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Military members can now converse with their bank accounts, thanks to Ann Arbor company

United Services Automobile Association (USAA) members are now able to converse with their bank accounts, thanks to a 90-day pilot program with Ann Arbor-based artificial intelligence (AI) company Clinc.


Clinc was founded in 2015 by Jason Mars and Lingjia Tang, both University of Michigan professors specializing in AI and systems research. The company revealed its AI financial assistant, Finie, last fall.


USAA is a major institution offering a variety of financial services, but many people aren't aware of it since it serves military members, says Clinc CEO Mars. Mars says working with USAA is a great fit because the financial institution is consistently ranked No. 1 in customer service and satisfaction.


"That's going to give us a lot of credibility when it comes to having a great customer experience in the industry," Mars says.


As part of the pilot program, Clinc's technology has been integrated with Amazon's Alexa, a virtual personal assistant.


"The Alexa device is translating speech to text, and then that text goes to our AI brain," says Mars. "Our A.I. does the work from there, and the natural language understanding and reasoning happens in our stack, and then sends the response out to Alexa."


Clinc's technology is like no previous chatbot or virtual assistant because it is able to process natural human language. Existing chatbots follow a script, asking what you want to do, then what account you want to change and other iterative steps. In contrast, Clinc's AI understands natural human language, so you can give multiple commands in one sentence, such as: "Change the withdrawal limit in my checking account to $500 and have that end after two months."


Mars says that just a few days after launching the pilot program, many users have signed up and report being "delighted" about the experience so far. Clinc will use the pilot program to learn more about how customers want to use it so the company can tweak its product before a wider launch to all USAA members, Mars says.


Mars adds that Clinc expects to announce more partnerships in a few months, including institutions that are likely to be more familiar household names than USAA.
Interested in learning more about Clinc? Join Concentrate for a High Growth Happy Hour featuring Jason Mars and fellow Ann Arbor entrepreneur Christina York on Aug. 23 at Ann Arbor SPARK. For more details and to RSVP, click here.


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

Jason Mars photo by Doug Coombe. Finie screenshots courtesy of Clinc.

New craft brewery and tasting room opens on Ann Arbor's south side

A new craft brewery and tasting room run by two local teachers, Pileated Brewing Co., has opened at 2290 Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor.


Andrew Collins and Jay Howe were shooting for an early June opening, but red tape held them up for several weeks. The two opened their doors to the public on Thursday, Aug. 3.


Both co-owners had experience with home brewing before they met at Huron High School. They started attending Ann Arbor Brewers Guild meetings and hatched an idea to create a very small microbrewery. They named it Pileated Brewing, after the woodpeckers of the same name, because the two owners are both redheads like the birds.


Because the two are keeping their teaching jobs as well as doing all the work from brewing to pouring at the tasting room, their hours are limited: 5-10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.


"We'll probably expand the hours as we go," Howe says. "We might start by having later hours on Saturday and see how that goes." The co-owners say they will also tweak their hours to accommodate pre-game sales for tailgating when University of Michigan games are on.


Howe and Collins say they aren't overly concerned about setting themselves apart in the microbrew scene.


"Craft beer is still very strong," Howe says. "Everybody always wants new beer."


The menu currently consists of a couple of IPAs, a porter, a stout, and a red beer. They say they like to create recipes based on "the drinking experience" rather than trying to imitate certain popular styles of beer. For instance, "The Morrigan" is a smoky red beer that defies categories.


"It's not a Scotch ale, and it's not red ale, but more of a hybrid," Collins says. "It's one of our most talked-about beers, and we're selling a lot of it. People are feeling us."


Pileated Brewing's tasting room can only accommodate 35 people, but that's because Collins and Howe's focus is on having their beers distributed at local markets, rather than running a full-scale tap room. No food is served aside from a few packaged foods like popcorn, though patrons are invited to bring in their own takeout.


Collins says he and Howe have talked to local Whole Foods and Plum Market stores about carrying Pileated brews, and Lucky's market and some local party stores have shown an interest in carrying the brand.


The two say that in the future they are hoping to get a license for outdoor seating and to run some educational events, such as having an outside caterer bring in food and teaching customers how to pair beer with food.


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


Photos by Sarah Rigg.

U-M student named to national list of innovative young people in manufacturing

A 19-year-old University of Michigan (U-M) student is the youngest person named to Manufacturing Engineering magazine's 2017 list of notable young people in the manufacturing field.


The magazine's annual "30 Under 30" list honors young people in the manufacturing field who show initiative and innovation, set high goals and meet them, have experience working the shop floor, and give back by encouraging young people to pursue STEM education and manufacturing as a viable career choice.


Joshua Cukier, who was the recipient of an SME Education Foundation Scholarship, already had experience with his high school's robotics team before arriving at U-M. Once at U-M, he picked up hands-on experience with computer-aided design programs as a member of the Human-Machine Interface subdivision of the Michigan Formula One Hybrid Racing Team (MHybrid).


Cukier says he is interested in both reforming the old-fashioned image that manufacturing has and in pushing the boundaries of conventional manufacturing processes.


"I'd like to see more younger people getting into manufacturing and being innovative," Cukier says.


He says that technologies like autonomous vehicles or artificial intelligence get a lot of press, but what many don't realize is that manufacturing techniques have to be updated to support these new technologies.


"As those evolve, the mechanical components that make that a reality must be created new as well," Cukier says.


Cukier is currently in his second summer as a manufacturing engineering intern at Falcon Lakeside Manufacturing in Stevensville, Mich., a supplier of die-cast parts. Cukier says that, as an intern, he's been given latitude to experiment and come up with new models and layouts, study industrial robotics, and develop a plan for automating work sequences (called "machining cells") usually done by hand.


Cukier says he is interested in how both robotics and additive manufacturing (also known as 3-D printing) technologies can be pushed even further in manufacturing.


"In the past 3-D printing has been a bit of a novelty, but it's getting to the point now that it's more feasible to use it with fewer defects," he says.


Robotics in manufacturing is nothing new, but Cukier says he thinks more flexible robots that can be easily and quickly reprogrammed and moved around factory floors will revolutionize the industry.


Cukier says one of the best things about a career in manufacturing is seeing components or processes you designed being used out in the real world.


"The biggest thing is seeing the impact of what you've made in everyday life," he says. "At Falcon, we're making little pieces for electric car batteries, and when I see a Volt go by, I can say, 'I helped with that.'"


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


Photos courtesy of Joshua Cukier.

U-M invests $600,000 in advanced transportation technologies

A radar system for autonomous cars and a 3-D printer that prints electrical wires are among seven projects that recently received a total $600,000 in investment from the University of Michigan (U-M).


The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Innovation Hub for Advanced Transportation (MTRAC) awarded $100,000 grants to five technologies, and two more received $50,000 each. That's up from a total of four projects that received MTRAC funding last year.


Eric Petersen, U-M MTRAC program director, says the program's oversight committee of industry experts make funding decisions based on the perceived risk and value of each project. Sometimes project leaders are asked to address the committee's concerns before being awarded an additional amount. The two technologies that received the lesser amounts will have the chance to get an additional $50,000 after reaching specific milestones set for them by the committee.


A high-frequency radar technology for autonomous vehicles was one of the projects receiving $100,000. Radar is able to see through rain and bad weather, Petersen says, and at highway speeds this technology would give an autonomous car more time to see and react to obstacles.


Another technology receiving $100,000 deposits diamond-like coatings onto cylinder bores to reduce friction in engines and, as a result, reduce fuel consumption. While the six other technologies came from U-M, this project came from Michigan State University's Fraunhofer Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies, a collaboration between the university and the German government.


A third technology involves building complex electrical assemblies with 3-D printing. The technology can print wires made of conducting material on the same printing head as plastic parts.


"This is going to change the way that parts are designed," Petersen says.


A fourth technology makes wireless power transfer in electric vehicles more efficient and flexible, Petersen says. Technology already exists to charge electric cars wirelessly, but these chargers can be fussy if the car isn't positioned just right.


"This technology can allow for different distances from the charging base to the bottom of the car, and different alignments," Petersen says. "It allows for lots of variability while still getting high efficiency."


The final technology receiving $100,000 is Your Own Planner, a travel planning search engine that is more flexible and provides lower-cost and more efficient itineraries.


"Instead of defining dates and locations, the technology asks for motivations, intentions, and constraints, and then develops a few different options for the user," Petersen says.


One of the projects receiving $50,000 is technology related to enhanced object recognition in robotics. Some robots use a laser to make a cloud of all the objects around their sensors, Petersen says.


"This proposal is an improvement on this method, so you get more information from the laser about what it bounces off of and back to," he says.


The second project receiving $50,000 is a system that improves the ability of autonomous vehicles to sense and interpret large amounts of data in real time while also consuming less power. The new technology compares and consolidates information from several different types of sensors, which reduces the computing load.


"There might be a bike that the radar sees, and a camera sees, and a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sees. This technology compares that information quickly, and when the sensors all agree, the computer tracks it as a bike rather than as three different sets of data," Petersen says.


More information about the program and past awardees is available at the MTRAC website.


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

Eric Petersen photo courtesy of Eric Petersen. Mcity photo by Doug Coombe.

DROUGHT juice opens Ann Arbor location after years of planning

The founders of DROUGHT, a Royal Oak-based cold-pressed raw juice company, always meant to open a location in Ann Arbor, but it wasn't until this July that they finally felt the time was right.


"We've always been quite interested in the Ann Arbor market," says Julie James, one of four sisters who founded DROUGHT a little over five years ago. "It's always been on our radar because the Ann Arbor crowd really embraces wellness."


The juice company now has two locations in Royal Oak, one in Plymouth, one in Detroit, one in Bloomfield Hills, and now a sixth location at 204 E. Washington in Ann Arbor, which opened for business July 14.


Ann Arbor's Wednesday night farmers market was one of the first places the sisters tried out their juices before launching into full-scale production.


DROUGHT's first retail location was in Plymouth, and the James sisters expected to expand into Ann Arbor next. However, because they decided to use a space in Ferndale for production, James says it made more sense to expand into the Detroit suburbs first, especially since the sisters were initially transporting juices using cooler packs.


"Since we got refrigerator trucks, it's now easier to expand further away from our production space," James says.


In addition to cold, bottled juices now available at the Ann Arbor store, this autumn the sisters will add a line of curated wellness products, such as supplements and hand and body lotions, James says.


James says she expects DROUGHT to catch on quickly in Ann Arbor, because Ann Arbor area residents are "already very educated about the benefits of raw juicing."


James says the co-founders do little formal advertising and tend to thrive on word of mouth.


"True customer testimonials are our best resource," she says. "It can be an emotional purchase to spend that much on yourself, $10 for a bottle of juice, but that's because it takes three to five pounds of organic produce to make one bottle. We're not out there trying to convince anyone, but they'll often hear about it from a friend who recommends us."


James says DROUGHT is currently in the process of building out a 15,000-square-foot production facility in Berkley, which will allow the company to expand both its retail operations and its wholesale market. About 30 markets around the Midwest carry DROUGHT juices, but James says the company will be able to expand into many more markets when the production facility remodel is done.

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

Ziggy's hybrid cafe, bar, and music venue set for soft opening in Ypsi

A chalkboard reading, "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring," has been sitting in the window of the downtown Ypsilanti storefront at 206 W. Michigan Ave. for months as its owners have worked to set up their hybrid cafe, bar, and performance venue.


The David Bowie quote is an apt sentiment for Ziggy's ahead of its soft opening on Aug. 4 to coincide with First Fridays Ypsilanti. Some behind-the-scenes work still needs to be done on the business' bar and venue side, but Ziggy's doors will be open Friday evening so visitors can see how the space has transformed and get a taste of what the cafe portion will be like.


Ziggy's owners David and Jo Jeffries and cafe manager Kristina Ouellette are eager to finally be able to offer a new space for people to hang out while listening to live music and enjoying a caffeinated or alcoholic beverage and a bite to eat. The trio is still working on getting a liquor license and finalizing the menu, so for now Ziggy's will only offer light food and coffee drinks made with Hyperion Coffee Company beans, but it will still stay open later than a traditional cafe.


"I want [it to be] a cute place where you can take your friends, or take a date, or take your parents even," Ouellette says. "Just a new, cool place to go."


The driving force behind Ziggy's was David Jeffries' longtime dream of owning a venue where he could regularly host concerts in an effort to support local musicians, especially those who have an alternative sound. He hopes to eventually book about five performances per week once Ziggy's has its liquor license.


David Jeffries says he chose to name his business Ziggy's in honor of David Bowie because Bowie has always been his "gateway drug into the avant-garde and more left field of music."


Ziggy's interior vibe screams video game culture, with its colorful decor, comic book-inspired artwork, and arcade games – including Pachinko machines from David Jeffries' personal collection – on display throughout the space. The games won't be the focus of Ziggy's, but they'll be "part of the fun," says Jo Jeffries.


The trio plans to host a proper grand opening in the coming weeks.


"It takes a lot of organization to rock 'n' roll," David Jeffries says.

Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

All photos by Brianna Kelly.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


More event details and registration information are available here.


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


Photos courtesy of Results Junkies.

YpsiTasty grub crawl highlights Ypsi restaurants who source locally

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Aubree's Pizzeria and Grill

Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse

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

Go! Ice Cream

Haab's Restaurant

Ma Lou's Fried Chicken

MAIZ Mexican Cantina

Ollie Food and Spirits

Red Rock Downtown Barbecue

Ypsi Alehouse


The Wurst Bar


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Photo courtesy of Applied Fitness Solutions.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Photos courtesy of ForeSee.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Photo courtesy of Soar Automotive.

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