PlanetM launches new million dollar startup grant

This feature is courtesy of Driven, the story of how the Detroit region is leading the world in next-generation mobility.

Mobility startups worldwide have even more incentive to test and deploy their technologies in Michigan with the announcement of a new grant program.

PlanetM launched a $1 million grant to help startup companies test and pilot technologies such as autonomous vehicle innovations or vehicle-to-infrastructure communication techniques. A portion of the money will fund testing activities in closed environments, including the University of Michigan’s Mcity and the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run. Grants also will go towards pilot projects on Michigan roadways.

One of the biggest barriers to startups looking to prove out their technologies is the cost to test, said Amanda Roraff, operations manager for PlanetM, an initiative of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. that brings together mobility organizations, governmental entities and educational institutions to foster the growth and development of the state’s mobility ecosystem.

Mcity’s normal fee costs more than $6,000 for one day of testing. PlanetM negotiated a special daily rate of $1,000 for startup grant recipients. The grant will cover up to 75 percent of testing costs with a 25 percent match by the recipient. Testing costs vary widely by startups and their particular needs.
Testing sites and original equipment manufacturers want to be exposed to the new technologies that startups provide, Roraff said.

“Everybody’s racing for innovation and new ideas and so working with startups is a key way to accelerate that,” she said.

Startups with technologies that have already been tested but need to work out the bugs in a public environment can apply for the pilot grant, which provides up to 75 percent of the cost to deploy their technologies on Michigan roadways in partnership with a municipality, department of transportation or large employer. For example, grant recipient Derq worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation to increase intersection safety in downtown Detroit with vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technology.

Applicants can come from anywhere in the world; there is no requirement to have any full-time employees in the state. The grant is meant to attract new innovations and introduce startups to the Michigan mobility ecosystem, Roraff said.

Detroit is becoming a hotspot for mobility startups who are looking to plug into the region’s automotive industry and multitude of research and development organizations and facilities. The state also boasts incubators, venture capitalists and other acceleration services that cater to mobility startups.

The grants are part of PlanetM’s larger initiative to promote technology activation in Michigan. It’s been involved in projects in Detroit and Grand Rapids to collect data, identify mobility needs and come up with pilot projects to address them.

While Silicon Valley has been known for focusing on software while Detroit focuses on the hardware side of mobility technology, the PlanetM grant offers a nice blend to bring technology activation to Michigan, Roraff said.

“I think it will continue to help Michigan be at the forefront of testing and deployment of these new mobility technologies,” she said.

Detroit nonprofit NextEnergy is serving as the project management partner and will help deploy the grant. Applications are accepted in three rounds with deadlines in October, February and June. For more information, visit

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