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Seelio continues to expand software platform across U.S.

Seelio is starting to grow beyond its humble beginnings in Ann Arbor. The software startup's digital portfolio platform for college students is appearing at more and more universities across the U.S.

Seelio is developing a software platform that allows college students to showcase their portfolio of work. The software enables the students to document how college projects came to fruition and use that to get a start in the professional world, such as for job interviews. Seelio’s software is actively being used at seven universities across the U.S., including the universities of Michigan, Toledo and Texas, among others.

"We have a very strong pipeline of universities," says Moses Lee, CEO of Seelio.

That growth has allowed Seelio to grow in a number of different ways. It raised a $1.5 million seed round last year. It also hired six people (mostly in sales and customer service), expanding its staff to 12 employees. It also moved to new space at Ann Arbor SPARK’s Central Business Incubator in downtown Ann Arbor.

Seelio is looking to continue to grow its product use in more universities across North America. It currently has string footholds in the Midwest, East Coast and South, but would like to partner with more institutions of higher learning in other regions of the country in 2014.

"It's all about growth," Lee says. "We want to provide stellar outcomes and services to university students."

This article by Jon Zemke originally appeared in Concentrate.

$148M manufacturing institute in Canton could transform future autos, aircraft

A $148-million manufacturing institute to be based in Canton may have a modest footprint locally — a 50,000-square-foot facility and 10 to 20 full-time workers — but it could lead to the production of new lightweight materials for autos and aircraft and attract the cutting-edge plants and jobs of the future.President Barack Obama formally presented on Tuesday a $70-million award to the American Lightweight Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute — ALMMII for short — making it one of the first of four hubs to be announced with a goal of reinventing and updating manufacturing nationwide.

Another $78 million in contracts and other investments will come over the next five years from industry, universities and others as the institute — run by a consortium that includes the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, metals technology firm EWI and dozens more — ramps up a facility intended to show manufacturers how to take the metals of the future from the lab to the shop floor.

“We believe there is going to be an incredible demand for these metals,” said Obama, who also awarded federal funds to a Chicago-based consortium that will concentrate on digital manufacturing and design technologies. “Ten years from now, 20 years from now, imagine our workers manufacturing things that used to be science fiction.”

That prospect explains why more than two dozen companies — from materials producers such as Alcoa to end users including Boeing, GE, Honda and others — are taking part in the Michigan-based consortium. Gov. Rick Snyder said the selection “serves as a testament to the great manufacturers, universities and workers who make our state the global leader of innovation.” Michigan State University, Michigan Tech and Wayne State University also are among the consortium members.

“The whole idea of this institute is to take work that’s been developed at lab scale and then — working with university, industry and government partners — get it ready so they can manufacture it afterward,” said Alan Taub, a U-M engineering professor who will be chief technology officer at the institute.

Obama made the announcement at the White House, with most of the Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation and its two senators, as well as Canton Supervisor Phil LaJoy and several consortium members, in attendance.

Though the site itself is expected to bustle with demonstration projects and worker training, it also is presumed that its mere presence — serving as a base of new manufacturing technologies and techniques — will attract new business to the region to take advantage of its expertise. Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano called it a “game-changing development” for the region.

Paul Krutko, CEO of the economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK, said the new manufacturing institute would succeed in generating jobs if it efficiently partners with the private sector.

Krutko said a successful model is U-M’s Technology Transfer Office, which licenses intellectual property invented by professors to start-up companies and established corporations.

“The job creation’s not going to come from creating an institute,” Krutko said. “It’s going to come from how well you turn those technologies into products and how those products are commercialized.”

Krutko said he expects private companies in the materials-engineering sector to target the Ann Arbor region and western Wayne County because of the new institute.

“Companies that already are in business around the world are going to want to get close to this facility,” he said. “In farmers’ language, this is feed corn. What it does is it’s going to attract all kinds of private-sector interest nearby.”

The drive to get lighter

Creation of the facility comes at a key moment, with automobile and aerospace manufacturers — as well as their customers everywhere from the Defense Department to the trucking industry — looking for ways to produce safe, efficient vehicles that, because they are lighter, cost less to operate.

“For a truck that is carrying goods loaded to the weight limit of the vehicle, every pound reduced in the truck weight corresponds to an extra pound of payload. ... For military applications, value is often being able to increase the mission-critical payload,” EWI officials told the Free Press. “In a commercial aircraft, every pound reduced saves $200. For a spacecraft, it saves $20,000.”

It’s especially crucial for automakers, who are rushing to meet fuel-economy standards put in place in recent years with targets coming online soon. By 2016, the nation’s fleet of cars and light-duty trucks needs to hit 35.5 m.p.g., with a fleet average of 54.5 m.p.g. by 2025.

Lighter materials provide one answer: Cut 100 pounds from the weight of a vehicle, and it provides an estimated 2% increase in fuel economy — about 7 cents per $3.60-a-gallon of fuel. If a vehicle is driven 200,000 miles, that could equal $16,000 in savings.

In 2011, the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research — which is part of the effort — put out a report detailing how fuel efficiency increases were “driving automakers to seek more aggressive methods for fuel consumption reductions,” including what it called the “lightweighting of vehicles.”

But as the report cautioned, introducing lightweight materials into full-scale manufacturing is no trivial matter of simply removing and replacing what is already on the assembly line. The auto culture is historically risk averse, and factors such as existing infrastructure, material cost and high volume capacity “become of great importance for mass production vehicles.”

That, presumably, is where the new institute will come in. As Taub explained, the institute — which isn’t releasing its Canton address just yet but will be in a structure already determined and being refurbished — will take concepts that work in the lab to create lighter-weight materials and determine, using state-of-the-art equipment on site, how to scale up production. It also will train a new generation of workers on these processes.

For instance, say a university lab has determined how accurately controlling temperature of microscopic titanium components can help reduce weight and lower cost, but it’s never been done on a large scale for a nervous manufacturer. The institute would sort out those kinds of problems — for steel, aluminum, titanium and more.

“This is not about basic research,” Taub said, explaining that most of the $78 million in commitments is for specific contracts to develop manufacturing methods and train workers. “This is not a program where we are exploring the material chemistry — this is about scaling up. Everybody wants lightweight for fuel economy.”

Job growth expected

What’s not as clear is how many jobs eventually could be created. With most of the metal stamping, metal working and metal making concentrated in just a handful of states — Pennsylvania and the Midwest being key — U-M projects that as many as 10,000 jobs could be created in the states the consortium is targeting: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The consortium also has partners in other states, including Pennsylvania, and Taub acknowledged that some of the job creation could come at the expense of more traditional materials jobs — though consortium members expect a net growth in jobs overall. There are about 400,000 primary metals jobs in the U.S., with out about half in the Midwest and about 22,000 in Michigan.

Putting the institute in Canton, however, means it “makes this region much more attractive as a place to set up (manufacturers’) factories,” Taub added. He expects the building in Canton to be filled with enough machines to do “pilot-scale metal working” in the next few months, with work in earnest to begin by the end of the year.

Obama called this and the other hubs a good first step, but he again called on Congress to fund a much larger, national effort to create similar innovation hubs — in numerous disciplines and areas — to keep the U.S. competitive.

“I’m really excited about these four hubs,” he said, noting others created in North Carolina and Ohio. “The only problem is, Germany has 60 of them.”

This article by Todd Spangler originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press.

AlertWatch Inc. receives FDA clearance to sell software to hospitals

AlertWatch Inc., a University of Michigan startup, has just received FDA clearance to sell its patient monitoring software to hospitals. This software helps anesthesiologists monitor patients in the operating room through the use of aggregate data from monitors, lab results, and medical histories. 

This software was originally developed at U-M’s Venture Accelerator, and the company has also received support from Ann Arbor SPARK through an investment from the Michigan Pre Seed Capital Fund. These funds helped AlertWatch hire developers and get through the FDA clearance process.

Learn more about this exciting news in this article from MLive: Ann Arbor.

VC Web Design rebrands, hires and moves to new home

It's been a busy year for VC Web Design. The Ypsilanti-based website development company has hired a handful of new employees and moved to a newer and bigger office. It is also gearing up to rebrand itself in the next month as Visual Compass Web Design.

VC Web Design got its start four years ago and was the first graduate of Ann Arbor SPARK's East Incubator. Its first projects consisted of building up the online presence for local companies and organizations. It has grown to a staff of 14 people after hiring four employees over the last year. Those new positions include graphic designers, sales/business development and marketing.

VC Web Design first real office was a retail space in downtown Ypsilanti shortly after it graduated from Ann Arbor SPARK East. Last summer it moved to a larger office (700 square feet to 1,000 square feet) in Depot Town a few doors down from Aubree's. The firm made the move to help accommodate its growth and chose a ground floor retail space to help further its business.

"The move was as much for the location as it was for the space," says Vince Chmielewski, president of VC Web Design, adding the increased foot traffic and visibility helps drive up business. "Having a presence helps us," he adds.

VC Web Design is growing thanks to its expanding portfolio of work developing websites, videos and web applications. It has been doing videos for Eastern Michigan University about the university’s research efforts. Much of VC Web Design’s web applications work is creating apps for businesses to use in-house, such as new websites and web applications for Knights Steakhouse in Ann Arbor.

"We're doing a lot more projects like that," Chmielewski says. "Part of it is the Agile process we use. People seem to like that."

This article by Jon Zemke originally appeared in Concentrate.

Ann Arbor looks to stake its place at the intersection of IT and the automotive industry

The future of the automotive industry lies at the intersection of traditional vehicles and the new technologies driving their development.

“People quite often may say information technology is totally separate from the automotive world.” Governor Rick Snyder said at a recent Michigan Automotive Summit Detroit.

“That’s not a true statement. Look at the information technology in an auto, and the highest type of work being done in IT quite often comes back to an auto. So they’re worlds that are tied together.”

The shift in focus to smarter vehicles has the potential to make Washtenaw County a major player in the development of what many are calling “iPads on wheels.”

Soon those iPads might be able to drive themselves. The University of Michigan announced in November that it plans to put a fleet of connected autonomous vehicles on the streets of Ann Arbor by 2021.

“Clearly Southeast Michigan is the automotive capital of North America and arguably the world,” senior executive administrator at the Toyota Technical Center Bruce Brownlee said.

“This is where the industry is. It just has a synergy of all the talent and activity that make it the most logical and desirable place to be. We could have gone anywhere but it makes a lot of sense to be in here in the Ann Arbor area.”

Detroit has long since staked its claim as Motown, but many in Washtenaw County believe that the region just west of the city has a head start on the new developments Snyder talked about.

“Pursuing the convergence between intelligent technology and transportation is an important place for us to be as a community,” Ann Arbor SPARK CEO and president Paul Krutko said. “We’re already seeing that here in terms of private investment and research efforts at the University of Michigan.”

Connecting cars is the future (until they drive themselves)
The former General Motors Willow Run powertrain plant might be the perfect symbol for the future of the automotive industry in Washtenaw County.

The plant, one of the largest buildings in the world, will be demolished and then purchased by Walbridge Development LLC, which plans to build a test track and research and development hub for connected vehicle technology.

Politicians have been playing their part in paving the road for automotive innovation. The Michigan Senate passed SB 169 on Nov. 14. If the house passes the bill, it would make Michigan the fourth state — along with Florida, California and Nevada — to allow self-driving vehicles on public roads and highways for testing purposes.

“Even if it means picking winners, we need to find one idea and gather behind it to move this industry forward,” Rakolta, who supported the measure, said. “There needs to be the technology and standards that will allow Toyotas to talk to Fiats and so on.”

With the new testing facility, and the involvement of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute with the Department of Transportation’s connected vehicle project, Ann Arbor has established a cluster of activity around the intersection of information technology and the automotive industry.

The newly established Mobility Transformation Center recently received approval from U-M's regents to begin building its own $6.5 million test track on former Pfizer property in the North Campus Research Complex.

U-M director of corporate relations Michael Drake said that developers of the university’s new interdisciplinary center are already working with partners in the automotive industry on what that “one idea” to gather behind could be.

“What the MTC is oriented toward is the future of transportation and what we are going to do to be a part of that future,” he said.

“It’s really looking at the idea that will come, barring something quite unforeseen, of automated and autonomous transportation. The center is looking at this future and the steps we need to go through explicitly over the next seven years to enable and test it.”

The cluster of activity around the university could lead to further investments and jobs from both public and private sectors.

“Transportation is going to change drastically over the next decade or two,” Krutko said.

“And frankly the technology is further along than the regulatory environment right now, and the ability of the government to do safety valuations. I think that we’re hoping that some of the initiatives we’ve been moving forward with position us well for a facility to do those things to be established here.”

Center for Automotive Research labor industry group director Kristen Dziczek said another federal testing center could have an affect on the region’s economy similar to the Environmental Protection Agency lab established in Ann Arbor in the early 1970s. The emissions testing lab on Plymouth Road led many foreign automakers to set up their research and development centers here, many of which have remained and grown.

“If the government does come out with a site for testing or certification of these new technologies, it would be really important for the region to win that sort of thing to bring in the associated research and development centers,” she said.

Brownlee said Toyota first came to the area by purchasing a small garage near the EPA Lab in 1972. That presence has grown to include technical centers in Ann Arbor and York Township that combine for just more than 1,000 full-time employees and a large number of contract engineers.

Despite Ann Arbor’s talent pool and experience with new automotive technologies, attracting a new government testing center is far from a sure thing.

“While we think we’re very smart, there are smart people around the country who see the same opportunity we do,” Krutko said.

He pointed to Clemson, S.C.; Blacksburg, Va.; and Silicon Valley as other places that have made significant investments in research on the future of the automotive industries.

“The fact is, this region has been the global center for automotive development,” Krutko said. “The question is for the next big thing, will we be able to keep the jobs and the major investments here?”

From the assembly line to the technical center
According to data from economic forecasts compiled by University of Michigan economists George Fulton and Don Grimes, Washtenaw County went from 7,819 transportation equipment manufacturing jobs in 2007 to just 4,656 in 2012. Fabricated metal products manufacturing — which includes some automotive suppliers — also fell by 200 jobs.

During the same time period, private sector engineering jobs held steady and jobs in testing laboratories and specialized design both showed slight increases.

“When you look at your car and the technology that’s involved there it really speaks volumes about the requirements of the workforce that it takes to actually build a car now,” said Pamela Hurt, manager of workforce development at SME — formerly the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

“With the changing technologies it is absolutely requiring that people interested in working in the automotive industry be highly skilled.”

SME looks at the manufacturing process as a spectrum that begins with design and ends with the delivery of the product. The Ann Arbor area has always been a player in the earlier stages of the timeline and could become even more so in the coming months and years.

Toyota recently announced a $28 million expansion to its center in York Township to increase powertrain engineering capabilities.

Brownlee said the center's location is crucial to being able to work with engineers at automotive suppliers in the region. He said that collaboration between the bigger car companies and the local suppliers is key to increasing innovation and new ideas in the industry.

Hyundai and Honda also announced expansions to their local research operations in the past year and a half, and automotive computing and design companies like NVIDIA — which is looking to collaborate with the major manufacturers — have been searching for office space in the area.

The new engineering and design jobs that have come to the region pay better than the jobs that left. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor data, the average mechanical engineer in Ann Arbor makes $81,300 per year, while the average “team assembler” makes $24,790 and “machinists” make an average of $52,310 per year. Despite their higher salaries, the engineering and design jobs are not being created at a pace to replace the jobs lost at the assembly line.

“Our growth is very step by step. We don’t just hire people all at once and train them all at once,” Brownlee said. "We hire in increments of 50 to 100 and then we develop those engineers and nurture them so they can become the next team that hires and trains the next set.”

The slow-but-steady pace of hiring is a trend for most foreign car companies that have set up shop in Washtenaw County. Toyota has 13 job openings listed between its Ann Arbor Township and York Township locations, Hyundai has nine posted jobs for its technical center in Superior Township and Honda has announced as part of its expansion in the area that it will grow from six employees to 10.

“Hiring is steady for us right now,” Miles Johnson, a Hyundai spokesman, said. “We currently have about 190 people at our locations here in Michigan and we’re continuing to add to that.”

Ten years after it first opened in Superior Township, the Korean auto company is approximately on track to meet its initial goal of 400 jobs at the location by 2024. The company announced the potential creation of 600 additional jobs when it received a 20-year tax credit in 2005.

One semi-bright spot for the county in the manufacturing sector was the sale of the former ACH plant in Saline to French automotive supplier Faurecia. Employment is down at the plant from 2,300 to about 1,600, but the company says it plans to explore using the facility to make new carbon fiber parts for all “Big Three” Detroit automakers.

In the end, the success of the Ann Arbor region in remaining a critical cog in the North American automotive industry will likely be judged not by how many parts are made, but how smart those parts are.

This article by Ben Freed originally appeared on MLive.

Ann Arbor startups take home almost $200K in prize money at Accelerate Michigan competition

Ann Arbor area startup companies impressed the judges at the Accelerate Michigan competition, winning five awards totaling $185,000 in prize money.

The multi-round competition, led by the Business Accelerator Network for Southeast Michigan, culminated Nov. 15 with the awarding of $1 million to early-stage companies across the state.

Ann Arbor-based Covaron Advanced Materials was the top finisher from the region, coming in second-place and earning $100,000 in prize money. Covaron received $25,000 last year’s competition, winning the student business category under the name Kymeira Advanced Materials.

Covaron, the brainchild of Community High School and Oberlin College graduate Vince Alessi, is working on the development of a new ceramic material. The new substance is thermally stable at more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and has the potential to be a disruptive force in the metal tooling sector.

“There’s currently no material that can handle the heat of liquid steel, except maybe tungsten,” Alessi told The Ann Arbor News after his victory in 2012.

“Steel is usually used to make the molds, but you can’t cast steel into steel. You just get a big block of steel. Now we’ll be able to make better parts that are cheaper, lighter, and stronger.”

Inmatech, a company founded in 2010 with technology licensed from the University of Michigan through the Office of Tech Transfer, won $25,000 for the DTE Alternative Energy Prize. The company is creating an energy system that would utilize super capacitors to make batteries smaller.

“The batteries we use today for cellphones, computers, and especially electronic vehicles are oversized,” chief technical officer Saemin Choi said.

“One way to solve this is to use a super capacitor which is very good at managing the power source. Adding our technology could reduce the size of the energy storage device by 40 percent and drop the cost by 50 percent.”
 
Choi said the company will use the $25,000 it won to produce prototypes for use in a range of electric bikes, scooters and lightweight electronic vehicles. Levi Thompson, Inmatech’s chairman, is no stranger to energy startups. The U-M professor also founded T/J Technologies, a battery startup that was acquired by A123 systems in 2006.

The event’s Information Technology Prize winner, PlanReaction, is a one-man operation that will double in size with the addition of $25,000 in prize money. Michael Kaye, who was chief engineer at HandyLab before Becton Dickenson acquired the company, has been bootstrapping his new venture for nearly two and a half years.

The software Kaye is working on is designed to make floorplan designs to meet bid specifications quickly and easily.

“Right now to design a building or a house it can take a team of five to 10 people hundreds of man-hours, especially putting together a bid for a commercial building. It can take weeks and cost tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.
“I can take all of the specifications and throw it into my engine and in a few minutes get about 20 layouts that meet the demands.”

Kaye said he company is still pre-revenue, but he hopes to enter a pilot phase soon with the help of a developer that he will hire using the money he won at Accelerate Michigan.

The competition put some engineers and technical officers who weren't used to speaking to venture capitalists in a difficult spot. Both Kaye and Choi said that they were nervous before the presentations.

“It was only my second time doing a business pitch, and when I was on stage, right before I spoke, I saw the seven judges sitting right in front and I thought, ‘do I want to be one of those venture capitalists?’ And then I answered myself, ‘no, this is where I want to be,” Choi said.

“I don’t want to have money and not know where to spend it, I want to have a great idea and have people wanting to support me.”

Kaye said he was trembling before he went on stage but that he trusted the training he received at his office in the SPARK Central incubator, both from Ann Arbor SPARK staff and fellow tenants.

“I was like a terrified kitten,” he said. “I don’t like public speaking, but I forced myself to do it.”

Sam Harrell won $20,000 by himself at the Code Michigan hackathon in October by designing an app that allows users to navigate through Michigan state parks with their phone’s GPS systems. When he’s not desigining his own apps, Harrell is the VP of product development for PinDrop Inc., which won the Product and Services Prize.

PinDrop is developing products to increasingly integrate mobile devices with the retail shopping experience. Harrell told The Ann Arbor News in October that the team is currently split between Boulder and Ann Arbor.

“But if we win the prize at Accelerate Michigan and take the money, then the company has to be in Michigan,” he said.
With $25,000 in the balance, it would appear that the company will be headquartered in Michigan for the foreseeable future.

The final Ann Arbor area winner, TurtleCell, was awarded $10,000 for the competition’s People’s Choice Award. The company is developing a cellphone case that holds a pair of headphones that can retract into the case to prevent tangling.

“As a consumer products company, the whole business is based on whether people like us or not,” co-founder Nick Turnbull said. “So for us to have a likable enough product that people voted for us really hit home that we’re doing something right.”

It had been a rough 2013 for the company, with a Kickstarter campaign launched in July falling short of its $50,000 goal, but Turnbull said that the failure was a blessing in disguise.

“Once we didn’t get it we realized that we weren’t ready to deliver a top quality product, and sending out something that wasn’t that could have really hurt us in the long run,” he said.

“So we went back and did some redesigns, made it much cleaner and the overall functionality is much better.”

TurtleCell is attempting to raise approximately $100,000 from angel investors to start production of beta units in 2014 when the company plans to re-launch the Kickstarter with an improved product.

“Just being in Accelerate Michigan even before we won the money gave us great exposure and allowed us to create the new relationships that will hopefully help us get more funding,” Turnbull said.

“Obviously $10,000 won’t get us through the next eight months, but it will snowball. You have to start somewhere.”
 
This article by Ben Freed originally appeared on MLive.

New tech electrifies the auto industry

It wasn’t that long ago when most of the automotive industry in North America had to intently focus on boosting production efficiencies, reducing costs, squeezing suppliers and modifying product lines in order to survive a downturn in demand, along with supply chain disruptions across the globe. Costs are still a key factor, but with the sector having regained its footing, the pace of change in auto technology is accelerating, especially in response to higher safety standards and changes in consumer taste and expectations.

For instance, the integration of electronics, software and controls into vehicles is expected to keep increasing at a rapid rate. According to industry watchers, electronics account for about 25 percent of a vehicle’s value today. In the next five to 10 years, that figure will climb to 40 percent or more as adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, self-steering and other autonomous systems continue to trickle down from research prototypes and high-end models into the mainstream.

The simultaneous upswing in sales and technological innovation is creating a whole host of opportunities for manufacturers, suppliers, researchers and the communities where they are based. Hybrid and electric vehicles in particular are poised to take off as next-generation technology becomes reality.

Short-Term Successes, Long-Term Challenges
Coming off a record-breaking year, passenger-car production rose from 62.6 million in 2011 to 66.7 million in 2012, and it may reach 68.3 million in 2013, according to London-based IHS Automotive. In the United States, consumers bought nearly 663,000 vehicles from Detroit manufacturers in August, putting the sector on pace to top 15.5 million unit sales for 2013.

“These trends may be good news for the automobile industry, which now sells a third more vehicles than just three years ago. But the same trends magnify environmental challenges,” notes Michael Renner, senior researcher, Worldwatch Institute, in a recent industry report. “Automobiles are major contributors to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The move toward a low-carbon future — embodied in more aggressive government fuel economy standards and more stringent greenhouse gas emissions rules — is a major driver in the “greening” of automotive transportation.

Electrification and EVs Lead the Way
Among the most noteworthy changes occurring in the powertrain and fuels portion of the industry is the re-emergence of the electric vehicle. EV technologies becoming more prominent range from existing gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) to battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

Plug-in vehicles represent less than one percent of total U.S. vehicle sales, but in the last three years their numbers have grown rapidly. Sales nearly tripled in 2012 and are on track to nearly double this year, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

One of the most active hotspots in next-generation automotive research is centered around the McMaster Institute for Automotive Research and Technology (MacAUTO) in Ontario, Canada. In April 2013, MacAUTO oversaw the launch of the $26 million, McMaster Automotive Resource Centre (MARC), an 80,000-square-foot research facility which is already filing discovery disclosures for innovations from electric motors to hybrid electric powertrains.

“McMaster is among the very few universities in the world where we can actually design and build an electric or hybrid car from the ground-up on campus,” says Dr. Ali Emadi, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Hybrid Powertrain and director of MacAUTO.

For automakers focused on other next-generation engineering challenges, access to MacAUTO and MARC presents a major competitive advantage. Emadi’s research also encompasses the development of advanced electric drive vehicles, power electronics and motor drives, vehicle-to-grid interface of plug-in vehicles with Smart Grid, hybrid battery/super-capacitor energy storage systems, and adaptive vehicle control and power management systems.

Emadi’s group has established an aggressive set of targets that, if successful, will see the cost of critical electric power train components drop by 50 percent or more in the next three to five years.

In nearby Michigan, multiple stakeholders are working to make the southeast part of the state a leader in the growing field of research on connected and autonomous vehicles.

“The Ann Arbor region is known as a destination for automotive research and development, and it’s a natural expansion of the industry here,” says Paul Krutko, president and CEO, Ann Arbor SPARK. “The need for safe, connected vehicle technology will lead to a highly collaborative environment between OEM’s and technology suppliers alike.”

The organization is a major supporter of the tentatively-named Connected Vehicle Test Center, which would feature a shared R&D center and test track for connected vehicles, jointly serving automakers, suppliers and related technology companies. Once built, the facility’s initial work is expected to target vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies, focused on passenger safety.

The talent — from skilled trades to engineers — in the region, combined with proximity to research through the University of Michigan, Krutko suggests, make Ann Arbor the only location in the world where this connected vehicle research could happen.

In Georgia, General Motors has already employed over 400 IT professionals to staff a new $26 million Information Technology Innovation Center it launched earlier this year just outside Atlanta. The automaker — which is bringing back much of its research and IT work in-house — expects to hire even more software developers, project managers, database experts, business analysts and other IT professionals for the center, the third of four such facilities in the United States.

In addition to state and city incentives, the local workforce and sense of community were also reasons GM chose Roswell, says Steve Stroud, executive director, Roswell (Ga.) Inc. The proximity to higher education — including Georgia Tech, University of Georgia and Southern Poly Tech — were also important assets that attracted the company, Stroud notes.

“Locating this center near Atlanta makes good business sense,” noted Randy Mott, CIO, General Motors, in a public statement. “We can draw from a deep pool of high-tech expertise through the surrounding colleges, universities and talent residing in the area.”

Elsewhere in the Southeast’s flourishing “Auto Alley,” auto industry executives, engineers and researchers are banding together in new ways to identify, commercialize and fund promising new technologies applicable to the automotive industry.

As the share of auto R&D by suppliers and entrepreneurs increases, one of the leading examples of this new model of innovation is autoXLR8R, an industry-focused start-up accelerator program developed by the Southern Middle Tennessee Entrepreneur Center.

“Due to the speed with which new technologies are being developed and implemented, innovation will still occur at the OEM level, but we will continue to see an increase at the supplier level as well,” says Dan Marcum, executive director, autoXLR8R. “As production is decentralized to the market where cars are sold, it’s not as efficient to wait on technology created in far-off corporate headquarters to make its way to the plant.

“One way to foster an increase in automotive innovation is to help connect entrepreneurs that have good ideas with sources of capital along with the vast array of research and industry resources that call the South home,” Marcum continues. Companies in the program were given $20,000 and participated in an intense 13-week boot camp supported by an impressive line-up of mentors to work on their technologies and business models.

“We are extremely proud of the accomplishments made these past few months,” Marcum says. “I feel confident that this cohort has many opportunities ahead and many of the founders will make a profound impact on the auto industry.”

Investing in the Next Generation
After recovering from financial constraints, market disruption and regulatory uncertainty, automakers and suppliers are not only rebounding, they’re also investing in advanced technologies like never before. The widespread push to develop the next generation of lightweight, energy-efficient vehicles is not only creating greener processes, it’s also opening up research and economic opportunities that communities can tap into, especially if they commit to a long-term approach.

“Supporting jobs in the city and surrounding areas continue to grow as the employment at GM’s center grows,” Stroud notes. “Roswell has already seen an increase in the local service sector, including restaurants, retail and health care. Because of the GM announcement, we have seen IT companies announce over 600 jobs in Roswell alone and anticipate growing our IT hub over the next five years.”

“We identified automotive technology as a key area of potential and the test center as a project that can attract and retain talent in southeast Michigan,” Krutko says. “Working initially with Walbridge, RACER Trust and Ypsilanti Township, and longer term with other private- and public-sector partners, Ann Arbor SPARK is creating a new economic opportunity for the region that has the potential to generate significant investment and jobs.”

“We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift in energy and transportation, one that will be as profound as the one we’ve already seen in information technology,” Emadi says. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but the shift to greater automotive electrification and more EVs is inevitable because it’s the most attractive solution in terms of energy efficiency, performance, cost and sustainability. It’s a really exciting time to be in the auto industry.”

This article by Mark Kleszczewski originally appeared on GCXMag.com.

Rich Sheridan's new book Joy, Inc. is pure Ann Arbor from concept to production

The stamping, printing, binding, gluing and folding made it extremely loud inside the Edwards Brothers Malloy facility on Jackson Road Wednesday morning.

Menlo Innovations president and CEO Rich Sheridan walked anxiously, following the printing company’s CEO toward the back of the factory.

“Do you want the tour?” John Edwards asked. Edwards, CEO and president of Edwards Brothers Malloy, represents the fourth generation of the Edwards family to run the printing business.

Sheridan had other ideas.

“Let’s just see the book first.”

Edwards and Sheridan, a powerful tandem in Ann Arbor’s business community, made small talk as they passed whirring presses used to print hardcover jacket sleeves and approached an area where a large stack of books with yellow-and-white covers awaited them.

It’s fitting that the title of Sheridan’s first book is Joy, Inc., because his face when he picked up the freshly bound product was filled with pure joy.

“The most succinct way to put it is that it feels awesome,” he said.

“It’s been about 18 months from when I was sitting looking at a blank screen on my laptop to holding the book in my hand. It’s been one of my most interesting life journeys.”

Edwards walked Sheridan, the Ann Arbor News 2012 Executive of the Year, through the binding process run by a few employees and a number of automated machines imported from Switzerland and Germany. He estimated that printing the hardcover cost about two dollars per book, 40 percent of which went directly to buying the paper.

“It’s rare for authors to actually come in when their books are being printed or bound. But it’s like watching their baby being born,” Edwards said.

“They’ve put so much work into it, and it’s really cool to be connected with the content creator, we tend to be very removed."

The binding machines work at approximately 60 books per minute, and will take approximately four hours to bind the 9,000 copies of Joy, Inc. that publisher Penguin Random House ordered.

“We reached out to Penguin to make a deal to print this book,” Edwards said. “So I’ve been on pushing Rich to get it done so we could put it on paper.”

The 25,000-square-foot Jackson Road factory prints approximately 74 million books a year, but Edwards said that every single one of those is necessary for the company to stay profitable. Edwards Brothers Malloy recently announced the closing of its South State Street building, consolidating activity to Scio Township location and another printing facility in North Carolina.

“We have our presses and binders running 24 hours a day, six days a week. Sometimes seven,” he said. “If they’re sitting still, we’re not making money, so a lot of what we focus on is making sure we’re as efficient as possible.”

That efficiency extends to the disposal of the waste products of the book-making process, which includes a staggering amount of paper, as well as the aluminum sheeting used as plates for printing.

“We’re a 99.5 percent recycling facility,” Bill Upton, Edwards Brothers Malloy vice president of operations, said.
“And we’re working on the last half-percent. Right now it gets sent to a facility in Detroit where it’s incinerated and used to help create energy.”

Once he got a chance to hold a copy of his book, and sign a few for friends, Sheridan got a chance to take in the process that brought his book to life.

“It’s really amazing. Guttenberg definitely got something right,” he said. “Five hundred years later a software man’s book is still being printed and bound up. There’s something very cool about that.”

Joy, Inc. follows Sheridan’s personal journey “from fear to joy,” and uses Menlo Innovations as a template for how to build a workplace that is both fun and functional.

Chapters in the book are broken up into sub-sections, usually only one or two-pages long that cover topics ranging from “Avoid the deadly paralysis of sunk-cost thinking” to “Experiment: planning origami.”

Among other things, the book advocates open workplaces, flat (or barely-existant) hierarchical structures and well-defined objectives to make companies function more smoothly and make employees happier.

“Easy change is neither lasting nor meaningful,” Sheridan writes in his conclusion. “If you choose joy, know that you are at the first steps of an arduous journey… Changing human behavior is one of the most difficult efforts you will ever undertake and, quite possibly, the most rewarding.”

Joy, Inc. is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. The book will be available to the public Dec. 26.

This article by Ben Freed originally appeared on MLive.com.

Barracuda Networks Posts Successful IPO, Continues to Thrive in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor SPARK would like to congratulate Barracuda Networks on posting a successful IPO yesterday. Barracuda’s public debut brought in an impressive $75 million, and by the time the closing bell rang, shares were at $21.50.The cloud-based security and storage company recently reaffirmed its commitment to the Ann Arbor region, expanding into the former Borders building in downtown Ann Arbor and creating 184 high tech jobs in the region. Ann Arbor SPARK continues to work with Barracuda throughout its aggressive growth.

“It’s always exciting when a local business has a successful IPO. Congratulations to Barracuda on being the most recent example of this type of success,” said Paul Krutko, Ann Arbor SPARK president and CEO.  “Barracuda Networks brought new life to a visibly vacant downtown building, and is contributing to the vibrant, growing technology corridor in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor SPARK’s work with Barracuda Networks shows how proactive economic development can yield positive, measurable outcomes for our region.”

Read more about Barracuda’s expansion at this link.

Navitas Systems Invests $9.3 Million To Expand Its Pittsfield Charter Township, Michigan, Facility

Navitas Systems, a provider of energy-enabled system solutions, energy storage products, and power electronics for commercial, industrial and government agency customers, will invest $9.3 million to expand its operations and relocating to a new facility in Pittsfield Charter Township, Michigan, creating 125 storage battery manufacturing jobs.

Navitas Systems has been awarded a $1 million Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant. In addition, Pittsfield Township has additionally offered support to the project in the form of a property tax abatement.

“As someone who was born and educated in this state, I’m delighted to commit ourselves to grow our Navitas Advanced Solutions Group here in Michigan, expanding our facilities and R&D equipment and growing the team of Navitas associates,” said Navitas Systems CEO Nancie ElShafei.

“My team here is excited to be moving into a newer, more expansive facility to carry out our important research and development activities for government and commercial energy storage and power electronics customers,” said Les Alexander, Navitas Advanced Solutions Group (ASG) General Manager. The new Navitas ASG building is located at 4880 Venture Drive in Pittsfield Township. “We’ll soon be in a state-of-the-art building to house the finest in R&D equipment utilized by our world-class scientific and engineering teams—all of the major pieces will shortly be in place”, Alexander concluded.

“Navitas Systems’ new advanced battery facility in Pittsfield Township will help diversify Michigan’s economy and provide good, high paying jobs for years to come,” said Michigan Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Michael A. Finney. “The company’s decision to invest in Michigan is a strong statement about the great opportunities that, thanks to our business climate improvements, Michigan now offers to growing companies.”

"Navitas is a key player in Ann Arbor's alternative energy sector and Ann Arbor SPARK has been a strong advocate for the company at both the regional and state level, providing support for the incentives that it needs to continue to grow here," said Ann Arbor SPARK President and CEO Paul Krutko. "It's exciting that Navitas will invest in the Ann Arbor region, hire more researchers and engineers here, and continue to be part of the region's solid economic foundation."

Consistent contender ForeSee wins Spark's FastTrack award

For seven years, ForeSee Results has grown its revenue by more than 20 percent per year. This year, the customer-experience analytics company saw better than 25 percent growth.

That's made the company the big winner in Ann Arbor Spark's annual FastTrack awards.

For the past seven years, the nonprofit economic development organization has awarded Washtenaw County-based companies posting at least 20 percent annual growth. In all seven years, ForeSee has been on the leader board.

If Spark had started measuring before that, ForeSee would have shown strong growth almost from its founding in 2001, said Larry Freed, president and CEO.

"We've really had solid growth every year we've been in business," Freed said. "We could have done this in our third year."

In 2013, ForeSee Results is projected to have revenue of $52 million, according to Crain's estimates, up from about $25 million in 2009.

Joining ForeSee Results are 10 other firms that had at least $100,000 in revenue and posted 20 percent growth annually over the past three years. Making the list are Arbormoon Software, Caelynx LLC, CEI Composite Materials, DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen, Estrakon Inc., LLamasoft Inc., McCreadie Group Inc., MedHub Inc., Online Tech and Oxford Cos.

"Washtenaw County is about 330,000 people, so to have businesses that are having 20 percent growth rates, especially for seven straight years like ForeSee, is pretty remarkable," said Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor Spark.

Currently, ForeSee plans to hire another 20 employees, bringing its staff roster to 350 across offices in Ann Arbor, New York City, London, Sao Paulo, Atlanta, Vancouver and Los Angeles.

"I have always been a big believer that the most important thing for a company is talent," Freed said. "It's also one of the big challenges. There are lots of challenges, funding and all that, but I've always been a believer that if you have a great idea and can build a team, you can find the money."

That meshes with Ann Arbor Spark's mission to build up the region around Ann Arbor as a great place filled with great talent. The public-private partnership between local government, universities and businesses is tasked with bringing new firms to town and supporting those that already exist.

"As early as July we were ahead of where we were for the entire 2012 in terms of companies who are making new capital investments, either expanding or coming here for the first time," Krutko said. "We've seen a pickup in economic activity."

This article by Amy Haimerl in Crain's Detroit Business.

Lavin Lift Strap expands staff in downtown Ypsilanti

The Lavin Lift Strap is a classic example of an invention born out of necessity that evolved into a growing small business based in downtown Ypsilanti.

Donna Gilkey-Lavin explains the company got its start when her father-in-law reached the end of his life. The family didn't want to put him into a nursing home and instead decided to take care of him at home. That meant overcoming some big challenges.

"This was developed out of need," Gilkey-Lavin says. "His father was a very large man with Alzheimer’s who had become incontinent."

It took three to four people to lift and clean him after a visit to the bathroom. The first version of the Lavin Lift Strap made it easy for a single person to perform the job. The technology acts as a mini crane that helps raise the patient's legs or entire lower half off the bed. The family turned the invention into a product and began selling it to people and companies specializing in elder care. Sales mostly came through word-of-mouth and the firm’s website.

Lavin Lift Strap
reached out to Ann Arbor SPARK a little more than a year ago. The small business accelerator helped the company improve its marketing strategy, overhaul its website to better facilitate sales, apply for patents and gave it an office in the SPARK East incubator in downtown Ypsilanti. SPARK East also helped it develop more iterations of the lift strap, including a disposable version. Check out videos of the different products here.

"The product has really morphed in the last year and a half," Gilkey-Lavin says.

That helped the company expand its customer base and spike its sales over the last year. It is on target for a 65 percent jump in revenues in 2013, and it has hired 10 people over the last 18 months. It now sells the Lavin Lift Strap to hospice centers, home healthcare centers and other sorts of medical facilities. The firm is looking to begin delivering its products to larger healthcare institutions next year.

Ann Arbor SPARK helped make that possible by showing the company how to mass market its product and establish a dealer network. The product has gained so much notice that Amazon.com came knocking, asking if it could sell the product through its website.

"They (Ann Arbor SPARK) were instrumental in giving a small company like us the resources we need," Gilkey-Lavin says.

Source: Donna Gilkey-Lavin, vice president of sales & marketing for Lavin Lift Strap
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ex-HandyLab exec launches own startup, PlanReaction

When BD acquired HandyLab in 2009, Michael Kaye was in the thick of it, serving as the Ann Arbor-based startup’s chief engineer. So much so that a number of HandyLab executives advised him to start his own firm.

The Ann Arbor resident liked the idea but was much more familiar with engineering that running a business. So Kaye bumped around Ann Arbor SPARK's Central Incubator in downtown Ann Arbor for a few years after the HandyLab acquisition figuring out what the best startup would be for him. The result is PlanReaction, a software platform that automatically generates building floor plans and furniture layouts.

"I used to say I have no business being in a business because I have no business background," Kaye says. "I jokingly refer to my business as a multi-hundred-dollar company."

Those characterization no longer apply. PlanReaction made the semifinals of this year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and then won the business-plan competition's IT award and the $25,000 in seed capital that came with it. Kaye credits the competition with giving him the basic tools to pitch his startup, such as a pitch deck and a tighter business plan.

PlanReaction is developing software that help completes the initial design phase of building out commercial real estate spaces. Think generating floor plans and designs for office spaces. PlanReaction streamlines the process of bringing those plans to reality. Kaye has finished the initial development of the software and is looking for a software developer to put the finishing touches on the program.

"I am looking to expand right away," Kaye says. "I am looking to bring on a developer so we can produce a minimum-viable product so we can get to the pilot stage."

Source: Michael Kaye, founder & CEO of PlanReaction
Writer: Jon Zemke

Covaron Advanced Materials lands $300K in seed capital

The winner of the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is now a venture-backed start-up, landing six figures in seed capital.

Covaron Advanced Materials (formerly Kymeira) scored $300,000 in a seed capital round, which was led by the Mercury Fund. The First Step Fund, Huron River Ventures and Two Seven Ventures are also participating in the round. The Ann Arbor-based firm is developing a new chemistry for ceramics, which brings the benefits of existing advanced ceramics to new parts and markets.

"It's going to help further the development of the technology and the intellectual property," says Dave Hatfield, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials. "It will also generate the initial sales in the mold and pattern market."

The 1-year-old business employs four people and a few independent contractors. The team consists of founder Vince Alessi, co-founders Cam Smith and Reed Shick, along with Hatfield. That team took home first place in the student division of last fall's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, a prize worth $25,000.

That prize usually goes to raw start-ups but Hatfield believes Covaron Advanced Materials' technology is far enough along that it can begin making sales in the molds and patterns market (think durable goods like those used by the automotive sector) this year. An expansion into the oil and gas industry and a Series A round of funding could also be in line next year.

"We're hoping to commercialize this as soon as possible," Hatfield says.

Source: Dave Hatfield, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials
Writer: Jon Zemke

Interleaved Magnetic lands microloan for loudspeaker development

Interleaved Magnetic Products isn’t a start-up building a better mousetrap, but a much more efficient loudspeaker.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company that calls Ann Arbor SPARK’s incubator home is developing technology that should make loudspeakers more energy efficient by a magnitude of 10.

“The goal is to make the loudspeaker many times more efficient,” says Tom Heed, president of Interleaved Magnetic Products. “It’s maybe one-percent efficient now. We would like to get it up to 10-percent efficient.”

Heed has made a career as an audio engineer, working for the likes of Harman before striking out on his own. He started Interleaved Magnetic Products in late 2011 and just led a team of four employees and a couple of independent contractors to score a Michigan Microloan Fund microloan, which is usually worth about $50,000.

Interleaved Magnetic Products is currently prototyping its technology, using the microloan to buy parts for the newest version. Heed expects to have a Beta version ready by early next year and secure a round of seed funding not long after that.

Source: Tom Heed, president of Interleaved Magnetic Products
Writer: Jon Zemke
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