Kinetica Labs is a relatively new startup spun off from the University of Michigan, headed by professor Dr. SangHyun Lee and CEO Brenda Jones along with a small team of ergonomics researchers and software engineers. What they have created is a software program that replaces years of cumbersome processes putting markers or bodysuits on workers in a manufacturing or office setting to assess their risk for ergonomic injury. Now, you can replace the setup of cameras and markers with a simple iPhone tool called MotionCapture. “You can take a video of a worker doing a job with the skeleton overlaid on the body with highlighting in yellow and red the body parts at risk of ergonomic injury,” Jones says. You upload the video to Kinetica’s system, and receive data analytics on ergonomic risk.
Jones has worked in software leadership for 20 years, and says she was looking for something that had a big impact on the world that she could help with. She assisted Dr. Lee in negotiating his TechTransfer license for converting intellectual property from the University of Michigan to Kinetica Labs. “I was looking for a founder who had an idea that needed an execution partner to make it happen,” Jones says. “Most of my career has been in software. So I was looking for something in technology and software. Something that I could judge had a pretty good market.”
Jones says that Dr. Lee knew his research could make a difference in the market. He is also dedicated to his students and his academic career, so he brought her on board to lead the company and get the Kinetica technology out into the market.
“We brought the technology up to commercial grade and created an app,” Jones says. “We pursued two typical paths of revenue: distribution and direct sales.”
Even before they started any marketing, customers were finding Kinetica and asking if they would sell the technology directly. Kinetica distributes to manufacturing plants and warehousing companies through a traditional distribution network that Ann Arbor-based company Humantech helps them access. “They’re the premier company for this issue, and they’re in Ann Arbor,” Jones tells me. “They’ve been wildly successful.”
For direct sales, insurance companies and workers comp people who want to work to reduce risk were clamoring for an iPhone app.
The U.S. has something in the neighborhood of 700,000 manufacturing and distribution facilities. “Humantech is in a large percentage of those,” Jones says.
“Lots of companies who have an in-house platform have contacted us without any marketing, so that’s why we accelerated our commercial sales of the product,” Jones explains.
Jones loves the work she does and is excited to see so many new technologies coming out of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, but she feels there isn’t quite enough acceleration yet to create the kind of growth she’d like to see in Ann Arbor tech. She says that if you’re looking for a mentor here, you have fewer people to choose from than on the coasts. “If we had a little more traction we could keep more people here.” She adds, “I don’t think it’s a direct goal to keep new grads here. I think it’s really healthy for people to go away start their career somewhere else and then when they want to come back to family in Michigan we can provide enough of a landing spot for them. It’s not a bad thing for folks to go outside and then come back with great experience.”
Kinetica has started generating revenue and is currently in fundraising mode. “After that traction, we’ll have to do some hiring, setting up in a coworking space first,” Jones says. Keep an eye on this space for more news from Kinetica, including job listings and new apps.