steps involve looking for funding and ironing out a few details with the technology and with customer and client support for the software, Badoni says.


"We will be growing next year, and we want to add more client-facing resources, because so far we've been far more focused on building out the product," he says.


Badoni says he expects to scale the company, which now has 17 employees, in a "much bigger way" in the next two to three years.


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


Photos courtesy of EigenRisk.

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