Innovation & Job News

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Clinc closes $6.3 million funding round, eyes major clients for AI financial assistant

Ann Arbor-based artificial intelligence (AI) company Clinc has closed a $6.3 million series A funding round, hot off the launch of Finie, the company's voice-controlled AI platform for banking.

Clinc was founded in 2015 by Jason Mars and Lingjia Tang, both University of Michigan professors specializing in AI and systems research. The new funding round, led by Columbus, Ohio-based Drive Capital, brings Clinc's total investment to $7.75 million just six months after the company closed a $1.2 million seed funding round.

The new funding will allow Clinc to add as many as 20 employees to its current staff of 21, and to further develop and market Finie. Finie's AI technology is able to understand natural speech and then allow users to converse with their bank accounts without using special keywords or question templates. The technology can be integrated into multiple platforms, from mobile apps to chatbots to Facebook messenger.

With the new round of funding, Clinc's technology could soon be integrated into Amazon's virtual assistant, Alexa, or into the Google Chrome browser. Mars says he doesn't like to try to convince investors by telling them about Finie but rather just enjoys showing them what it can do.

"People recognize when they are seeing something they haven't seen before," he says. "I show them how to use it, and they say, 'Okay, I get it. I'm in.'"

Mars attributes the company's success to a combination of great timing and having the best technology in the field. He says financial institutions have been making promises in terms of what they want to do with AI, but until now technology has lagged behind.

"What they want to do requires absolute state-of-the-art technology, and we have the smoking gun," Mars says.

Clinc doesn't want end users to have to install yet another app, Mars says. The aim is to have Clinc's technology incorporated into apps they are already using.

"Say they already have the Chase or Bank of America app on their phone. Finie would be just a new button or a new experience added onto the app as a sort of feature," he says.

Mars says the public should be on the lookout for a "blockbuster" announcement from Clinc this summer.

"We're working very closely with a top financial institute to integrate our technology into, potentially, two of their products, and that could be released to users as soon as June or July," he says.

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

Ypsi software company moves to historic building, receives $10,000 grant to upgrade

White Pine Software Technologies recently received a $10,000 Innovate Ypsi grant from Ann Arbor SPARK that will allow the company to add technology infrastructure and fiber optic internet access to its office space in a historic Ypsilanti building.

The building at at 300 N. Huron is more than 100 years old and once served as town hall for the community. White Pine will move into the second-floor office space some time after the March 3 completion date for the infrastructure upgrade.

White Pine, founded in 2014, currently occupies space in Ann Arbor SPARK’s East business incubator and offers data management and analysis to science, engineering, and computer science companies.

When a company generates a lot of data in labs while calibrating equipment or carrying out other engineering functions, that data is often managed by what White Pine president Robert Smith calls "homegrown" systems. When companies decide to upgrade those systems, White Pine helps them standardize the way the data is managed.

"What we do is apply an ISO standard developed in Europe for managing that data in ways that make it easy to plug in large amounts of analysis tools and manage it according to IT standards for traceability, security, and other things," Smith says.

Smith says he has lived in Ypsilanti for 30 years and it was a natural decision to base his business in the community, but he probably would have kept looking for another location if he hadn't been able to secure the grant. He says the building was already wired for business-quality internet service, but his data-driven business requires infrastructure that is "very solid and reliable."

Smith says he was happy to be able to locate his business in the North Huron building situated near the Riverside Arts Center and other local amenities.

"The grant was really the thing that made the decision easy," Smith says. "Otherwise, we would have wrestled with it a long time and would have had to go somewhere else. We probably would have ended up in a business park, but they are not interesting places to work."

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 based in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
 
300 N. Huron photo by Robert Smith.
 

Cosmetics company wins best business at Michigan Business Challenge

A cosmetics company focused on Arab, Latina, and Indian consumers was named winner of the Michigan Business Challenge on Friday, Feb. 17, after a multi-round pitch competition.

Sponsored by the University of Michigan's (U-M) Zell Lurie Institute (ZLI), the Michigan Business Challenge gives U-M student teams the opportunity to win more than $85,000 in cash prizes and get feedback from business leaders. Challenge winner Sahi Cosmetics took home a $25,000 award for best business, plus an additional $2,000 for outstanding presentation.

Shelly Sahi brainstormed her business idea in December 2015 after consulting with a mentor at ZLI. She determined that there was no direct competitor for the market she was targeting – primarily Arab, Latina, and Indian women with medium skin tones.

"I've been a makeup artist my whole life, and I know that it's hard to find makeup for women with yellow and olive undertones to their skin," Sahi says.

She says she thinks her pitch stood out to the judges because of her enthusiasm and her attention to market research, which showed there was a gap to be filled.

"If it's something you truly believe in, something you really want to see come to fruition, that's what comes through in your pitch," Sahi says.

Sahi completed her MBA at U-M's Ross School of Business and currently runs her business out of U-M's Desai Accelerator. She worked at Ford before she started her MBA studies and initially thought she would return there after she graduated.

"I wasn't thinking of being an entrepreneur," she says. "It started as something on the side but turned into so much more."

After funding a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, she is now working at her cosmetics business 70 hours a week, with three interns working part-time under her.

Sahi says the prize money will help her develop an "aggressive" go-to-market strategy. Short-term plans include hosting pop-up markets in the Detroit metro area this year, with a five-year plan that includes opening a flagship store in Detroit.

In addition to the best business plan track, the Michigan Business Challenge also offers an "Impact Track" that supports teams with a social or environmental mission. The winner of the Impact Track was AIMTech, a startup that has developed an affordable, high-quality, low-tech pressure ventilator that requires no electrical power. The business' aim is to prevent deaths caused by respiratory illnesses in infants living in low-income countries.

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

Photo by Doug Coombe.

Ann Arbor tech startup launches cancer diagnosis tool cataloging 3.3 million medical articles

Ann Arbor health-tech startup Genomenon has launched a new, first-of-its-kind software to help medical professionals and geneticists research millions of medical publications more quickly for faster diagnoses.

Launched last week, Genomenon CEO Mike Klein says Mastermind automates searching and sorting through articles on genetic variants, so pathologists and research laboratories can focus on understanding the results of DNA testing.

"Once they get the DNA test back and are doing all the analysis, we help them interpret those results to determine whether the gene mutations found in that section are pathogenic, or disease causing; or benign, or not disease causing," Klein says.

Mastermind's database includes full-text readings and analysis of 3.3 million articles, according to Klein, and is on track for 6.5 million by summer.

"We're machine reading every article," Klein says. "The real trick is going out and finding those articles and getting access to those full text articles, and we have some academic partnerships we've leveraged to get those."

Cancer-related literature was the focus for the launch. That's now expanding to include heart disease and infertility.

The launch comes after three years of development and fundraising, as well as support from local organizations. Genomenon spun out of the University of Michigan (U-M) and was incubated at the U-M Tech Transfer Venture Accelerator. It's also received funding from Ann Arbor SPARK and scored a big win at the Accelerate Michigan Competition in 2015.

Genomenon was cofounded by Dr. Mark Kiel, who was then working at U-M as a molecular pathologist.

"What he found is, every time he had gotten all the mutations from patients, he was spending 80 percent of his day doing searches, searching for the literature to figure out whether the mutations were pathogenic or not," Klein says. "A guy with a Ph.D. M.D. is spending all his time doing Google searches and PubMed searches. It didn't seem like a really good use of his time."

So Kiel left U-M to focus on automating that search. Several developers told him his vision was impossible before Kiel met cofounder Steve Schwartz, who helped him bring it to life and now works as Genomenon's chief technology officer.

Mastermind is now available to license for genetic reference labs, and Klein says terms are being negotiated with two companies that just finished piloting the software. One reported that Mastermind helped it cut eight weeks' worth of work down to two days.

Klein says Genomenon's combination of clinical perspective and exhaustive research make it unique in the field, with the closest comparison being a more generic offering like Google Scholar.

"We have no direct competitors," Klein says. "There's nobody who's been able to accomplish what we've been able to accomplish in the last three years."
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

New Ann Arbor 2030 district will cut energy use in half for participating properties

An effort to establish a collaborative, energy-saving district among Ann Arbor's commercial properties is moving forward with plans to launch by the end of the year.

Modeled after similar districts in cities including Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Austin, Ann Arbor's 2030 District is a private-public partnership aimed at reducing energy and water use and vehicle emissions by 50 percent districtwide by the year 2030.

"The district creates an ongoing engagement led by the private sector, so [members] can direct efforts where they feel they need it most," says Bonnie Bona, project manager with the Ann Arbor nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition (CEC).

CEC is overseeing the district's formation and recruiting property owners, service providers, and community stakeholders to officially launch the district, currently classified as "Emerging," by December 2017.

Participation is voluntary, and Bona says all parties stand to gain from involvement. Service providers like architects, engineers, contractors, and suppliers can anticipate new business opportunities; property owners, managers, and developers can benefit from increased competition among providers, offering more solutions and competitive pricing; and tenants will get upgraded spaces with lower utility bills.

Participating property owners and management companies so far include QR Management, Sun Baths, Jones Lang LaSalle, Bivouac, Shaffran Companies, and MAVDevelopment.

While other 2030 Districts have been launched with the help of grants from federal programs and large local foundations, Bona says Ann Arbor's model is a little different.

"The interest by local professionals providing many small contributions was a more viable approach after attempting the larger sources without success," she says.

The district recently received a $15,000 matching grant from Architecture 2030 and Summit Foundation after securing local commitments from several local contributors.

Some of those committed funds are from partnering service providers, which must become district members and pay membership dues to be eligible to work on enhancing member properties.

A series of events is also being planned throughout the year to highlight properties that are already making progress, as well as the the teams behind them.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Ann Arbor software developer chooses new hires with AI Connect Four tournament

Custom software developer Atomic Object's Ann Arbor office hired three new employees last month, but not before they'd proved themselves and their programming skills in a test of skill and character known as Connect Four.

Modeled after a similar event held in Atomic Object’s Grand Rapids headquarters last fall, 17 aspiring developers were invited to compete in the 2017 Atomic Games in the company's downtown office in January.

Competitors spent a weekend building an artificial intelligence (AI) that could simulate a player in a virtual version of the popular kids' game Connect Four. The following Monday, participants ran the AIs against one another in a single-elimination tournament.

"It's kind of like March Madness for geeks," says Atomic Object managing partner Jonah Bailey.

The three full-time hires that resulted from the competition will enter the company's Atomic Accelerator program, which provides a professional development curriculum for recent graduates during their first two years with Atomic Object.

As demand for Atomic Object's services has grown, Bailey says the company realized hires from within the industry aren't always the best fit for its complex work, which often requires learning new computing languages and frameworks on a project-to-project basis.

"What we decided was, instead of going out and looking for these lateral hires — people with 10-plus years' experience — what if we just went out and made those people?" Bailey says.

Throughout the games, Bailey says competitors were evaluated on their technical competence as well as their interpersonal skills, and winning the game didn't necessarily equal a job offer.

The game was represented graphically on a screen during the competition and players were generally supportive of each other as the chips fell. Bailey says audible and emotional responses were common, "and if it seemed like a really intelligent play [was made], everyone was like, 'Ohhh.'"

The winning AI was able to "get smarter" as it played by storing a repository of situations it had already encountered, but Bailey says a human player should still be able to fend it off.

"I don't think any of these AIs would actually be able to beat a human being," Bailey says. "They might draw, but I don't think they would win."
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Through farm partnership, Wolverine State brewery becomes a produce pickup spot

Drinking a beer while you shop for produce isn't just for Ann Arbor's Whole Foods shoppers anymore.

Members of Sunseed Farm's community supported agriculture (CSA) program can now make their weekly produce pickups at Wolverine State Brewing Co. on Tuesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. thanks to a new collaboration between the Ann Arbor brewery and the Dexter farm.

Wolverine State marketing manager Mackenzie Meter pitched the idea to Sunseed owner Tomm Becker as a way to engage the community and promote health and wellness in the taproom.

Meter says the new collaboration helps promote the farm's CSA program to tap room regulars and gives existing CSA members "a nice, relaxing environment where they can come in and have a beer and pick up their veggies."

"It really reinforces the 'community' aspect of community supported agriculture," she says.

The new pickup location also helps introduce CSA members to the brewery's lagers and recently expanded tap room, which is tucked behind Big George's Home Appliance Mart on West Stadium Boulevard.

"There are lot of people who, since we're a little bit off the beaten path, might not have had a decent excuse to come in here for a while, and now they have their Tuesdays," Meter says.

CSA members of drinking age can get discounted pints on Tuesdays, and there are plans to offer CSA and Mug Club bundle deals in the spring and summer.

Sunseed had already been hauling away the brewery's spent grain — which the farm uses to fertilize its fields — for several years. The symbiotic arrangement helps the brewery unload thousands of pounds of waste material produced while brewing.

Future collaborations could include a spring beer dinner made exclusively with Sunseed produce and hosted at the brewery.

"The fun thing about experimenting with a partnership like this is it really opens up a lot of doors," Meter says.

The brewery also hosts several fundraisers throughout the year, including Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Annual Chili Cook-Off, which is coming up this weekend.

"For whatever reason, [breweries] have just morphed into these community gathering spaces," Meter says. "It's a relaxed environment, and it's about as local as you can get, especially considering a place like this. We brew and bottle and package and ship and serve right on site.

"I think that kind of hyper localness is really appealing to people. And, yes, we are drinking beer and eating nachos, but this is not an anti-wellness culture here."

For example, Meter notes that Wolverine State often partners with Ann Arbor road-race and triathlon organizers Epic Races.

"You can relax [and] have a couple of beers, but you still get to be a part of this very active community-oriented lifestyle," she says.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
 
All photos courtesy of Wolverine State Brewing Co.

U-M Desai business accelerator welcomes new managing director, eclectic new startups

The University of Michigan's (U-M) Desai business accelerator welcomed a new managing director last month, as well as a diverse cohort of five new startups ranging from a community healthy eating app to a recruiting network for college coaches.

Angela Kujava steps into her new role as Desai managing director after several years heading up marketing, innovation, and product efforts for Ann Arbor-based web and app design firm Logic Solutions. During her time there she realized her passion for supporting new technology companies, which she often worked with as a consultant. When the Desai position opened up, Kujava says it seemed like a natural fit.

"I have always loved the challenge of creating order out of chaos," Kujava says. "When you work with early-stage companies, they have a lot of moving parts, and many early-stage companies are working to manage that without the benefit of an established structure. What I get to do every day is help guide them and manage all those moving parts."

Kujava will guide an eclectic mix of startups in her first cohort. The new cohort includes Circadian Risk, which develops risk analysis software for mobile devices; FoodStand, an app for community-driven healthy eating challenges; Sahi Cosmetics, a makeup line designed for olive- and yellow-undertoned skin; ScoutDay, a recruiting network connecting high school athletes and college coaches; and Warmilu, which uses a therapeutic warming technology to create non-electric warming blankets for infants.

"Every cohort and every team brings a different set of experiences and different challenges, and right now we are looking to help them succeed with those challenges," she says.

Each company selected for the Desai program receives a $25,000 investment, office space in downtown Ann Arbor, and access to resources valued at more than $500,000, including legal and human resources services and extensive mentorship from the U-M alumni network. The 2017 winter program runs through April 21, followed by a Demo Day in May.

Desai was founded in 2015 as a joint venture between U-M's Zell Lurie Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Ross School of Business and the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering. Previous participants include personal safety app Companion, winner of the 2015 Michigan Business Challenge, and mobile swim coach app MySwimPro, which was named Apple Watch App of 2016.

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

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Warmilu photo courtesy of Warmilu.

 

Pittsfield Twp. alternative conference center finds local success, national recognition

When Karen Gordon got tired of sitting in unproductive meetings a few years ago, she started taking notes on how to improve them.

The Belleville resident and self-described "corporate veteran" launched GO Where Meetings Matter, a creative conference center in Pittsfield Township, in August 2015. GO's six available conference rooms and common area feature ergonomic furniture, stimulating colors, and atypical table shapes, all meant to keep people comfortable, alert, and engaged. Located on Washtenaw Avenue a mile east of US-23, the business counts the nearby University of Michigan as well as Detroit-area auto suppliers among its regular clients.

Gordon spent the last 10 years of her previous career at Ally Financial (formerly known as GMAC) heading up special projects before going into business for herself.

"I lived in meetings, and I knew they could have been and should have been productive, but a lot of them weren't," she says. "So I started thinking about how to build a better box to have a better meeting."

With the help of some entrepreneur friends, she started brainstorming about her ideal space in which to brainstorm. When a survey of local creative conference spaces came up empty, she started her own.

Her first order of business for the new space: no banquet chairs.

"If you think about it, they're only made to be sat in for 90 minutes," she says. "They're meant for a meal, not an eight-hour meeting."

Another difference at GO, according to Gordon, is the common area itself, where client meals are served and small talk can lead back to business in an organic way that doesn't typically happen behind conference room walls.

"Where the real magic happens in a meeting is when people meet outside," she says.

Unlike hotels and traditional conference centers that charge a low, per-person base rate and then lots of add-ons for amenities, Gordon says GO's pricing is all-inclusive. Clients still pay per attendee, but that fee includes use of the room, technology, supplies, beverage service access, a continental breakfast, and snacks. Clients are also free to bring in catering for lunch if they want.  

"I wanted to do everything I could to create the environment so the host of the meeting doesn't have to think about anything but the participants and their content," Gordon says.

GO was recently certified as a woman-owned business by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council. Gordon is also one of five finalists for an Inc. Magazine essay contest that could win her a one-page spread in the magazine's May issue and a video on the Inc. website. Voting is open through midnight on Sunday, Feb. 12.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

All photos courtesy of GO Where Meetings Matter.

New pitch competition offers $5,000 prize for eastern Washtenaw County entrepreneurs

The organizers of a new Ypsilanti-centric business plan pitch competition hope to generate excitement for entrepreneurs setting up shop or expanding operations into eastern Washtenaw County.

Pitch Ypsi $5000 will offer five finalists a chance to make their case to a panel of five judges for a shot at winning $5,000 during a Pitch Night event on March 8 at SPARK East. Local entrepreneurs have until Feb. 13 to apply.

"There's a lot of great things that happen in Ann Arbor, and we would like to have that kind of energy on the east side in Ypsilanti," says planning committee member Angela Barbash.

The event's planning committee also includes Ypsilanti mayor Amanda Edmonds and SPARK East business accelerator manager Joe Licavoli. Barbash says the committee is looking for startups or existing organizations that are excited about locating in Ypsi, with "bonus points" going to those who can show how they will make Ypsi a better place.

"We're not saying, 'Hey, everybody who submits needs to be in social enterprise,' but if you can demonstrate how your product or service or your company is going to impact the community in a positive way, then that's certainly going to put you ahead of the pack," she says.

The competition is modeled after Grand Rapids' popular 5x5 Night events, in which five judges put up $1,000 in prize money each. Barbash and Edmonds lobbied to have one of the contest's judge seats represent more members of the community, so four judges will contribute $1,000 apiece and the remaining $1,000 will come from 10 individuals donating $100 each. As of last week, 18 submissions had already been received.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Pittsfield Twp. "escape room" visitors hunt new puzzles in Kerrytown businesses

The team behind Pittsfield Township "escape room" Decode Detroit recently entered the second phase of its multi-part adventure game with the launch of Minerva's Escape, a free puzzle scavenger hunt in Ann Arbor it hopes will help promote local businesses.

The original escape room challenges players to figure out how to outwit Minerva, "an adolescent artificial intelligence with ambitions too big for her motherboard," with whom they've been "locked" in a room. In a new extension of that experience, Minerva has "escaped to the internet," and players must track her down through a series of clues left at Ann Arbor businesses and restaurants.

Participating businesses include Ann Arbor Spice Merchants, the Lunch Room, and TeaHaus, all located in or near Kerrytown. Each digital puzzle is concealed within an item that fits into the surroundings of its host store. Players identify the puzzles by the Decode Detroit logo that marks each one.

TeaHaus manager Jody Jones says the game has already generated some new foot traffic for her store and is a good way to bring people in who wouldn't normally stop.

"It's a great fit for our business, because we really enjoy engaging with our customers no matter what the reason, and we also have the opportunity to introduce someone to tea who may have never been introduced," Jones says.

She says the puzzle is well hidden and fits seamlessly in the shop. While most customers haven't recognized it, for those playing, it's unmistakably part of the game.

"It has been a lot of fun to see people looking for the piece in the store," Jones says. "You almost know immediately if they are a customer or a game player by they way they are searching. I have to resist the urge to play that one game you played as a kid: 'You're getting warmer, you're really hot, you're on fire!'"

If nothing else, the game can be a conversation starter.

"I did have one experience on the first day we had the puzzle, where I thought someone was playing and asked him, 'Are you playing the game?'" she says. "The guy looked at me inquisitively and was like, 'I don't know, am I playing the game?' Turns out he wasn't, and that it was a pretty funny question to ask someone just shopping in TeaHaus for the first time."

Two more Minerva's Escape missions are planned for downtown Ann Arbor, according to Decode Detroit cofounder Patton Doyle, including puzzles at Vault of Midnight, Downtown Home and Garden, and 826michigan.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

After $22 million funding round, FarmLogs still "home to stay" in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor's FarmLogs continues to grow with no signs of slowing down. The agricultural data science company recently raised $22 million in a Series C round of funding and more than doubled its staff in the last year.

Spokesperson Nicole Duhoski says the new capital will be invested back into product improvements and adding more employees to the company's current staff of 70.

More than one in three U.S. row crop farms use FarmLogs today, according to Duhoski. That adds up to more than 20 percent of the country's row crop acres and more than 60 million total acres of land managed with the software. FarmLogs software allows farmers to easily record and track activities like fertilizing or seeding, and to predict and maximize crop yields.

Duhoski credits the product's success to FarmLogs' sophisticated, easy-to-use offerings.

"We're giving farmers access to better information and tools than they've ever had before, and we're directly impacting their profits," Duhoski says. "Today, farmers are getting squeezed from every angle. Margins are tight, input costs are rising, and commodity prices are declining. All of this makes it incredibly difficult for farms to remain profitable."

Addressing farmers' needs without trying to sell them something else helps too, she says.

"Most of the competing products are built by large conglomerates, like Monsanto, where they are also trying to sell you the seed and inputs," Duhoski says. "Our independence differentiates us. We don't sell seed. We don't mind telling growers to spend less on seed if it will make them more money."

Founded in Silicon Valley before resettling here, Duhoski says Ann Arbor is FarmLogs' "home to stay" because it offers close proximity to its customers ("we're within a day's drive to anywhere in the corn belt," she says), as well as access to top talent coming out of the University of Michigan.

"We felt Ann Arbor is the place in the Midwest where we could have the best of both worlds," Duhoski says.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

New Ann Arbor Solar Club eases hassle, cuts costs of going solar

Washtenaw County homeowners and businesses intrigued by the prospect of installing solar energy equipment may find helpful assistance and financial savings from a new partnership involving several local organizations.

The Ann Arbor Group Solar Program – also called Ann Arbor Solar Club – is a partnership between the City of Ann Arbor's energy commission, the nonprofit Clean Energy Coalition, outreach and education effort a2energy, and online solar energy marketplace Geostellar. The program will offer educational events and social media forums, and emphasize the use of Geostellar's online platform to compare, customize, and find installers for solar equipment. A discounted group-purchasing rate is available to county property owners who use the promotional code "A2" when purchasing equipment through Geostellar.

Geostellar CEO David Levine says Geostellar's patented technology produces a "Solar Profile" unique to each property, which is used to tailor site-specific offerings.

"We can adjust the equipment types, system size, racking, and financing terms to optimize the installation for total savings over the life of the system or monthly savings on each bill," Levine says.

Initial surveying is done virtually with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology that measures surface heights by bouncing lasers from airplanes off objects on the ground.

Interested home or business owners can see an initial survey of their property's solar potential and estimated installation costs for panels, as well as projected energy cost savings and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, by entering their address on the Geostellar homepage and following some simple steps.

"This saves the property owner a lot of time and money, because the consultation can happen over the phone," Levine says. "Only after the estimate is dialed in will Geostellar deploy a local installer to perform an on-site verification of the design."

Once design and contracting are complete, Geostellar assigns a project manager who works through scheduling and logistics for delivery and installation. Levine says the whole process takes about 90 days from estimate to installation, after which Geostellar monitors the systems and dispatches a contractor to fix any problems.
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

SPARK East to launch meetup series on artificial intelligence

The organizer of a new Ypsilanti meetup series on artificial intelligence (AI) says he'll welcome questions ranging from how to make AI work for a new business idea to "Is 'Terminator' going to happen?"

The series starts Tuesday, Jan. 24, at SPARK East. Organizer Adam Sypniewski says he wants the meetups to be a fun place to share ideas, foster collaborations, and address any and all machine learning-based questions.

"There is this vibrant startup culture in the Ann Arbor area," Sypniewski says. "I want to meet the people who have cool ideas out there. I want to introduce them to cool ideas and hopefully have something fun happen from this."

Sypniewski is an Ann Arbor resident and AI developer for Deepgram, a San Francisco-based "speech search" company that uses AI to transcribe, spot keywords, and get insights from phone calls, video footage, and online media.

"[If you] go to YouTube right now and enter your search keywords, the results that Google serves you are not based on the content of the video. They're based on the metadata, the title, or the description," Sypniewski says. "Deepgram could do something very similar, but we would search over the content. We could give you the results for that phrase, and when it was actually spoken."

Sypniewski got his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Michigan, where he used machine learning to calculate distances between galaxies and also met Deepgram's founders. After school he did applied AI work for a defense contractor before joining Deepgram.

For the first meetup, Sypniewski plans to present a layman's introduction to AI and a survey of what's been happening in the field for the last 50 years. From there, he hopes to get into more detailed examples, involve guest speakers from the automotive and other industries, and even host workshops where participants could play with some of Deepgram's recently open-sourced technology.

"A lot of companies and a lot of people see [AI] as scary and complex, and it's really not," Sypniewski says. "It's very intuitive, and it's very simple for a lot of people to get into, and I want people to start to appreciate that and hopefully see more companies, even in this area, start to try it."
 
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Video game development incubator to launch in Ypsi

A new business incubator meant to foster video game development in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area launches Thursday, Jan. 19, with an introductory meetup at SPARK East in downtown Ypsi.

Organizer Larry Kuperman says the short-term goal for the collaboration between Meetup group A2 Game Designers and SPARK is to offer monthly meetings for developers to network, collaborate, and get advice from industry players working in the area already.

"Initially we're looking to create a shared space with developers, including students, and exchange ideas and practices," Kuperman says.

Local game studios currently include PC game maker Revival Productions and mobile games maker Gaudium in Ann Arbor, as well as PC game producer Stardock in Plymouth. Gaudium cofounder David Cai will speak at next week's meeting.

In the long term, Kuperman hopes to help launch and grow startups that can tap into the region's venture capital resources and make connections with other sectors.

"Whether it's an auto manufacturer saying, 'Hey, we want you guys to design a game-oriented technology we can use for our cars,' or the university says, 'We're looking for people to design educational games,' that's what I see in our future," he says.

Kuperman, an Ann Arbor resident, is director of business development for Nightdive Studios, a Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in re-releasing and remaking classic video games. He says gaming's low startup and overhead costs make it an attractive industry.

"A games development studio can be one to two guys with a laptop, if you're thinking about mobile games development," Kuperman says. "Some of those monetize really, really well, when you think about the return on investment."

Kuperman's motivation is partly personal. His adult children moved out of state after college to pursue careers in tech and nursing, and he sees no reason students in any of the gaming programs offered at nearby colleges and universities shouldn't be able to find employment or set up shop here after school if they want to.

"These bright graduates come out of school, and there isn't any place for them to go to work in this area, so they gravitate to San Francisco, to Seattle, to New York, and I want to change that," he says.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
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