Innovation & Job News

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

More event details and registration information are available here.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Results Junkies.


YpsiTasty grub crawl highlights Ypsi restaurants who source locally

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Aubree's Pizzeria and Grill

Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse

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

Go! Ice Cream

Haab's Restaurant

Ma Lou's Fried Chicken

MAIZ Mexican Cantina

Ollie Food and Spirits

Red Rock Downtown Barbecue

Ypsi Alehouse

Sweetwater's

The Wurst Bar

 

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


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
Photos courtesy of the A2Y Regional Chamber.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of Applied Fitness Solutions.


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of ForeSee.


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of Soar Automotive.


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Photo courtesy of Rise of the Rest.


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of Workit Health.


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 
Photo courtesy of Argus Farm Stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Bill Milliken Jr.


Ann Arbor Health Hacks Weekend invites broad range of participants to address barriers to care

On June 23-25 the nonprofit A2 Health Hacks will host a weekend-long event with the aim of inspiring a wide range of participants to dream up innovations in healthcare.

 

Ann Arbor Health Hacks Weekend is now in its second year. This year's theme is "Removing Barriers to Healthcare." Participants will tackle solutions to problems that prevent people from receiving appropriate care, from affordability to transportation to difficulties taking time off work.

 

Beatrix Balogh, a systems engineer, co-founded A2 Health Hacks in the autumn of 2015 with three other women who had an interest in healthcare: supply chain manager Britt Johnson, innovation consultant Diane Bouis, and industrial engineer Neelima Ramaraju.

 

The four women talked about what they felt was lacking in terms of developing healthcare innovations in the Ann Arbor area. They knew that the University of Michigan ran its own health hacks events, but those were only open to students.

 

"We thought about what if we wanted to participate in something like that, but you're not a student," Balogh says. "We wanted to learn what others are doing in healthcare and get connected."

 

From there, the four established A2 Health Hacks and began inviting researchers, professors, and employees from healthcare startups to monthly two-hour mini-hacks, workshops, and happy hours to assess how much interest there was in the community.

 

Balogh says the four wanted to do a longer event with a bigger crowd than the three dozen who usually showed up to the monthly events. Their first weekend-long hackathon in summer of 2016 attracted about 90 participants and 40 mentors working on the theme of prototyping disease prevention. This year, A2 Health Hacks hopes to attract 120-150 participants.

 

The weekend event kicks off with networking Friday night. Then from Saturday morning through noon on Sunday, participants form their own teams to work on various health hacks. On Sunday afternoon, a panel of judges awards prizes.

 

First and second prizes are entry into Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Bootcamp program and promotion on the A2 Health Hacks website for up to one year. Third prize is a "customer discovery" program from The SearchLite, a service that helps startups and entrepreneurs in their early stages.

 

Balogh says none of the ideas coming out of A2 Health Hacks have yet produced a marketable product, but many participants continue pursuing innovations that help people live healthier lives. One participant, for instance, started an Uber-style transportation system that partners with a local Meijer to help low-income people get rides to the grocery store.

 

Balogh says that A2 Health Hacks' overall goal is to get all sorts of people in Michigan involved in healthcare innovation.

 

"Those new ideas shouldn't just be coming from people with expertise in healthcare, but from people with unique mindsets working together to come up with innovative ventures and ideas," Balogh says.

 

Registration for the weekend event is still open, with signup available on A2 Health Hacks' website.

 

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

 

All photos courtesy of A2 Health Hacks.


Annual open house for 70 Ann Arbor tech businesses adds TED-style "Tech Talks"

Ann Arbor SPARK will host its third annual Tech Trek open house event for Ann Arbor tech businesses on June 16, adding a new TED Talks-style "Tech Talk" component this year.

 

Tech Trek participants can visit more than 70 Ann Arbor technology businesses and learn about each company's products or services. Visitors start at one of three locations, where they receive a map to all participating businesses.

 

Christina York is the CEO and owner of SpellBound, an augmented-reality mobile app that makes the illustrations in children's books come to animated, 3-D life. She says she has enjoyed seeing how the Tech Trek program has grown and changed since the beginning.

 

"At the very first one, we expected a few people to come by and talk to us," York says. "We were blown away that something like 800 people came through that first year. We were so busy we couldn't leave our table."

 

York says people may feel intimidated when they hear "augmented reality company," but their imaginations are sparked once they see what SpellBound can do.

 

"We put a three-by-four foot mat on the floor, and people can point their mobile device at it," York says. "(Mobile devices will display) a three-foot elephant and a six-foot tree, and people can get snapshots taken of them posing with it. It was fun to see adults acting like little kids."

 

York says the open-house setting of Tech Trek allows for one-on-one personal conversation, but it's hard to go deep. Participating companies asked SPARK if they could have more time to explain their products, services, and missions, and thus Tech Talk was born.

 

York, one of 10 presenters who will give seven-minute talks about their technology, will talk about how SpellBound technology can help with "therapeutic play."

 

She says she hopes the Tech Talk portion of the program will allow participants to get a sense of Ann Arbor's entire tech scene, from brand-new startups to well-established movers and shakers.

 

The other Tech Talk presenters are Emily Drier, Ann Arbor chapter leader of Girl Develop It; Greg Gage, co-founder and CEO of Backyard Brains; James Goebel, founding partner of Menlo Innovations; Lon Lowen, senior director of engineering operations at Arbor Networks; Daniel Moore, technical service engineer at Universal Robots; Jon Oberheide, co-founder and CTO of Duo Security; Andrew Sardone, vice president of engineering at Nutshell; Chris Schneider, senior vice president of engineering at LLamasoft; and Alon Yaffe, vice president of product management and data protection at Barracuda Networks.

 

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

Ann Arbor's Court Innovations attracts $1.8 million in Series A funding

Ann Arbor startup and University of Michigan (U-M) Law School spin-out Court Innovations has attracted $1.8 million in its Series A funding round, allowing it to expand its mission to make justice more accessible to all.

 

CEO MJ Cartwright says the funding will allow Court Innovations to expand its Matterhorn product, which facilitates a variety of online interactions between defendants and the court system, nationwide.

 

"We're thrilled that BELLE Michigan Fund led the round, and from there, we were able to get Northern Michigan Angels excited about what we were doing," Cartwright says.

 

Private investors and an online equity crowdfunding platform also provided part of the $1.8 million raised.

 

Contributing $50,000 was U-M's student-led Social Venture Fund. The Social Venture Fund's core areas of interest are education, food systems and environment, health, and urban revitalization. An online product for processing court cases might seem like an odd match for the fund.

 

"But if you think about the areas they are working in, criminal justice fits with that fairness element. Making justice accessible to everybody actually impacts all of their core areas," Cartwright says.

 

A number of online portals already allow people to pay for traffic tickets and other ordinance violations online, but Matterhorn allows defendants to do more than that in cases of civil infractions and lesser misdemeanors.

 

"We also allow them to give reasons for why they may have been pulled over for a traffic ticket, or they can say they don't have the cash to pay upfront and want to set up a payment plan to pay off a fine over the next two paychecks," Cartwright says.

 

Cartwright says the idea for Court Innovations came about when U-M law professor J.J. Prescott was batting around ideas with students about how to reduce the outstanding warrants and unresolved cases bogging down courts.

 

Pilot programs proved that the technology worked and that people would use it. Next, Court Innovations had to prove that courts participating in the pilot program could be converted to paying customers. The company also conducted studies that showed that, in participating courts, the number of fines paid in full and cases closed increased, and time spent on cases dropped.

 

The program started in Michigan with about 18 or 19 courts participating, then expanded into Ohio and more recently Arkansas.

 

Cartwright says she believes the program was attractive to so many investors because everybody knows somebody who has had a negative experience dealing with the court system.

 

"People understand it and see the potential for it very easily," Cartwright says. "Combine the social impact with the strong business impact, plus our proven outcomes, and it's a nice combination for a broad range of people to get excited about."

 

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