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PicoSpray gets a PicoSPARK

Nov. 14 Feature 2 Photo 1
Nov. 14 Feature 2 Photo 1 -
Growing up in Asia and returning to travel the region as a young adult, Lihang Nong noticed more than scenery. Thinking like a true engineer, Nong identified the need for improved fuel injection systems for small engines, such as those used in scooters – vehicles that are widely depended upon in Asia. Inspired by this cultural contrast, Nong set out to make strides in the small engine industry.
 
“More than 70 million small engines are sold each year and people in North America depend on them to take care of their homes and properties,” Nong said. “In other parts of the world, some people use small engines as their only mode of transportation and even livelihood. We want to make small engines cleaner and more fuel efficient for these people.”
 
Derived from an academic engineering challenge, Lihang and his team developed PicoSpray – a technology that enables small engines to produce less emissions and improve fuel economy. PicoSpray is a form of electronic fuel injection that more accurately delivers fuel to an engine, targeting small engines like those found in lawnmowers, tractors, motorcycles and scooters. Before PicoSpray technology, the small engine market had been largely underserved due to the high cost of traditional systems.
 
“I worked on a project called Supermileage in which we built a race car with a small engine to achieve the highest mileage possible,” Nong said. “Electronic fuel injection was a requisite to make this happen, but there were no existing systems that worked well for the simplicity of small engines.”
 
Nong sought a solution.
 
After completing his undergraduate education at University of Ottawa and receiving his master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, Nong and his team of fellow engineers needed a way to expand PicoSpray, as well as their professional network. Ann Arbor SPARK stepped in to fill the void.
 
“SPARK helped us with funding, networking and startup business knowledge,” Nong said. “When we left the university we were not quite ready for raising a large round yet, so the (Michigan) Microloan and Business Accelerator Fund helped us to bridge to our current $1.8 million round.”
 
The Boot Camp program offered by SPARK enabled Nong and his team to perfect their business model, connect with other Ann Arbor professionals, benefit from business advice from mentors and gain insight into targeting potential customers.
 
“As a new entrepreneur right out of school, my network was lacking. I was able to connect with some very helpful people by attending SPARK hosted events and especially the Boot Camp, which also helped us better engage our customers.”
 
Nong offers advice for future startups in the region.
 
“Make sure you are getting the most out of SPARK’s presence in Ann Arbor by learning about the different ways that they can help you and attending their events,” Nong said.
 
Nong and his PicoSpray team now have their sights set on the future of their product. They are looking to move from “prototype” to “production.”
 
“We have demonstrated the system we have can achieve our customers’ performance and reliability targets. We also have good confidence in achieving our projected production costs,” Nong said. “However, all the testing we have done so far is on prototype-level parts. Our primary focus moving forward will be to evolve to production-level parts and semi-automated assembly processes while maintaining our performance, reliability and cost targets.”
 
As the PicoSpray team prepares to take their ideas to the next level, Nong recognizes the large number of tech companies that have chosen to stay and grow in Ann Arbor. Within the progressive “tech” environment, PicoSpray has continued to flourish.
 
“Ann Arbor has a lot of talent and is a great place to live,” said Nong.
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