It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is having a major exodus, though that never means it’s lights out for the resilient global hub of tech innovation. We’ve seen ups and downs from the Dot Com crash to the Great Recession, and California always bounces back. What’s different this time is that a confluence of major climate disasters, high cost of living, and the new option for remote work are spreading highly skilled tech workers across the U.S. and the world at a rapid rate–and sending many of them back to their hometowns to launch new businesses.
TusStar is an affiliated network of tech startup incubators and early stage venture accelerators located in over 130 cities around the world. It is led by professors at Tsinghua University in China, a major research university in Beijing, and there is a TusStar Incubator in emerging tech hub Ann Arbor, where a number of academic faculty at the University of Michigan start new companies to make use of inventions found during their research careers. Frank Ni is the head of TusStar Ann Arbor, founded as the premier TusStar location in the U.S. in late 2017 on the north side of Ann Arbor which is famous for its engineering, science research, robotics and autonomous vehicle research campuses. “Innovation can go beyond borders,” Ni tells Cronicle of the philosophy of starting an international incubator in Southeast Michigan.
We’ve spoken with a number of executives in the past 3 months who are responding to COVID-19 for their big tech business or small startup, and we noticed some trends in how businesses are responding to the pandemic. Quite a few people from virtual panel attendees to readers to interviewees have asked Cronicle questions about what we’re seeing in our interviews with Midwest Tech. It’s the million-dollar question: what’s next? How are businesses coping, and how does that impact their workers and public health? Here are the top trends we’ve noticed behind the scenes in Midwest tech in our interviews from manufacturers and scientists pivoting to produce PPE to tech startups creating new software for public health initiatives. All of this is based in our limited interview time and virtual networking, not an official survey. Here are, in order that they appeared, the behind the scenes trends we’ve noticed in Midwest tech businesses responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sure, there are braille tablets these days that are pretty amazing. They translate several words or lines of text from websites into raised braille dots on a physical surface that scrolls through the web, opening up the world to those who can’t view the content of computers and the internet through traditional screens. But there are challenges. According to Alex Russomanno of new Ann Arbor startup NewHaptics, current braille tablets are limited to small quantities of text at a time, they’re incredibly expensive to manufacture, and they don’t have any way to translate images or graphs. This leaves the blind locked out of visual content, maps and graphs on computers.
Every town around the Great Lakes and Midwest has its own mix of tech-related industries. As part of our expansion to cover more news and networking regarding the growth of tech in the Great Lakes region, we will be interviewing a number of diverse professionals who can give us a peek into their space. This time: Quintessence Anx of Buffalo, New York. Anx is a tech evangelist working with AppDynamics, who travels and speaks at tech conferences particularly in the devops space. We were curious what she could tell us about connecting with tech in the eastern Great Lakes region.
Thank you to everyone who has interviewed with Cronicle Press Tech News over the last 9 months since our launch out of Ann Arbor. We’re now putting together a series on growing tech industries around the broader Great Lakes region. If you have a growing tech company, incubator you’re getting started, or new fund to announce, we want to hear from you, and we want to hear the story of your community.
It’s already that time again, our monthly Cronicle tech events post for Ann Arbor, Detroit, and several notable tech events going on around the rest of the state of Michigan including Grand Rapids and Traverse City. We can’t cover them all, so this month we’re highlighting a few we haven’t before, such as Nerd Nite–science + beer! Also, coding + beer. We’ll get through the winter with beer.
“We recently closed on $17 million in funding, reinforcing our commitment to the wind industry,” says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs, a sustainable energy company in Ann Arbor that uses drones to inspect wind turbines. “We’ve doubled down our focus on the wind industry.”
Joe Affholter of Michigan State Unversity and Michelle Larkin at the University of Michigan have essentially the same job: get academic research in the life sciences from the laboratory where it is discovered in Michigan’s half dozen largest research universities out to industry. Sounds simple, but it’s anything but. That’s because the MEDC’s Life Sciences MTRAC program is tasked with licensing technology invented in the academic system, mentoring new founders who often did not start in industry, and with helping companies get funded through clinical trials and the push out to the commercial market, which can take years to complete.
The ladies who run Jottful set out to help very small businesses with fewer than 5 employees create professional websites. “Our clients are often self-employed consultants, or service-oriented businesses,” says Dawn Verbrigghe, founder and CEO. The service is perfect for everything from “life coaches to management consultants to Main Street service businesses such as martial arts studios, beauty salons, and custom cake decorators.” If a business needs more than a build-your-own site but can’t afford the commonly quoted $5k price tag for a custom website from a creative agency, Jottful fills the gap in between. But then, the scope of what Jottful was managing expanded, and in more than one direction.