Regionalism :Innovation & Job News

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Renaissance Venture Capital Fund raises $50M

The venture capital fund of all funds in Michigan is now fully operational, and it has ties all over Metro Detroit.

The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund closed a $50 million investment vehicle earlier this week from a number of local business institutions. The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm, which also has an office in downtown Detroit, plans to invest that money in both local venture capital firms and out-of-state venture capital firms with the intent to invest in local companies.

"It's probably going to invest exclusively in other venture capital funds," says Chris Rizik, CEO of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and a Northville resident. "We feel we will have more leverage that way."

The fund of funds has already invested almost $6 million (for a total commitment of $20 million) in half-a-dozen venture capital firms. Those firms in turn have invested more than $23 million into 12 Michigan companies, creating about 200 new jobs. Those companies have leveraged that investment to receive over $146 million in further venture funding. Renaissance Venture Capital Fund expects its money will touch 100-150 companies, creating hundreds of new jobs rooted in the new economy. It has already disbursed its first profits to investors.

The fortunate six venture capital firms include Ann Arbor's Arboretum Ventures and RPM Ventures, along with Kalamazoo-based T-Gap Ventures. Out-of-state firms receiving an allocation include San Francisco-based 5AM Ventures, Houston's DFJ Mercury Ventures, Illinois-based MK Capital, and Florida's Arsenal Ventures. The last two are opening Michigan offices following Renaissance Venture Capital Fund's investment.

The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund was put together by the Business Leaders For Michigan and is funded by the likes of DTE Energy, AAA, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and Huntington Bank. Most other funds of funds are supported with public money. Michigan's private model makes it an industry leader and example of how Michigan is breaking new economic ground when it comes to reinventing its economy.

"That isn't happening anywhere else in the country," Rizik says.

He expects his 3-person firm, which is looking at adding interns next summer, to finish disbursing the money over the next year or two. Fundraising for the next investment vehicle, which might also make investments directly into companies, will begin in 2012.

Source: Chris Rizik, CEO of Renaissance Venture Capital Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

Macomb-OU INCubator, Automation Alley sign on for regional alliance

Automation Alley and Macomb-OU INCubator are making up the core of a new regional alliance for economic development - the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan.

The new collaboration brings together Metro Detroit's four major business accelerators - Automation Alley, Macomb-OU INCubator, Ann Arbor SPARK, and TechTown - so they can share resources and strategy. The idea is to work together in order to more effectively play the hands they're dealt and to grow local start-ups and small businesses.

"For southeast Michigan to be great, we need to embrace the notion that we need to grow our own," says David Egner, executive director of the New Economy Initiative, which is supporting the network with a $3 million grant over three years.

The business accelerators have already been quite successful on their own. They have invested $18 million in 339 start-up companies that have created more than 1,000 jobs and have helped secure more than $101.2 million in additional capital for local businesses.

"That's one year," Egner says. "That's not even our best year. I think more will be coming."

Enabling such collaboration is nothing new. Other major metropolitan regions have utilized regional partnerships to reinvent their economies and images. For instance, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance harnesses the economic strengths of the entire 10-county area in the southwest section of Pennsylvania to continually create new businesses and jobs. The Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan hopes to mimic that success.

"To me this is a perfect example of regional cooperation," says Ken Rogers, executive director of Automation Alley.

As one of the Top 10 technology organizations in the U.S., Automation Alley is the big dog in this group. It could stand alone, but its leadership looks forward to utilizing the resources of fellow organizations to save on time and money spent on developing its own. The Macomb-OU INCubator, which is just getting started, sees this as a big hand up in building its organization.

"By all means, it's about the businesses," says David Spencer, executive director of the Macomb OU INCubator. "It's about the people they hire."

Source: David Egner, executive Director of the New Economy Initiative; Ken Rogers, executive director of Automation Alley; and David Spencer, executive director of the Macomb OU INCubator
Writer: Jon Zemke

Metro Detroit stars in latest Pure Michigan ads

Look for Metro Detroit's urban areas to play a major role in this year's round of Pure Michigan advertisements playing across North America.

The state is spending $14.9 million to roll out a handful of new TV, radio and newspaper ads featuring the beauty of the Great Lakes State. Many of the prominent spots (narrated by Tim Allen) in Pure Michigan's first year spotlighted the state's stunning vistas and natural beauty. This year look for more of an even split exposurewise between those images and the uniqueness of Michigan's cities, especially Metro Detroit.

"The urban experience that Michigan offers is critically important to the overall perception of the state," says Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations for Travel Michigan. "We need to build up and change the perception that there is about Detroit."

The ads will begin playing in major markets in the U.S. and Canada in May and run through June. The idea is to hook people as they are making their summer vacation plans. Some of the ads are partnerships, such as one between the state and Ann Arbor that produced a radio spot highlighting the famous college town.

The case for highlighting Michigan's urban areas is also bolstered by the fact that Metro Detroit is the place most visited by tourists. It offers the normal culinary and music culture points, but pales in comparison to the major draw that is sports in southeast Michigan. A region with major teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Tigers, Piston, Lions and the University of Michigan athletic teams makes a good argument for letting the urban area define itself to visitors.

"We try to balance it out the best we can," Lorenz says. "We think it works."

Source: Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations for Travel Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

GREEN SPACE: Transit Action Conference lands in Detroit on Jan. 30, TRU hiring

This Saturday, January 30, transit advocates will spend an afternoon hunkering down and working towards moving ahead with regional transit goals in the coming year. Hosted by none other than Transportation Riders United (TRU), the 1 to 6 p.m. session includes training workshops as well as organizational business like TRU board elections.

Workshop options include improving the area's existing bus systems, SMART millage renewal, advancing rapid transit, outreach, and leadership development. The opportunities are geared towards both seasoned transit advocates and newer volunteers to the cause. "No matter their skill level, (attendees) will be able to get actively involved in promoting transit in our community," says TRU executive director Megan Owens.

The conference takes place at the new MSU Detroit Center, located at 3408 Woodward, south of Mack. Register here.

While on the subject of TRU, we'd be remiss not to mention that the organization is currently hiring a new assistant director. Job description and application instructions can be found here. The application deadline is Monday, Feb. 1, so get cracking!

Source: Megan Owens, TRU (Read her Metromode blog here.)
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

One D flips switch on new regional website

One D will try to flip the script on Metro Detroit's stereotype of regional cooperation (or lack thereof) when it flips the switch on its new website Saturday.

The idea is for the website to generate activity and new content from users on the five areas that One D focuses on: Regional mass transit, economic prosperity, education, race relations, and quality of life.

"It's really a virtual Campus Martius for people coming together around regional solutions," says Kat Owsley, director of One D.

The new website will accomplish this with web forums, guest speakers, and other avenues that will allow people to express their opinions and ideas on improving Metro Detroit. It will also benchmark the region's status, progress, and even regression on these issues and how they compare to other major metropolitan areas.

One D is a partnership of six regional civic organizations that came to life in 2006. Its focus is on regional revitalization.

Source: Kat Owsley, director of One D
Writer: Jon Zemke

GREEN SPACE: Program links local food to local schools

As more and more people embrace the locavore movement, it makes sense to introduce it to a young and impressionable audience -- especially when they are captive.

I'm not talking jailbirds here, but schoolkids.

Which is why the news that the Food System Economic Partnership in Southeast Michigan will receive $40,000 to support the expansion of its Farm to Schools lunch program from the Kellogg Foundation is so great.

Last year was the pilot program for Farm to Schools, and it worked with multiple schools in Chelsea and Ann Arbor as well as one in Dearborn. This year, they will spread more into Wayne County and out to Jackson.

"Farm to Schools is a win-win for students and farmers and the community," says FSEP's executive director, Jennifer Fike. "We are promoting farmers being able to keep farming in this region and allowing them another avenue to sell what they produce; for the students, eating food tends to taste better when it's fresher and it's healthier; and it's cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions."

The pilot year helped the organization work through the challenges -- like outsourced food service providers and working with distributors -- of getting fresh local food into schools, says Fike. She points out that seasonality can also be an issue, but that Michigan products like apple sauce, canned beans and whole grains can be worked into menus in the winter months.

Food to Schools also works on educating students by bringing in local farmers explain to then where their food is coming from. Hint: That banana was not grown in Michigan, Johnny.

Kellogg is funding Food to Schools via its People and Land (PAL) initiative -- part of its efforts to increase regional collaboration and promote Michigan prosperity in the emerging knowledge-based economy.

Source: Jennifer Fike, FSEP
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

GREEN SPACE: Building a sustainable transit network...sans dedicated transit

While the powers-that-be continue to draw lines in their little sand boxes regarding the future of transit in Southeast Michigan, some hopeful signs continue to rear their pretty heads around town.

Metromode heard from upstart The Night Move not too long ago, when the dedicated Woodward Corridor bus shuttle was the subject of a guest blog by Chris Ramos, its founder, and Jennifer Harlan, its marketing director.

If you read it, you already know that the service runs between Royal Oak and downtown Detroit with a stop in Ferndale -- with the intent of transporting young professional between the places they tend to live and seek entertainment.

The kicker is that the shuttle bus runs on biodiesel.

This already cool service has just amped it up a notch by connecting with Michigan
Green Cabs
and the Detroit People Mover to extend the system's -- and yes, this is a kind of transit system, folks -- reach.

Night Move riders can get free DPM tokens from their driver, which gets them onto the downtown loop just steps from the shuttle's drop-off point in Greektown.

On the other end, Night Movers can get discounted cab rides from Michigan Green Cabs -- which boasts the area's first all-hybrid fleet.

While far short of a viable transit system in Metro Detroit, this kind of thing is encouraging on many levels: environmentally, regionally, entrepreneurially...

Another system-extender worth mentioning is that the Detroit Department of Transportation just got a state grant that will allow it to phase in bike racks on all its buses over the next three years. And SMART will be upgrading theirs to enable them to hold three bikes as opposed to two.

Good stuff, all. Now how about that light rail?

Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Quicken Loans to relocate 4,000 employees to Downtown Detroit

 After years of teasing, Quicken Loans finally made the announcement that Detroit boosters have been waiting for: the company's headquarters will indeed relocate downtown, bringing along its 4,000 employees.

Now speculation will have to revolve around where the company will locate: the former Hudson's site on Woodward or the Statler/Tuller/United Artists site on Grand Circus Park.

Or both?

Of all the reasons to celebrate CEO Dan Gilbert's decision, one pops out: he is planning to try to fill both sites within the next twelve months -- the amount of time that he has been alloted per his development agreement. One will certainly be for Quicken and, as for the other, he aims to lure other "knowledge economy" firms or create a business incubator.

After the year is up, the city and state have given Quicken another 18 to 24 months to finalize construction plans. Which begs the question, "Why so much time?"

Well, pre-development is certainly a time-consuming process.

But Angelo Vitale, who serves as Quicken's vice president and corporate counsel, has another perspective on why that time might be in everyone's best interest. He is personally thrilled with the move, and describes it in terms like "motivational," "morale booster," "exciting," and "incredible."

But he acknowledges that not all Quicken employees are fully on the moving- from-Livonia-to-Detroit boat. "Other people are just going to come along," he says. He believes the time between announcement and move will be well-spent acclimating employees to their new place of work.

At the press conference announcing the move, Gilbert urged Southeast Michigan to look at the move as a win for the region rather than a loss for Livonia. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick agreed. "We are all in this together," he said. "It's the only way for this city and this area to reach its potential."

Source: Quicken Loans press conference, Angelo Vitale, Quicken Loans
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

U-M president urges universities to assist in state's transformation

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman spoke at last week's University Research Corridor conference about the need for local universities to fully engage in Michigan's struggle to transform its economy.


Coleman has been heralded locally for playing a key role in helping to attract Google and Aernnova Aerospace to the Ann Arbor region.

After arriving at U-M in 2002, Coleman said she realized "that the state of Michigan was undergoing a transformation. It took me maybe a couple of years to get my arms around what this all meant, but certainly since 2003, 2004, it's become ever more clear about what's going on," she said.

Read the entire article here.

University Research Corridor to stimulate economy, Pfizer wet lab space tops agenda

During a speech at their conference on Monday, the University Research Corridor presidents announced several new initiatives intended to help invigorate Michigan's knowledge-based economy.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, Wayne State University President Irvin D. Reid and Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon outlined their vision of stimulating technology transfer and business development and increasing partnerships.

As far as business development goes, incubators are on the menu. U-M and Ann Arbor SPARK have transformed Pfizer's former Traverwood facility into a wet lab incubator. "Currently, no space exists in the Ann Arbor region that offers life science and biotechnology companies both infrastructure and room to grow; the wet lab incubator meets a unique and pressing need for these startups," said SPARK CEO Michael A. Finney in a statement. "The wet lab incubator space is affordable and organized -- ideal for emerging companies and entrepreneurs. The flexibility offered by the space is highly attractive to a growing company."

U-M medical researchers will move into 22,400 square feet of the space and SPARK will sublease up to 12,000 square feet to startup companies; the organization is working with more than 14 and has already signed three leases. Confirmed tenants include:
  • OncoImmune Ltd., an Ohio-based company licensing patents from U-M and Ohio State University that plans to get started with three to four researchers; 
  • SensiGen, LLC, a U-M spin-off working to improve the ability to diagnose early stage kidney disease and cervical cancer; and
  • Genomatix Software, a new subsidiary of Munich, Germany-based Genomatix Software Gmch, occupies 900 square feet of the incubator but will move to another location outside the incubator later this year with expectations to have 40 employees within three years.
SPARK is starting up two additional office incubators, one in in Ann Arbor and another in Ypsilanti.

Another initiative is a partnership between U-M and WSU called STIET, a multi-disciplinary research program that will work with corporations to make the Internet faster, more secure and spam-free.

All three URC universities are dropping oars into the alternative energy pond. MSU established the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, WSU has the ever-busy NextEnergy and U-M, the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute.

U-M and MSU also plan to open Detroit offices for research and outreach. "The URC has begun the long process of tearing down walls that divide us and our researchers are using technology to literally put us all in the same room," said Reid in a statement.

The presidents Monday released the first annual report on the progress of the URC. A pdf version of the report is available at:

Source: U-M
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Automation Alley's X-OLOGY Magazine covers emerging tech in SE Michigan

X-OLOGY Magazine launched this past winter and just released its fourth issue. The quarterly publication of Automation Alley seeks "to promote new technologies that exist in Southeast Michigan, to promote the idea that there is more going on here than just automotive," says editor Jane Gleeson. "This area has been stuck in a rustbelt image, but we are well beyond that."

The current issue is themed "Green is Gold," and focuses on the greening of the automotive industry. Features include a profile of ArvinMeritor's chairman, president and CEO Chip McClure, profiles of several suppliers that are "greening"up their act like Cobasys, Electrojet and Borgwarner and an overview of alternative fuel technology under development by the Big Three.

The summer issue covered nanotechnology, the spring, alternative energy and the winter, life sciences. "Each issue features one spcific technology. Our coverage expands to Michigan -- you can't just focus on Southeast Michigan when you are focusing on an overall technology," says Gleeson. "But we focus on companies in Southeast Michigan."

The Winter 2008 issue will focus on engineering technology, a broad topic indeed, but Gleeson is focusing X-OLOGY's lens. "We're interviewing several engineering firms that are state-of-the-art in terms of product development," she says. "There are lots of companies adapting to what they see as a growing technology field."

Like engineering firms that are adapting to a new economy, Gleeson sees a few other common denominators between companies that have ridden out the economic downturn: willingness to partner, becoming saavy to the global nature of business and adaptability.

The publication has a circulation of 20,000 with an estimated 337,000 readers. It is mailed to businesses, universities and homes and is available for sale at Barnes and Noble.

X-OLOGY is published by Renaissance Media, which also publishes the Jewish News

Source: Jane Gleeson, X-OLOGY
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Detroit International Auto Salon launches Oct. 25, will connect global industry to local suppliers

Adapt or die could be the motto of the Detroit International Auto Salon (DIAS), slated to open on October 25.

Rather that stand still and watch overseas competitors get a leg-up, local automotive suppliers are banding together under the auspices of the DIAS. DIAS is a one-stop auto parts market for OEM and Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, which will help them lower their total procurement costs by efficiently sourcing from Asia's most elite suppliers.

The Allen Park facility will also be available to host meetings between suppliers and manufacturers, be open to the public for wholesale or retail purchases and host forums. The first such forum will be held after the ribbon cutting ceremony on October 25, and will be an opportunity for the exchange of information between academics, industry, engineers and businesses.

The moderator will be Larry Fobes, director of the Institute for Organizational and Industrial Competitiveness at Wayne State University. The expert panel includes Ron Hesse of, Michael Wiemann of the Salzburg Aluminum Group; Lung-Chou Huang of the Automotive Research and Testing Center; Zhang Jin, the Secretary-General of the Confederation of Chinese Metal Forming Industry and David C. Chang, the former chief scientist of General Motors Corporation.

The panel will be addressing worldwide automotive trends. By becoming a platform for these types of discussion, the DIAS seems poised to act as a salon in the true sense of the word.

The DAIS was created under the leadership of and Asia Forging Supply Company. The forum is supported by Wayne County Economic Development and Airport Authority, the Detroit Regional Economic Partnership and the Michigan Chinese Academic Professional Association.

Registration and a full agenda are available here.

Source: Automation Alley
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Transplants to SE Michigan find much to love

While natives grumble about the economy and the weather, new residents of Southeast Michigan are pleased with the quality of life they find here. The low cost of living and hgiher-than-average salaries help, too.


Chris Baum is an expert on the area's highlights. It's his job to sell Detroit.

Baum moved to Detroit from New York 18 months ago to become senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He is a self-proclaimed auto nut, and he came to Michigan because he wanted to help rebuild Detroit. He knows what appealed to him about Detroit may appeal to others.

"The reality is that people believe what they see and are told. During the Super Bowl, the city looked good on TV. Belle Isle's Grand Prix? Those who watched it saw the beautiful island in the City of Detroit. The riverfront is cleaned up. The MGM Grand is open. We've replaced negative news with positive and hopeful news."

Read the entire article here.

Group formed to grow sustainable and fair economy in SE Michigan

Motivated by Southeast Michigan's brain drain, Grace Augustine and Barb Aylesworth formed a local chapter of Net Impact, a sustainable business network that has over 10,000 members worldwide.

"The future of our economy lies in the hands of the next generation," says Augustine, who works for the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. "We are raising the talent, but somehow we are not convincing them that there are careers here with the value system that this next generation is looking for." She points to Google as an example of a company that understands this value system.

Though Net Impact was founded in the late 1990's, the organization only just recently expanded its purview from university business schools to the professional world at large. Its newest chapter, Southeast Michigan, hit the ground running in July.

While encouraging the development of socially and environmentally responsible business ventures is its primary goal, the organization also pushes to change larger companies and organizations from within. Augustine calls the individuals responsible for making such systematic change "intrapreneurs."

The chapter has already found a receptive audience in the purchasing and engineering departments at domestic auto manufacturers. "The automotive industry is not going anywhere," says Augustine. "And we want to nurture it and hold onto our automotive roots."

Net Impact recognizes, and wants to spread the word, that sustainability makes financial sense for companies big and small. "The key point is that sustainability -- the triple bottom line -- is not about making sacrifices in our communities," says Augustine. Citing the example of DTE Energy's investment in a wind farm on the west side of the state, she says, "This is about the creation of X number of jobs to meet consumer demand -- it's not just altruistic or philanthropic ventures anymore."

The group's first event featured an Ann Arbor fair trade start-up, 7 Loaves, and their second event, on October 24, will tour the green-built student center at Lawrence Technological University. The speaker will be LEED certification specialist Jim Newman.

For more information, visit Net Impact's Southeast Michigan site.

Read metromode's profile of Jim Newman here and a past article about LTU's student center here.

Source: Grace Augustine, Net Impact
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Creation of aerotropolis is a bi-partisan, regional effort

Who says we just can't all get along? United States Representatives John Dingell and Candice Miller sit on opposite sides of the aisle. But they are of like minds when it come to establishment of an aerotropolis.


The aerotropolis concept centers on major airports and features warehouses, offices, shopping, convention centers and housing. Experts who specialize in this field believe that Detroit is a prime candidate for such development. It's easy to see why, given our status as the Midwest's jumping off point for Southeast Asia and our standing as a global manufacturing center and international crossroads.

Officials from Wayne County and Detroit Renaissance have developed plans for an aerotropolis that could create up to 60,000 jobs and attract 40,000 residents. If successful, this would be a dramatic leap in making southeast Michigan an international economic powerhouse.

Read the entire editorial here and read 'mode feature about the initiative here.

47 Regionalism Articles | Page: | Show All