SensiTile, an Ypsilanti Township-based company that combines art and technology to create products for use in architecture and interior design, is experiencing slow and steady growth, boosted by word of mouth.
Founder Abhinand Lath started the company in his basement while he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, working on his master's thesis about using materials that bend and manipulate light.
"He made some prototypes while he was at the university, and that was the start of it all," says his wife, Vanika Lath. "He spent hours creating these prototypes and being the only person responsible for product design and gaining customer interest. It was a one-man show."
The company now manufactures custom architectural and design products from resin, glass, and terrazzo materials that interact with either embedded LED lights or ambient light.
Vanika Lath was trained as a physician but came on board her husband's company to help. She doesn't yet have an official title in her work with SensiTile and says she works on whatever needs doing at the time.
A few years after its founding, the company moved out of the Lath family's basement and into a rented space in Detroit, where their first big commission was designing materials for car-maker Saturn to use in a booth at the North American International Auto Show.
By 2008, however, the company was feeling cramped in its Detroit location and moved to its current location at 1735 Holmes in Ypsi Township.
The building had been foreclosed upon and was in a "sorry state," Lath says, with trees growing out of the dock. In other ways, though, it was a great find.
"The location is ideally suited to SensiTile's needs because we have two very distinct processes," Lath says. One process needs a very clean space, while mixing terrazzo creates a lot of dust, she says. Having a spread-out manufacturing space means the clean processes and the dusty processes can be separated.
Lath says that, at first, they wondered how they could use all the space they'd acquired. But today SensiTile may need to expand its footprint again, as well as adding on a few employees with a special set of skills that include both conceptual design and hands-on craftsman skills.
Lath says the company does very little advertising and thrives on word of mouth. This low-key strategy has resulted in a portfolio of clients from the University of Michigan to Marriott and Calvin Klein. These clients use SensiTile products in flooring, privacy screens, countertops, and more.
"Our fear earlier was what [would happen] if we get all this work and are unable to fulfill the orders, but we have now scaled up our processes and created efficiencies," Lath says. "We are hoping that a strategic and consistent inflow of projects will help support our next steps."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of SensiTile.