Innovation & Job News

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Henry Ford Health System chooses Ann Arbor-based software to manage clinical trials

Research pharmacists at Detroit's Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) should soon be able to spend more time supporting clinical trials of cutting-edge drugs and less time pushing paper thanks to automation software from Ann Arbor's McCreadie Group.

The research hospital recently chose McCreadie's Vestigo system to manage its Investigational Drug Service (IDS) for clinical trials as it looks to increase its number of active studies over the next few years.

HFHS spokesperson Brenda Craig says an initiative to expand the hospital pharmacy's offerings, and a new cancer center planned to open in 2018, will drive the uptick in clinical trials.

"Vestigo is a necessary tool for that expansion," Craig says. "[It] will increase efficiency through the use of automation for many of the day-to-day activities in our [IDS], including dispensing, drug accountability, and revenue generation."

While Vestigo had all the functionality the hospital was looking for, not having to look very far for it didn't hurt. Craig says McCreadie's close proximity to Henry Ford made it easier to talk about the project and see the system in action.

"We have also collaborated with the McCreadie Group for other systems in the past and have maintained a great working relationship with them," she says.

Launched in 2005, Vestigo is a web-based software designed specifically for hospital pharmacies that do clinical research trials. By providing a standardized workflow, simple user tools, and accurate data collection, Vestigo automates labor-intensive processes and helps keep pharmacies compliant with regulations. And since Vestigo is a web-based application, there's no hardware or software to maintain.

HFHS is McCreadie Group's second Michigan client for Vestigo; the first was the University of Michigan Health System. Vestigo is used by more than 70 clients nationwide.

Michael Schlesselman, McCreadie Group's director of research products, says Vestigo will provide HFHS with flexibility and efficiency as it grows its pharmacy program and involvement with clinical trials.

"It allows the hospital pharmacy to focus on providing great service to the clinical research team and patient rather than manually completing required paperwork," he says.

LLamasoft welcomes Local Orbit as officemate in former Google space

Still settling into its new McKinley Towne Centre digs, Ann Arbor supply chain management firm LLamasoft welcomed a new officemate when local supply-chain startup Local Orbit moved in earlier this month.

Sharing Google's former downtown office space with an up-and-comer helps the veteran firm maintain entrepreneurial roots that are part of its corporate values, according to LLamasoft CEO Don Hicks.

"We welcome the opportunity to work closely with organizations that are offering emerging and disruptive technologies, so that we can innovate and further the field together," Hicks says.

Since launching in 1998, LLamasoft has opened offices on six continents and employs about 400 people worldwide, more than 150 of them in Ann Arbor.

Over the past three years, the company has grown by more than 130 percent. It made the move to 201 S. Division in June, where open and collaborative workspaces left behind by Google were a natural fit for LLamosoft's workplace philosophy.

"The new office allows us ample space to continue to grow our team, especially as LLamasoft expands our technologies and solutions throughout the remainder of 2016 and into 2017," Hicks says.

LLamasoft's software and solutions help large, complex organizations realize savings in cost, service, sustainability, and risk within their supply chain network.

Founded in 2011, Local Orbit's nine-person team offers software and solutions that help food service buyers and suppliers support their supply chains with a focus on locally-sourced and sustainable foods.

"The food and beverage industry is a key area of focus for LLamasoft, and one that, much like retail, is facing a number of changes with the evolution of customer needs," Hicks says. "By working together we expect to discover new ways to approach common challenges and foster innovation."

Upcoming collaborations between the companies include a November workshop on local food economies hosted by Local Orbit at LLamasoft's event space. The event is expected to draw attendees from around the country and will feature a panel discussion including LLamasoft's executive vice president Toby Brzoznowski.

Photo by Doug Coombe.

RetroSense's sight restoration therapy moves forward with Allergan acquisition

Six months after its first clinical trials on human patients, Ann Arbor biotechnology company RetroSense Therapeutics has been purchased by one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Earlier this month, Allergan, Plc announced it had bought the startup for $60 million, plus payments to be made as RST-001, RetroSense's lead gene therapy program for sight restoration, meets regulatory and commercial milestones.

Launched in 2009, RetroSense is developing a novel gene therapy to restore vision in patients with retinal degenerative diseases. Using technology licensed from Wayne State University, the company plans to use genes extracted from blue-green algae to regenerate photoreceptors in the human retina.

In 2014, RetroSense received orphan status for Wayne State's technology, which protects RetroSense's rights to research as it works toward commercialization. Clinical trials were launched last spring and should wrap up next year.

RetroSense CEO and founder Sean Ainsworth says the Allergan buyout allows his four-person development team to focus on preparing their technology for the market while remaining in Ann Arbor.

"My role will be much more focused on clinical development than the myriad things a startup CEO is tasked with," he says. "Allergan brings the resources to bear, which will ensure opportunity to develop our programs optimally, and I am excited to continue leading those efforts under the Allergan umbrella."

Ainsworth and his team shopped the business to "all of the major players in ophthalmology" before coming to terms with Dublin-based Allergan.

"Allergan is the world leader in the space and was a great fit for us," he says.

Ainsworth credits RetroSense's success to its team of officers, advisors, and board members, as well as support from nonprofit business incubator Ann Arbor SPARK.

"We had some of the foremost experts within RetroSense, which enabled us to secure the capital needed to develop our programs," he says.

That capital included $250,000 from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund, which SPARK helped connect the young company with early on.

Ann Arbor startup reveals AI financial assistant

Questions like "When do I get paid next?" and "Can I afford this?" plague most of us daily, but a new artificial intelligence assistant from an Ann Arbor startup puts the answers at mobile users' fingertips.

Tech startup Clinc launched its voice-activated personal finance and banking assistant, Finie – think "financial genie" – last week at the Finovate fall conference in New York.

Built on the foundation of Clinc's open-source artificial intelligence technology, Finie lets users ask conversational questions and learns their behavior to offer personalized financial and banking advice with speech and graphics.

Users can get answers on topics like spending history, account balances, transaction history, income, and nearest bank and ATM locations. They can also carry out tasks like transferring funds between accounts and ordering new checks.

Jason Mars, Clinc's cofounder and a professor at the University of Michigan, says Finie helps achieve Clinc's goal of bringing cutting-edge AI and systems research to people around the world. According to Mars, the assistant also tackles a modern problem of financial identity.

"As our society has moved away from physical currency toward credit cards and digital payments, our ability to know and understand the state of our financial selves has become ever more complex and laborious," Mars says. "Finie eliminates the friction we experience in understanding our financial status."

Mars says Finie works seamlessly with existing mobile apps for banks, financial institutions, and personal finance managers. Since the platform integrates into existing apps, no personal information is stored by Clinc and security is provided by the "parent" app.

"Finie is deployed with the strongest security protocols and adheres to compliance policies of each respective financial institution," Mars says.

Forming financial industry partners is now Clinc's top priority, but Mars hints that more specialized AI assistants could be on the way.

"The core technology that underlies Finie can be applied to other domains," Mars says. "You’ll have to stay tuned."

Photo by Doug Coombe.


Social services agency begins Syrian refugee resettlement in Ann Arbor

Responding to the recent influx of Syrian refugees, a Michigan social services agency is expanding its refugee resettlement program into Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti this month.

Samaritas, formerly Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, is adding one new case worker to coordinate resettlements from its existing office on Carpenter Road in Ann Arbor. Additional staff may be hired as needed. Samaritas has also received approval from the U.S. State Department to expand its Detroit-area refugee resettlement program into nearby Westland, Inkster, and Northville.

The expansion helps the faith-based organization accommodate the large numbers of Syrians fleeing civil war in their home country. It also follows recent reports that Michigan, specifically the Detroit area, is the top destination for the 10,000 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this fiscal year.

Resettlements into the new partner communities have already begun, according to Lynne Golodner, a spokesperson for Samaritas. About a dozen families will be placed during the first wave.

"We are eager to work with communities and organizations in the Ann Arbor area who are enthusiastic about helping refugees build a new life here," she says.

Other Ann Arbor congregations, outreach organizations, and University of Michigan staff and students will assist with the transitions. The Washtenaw Refugee Welcome collective meets monthly to help with resource planning, including housing, medical care, transportation, and employment for Samaritas' and Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County's refugee programs.

Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sound bites have been prevalent this election cycle, but Golodner says those sentiments have not affected Samaritas' work or this new effort.

"We find that most people are, in fact, very open to welcoming refugees," she says. "They understand that a refugee seeks refuge in a place of welcome. We are happy to be that place of welcome for people from all over the world who seek an end to their nightmare."

Samaritas is seeking business partners to employ, mentor, or train refugees, as well as volunteers to serve as mentors or tutors. Contact Samaritas' Troy office at (248) 423-2770 for more information.

Report: Ann Arbor leads Michigan in entrepreneurial resources

A new statewide guide to entrepreneurial resources shows that Ann Arbor easily tops other Michigan cities when it comes to funding opportunities and other support for startups.

The 2016 Michigan Entrepreneurial and Investment Landscape Guide was released last week by the Ann Arbor-based Michigan Venture Capital Association. The document features more than 140 profiles on venture capital firms, angel groups, support organizations, and service providers active in the state's entrepreneurial and investment scene.

Ann Arbor is particularly rich in resources, with more than half of the state's 44 venture capital firms based here, as well as two angel groups and 17 entrepreneurial support organizations.

"Washtenaw County by far leads the charge in resources that are available for entrepreneurs," says Maureen Miller Brosnan, executive director of the MVCA.

The area is one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial communities in the state, Brosnan says, thanks in part to work coming out of the University of Michigan in high-tech and life science industries.

Launched last year, the annual guide and companion interactive map helps connect young companies to funding and leadership with a focused approach that Brosnan says wasn't available before.

"The guide was designed to fill that hole we were seeing," she says. "This is the quickest way for startups to find partners."

Another key market for the guide is out-of-state investors, to whom Brosnan says Michigan presents a "vitality" of entrepreneurial activity not seen in other parts of the country.

"For every $1 invested in Michigan startups, $4.31 comes in from out-of-state investors," she says. "We are really good at leading the charge with deals and able to acquire partners from outside the state of Michigan."

The full guide can be downloaded as a PDF from the MVCA website. Printed versions of the guide will be available at MVCA events, including the organization's upcoming 2016 awards dinner in November.

Warmilu's blanket technology goes to Kenya, scales up

From deployments in Nairobi to clinical trials in Detroit to a new home in Ann Arbor, startup Warmilu continues to explore new horizons for its warming blanket technology.

Warmilu's IncuBlanket is a non-electric, reusable heating wrap that acts instantly. First developed by University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University students as a way to keep newborns warm, the idea grew to include uses for the elderly and people dealing with pain or soreness.

In March, Warmilu team members traveled to Kenya, where they spent two and a half weeks working alongside Ann Arbor's Relief for Africa foundation to introduce Warmilu products to doctors, Ministry of Health officials, and potential distributors in and around the cities of Nairobi and Eldoret.

The Warmilu team brought 35 IncuBlankets with them to distribute and test at six different hospitals in Kenya. Grace Hsia, Warmilu's CEO and co-founder, calls the trip an "eye-opening" discovery mission.

"It really validated and helped us realize there was a challenge greater than we had anticipated and potential for acceptance larger than we had anticipated," Hsia says.

With letters of support from four hospitals on the way, Warmilu is finalizing a distribution deal that would allow the company to start processing purchase orders for about 20,000 blankets.

Closer to home in Detroit, the Warmilu team is working with Dr. Nitin Chouthai at the Children's Hospital of Michigan on planning and deploying clinical trials that could help make the IncuBlanket's case as a warming option for transferring critical-care and neonatal patients in emergencies.

Pending approval, the tests will last three to five months and rate the IncuBlanket for efficiency, effectiveness, and safety compared with current methods of transporting low-birthweight and premature infants.

With high hopes for new market opportunities, Warmilu also has another first on the way: its first home.

The company, which Hsia says was previously "nomadic," is moving into a new, 2,000-square-foot headquarters and production space on the west side of Ann Arbor. Hsia says the move will help the five-year-old business scale up while bringing all operations in-house, from administration to production to storing raw materials.

"It will allow us to produce the blanket volumes we're projecting for at least the next two to three years," she says.

Warmilu's team of six will expand soon too, as the company looks to bring on a quality and production manager and several sewers.

A closer look at U-M's new driverless vehicle startup tenants

Peter Brink has thought a lot about cars that drive you places instead of the other way around.

"The day of the truly automated vehicle where you get in and say, 'take me to this location,' ... might be 10 years off, but it's probably not as far as off we think it is," says Brink, director of engineering at the driverless vehicle startup PolySync.

Starting next week, University of Michigan students will begin working with Brink and other developers and engineers in the driverless vehicle field on research that could help make that forecast a reality.

The joint incubator program by U-M's Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) and Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) is bringing three West Coast startups in to work with 11 engineering students for the fall semester. Portland, Ore.-based PolySync and San Francisco-based Zendrive and CivilMaps will move resources into the TechLab incubator at U-M's Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. The initiative aims to help develop both students' careers and the startups' own new technologies.

Jay Ellis, director of the CFE's Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization program, and MTC deputy director Carrie Morton led the yearlong search for partner companies, narrowing over 30 candidates down to three. Candidates had to do work that either transfers drivership from humans to machines, or makes vehicles and infrastructure more connected. More importantly, they needed a program that put student development first.

"All three of these companies got that right away," Ellis says.

In the case of CivilMaps, students will help map and then localize the Mcity environment for a car's robot "driver" to read. The 3-D mapping company's focus is on making self-driving cars enjoyable and trustworthy for passengers, says Sravan Puttagunta, CEO & Co-Founder. Maps generated by sensor data and CivilMaps' technology are meant to replicate the human experience of navigating the physical world autonomously.

"Mcity is a great test bench for our technology stack," Puttagunta says. "A controlled environment lets us create very specific scenarios to stress-test our technology stack while having a captive audience that comes from the automotive industry."

Zendrive returns to Mcity this fall after a successful pilot run with the TechLab program back in February that led to summer internships for two students. The mobile technology company was founded by Google and Facebook veterans, and specializes in data and analytics for improving road safety.

Ellis says students will help identify and validate vehicle maneuvers using smartphone data and use that to quantify drivers' risk. They will also compare vehicle and phone data to confirm that they correlate – for instance, noting how a phone registers a hard right turn when a vehicle makes one on the road.

A driverless tech company for other driverless tech companies, PolySync's middleware platform collects and presents data from a variety of vehicle sensors. The software is meant to help developers easily obtain data useful for writing code for new autonomous vehicle applications.

Brink and the team at PolySync will work with students to produce an autonomous vehicle that can get to a predetermined destination. Part of the process will involve watching their calculations fail, which is harder to do in the real world.

"When you're driving out on the streets of Portland or Chicago or Ann Arbor, you don't want to drive the wrong direction on a one-way street, or constantly be crossing lane lines," Brink says. "Mcity provides us a captured enviroment where we can collect a lot of this 'driving badly' data, because that allows us to test the automatic drive algorithms."

Brink's initial interest in the program was to get involved with what students were doing while also exposing them to the work going on at PolySync. The research potential became apparent as something of a bonus.

"I realized after the fact what a great opportunity it was to do all this other stuff," he says. "I hesitate to use the term, but it really is synergy."

Photo by Doug Coombe.


HouseSetter technology monitors your home while you're away

A collaboration between Ann Arbor's Logic Solutions and a new Michigan-based company has produced a new digital "watchdog" device to keep tabs on a home's electricity, temperature, and humidity levels while owners are away.

HouseSetter was developed by former OnStar presidents Chet Huber and Walt Dorfstatter, who got the idea while Huber was wintering in Florida for the first time in 2009. Their goal was to produce a streamlined, inexpensive monitoring system for seasonal homes that didn't require home internet service, Wi-Fi, or phone lines.

The partners settled on a subscription service and a dog-shaped device they named "Sherlock" (both founders like dogs) with built-in sensors, a digital camera, and a cellular network connection. The device can alert a service center if something seems to be wrong, like a power outage or a faulty air conditioner or furnace. Even if conditions are fine at home, Sherlock still collects and feeds data into a subscriber's weekly update report.

"If something’s wrong this dog won’t bark," Dorfstatter quips. "He’ll send you an email and text instead."

HouseSetter approached Logic Solutions about the project, in part because of Logic's Michigan ties. The team at Logic designed and built HouseSetter's website and user interface, where subscribers can manage their accounts and receive reports. They also developed a communications system between HouseSetter's web server and Verizon Wireless.

"We couldn’t have asked for a better, more knowledgeable team of developers and technical leads to help us create HouseSetter’s website, communication software, and the reporting module," Dorfstatter says.

Akervall Technologies makes Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies

Akervall Technologies started out slow and steady, but a recent growth spurt has landed it a spot on Inc. Magazine's latest Inc. 5000 ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in America.

The Saline-based mouthguard manufacturer came in at No. 1,130 on the 2016 list, released last week, with a three-year growth rate of 342 percent and $2.5 million in revenue for 2015.

Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies, says the ranking helps tell the story of the business and its products.

"Getting recognition this way is beyond fantastic and a great way of getting the word out that we are a company in it for the long run," she says.

Akervall's husband, Jan Akervall, got the idea for the company's flagship product, the SISU mouthguard, while working his day job as an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Unimpressed with the guards used to protect patients' teeth in the operating room, he wanted to find something better and ended up designing his own.

After launching in 2008, the Akervalls kept overhead low early on by operating out of their basement and requiring payment up front from retailers and distributors. Sassa Akervall attributes the company's tremendous growth to a number of factors: recent award wins (including 50 Companies to Watch in Michigan in 2014 and Accelerate Michigan's advanced materials track in 2014 and 2015), creative marketing and sales efforts, and product research and innovations.

"I always say that we grew very slowly and very mindfully," Sassa Akervall says.

The Akervalls permanently relocated their family to Ann Arbor from Sweden in 2004. They fell in love with the area a few years before that, when they had moved here temporarily for Jan's post-doctoral work at the University of Michigan. A job offer in the area helped bring them back, but launching a startup wasn't part of the original plan.

Today Akervall Technologies is run from its own facility in Saline with a staff of 20 and openings for an electrical engineer, accounting assistant, and more production workers. There are also new products on the way, with the first of them launching this fall. Sassa Akervall says the company is planning to expand its facility in the near future to accommodate continuing demand for its product.

Photo by Doug Coombe.


Landline Creative Labs receives $56,000 grant from Ann Arbor SPARK

Landline Creative Labs' plan to create a complex of nine low-cost creative studio spaces in Ypsi has received a big hand from Ann Arbor SPARK in the form of an Innovate Ypsi grant.

Mark Maynard, cofounder of the $650,000 mixed-use development in downtown Ypsi, says the $56,000 performance-based grant will help with the costs of getting the project up and running. The Landline team has completed demolition in the former Michigan Bell building the project will occupy, and is now turning towards building out studio spaces.

“It'll help tremendously, and it's really helped us to move quickly,” Maynard says. "Today we have carpenters in the space, a historic window restoration team, plumbers, and electricians."

Expected to open in early fall, Landline will complement the SPARK East Incubator in Ypsi, according to Jennifer Olmstead, a senior business development manager at SPARK who oversees the Innovative Ypsi program.

“In order for downtown Ypsi to be successful, it needs to develop a critical mass of successes and a mix of businesses, retail and residents,” Olmstead says.

SPARK's support for the project isn't necessarily limited to providing funds. SPARK has also helped Landline secure a tax incentive from the city of Ypsilanti. Olmstead says SPARK is committed to helping Landline, and similar efforts in the area, succeed through access to its range of development and talent services.

"The success of Landline Creative and the momentum it is building in Ypsi is an important next step for downtown Ypsi, and certainly a story that Ann Arbor SPARK can use to highlight the types of businesses that can achieve success in Ypsi," she says. "Entrepreneurs at all levels...are looking for communities that provide a sense of place and affordable rents and downtown Ypsi has all of these ingredients."

Photo by Doug Coombe.

German tech company opens first U.S. office at Ann Arbor SPARK

A German tech company specializing in streamlining business apps and digital processes says opening its first U.S. office in Ann Arbor was a simple decision.

iTiZZiMO, creator of a tool called the Simplifier, recently expanded its operations into the United States, setting up shop in Ann Arbor SPARK's business incubator.

"Ann Arbor really is the next hot spot when it comes to high tech," says Anne Prokopp, a spokeswoman for iTiZZiMO. "People are highly educated and talented. In addition, Ann Arbor is a great place to live."

Having a nonprofit business development organization like SPARK as a resource to get started here also helped.

"The mix of great support, family-like attitude and great potential of the Ann Arbor area convinced us," Prokopp says.

So what is the Simplifier? Prokopp describes it as a tool for bringing together the different systems and data a company uses and builds up over time, without having to program code to make them talk to each other, so to speak. She says conventional programming requires hundreds of hard-coded interfaces between those systems that are difficult to change.

"With the Simplifier, you connect all systems to the platform itself, so you can use all data from every source you want," Prokopp says. "This can be systems, but also machine sensors, geodata from mobile devices, and everything else."

Today the company's U.S. presence is modest, with one employee in Ann Arbor and a CIO in Germany charged with establishing the company's operations here. Once settled in, the company hopes to eventually hire more staff – sales and account management to start, and eventually a small team of developers – from the Ann Arbor area.

FlexDex lands $5M investment to develop surgical device

FlexDex Surgical has landed $5 million of investment from a Series B round. It plans to use the capital to turn its laparoscopic surgery tool into the go-to instrument for doctors everywhere.

The Brighton-based's principal product is the FlexDex Needle Driver, a minimally invasive surgical instrument that can be used during laparoscopic surgery. The first generation of the product proved it’s effectiveness. The Series B money will be used to develop the second generation iteration of the tool, which will be a more commercially viable product.

"The (first generation) product is used and then disposed of," says Tom Davidson, chairman & CEO of FlexDex. "The second generation device will have have a disposable shaft but the handle, which has all of the mechanicals in it, will be reusable."

FlexDex was developed at the University of Michigan by co-founders Shorya Awtar, Sc.D., James Geiger, MD and Greg Bowles over the last decade. The idea was to make laparoscopic surgery easier for everyone involved.

Laparoscopic Surgery is the minimally invasive approach to abdominal surgery during which the abdomen is inflated with gas to create an operating space. Small incisions are made to accommodate an endoscope for visualization and long narrow surgical instruments. The FlexDex platform technology enables highly intuitive, one-to-one mapping of the surgeons arm and hand motions to the articulating instrument inside the patient’s body.

FlexDex Surgical raised a $2.3 million Series A at the end of 2014. Since then it has built out its staff to a dozen people, oncluding hiring four people in director and engineering positions. It’s looking to hire two more mechanical engineers right now as it works to launch the second generation of the FlexDex Needle Driver.

"Our goal is to be a product development powerhouse," Davidson says. "That's why we're hiring so many engineers."

Source: Tom Davidson, chairman & CEO of FlexDex
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

ShapeLog brings data analytics tech to strength training

Brian Hayden and Nolan Orfield both enjoy lifting weights. However, the two Ann Arborites became frustrated when there wasn’t an option to measure their progress with new technology.

"There is no Fitbit for strength training," Hayden says.

So the friends decided to do something about it and launch their own startup, ShapeLog. The Ann Arbor-based company has designed a technology that utilizes sensors that help bring data analytics to weight rooms, gyms and rehabilitation centers. The device is attached to the strength training equipment and is can measure everything from repetition speed to tension on the weight bar or belt.

"When you pull that information you can see everything about that workout," Hayden says.

The falling price of sensor technology makes this possible for ShapeLog. The technology stays on the equipment so there is one less thing for the user to wear during the workout.

"We're betting people don't want to carry this around," Hayden says. "It should be seamless for the user. ... We don't think people want another gadget. We think people want more information that helps them better understand themselves."

ShapeLog is currently working on creating a class/coaching model for its technology instead of selling it as a consumer product. It’s aiming to launch a pilot program for it in a local gym this fall. The startup has also joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program to help it develop and scale its product and business model.

Source: Brian Hayden, CEO of ShapeLog
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

Sweetwaters grows to 7 locations with new cafes in Ann Arbor, Canton

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea is on the precipice of opening its sixth and seventh cafe this summer, an expansion that will cap its 23rd year of growth in the Ann Arbor area.

Wei and Lisa Bee opened the first Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea coffee shop in 1993 not long after they graduated from the University of Michigan. Since then they have steadily opened more locations on their own and through franchisees. Many times those opportunities sought out the Bees.

"It was something our regular guests were asking us about," Lisa Bee says.

The second Sweetwaters cafe opened in Kerrytown about 10 years ago. It now has cafes open there and in Ypsilanti, on U-M’s campus, and in Plymouth Green Crossings on Ann Arbor’s northeast side. The next two stores are set to open in the Westgate Shopping Center and in Canton by the end of this summer. Each will have the feel of the original Sweetwaters cafe but with its own unique aspects.

"Every one of our Sweetwaters looks a little bit different," Lisa Bee says. "We try to make each location unique to the community."

The Sweetwaters cafe in the Westgate Shopping Center on Ann Arbor's west side is going inside the Ann Arbor District Library branch. There will be a coffee car inside the library but no seating. The library itself will serve as the cafe's seating. It will be Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea's third corporate store and is on target to open by late August or early September. The library cafe is coming about because the Bee family's kids are active members of the local library community.

"We are very familiar with the Ann Arbor District Library," Lisa Bee says. "We love it."

The Sweetwaters in Canton is set to open by the first week of August. That is location is being opened as a franchise. It's located in a small strip mall at 302 N Canton Center Road. The 1,600-square-foot space will be able to hold 50 people.

Source: Lisa Bee, co-founder of Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at
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