Innovation & Job News

2170 Articles | Page: | Show All

Concept for shipping-container studio spaces wins $5,000 in inaugural Pitch Ypsi competition

A local musician and entrepreneur's idea for artists' rehearsal spaces made of shipping containers won $5,000 in the first annual Pitch Ypsi $5,000 contest.
Pitch Ypsi $5,000 is a business plan competition hosted by leaders in eastern Washtenaw County, including Ypsilanti mayor Amanda Edmonds and Ann Arbor SPARK East business accelerator manager Joe Licavoli. More than 60 businesses applied for the competition, and the five best submissions were chosen by a committee to present at a pitch night March 8 at the Eastern Michigan University College of Business. A panel of five judges ruled unanimously to make the final award to Grove Studios.
Grove Studios founder Rick Coughlin wants to use shipping containers to build a modular studio space for rehearsals, performances, and collaboration in Ypsi. Coughlin also envisions the possibility of holding gallery shows, lectures, and other art and music events in the container spaces.
He says his vision is similar in some ways to existing coworking spaces that cater to tech startups. The difference for his studio would be the focus on creating a hub for artists and using modular spaces. Two 20-foot shipping containers can be patched together to create a 400-square-foot space, or two 40-foot containers would create 800 square feet of space.
Entrepreneurs have already tried a similar idea in Norway, and Coughlin is in talks with Norwegian company Nordic Shelter to engineer shipping containers for Grove Studios.
"We want to elevate the idea of an artists' working space. We believe we can do it right, and shipping containers are one of the ways we can get there," he says.
Grove Studios recently opened a more traditional collaborative artists' rehearsal space at 1145 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti Township. Coughlin rents that property but has been seeking properties that he could buy for Grove Studios in the city of Ypsilanti. He hopes to avoid the sort of large-scale artist displacement that occurred in 2015, when the former SPUR studio space in Ypsi abruptly closed due to a change in building ownership.
Coughlin has lived in Ypsi for 23 years and feels "really connected" to the community. He wants Grove Studios to be part of Ypsi's ongoing revitalization as a cultural hub.
Coughlin says the $5,000 prize will help him to launch further marketing and crowdfunding efforts. He hopes to bring in $40,000 through a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign and then have the Michigan Economic Development Corporation match that amount through its Public Spaces, Community Places program.
"We want to make sure that we're telling our story in a way that people really understand it, so the money we raise would pay for quality video and photography and marketing and branding to accomplish that," he says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at

Conceptual renderings courtesy of Grove Studios.


Edible Project app makes eating out easier for those with dietary restrictions

A new Ann Arbor-based app, which helps diners with food restrictions find menu items they can eat, is reaping the rewards of a publicity stunt that distributed 1,000 care packages across Ann Arbor.

Early on March 6, Edible Project cofounders Mike Copley and Ish Baid and a team of helpers distributed 200 doormats and several camp chairs with the Edible Project logo around the University of Michigan (U-M) campus and other parts of Ann Arbor. They also distributed 1,000 care packages, each containing a special-ordered fortune cookie with messages about food restrictions, a $3 gift card to Piada Italian Street Food, a piece of candy, and a flyer with more information about the app.

Baid said his team wanted to create buzz across campus and around town, and the publicity stunt accomplished what they had hoped.

"In the past week, we've had more downloads of the app than over the entire life of the app. And we're still getting 150 to 200 new users coming in daily," he says.

Baid, who serves as chief technology officer for the Edible Project, says the idea for the app was born from his partner's dairy allergy. The two were friends while students at U-M, and Copley's allergy made eating out a chore.

"It could take half an hour to order, because if he has even the smallest trace of dairy, it would put him in the hospital," Baid says.

According to Baid and Copley's research, one in five Americans have similar diet restrictions, ranging from eating a "Paleo" diet to being kosher or halal to being vegan. (A survey conducted on the U-M campus by the Edible Project team suggested an even higher ratio of one in four respondents with dietary restrictions.) These restrictions often mean that diners will stick to just one restaurant where they know the menu, or to ordering a salad at every eatery.

Copley and Baid knew there had to be a better way and released the first iteration of their app in January of 2016. They started by going to different eateries in Ann Arbor and trying to gather ingredient information.

"We realized it was a bad approach," Baid says. "Who is really the expert in dietary restrictions? It's the people with the restrictions. They know exactly what food is good in Ann Arbor and that fits a specific diet."

Within the next month, the app will be opening to user submissions. Users will be able to sign up as Edible Project "scouts" and report back on the best gluten-free or vegan menu items in the city.

Other plans for the future include competing in entrepreneurship events, networking, and working with a startup accelerator program. Their long-term plan, though, is to take the app nationwide.

"Our goal is to have every menu in the country documented," Baid says. "We're in an era when people are info-hungry, so I think it's possible, and we want to be the ones who make that happen."

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

Photos courtesy of the Edible Project.

Sold-out Ypsi TEDx event announces speakers, plots livestream

A variety of local speakers will give nine eight-minute talks on the topic of interdependence for the second annual TEDxYDL event at Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) Halle Library on April 13.

The event is co-sponsored by the Ypsilanti District Library and Halle Library. It's one of thousands of independently organized programs around the world licensed through TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading" in the form of short talks delivered by leading thinkers in various disciplines.

If you want to attend in person, you're already out of luck. The program has filled up completely with a long waiting list both years, with the event’s free tickets being snapped up in the first two hours they were available for the 2017 event.

However YDL communications and development coordinator Gillian Ream Gainsley says YDL is seeking a sponsor to host a livestream event this year so people on the waiting list for tickets have another option. Gainsley says organizers haven’t moved the event to a bigger space because their TED license limits the audience to 100 people.

Gainsley says choosing speakers was fun but challenging. Organizers received 62 applications and cut those down to nine talks (one talk features two speakers) that fit this year’s theme of interdependence.

The application of biomedical illustrator Megan Foldenauer, who plans to talk about the human eye, stood out.

"She told the story about how she started illustrating all of her biology papers and her professor told her about medical illustration as a field. It seemed like a fascinating way to talk about the intersection of art and science, and it fit our theme," Gainsley says.

Another presenter is Jim McBee, owner of The Ann magazine.

"Jim is going to talk about fake news, which is obviously a hot topic, but we’re also hoping he’ll talk about how an independent local print newspaper is functioning and why that’s still important," Gainsley says.

Another speaker, EMU lecturer Ping Zhou, will address the topic of interdependence by focusing on the geography of international trade. Gainsley says the last few months' divisive political climate inspired the topic for the 2017 event.

"There are so many divisions, but at the end of the day the various disciplines, as well as people and countries, depend on each other in interesting ways we don’t often think about," she says.

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

All images courtesy of TEDxYDL.

Busch's, North Peak team up to create exclusive Newfangled Pale Ale

Ann Arbor-based Busch's Fresh Food Markets have added another Michigan craft brew to their line of designer beer after collaborating with Dexter-based Northern United Brewing Co (NUBC).

The resulting beer, North Peak Newfangled Pale Ale, is the third in a series of Busch's exclusive beers made by Michigan brewers with Michigan ingredients. The new beer is a 5.5-percent alcohol-by-volume Midwestern pale ale featuring Michigan hops and grains, according to Marty Phelan, category manager for Busch's. The beer hit the shelves in early March and will be carried in all 16 Busch's locations in Michigan, including Ann Arbor.

Phelan says Busch's first beer collaboration happened about a year ago, when the chain worked with Short's Brewing Company in Bellaire. That partnership was so successful that Busch's went on to make a second beer with Dark Horse Brewing Co. in Marshall.

Phelan says Busch's input on the new beers varies from brewer to brewer. Busch's was able to give a lot of input on the recipe and the name of the beer that Dark Horse developed for Busch's, for instance.

Phelan says Busch's already had a "great relationship" with North Peak, which is one of several brands falling under NUBC's banner. After seeing the previous two collaborations, NUBC approached Busch's about releasing a beer developed by Ron Jeffries, who also is production manager for NUBC's Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales line.

The new brews are going over well with customers, and Phelan said he is getting "a lot of feedback."

"Just on our Facebook page alone, we get hundreds of comments about these beers," Phelan said. "I love working on these projects. It's a lot of fun to do this with Michigan breweries."

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

Brackets for Good pits Ann Arbor-area nonprofits against each other for $10,000 prize

For the second year in a row, the nonprofit Brackets For Good is helping Ann Arbor-area organizations raise money and awareness by pitting nonprofits against each other in a bracket-style competitive online giving tournament.

Since its 2012 founding in Indianapolis, the nonprofit has expanded to 11 cities including Ann Arbor. Each participating nonprofit gets to keep all donations raised during the competition, and the top winner gets a $10,000 prize from a sponsor.

Valeo Financial Advisors was a major sponsor in other cities, so when Valeo opened a new office in Ann Arbor, it brought the Brackets For Good fundraiser with it last spring.

Until March 31, supporters may make online donations to help a favorite Ann Arbor-area nonprofit organization advance toward the final $10,000 Championship Grant. This year's 38 participating nonprofits range from the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre to Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County.

Last year’s Championship Grant winner in the Ann Arbor area was the Ecology Center, an environmental education and policy action nonprofit.

Ecology Center deputy director Rebecca Meuninck says she thinks the organization’s success the first year was due to its efforts to engage board, staff, and supporters while keeping things fun.

The Ecology Center did a lot of outreach on social media and organized watching parties at the office for staff and board members as the climax of each round of the competition played out. A clock on the Ann Arbor bracket's home page counts donations and time left to donate.

"Everybody pitched in. In the last few minutes, donors would make last-minute gifts to push us over each week," Meuninck says.

Besides receiving the $10,000 grand prize, the competition also helped the Ecology Center bring in a large chunk of money much earlier in the year than usual. Many charities receive the bulk of their donations toward the end of each year, but the Ecology Center brought in about 20 to 25 percent of its annual budget by March due to the competition, Meuninck says.

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

FlexDex begins shipping low-cost surgical tool designed to replace robotic system

New applications for robots seem to be in the news every day, but Ann Arbor-based FlexDex Surgical's new surgical tool increases surgeons' flexibility and reduces costs by taking a robot out of the equation.

The mechanical platform, which allows surgeons to more easily make sutures inside the body during minimally invasive laparoscopic surgeries, recently began shipping nationwide. Developed in a University of Michigan (U-M) engineering lab, the device is designed to be ergonomic and intuitive to use. Unlike other laparoscopic surgical tools, the FlexDex needle driver mimics the direction of the surgeon’s hand and locates the device’s center of rotation at the surgeon’s wrist, where it's mounted.

Before the invention of the FlexDex device, surgeons could use an old-fashioned but cumbersome straight-stick instrument or the robot-assisted da Vinci surgical system, whose $2 million price tag is prohibitively expensive for many hospital systems. Both approaches take more training to use than the FlexDex device.

At $500, the FlexDex also has a clear cost advantage. The low price is partly due to the fact that the FlexDex device is purely mechanical, requiring no power source. The device uses cables and pulleys that are relatively inexpensive to produce.

"Those parts are just put together in a novel way to provide robot-like dexterity in a mechanical instrument," says FlexDex chairman and CEO Thomas Davison.

The FlexDex platform has already been used in operations. Down the road, FlexDex will be able to attach tools other than a needle to the platform.

"We started with the needle holder because one of the more difficult maneuvers in surgery is suturing," says Davison.

The company has plans to start shipping other FlexDex-compatible laparoscopic instruments soon, including vessel sealers, scissors, graspers, and dissector instruments. FlexDex has raised over $10 million through federal grants and private investments.

FlexDex was cofounded in 2014 by pediatric surgeon Jim Geiger, surgery professor at the U-M Medical School and pediatric surgeon at U-M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital; and Shorya Awtar, associate professor of mechanical engineering at U-M. The technology stems from research funded by the National Science Foundation.

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

ContentOro nabs Fortune 1000 clients with quality web content, good word of mouth

Fortune 1000 company Citrix has partnered with Ann Arbor-based ContentOro to create an informational hub for small businesses on Citrix's file-sharing and collaboration website

ContentOro built the Small Business Center for ShareFile clients who are business owners and managers. The site features 260 pages in 24 sections with information and advice on a variety of topics for businesses that are just getting started, including how to raise capital, how to negotiate a lease, or how to build out a go-to-market strategy.

ContentOro provides that content through a partnership with John Wiley and Sons, a large global publisher. Wiley's print content has already been thoroughly edited, so ContentOro can repurpose it for web content more quickly and cheaply than paying someone to research, write, and edit new content.

ContentOro CEO and founder Bob Chunn says he is planning other projects with multiple Fortune 500 companies soon, building on good word of mouth like the referral that brought ContentOro to Citrix's attention. Chunn says one of his first paying clients of 2016 was Redford-based national chain Pet Supplies Plus, and he has been using that project to show other major clients what ContentOro can do.

Chunn says major companies don't find short, "clickbait"-style articles valuable. Instead, they want to provide information that is authoritative and trustworthy.

"We're working to bring content in line with what these powerful companies want to show their customers," he says.

Consumers respond well to the higher-quality content. Chunn says ContentOro's metrics show that visitors to pages built by ContentOro stay three times as long and view four times as many pages compared to content elsewhere on a client's website.

Chunn says he feels his mission is, at heart, a "noble" one: free and equal access to information currently contained in print books.

"Our technology allows the content to be used on the internet and allows search engines to find it," he says. "Everyone, regardless of income or status in life or where they happen to be located, can have access to that information now."

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

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

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
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

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.

2170 Articles | Page: | Show All