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Packard Health offers Healthy Kids Fair July 21 as outreach to vulnerable children and families

Packard Health is offering free back-to-school supplies, health checks, and family-friendly activities during a Healthy Kids Fair from 1-3 p.m. July 21 at its Ypsilanti location, 200 Arnet St.

 

The second annual fair is intended as community outreach to help vulnerable kids and their families, who might not have a steady primary care physician, prepare to go back to school this fall. The afternoon will include fun activities like face-painting and a bounce house but will also be an opportunity for children to receive health screenings, immunizations, and back-to-school physicals.

 

Additionally, Packard Health received grants and gifts from local businesses to offer free backpacks and free bike helmets, along with free helmet fittings, during the event.

 

The fair also serves as a celebration of Packard's 45th year in existence and a way to introduce the community to the organization's newest location. Packard Health executive director Raymond Rion says that many people know about Packard's main location on Packard Avenue as well as its office on Ann Arbor's west side, but the organization hasn't spent much time publicizing its newest location.

 

"We started off pretty quietly," Rion says of of the Ypsilanti location, which has been open about two and a half years. "We have an understated corporate culture and don't always excel at blowing our own horn."

 

He adds that opening another location in the heart of Ypsi made sense because, while Washtenaw County has two strong major health systems, Packard Health aims to serve people who are underserved or experience barriers due to language, location, or the severity of their medical problems.

 

Rion notes that Washtenaw County has the eighth largest income disparity of any county in the nation, and with that income disparity comes health disparities.

 

"There's this gigantic life expectancy gap separated by just eight miles," he says.

 

Rion says that people who fit the "box" of the traditional healthcare model will receive "pretty good health care." But it's not so easy for those who face barriers to scheduling appointments in advance, showing up on time, or understanding their caregiver's instructions.

 

"The further you are from fitting well into the box on the box's terms, the less well the system serves you," Rion says. "What we've tried to do is figure out creative ways to get services outside the box."

 

More information about the Healthy Kids Fair is available on Packard Health's website.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Packard Health.


Ann Arbor company announces Vietnamese partnerships to produce high-durability spider silk

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

Bulletproof vests made of spider silk spun by genetically modified silkworms may sound like the far-fetched product of a superhero movie. But they're the very real work of Ann Arbor-based Kraig Biocraft Laboratories, which is expanding into Vietnam to support its production of recombinant spider silk.

 

The company's technology injects the genetic "recipe" for spider silk into silkworm egg sacs, and the modified silkworms munch on mulberry leaves, transforming them into the company's spider silk recipe. Those transgenic silkworms then give birth to more silkworms already programmed with the spider silk "cookbook," says Kraig COO Jon Rice.

 

"Silkworms make 15 million metric tons of silk per year, and spiders make very flexible silk but don't make a lot of it," Rice says.

 

In early July Kraig opened a wholly-owned subsidiary, Prodigy Textiles, in order to be allowed to operate in Vietnam. It then signed three agreements with local farming cooperatives in Vietnam's Quang Nam province. Under these agreements the farmers will produce the mulberry necessary to support the company’s recombinant spider silk production.

 

These agreements will allow the company to scale up its operations, Rice says, since Vietnam already has the climate, the knowledge, and the infrastructure to create silk year-round.

 

"We looked at several countries, but Vietnam was head of the list," Rice says. "They are about (No.) five or six globally in annual silk production. The knowledge is there, the equipment is there, the facilities are there. All they need is our better-performing silkworm."

 

Kraig founder and CEO Kim Thompson's interest in figuring out how to make transgenic silkworms turn mulberries into fabric as tough as spider silk goes back to the early 2000s. But it wasn't until 2016 that Kraig got its first contract from the U.S. Army to see how its materials might function as a protective textile.

 

"We make vests out of Kevlar, because it has high strength and toughness," Rice says. "Spider silk is about 10 times stretchier, and pretty close to Kevlar in terms of strength. Stretch plus flexibility equals toughness, and our spider silk outperforms even the best synthetics because of that flexibility."

 

The spider silk material is also lightweight and "biocompatible," Rice says. For instance, if a soldier receives an injury that involves high heat, like an encounter with an IED or a vehicle rollover, synthetic plastic fibers will heat and melt into the wound, but spider silk will not.

 

Rice says the market for the company's material is much broader than the military, and could include medical uses, including skin grafts. He says the company already has the technology, the production capability, and the market for its materials. The question, until now, has been how to scale up production.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Kraig Biocraft Laboratories.


M Farmers Markets offer fresh local produce across U-M campus and satellite facilities

Ann Arbor has multiple high-profile outlets to buy local produce, from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market to Argus Farm Stop. But since 2011, the University of Michigan's (U-M) MHealthy wellness program has been quietly expanding its summer offering of several M Farmers Markets a week at numerous U-M sites.

 

Since nutrition is a key component in weight control and overall health, it made sense for U-M to start offering farmers market days around the U-M campus and at the university's various clinic locations around Ann Arbor, according to Erica Owen, manager of nutrition and weight management for MHealthy.

 

Owen says the U-M health system had been considering holding farmers markets at U-M locations since 2007, but it wasn't resonating with employees. But the idea started to catch on when U-M students expressed interest in having farmers markets on campus.

 

Owen says early efforts involved having food service company Aramark buy produce from local farms and then resell it at university sites, due to U-M policies on who can sell products on the university's turf. But once Square's mobile credit card processing technology caught on with local farmers, it made it easier for them to set up tables and take credit card payments.

 

Owen says student markets in early fall typically attract three or four produce vendors, as well as food trucks and other prepared food vendors. The markets often also include cooking demos with simple recipes requiring no more than five or six ingredients, Owen says.

 

"It's often something like salsa that doesn't need to be cooked, or can be cooked really quickly, like a one-pan meal," she says. "They can see the recipe being made, take a recipe card with them, and then buy the produce to take with them and make the recipe at home."

 

M Farmers Markets at health system locations typically only feature one farmer each day, either Milan-based Zilke Vegetable Farm or Tecumseh-based Prochaska Farms. Markets at Wolverine Tower, the North Campus Research Center complex, the U-M Hospital, and the East Ann Arbor Health Center are the best attended, due in large part to the density of employees in those areas.

 

Markets at U-M's Briarwood location and some of the university's other smaller satellite locations haven't been as well-attended, Owen says, though a marketing push by interested faculty produced healthy attendance at a new market at the Stephen Ross Academic Center.

 

Owen says the MHealthy team tweaks its market offerings each year, adding markets or events where there's interest, and sometimes scaling back at locations where attendance has been poor.

 

"We are going to have to look at what happens next year," Owen says. "We may have saturated our market a bit, and there are also so many more markets in (employees') own communities, near their homes, than when we started. We are good at reevaluating and coming up with new, creative ideas."

 

Owen says she's considered creating a system allowing employees to order a box of variety produce in advance, to be picked up at a centralized location at the end of the work day. Another of those creative ideas is a collaboration in the making with MDining, the university's dining service, that would involve offering MHealthy-approved boxed lunches with an entree, a fruit salad, and a bottle of water.

 

A complete schedule of the M Farmers Markets is available through the University of Michigan's website.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of MHealthy.


Inaugural Vital Seniors Competition seeks solutions for county's growing senior population

Washtenaw County's senior population is set to explode between now and 2040, and the finalists in a major new competition have a variety of ideas to address that population's needs.

 

Vital Seniors: A Community Innovation Competition is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) through its Glacier Hills Legacy Fund, which is devoted to sparking innovation in programs for adults 60 and over.

 

Using demographic projections by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), AAACF CEO Neel Hajra says that not only is the county's population of seniors over 60 going to more than double between 2010 and 2040, but the population of those 75 and older will triple in that same time frame. The number of vulnerable seniors at or near the poverty line is expected to double in that timeframe as well.

 

At the same time, because of smaller families and greater geographic dispersion of families, "the ratio of family caregivers to seniors is plummeting," Hajra says.

 

"When we look ahead to the 2030s and 2040s, national statistics show there will be fewer family supports for more seniors, and that's why we're trying to bring attention to the issue and have the community, as a whole, rally around this point," he says.

 

The AAACF has already awarded $20,000 "capacity grants" to each of 10 finalists:

  

Innovations proposed by the 10 finalists range from new transportation models for seniors to supportive housing for seniors who want to age in place to various senior health initiatives.

 

Over the summer, the finalists will use the $20,000 to improve their organizations' capacities and tweak their ideas, says Chris Lemon, senior program officer for AAACF. The 10 finalists have already been through one capacity-building workshop that involved a "visioning" session with ZingTrain and a round-robin meetup with coaches that will be matched with each of the 10 organizations.

 

While the organizations had to provide an overview of the project they proposed, the coaching and workshops will allow them to refine and improve their ideas.

 

"We're leaving the door open for each project to evolve further, since this is an innovation competition," Lemon says.

 

In the fall, the competition will award a $500,00 grand prize, a $250,000 Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Caregiver Prize, two awards for $100,000, and two "People's Choice" awards of $50,000 each. The $50,000 and $100,000 prizes will be divided up into two categories, one each for organizations with operating budgets under $1 million and one each for organizations with budgets over $1 million.

 

Lemon says voting will take place online over several weeks in the autumn, and a final awards ceremony will take place sometime in early November. Those interested in voting for the People's Choice Awards or attending the final ceremony can watch for updates at the AAACF website, at www.vitalseniorscomp.com, or on any of AAACF's social media accounts.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.


EMU and U-M join forces for conference on innovation in education

A new conference on Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) campus will focus on effectively using design thinking and social and emotional learning to improve kids' educational experiences.

 

Eastern Michigan University's Bright Futures program and the University of Michigan's Institute for Innovation in Education have joined forces for the two-day Ideas to Action Conference, which runs June 28-29 on EMU's campus.

 

"We really try to give kids opportunities to practice emotional management, empathy, how to work in teams, responsibility, and initiative and problem-solving," says Will Spotts, assistant director for Eastern Michigan University's Bright Futures. "It's great to say that we value these skills, but actually doing it in a pedagogically- and age-appropriate way is going to look different from pre-kindergarten all the way to college seniors."

 

Spotts says this is the fourth year Bright Futures has hosted a conference on social and emotional learning (SEL), and IIE has also convened its own "gatherings" in the past, but this is the first time the two groups have joined forces for a two-day look at educational best practices.

 

Bright Futures' philosophy around quality after-school programs and academic improvement has already been influenced and shaped by previous interactions with IIE, Spotts says, and the collaboration made sense.

 

He says Bright Futures conferences have typically attracted K-12 teachers and administrators and educational nonprofits, while IIE gatherings have typically pulled in researchers and thinkers who are bringing in non-mainstream ideas around education.

 

"We thought there was enough synergy and potential for cross-pollination, and we work with these folks regularly anyway, so we thought, 'What happens when you put your people together with us for a two-day joint affair?'" Spotts says.

 

Thursday's programming, a "Designing for Social and Emotional Learning" workshop led by IIE, centers on the idea of "design mindset."

 

"Famously, fixers want to fix things. They come in, see a problem, and apply a solution, without trying to get to the root of what the problem might be," Spotts says. In contrast, the design mindset gets to the roots of an issue and surveys stakeholders for their ideas to develop a solution.

 

Spotts says he thinks a workshop on the topic dovetails nicely with SEL, because the school day and after-school programs could both benefit from students expressing what they want out of the experience and exploring their own solutions to educational issues.

 

The Friday portion of the event is sponsored by Bright Futures and typically draws around 125 people, Spotts says.

 

The day will open not with a traditional keynote speech, but with a "Keynote Story Slam" that will set participants up to reflect on their experiences and what they've learned over the years. That will be followed by two 40-minute workshop sessions, where participants can choose from nine different themes ranging from "The Power of Storytelling" to "Using SEL with Trauma-Informed Practice."

 

During lunch, participants will write down topics they want to explore more during the "unconference" that will take up the rest of the day. Participants will be split up into groups of 10 or 15 people based on interest, with a facilitator who will help frame the conversation while letting participants decide where the conversation goes.

 

"They'll spend 45 minutes thinking out loud and networking," Spotts says. "It's a chance for people who might live in the same community but who might not know each other to find allies and think out loud together."

 

Spotts says Thursday's workshop was originally capped at 30 participants, but interest was high and registration "exploded," so the cap was moved to 55 people. Even after lifting the cap, Thursday is sold out and a waitlist has been formed. However, registration for Friday's event is still open via the EventBrite page for the conference.

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of EMU Bright Futures.


Ann Arbor teen inventor wins award at national convention

An Ann Arbor teen's invention aiming to prevent fatal police shootings of deaf people has won a national award.

 

Seventeen-year-old Skyline High School graduate Sarah Whybark won the "Best Logbook" award at the June 1 National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE), held at Henry Ford Museum, for her invention called ASSIST. She was one of 437 student inventors from 20 states and two countries participating in the convention produced by The STEMIE Coalition, a nonprofit founded to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), invention, and entrepreneurship education.

 

ASSIST is a bracelet for deaf people that blinks when police are around, alerting the police to a deaf citizen while also alerting the deaf person to law enforcement officials' presence. The idea was originally conceived by another student in Whybark's engineering class at Skyline. But that student moved on to another idea and let Whybark develop ASSIST.

 

"Growing up in elementary school, I had a few friends who were deaf," Whybark says. "I wanted to help a minority group that often gets overlooked, and I remembered a while back there was a story about a man who was shot and killed in Oklahoma because he was unable to hear and understand the police who were confronting him."

 

That initial concept became Whybark's school year capstone project and her NICEE entry. Whybark says the "Best Logbook" award means that she maintained excellent documentation and organization throughout her project, including documenting ideas that she abandoned.

 

Currently, she says the bracelet is made of "a garage weather strip, Velcro, duct tape, and hot glue." But she has plans to develop it further by collaborating with engineers and coders and eventually patenting her idea.

 

"Once I get a working prototype, I plan to reach out to the people and organizations that I have already met and who have taken interest in this idea," she says. "After I have it functioning and supported, I will bring the idea to the police and those who are on the other side of this public safety issue right now."

 

She also hopes to add a feature alerting deaf drivers to an approaching emergency response vehicle. Beyond the ASSIST project, Whybark's future plans include attending Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. and becoming an elementary teacher for students with special needs.

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of the STEMIE Coalition/KMS Photography.


Corner Health Center hosts Vogue Night to encourage LGBTQ youth involvement

Many people may know the dance style of "voguing" as something they've seen in a Madonna video or the documentary Paris is Burning. But members of the LGBTQ community know that vogue has deeper roots as a platform for safe sex education in queer communities and communities of color.

 

To honor that legacy, Ypsilanti's Corner Health Center will host a Vogue Night at Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St. in Ypsi, from 7-11 p.m. Friday, June 22. The event aims to encourage more LGBTQ youth of color to feel welcome at the health center, which has a mission of helping local youth develop healthy behaviors.

 

"Vogue started a little before the HIV/AIDS crisis, and was mostly used by queer people of color, primarily black and Latino," says Miles Perry, a Corner Health Center summer intern who is organizing the event. "A Vogue Night was a place where they could gather safely and have a good time without being in fear of persecution."

 

The tradition also involved a sense of community and belonging, with "house mothers" and "house fathers." Perry says a "house" in this sense is an affinity group of peers, like the houses in the TV show Game of Thrones or the Harry Potter books.

 

Perry says that tradition was transformed into a space where public health agencies could come in and get participants screened and connected to services to prevent the spread of HIV.

 

"In the same tradition, we're trying to get more queer people of color into the Corner Health Center," Perry says. "We have a variety of people who come through the doors, and a majority of our patients are (racial) minorities, but we're not seeing the same diversity with queer patients."

 

As a relative newcomer to Ypsi who was placed at Corner Health Center through a University of Michigan public health program, Perry says he likes the energy in the city. The Rochester, N.Y. native says he's been getting a lot of positive feedback on the event, including being welcomed to put up posters in all the local stores he has visited and having several businesses offer to sponsor prizes for the event. As of the second week in June he was still looking for local businesses to donate food and drink and a volunteer DJ for the event.

 

Entry to the event is free, and anyone over age 15 is welcome. For more information, visit the Facebook page for the event.

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of Miles Perry.


Meeting of the Minds summit examines challenges, opportunities in Michigan's mobility industry

The inaugural year of a new weekend-long tech event in Ann Arbor included a high-profile summit focused on Michigan's mobility leadership and solving community problems through mobility.

 

Ann Arbor SPARK recently expanded its June Tech Trek and Tech Talk programs to include a Meeting of the Minds Mobility Summit. SPARK partnered with the national organization Meeting of the Minds to create an all-day mobility conference June 14. It was preceded by a day of discussions around investing in the mobility sector on the 13th and followed by Tech Trek, Tech Talk, and a public mobility exhibition called Mobility Row on the 15th.

 

Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs at SPARK, says the ultimate goal in coming years is to expand what was formerly one day of programming around tech in Ann Arbor to an entire week of programs and networking under the umbrella of A2Tech360.

 

Meeting of the Minds is a national think tank that sponsors conferences nationwide regarding different aspects of smart cities. The national organization has only done one other conference centered on mobility before, Doshi says. She says Meeting of the Minds chose Ann Arbor for its second mobility summit because Ann Arbor has "such a strong ecosystem, such a strong drive around the mobility industry."

 

Doshi says much of the summit was focused on positioning Michigan as a leader in the mobility industry.

 

"We discussed the governor's mobility challenge and the chance for us to strengthen the regional ecosystem," Doshi says. "We also talked about how the focus really needs to be on how we meet users' needs. All around southeast Michigan, disadvantaged people are traveling large distances to make it to work and often have job loss for that reason because they don't have a way to get around, to the economic detriment of our society."

 

She says mobility is a "deciding factor" in issues ranging from healthcare access to job opportunities and higher education.

 

"We need to focus on how to use our innovations and grant money ... to (close) these gaps that exist," she says. "The conversations really showcased these gaps and what they mean for the prosperity of the region."

 

The day started with panels and keynote speeches from both local and national organizations, followed by small-group discussions about gaps and challenges in the mobility industry. In the afternoon, participants took a field trip to tour the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township. Global auto supplier Visteon provided two live demos on ACM's test tracks, one of vehicle-to-vehicle technology and the other on vehicle-to-infrastructure technology.

 

Additionally, eight other companies did demos in the ACM garages, showing off products ranging from technology that collects data on pavement conditions to controls for lighting infrastructure to cybersecurity for autonomous vehicles.

 

After the field trip, participants were divided into small roundtable discussions of seven or eight people to dive deeper into solving problems in the field. The conference was followed by a networking reception and SPARK's annual FastTrack awards for high-growth local companies.

 

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

 

Photos by Jenn Cornell.


New Washtenaw County program to offer paid tech apprenticeships, emphasizing underrepresented groups

A new $1.5 million pilot program will focus on placing Washtenaw County residents in paid tech apprenticeships, with an emphasis on underrepresented groups like women, people of color, and veterans.

 

The Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN) will begin offering Apprenti, a registered apprenticeship program of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). A $1.5 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation will cover training expenses for the first 100 apprentices trained in Washtenaw County over three years.

 

David Palmer, senior director for strategies and partnerships at WIN, says the partnership and the Washtenaw pilot are in response to a "looming challenge around workforce and talent," especially in the mobility industry and other high-tech fields.

 

"Apprenticeships are a valuable post-secondary credential," Palmer says.

 

He says apprenticeships don't replace a bachelor's degree, but rather add to the options for employees looking for ways to gain experience and augment their professional credentials.

 

Palmer says employers are keenly aware of lost opportunities and profits when they can't fill high-tech jobs. He says creating more density of high-tech talent will help keep those high-tech, well-paying jobs in southeast Michigan.

 

"Throughout the southeast Michigan region, we need a skilled workforce to make sure we control our destiny as a mobility capital," Palmer says.

 

The Apprenti program uses a screening tool to identify individuals with talents and skills that could be a good match for high-tech jobs, whether or not the individual has the "right" degree or has attended a prestigious university.

 

The pilot program will help retrain individuals to gain skills in information technology and the mobility industry, while also helping companies identify talent they might not have found on their own.

 

Apprenti's successful pilot program in Seattle significantly "leveled the playing field" and created more opportunities for military veterans, women, and people of color, Palmer says. Although white men are also welcome in the program, Apprenti uses targeted campaigns on social and traditional media to recruit for those groups who are far less represented in the tech industry.

 

"Apprentices who had applied through local hiring streams never heard back," Palmer says. "Now, through Apprenti, they are on these teams at these organizations, and the organizations are admitting, 'We really missed out on talented individuals.'"

 

Those interested in the program must go through a three- to five-month unpaid bootcamp to fine-tune their skill sets. However, once hired into apprenticeships, participants will have full benefits and make 60 percent of the average entry-level wage, which still works out to about $47,000 per year, Palmer says. At six months, apprentices receive a 10 percent pay bump. After 2,000 hours or about one year on the job, they begin making a market-rate salary.

 

More information about Apprenti in southeast Michigan is available at ApprentiCareers.org.

 

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

 

Photo courtesy of WIN.


Expanded A2 Health Hacks event tackles health challenges in the developing world

The A2 Health Hacks hackathon will return for its third year June 22-24 with new partners, a new and bigger space, a new prize, and a new focus on addressing health problems in the developing world.

 

The hackathon starts on the 22nd with keynote speakers who "tee up interesting problems," according to cofounder Diane Bouis. Teams of participants will also form on the 22nd, and then they'll brainstorm throughout the weekend and pitch their solutions to judges on the 24th.

 

Bouis says all of her co-founders are interested in health in the developing world. They conceived of the hackathon as a "bridge between the developing world and the developed world," and that was part of the reasoning behind this year's theme: "Making Do: Healthcare in Low Resource Settings."

 

Bouis says that sometimes the type of solutions created in the developing world and the developed world will be different, but sometimes they have a lot in common. For instance, she says, people think of infant mortality as a problem of developing nations, but right here in Michigan, Detroit has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation.

 

This year, A2 Health Hacks has partnered with the University of Michigan's (U-M) School of Public Health, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship as well as the Technology Increasing Knowledge: Technology Optimizing Choice (TIKTOC) program at the U-M Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center.

 

The collaboration with TIKTOC led to a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, which is sponsoring a special TIKTOC track on the topic of "Transition into Independence for Young People with Disabilities" and an additional cash prize.

 

Bouis says the track regarding transition into independence, like the hackathon's main challenge, isn't just focused on high-tech solutions.

 

"It could be a device that helps people with mobility challenges achieve things independently," Bouis says. "The solution could also be an app that helps with time management for somebody that has cognitive or developmental challenges. Or it could be a service or business model."

 

Attendance was capped at 120 in past years, and, through attrition, between 90 and 100 people were still standing during the final pitch on Sunday. This year, a larger space has been secured so that attendance will now be capped at 150.

 

The first place winner for the hackathon and the winner in the TIKTOC track will win a full scholarship to the Ann Arbor SPARK fall boot camp, where they'll learn to launch a company based on their prototypes, as well as cash prizes sponsored by Google. The TIKTOC track winner also gets $500 in startup consulting services provided through the grant. Additionally, Google sponsors a third prize of $500 to be used toward advancing a prototype for the third-place team.

 

Visit the event's website for more information or to register.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of A2 Health Hacks.


New report makes economic case for improving racial equity in Michigan

Most arguments in favor of racial equality appeal to people's sense of social justice, but an economic case can be made as well. That's the focus of The Business Case for Racial Equality in Michigan: A Strategy for Growth, a new report produced by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Ann Arbor-based nonprofit Altarum.

 

The report found that Michigan could see a $92 billion gain in economic output by 2050 if racial disparities in health, education, incarceration, and employment were addressed and eliminated. For example, reducing health disparities would impact productivity and profitability and reduce excess medical costs.

 

The new Michigan report is an update to an early 2015 report about Michigan. It was released last week at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Kellogg and Altarum published a nationwide analysis in April as well.

 

Ani Turner, co-director of sustainable health spending strategies at Altarum, led the research. She says the newest version of the Michigan analysis updates facts and figures and includes more information highlighting effective strategies to improve equity in areas like housing, health, and jobs.

 

The Perry Early Learning Center in Ypsilanti is mentioned in the report as an example of effective early childhood intervention to improve life outcomes for children of color. While many people have hypothesized that giving children a good early start should create better outcomes over a lifetime, Perry proved the point with a long-term study that followed children in the program, as well as a control group, for decades.

 

"The virtue of the Perry preschool program and subsequent periodic analyses followed these kids well into middle age and was therefore able to demonstrate that, compared to kids not in the program, the participants had all these kinds of positive life outcomes like greater earnings and less teen pregnancy," Turner says. "It's a very quality intervention."

 

Methodology for determining the various dollar figures in the report involved using existing models to track the difference between what one would expect to see in a completely equitable society and what conditions currently exist, she says.

 

"If you're living in an equitable society and you're looking at outcomes like how much someone earns or their health status or the rates at which they're incarcerated, you would not expect to see huge differences by racial or ethnic group," Turner says.
Instead, in Michigan and around the country, gaps are still very large. For example, Turner notes that people of color in Michigan today make a little less than two-thirds what a non-Hispanic white person of the same age would make.

 

A more equitable society would mean more educational, health, and job opportunities for people of color and increased economic activity, Turner says.

 

In today's employment environment, employers are looking for workers with greater skills, she says, but Michigan's workforce is aging and will soon retire and draw on Social Security and Medicare. People of color are expected to make up about 40 percent of Michigan's workforce by 2050, so ensuring people of color have training and employment opportunities is crucial to the future of Michigan's economy.

 

"When we're creating the workforce, and the tax base, of the future, we really need to be bringing up opportunities for populations that have had less opportunity in the past," Turner says. "The productive population of the future, the prime taxpayers of the future, are today's kids, and they're the ones we need to be investing in now."

 

The full study is available for download here. The report is free, but the website asks visitors to enter a first name and email address so the Kellogg Foundation can track how widely the report is being read.

 

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


New Ann Arbor business takes networking to the next level through personalized connections

You could say networking is the focus of the new business Engage and its signature Connector Program, but founder Brooke Boyle says it's more about helping people figure out "What comes next for me in Ann Arbor?"

 

Networking is only part of what the recently launched Connector Program does, Boyle says.

 

"That's the piece that is familiar to people," she says. "But it's really about changing the way we interact with each other, learning how to not just try to relate to the person across from us but discover something new based on our differences."

 

Boyle personally vets applicants to the program and matches each "connectee" with three "connectors." They get to know each other over coffee or another casual meeting, and then the connector makes three introductions to individuals in the connector's network. Neither connectors nor connectees are charged for the service, but companies can choose to pay to put employees through the Connector Program.

 

The program is based on a Canadian networking system called the Halifax Model but tweaked for Ann Arbor. It doesn't just connect people to professionals and career-related opportunities but helps those who participate get more involved in their local community when they're off the clock. That might include finding a nonprofit's board to serve on or finding a community band or orchestra they want to play with in their spare time.

 

While the benefit to connectees is obvious, connectors and the companies they work for also benefit from the program by attracting new talent they might not otherwise encounter as well as helping new employees adjust to life in Ann Arbor.

 

Boyle says she vets connectors to make sure they really do have time to mentor and help a connectee. Once she matches a connectee with a connector, she strongly recommends that they meet in person within five days, so as not to lose enthusiasm or momentum.

 

"We want connectors to be honest about whether they have the bandwidth to do this," she says. "With the busy lives we all have, sometimes we'll say yes when maybe we should say no. I want them to actually take a look at their availability and really buy into supporting that person, and if they can't, we will introduce them to another connector."

 

Engage began a testing phase in August 2017 and it did a soft launch earlier this year. It already has more than 45 local businesses and community leaders serving as connectors. Boyle aims to bring 150 connectors onboard and run 100 connectees through the program in the coming year.

 

Boyle recently welcomed Ann Arbor SPARK as a funding partner to subsidize putting newcomers through the Connector Program as part of an effort to attract and retain creative talent to the greater Ann Arbor area.

 

"People have day jobs, but they also have passions that extend beyond that. (The Connector Program) helps them find that local organization they wouldn't have found on their own in their first six months in Ann Arbor," she says. "We're helping them feel 'in the know' about things a townie would say they must know about Ann Arbor."

 

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

 

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

 

Photo by Katie Alexis Photography.


U-M students road-trip to trade lessons with social entrepreneurs through Ross Open Road program

University of Michigan (U-M) MBA student Christopher Owen says he met "real-life superheroes" while traveling the country to work with small business owners through the Ross Open Road program last month.

 

"That really touched me on a deep level," he says. "In a matter of four and a half days, we were building genuine relationships. ... They are visionaries in their field, and being a visionary often means being off in front, a voice in the darkness."

 

Ross Open Road was conceived as an action-based project about social entrepreneurship and small business ownership that would be mutually beneficial to both students and entrepreneurs nationwide. The program is co-sponsored by the Center for Social Impact, the Zell Lurie Institute, Sanger Leadership Center, the Erb Institute, and the Ross MBA Program Office.

 

Last month, for the program's third year, three teams of four U-M students started in Detroit and went on to visit social impact-oriented small business owners and nonprofits in three other communities. The students shared their classroom learning while also gaining real-world experience from the business owners they worked with.

 

Team ACAI, made up of Apoorva Kanneganti, Courtney Poopat, Alexis Morath, and Ian Stackhouse-Kaelble, visited the Michigan Good Food Fund and the Us Food Market in Detroit before moving on to Mindshift in Fargo, N.D. and Homes First in Lacey, Wash.

 

"The opportunity to travel across the country and work with smaller businesses and nonprofits with a social impact mission in communities we hadn't necessarily had exposure to before was something that was exciting and inspiring to all of us," Stackhouse-Kaelble says.

 

Poopat was especially inspired by Team ACAI's last stop, examining affordable housing with Homes First CEO Trudy Soucoup.

 

While the MBA students provided the classroom business knowledge that Soucoup didn't have, Soucoup had connections that the students didn't have. She introduced the team to community members, a state representative, a president of a property management company, a certified public accountant, and a lawyer.

 

"It really opened our eyes to the landscape, learning about the industry and what the nonprofit was doing to create an impact," Poopat says. In turn, the team helped the CEO dig into the feasibility of a proposed new revenue stream.

 

Team MACK, made up of Christopher Owen, Mark Green, Allison Bernstein, and Kashay Sanders, visited Lil Brilliant Mindz in Detroit before visiting Green Opportunities in Asheville, N.C.; JaWanda’s Sweet Potato Pies in Birmingham, Ala.; and Zuni Learning Tree in Conway, Ark.

 

A third team, called Team THIS, was made up of Stephanie Dolan, Thai Ha-Ngoc, Jinny Han, and Tsering Sherpa. The team visited sites in Detroit; Milwaukee; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Bozeman, Mont.

 

"Our vision was to contribute to rewriting the national narrative of entrepreneurship that is often seen as white, wealthy, and tech," says Owen. "We wanted to engage the new face of entrepreneurship, minority business owners in particular."

 

Bernstein says that, as a young black woman, she was nervous about visiting the South with its legacy of slavery. But she says that choice was "very intentional" and that the experience validated her passion for social justice and entrepreneurship.

 

"We learned so much about the history of this country and the communities entrepreneurs have come from," Bernstein says. "It was quite the life-changing experience to see that incredible genius is equally spread across the country and the world."

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Emily Brourman.


"Catastrophe room" business idea wins $1,500 at Pitch@WCC competition

A business idea for a "catastrophe room," offering the cathartic chance to safely destroy objects before enjoying a relaxing craft or a healthy snack, was a big winner at the May 15 Pitch@WCC competition.

 

CatasRelief founders Kiara Patterson and Tiffany Avery won two prizes and a total of $1,500 at the competition, sponsored by The Entrepreneurship Center at Washtenaw Community College. The yearly business pitch competition has three categories for startups in different stages of development: "Start," "Build," and "Grow." The founders of CatasRelief won $1,000 in the "Start" category and a $500 audience choice prize.

 

The runner-up in the "Start" category was Michigan Yu-Gi-Oh Academy, with a $500 prize. The winner in the "Build" category was EnBiologics, taking home a $1,250 prize, and runner-up MyAaliyah won $625. In the "Grow" category, Love at First Try earned the $1,500 top prize, followed by runner-up No More Parties Music Festival, winning $750.

 

Patterson says she and Avery know a lot of people who are stressed, so they wanted to start a business that would provide relief through healthy coping mechanisms. The two flew to Dallas to try out an "anger room," which allows customers to vent their frustrations by destroying objects. But Patterson and Avery came home thinking they could improve on the idea.

 

"A lot of destroy rooms are focused on anger, and that's not something we want to promote or even be around," Patterson says. "We want to change anger into positivity or at least into motivation."

 

They plan to do that by adding restorative and constructive activities to the experience. CatasRelief's simplest package will offer customers a chance to blow off steam by smashing up furniture in a destroy room. But other packages will offer customers a chance to watch a video of their destroy room experience while doing some relaxing crafts in another room. Another package adds on access to healthy snacks and pressed juices.

 

Patterson says she and Avery originally went to the Entrepreneurship Center and looked into Pitch@WCC just for the business coaching that is part of the lead-up to the competition. They were surprised to take home the top prize in their category, competing against eight other businesses.

 

Patterson says she learned a lot in a "how to pitch" workshop and found a mandatory coaching session about the "why" of opening a business especially helpful.

 

"It really got us thinking about our mission and what we're going to do to affect and help people," she says. "Of course we want to make money, but our main concern is being able to help others."

 

Patterson and Avery are still seeking a location for their business. Patterson says she and Avery plan to use their prize money on marketing materials and building out their website, but in the meantime, anyone interested in following the progress of the business should follow CatasRelief on Instagram.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of The Entrepreneurship Center.


New livestream series spotlighting female pop-culture creators to premiere in Ann Arbor

PopArt!, a new locally produced weekly livestream series focused on female pop-culture creators, will kick off with a free pilot preview screening from 6-8 p.m. June 7 at Duo Security, 130 S. 1st St. in Ann Arbor.

 

Duo Security's A2 Tech Film Showcase, with a mission of increasing diversity in film, is sponsoring the screening of the program, which is produced by local digital entertainment company Pop-Post. The 35-minute pilot was pre-recorded and filmed at Eastern Market and Vault of Midnight in Detroit, but starting in June all future episodes will stream live weekly on the Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch. The show is hosted by Charley Tucker, general manager of Vault of Midnight Grand Rapids; and Emma Fyffe, a Los Angeles-based actor and producer.

 

Ann Arborite Kathleen Hiraga started Pop-Post in 2014 to highlight female creators in pop culture but says the company has grown and shifted its focus since then.

 

"We started out as basically a mobile game studio for casual gaming, but that evolved into really focusing in on being a platform for the mission, which is a place for female content creators to aggregate," Hiraga says.

 

Hiraga's background includes serving as a staff designer for MTV Networks when she was 20. She says MTV was revolutionary when it started because there was no other aggregation platform for music videos, and she sees a parallel with Pop-Post and PopArt! providing a platform to aggregate the work of female pop-culture creators.

 

In spring 2016 Pop-Post started producing a seven-minute video talk show with female creators and found it resonated with viewers. That's when Hiraga began talks with Twitch about doing a similar talk show in a longer format with the goal of drawing more female viewers to Twitch, which tends to have a mostly male demographic.

 

"We'll be hosting some pretty viral guests in gaming, animation, and comics, discussing the latest films, game releases, and everything else in that pop-culture universe in real time," Hiraga says.

 

In the first segment, Fyffe talks about the animated cult favorite Sailor Moon, while Tucker discusses the history and creative backstory behind the superhero Black Panther prior to the character's recent blockbuster film.

 

The June 7 premiere will start with a mixer followed by introductions and a showing of the pilot episode. A panel discussion with creators including Hiraga, Tucker, and videographer/cinematographer Priscilla Creswell will follow the screening.

 

Hiraga says her company's mission is not just about filming a talk show but about creating a culture.

 

"At the end of the day, that's what we're doing," she says. "We're not a content studio so much as a cultural showcase for content in the pop art idiom for girls."

 

The screening is free, but RSVPs via EventBrite are requested.

 

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

 

Photos courtesy of Pop-Post.

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