Hands down, our most popular posts in Cronicle’s first 6 months have been the feature on indie game design studios in Michigan from University of Michigan professor Austin Yarger, plus all the followup interviews of game designers from Finji Games to Heart Shaped Games to Dreaming Door. We caught up with Yarger again recently to ask when his popular student gaming showcase was taking place. Turns out, we were just in time.
Every Time The Bell Rings, a Startup Gets Its Wings: Venture Accelerator’s Diane Bouis Talks Connecting New Ann Arbor Startups
In a maze of buildings on the University of Michigan’s North Campus in Ann Arbor, the Venture Accelerator, startup hub for intellectual property spun off by the Office of Tech Transfer from research and faculty at the University of Michigan, sits quietly on the block that used to be owned by Pfizer. Diane Bouis, Innovation Program Manager at the Venture Accelerator, helps these new ventures find resources and space in the many labs and offices housed in the building where the Venture Accelerator hosts new companies. The Venture Center, Accelerator, and Office of Tech Transfer work in close conjunction here to support baby startups in life sciences in particular to get out into the world.
Beach cleanups with OSHKI are listed on the company’s social media. This summer, they started sending plastic waste collected from these cleanups directly to their new manufacturer in North Carolina. “It’s a hands-on opportunity for customers to see what we’re doing,” Riegler says. “We might do another cleanup in September, definitely another one next summer (when he’s out of school for the summer!) and maybe expand to other towns.” Meanwhile, if you’d like to support efforts to clean up the Great Lakes, Riegler recommends donating to the Alliance for the Great Lakes and getting involved with Adopt a Beach programs. Most trash in Muskegon builds up in areas that trap debris like piers or the large metal structures off the beach in Muskegon Riegler says used to be used for large-scale boating. He times cleanups after festivals to catch more waste, which often is as small as plastic pieces the size of a dime and hard to catch. This, of course, gets into fish and pollutes the $13 billion fishing industry. “I could go on,” Riegler says. For now, he finds e-commerce not only convenient as a retail channel but the best way to use technology because “it tells our whole story with video integration,” he says. “The full experience is on the site.”
Young entrepreneurs are pouring out of tech towns these days. If the towns are lucky, they retain many of them now that the Midwest and other places outside Silicon Valley are reviving and affordable spaces to grow a business. The University of Michigan, ranked #1-rated ecosystem for undergrad student entrepreneurs by Princeton Review, is leading the way in this shift in startup culture across the U.S.. That’s why successful serial entrepreneurs like Jim Price were brought on board, to mentor the next generation of founders. Price is Entrepreneurial Studies Faculty & Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and he’s a big connector and mentor for young entrepreneurs starting out in Ann Arbor, with a background that spans coasts, tech and engineering, and teaching. He’s also a really fun guy we’ve watched help shift the entrepreneurial environment in Ann Arbor through generous mentorship, so we caught up with him in his office at the University of Michigan to ask him what led him to Ann Arbor and what trends he’s seeing these days in business and entrepreneurship.
Health monitor biosensors are a topic in tech right now, but most of them are physical sensors, says Girish Kulkarni, founder of Arborsense. What if instead of using optics or sensors that measure blood pressure and flow through the skin, you could measure chemicals? We’ve been hearing for years now that graphene was supposed to take over the world, and maybe that world is finally arriving. Arborsense uses graphene electronic transdermal nano-sensors to test for chemicals and biomolecules through biomonitors. What does that mean? Here’s one example: Arborsense is partnering in clinical trials with Ann Arbor-based clinical psychiatrist Mark Ilgen at the Med School to use their graphene sensors to monitor drug addict patient alcohol blood levels through what molecules are excreted through the skin. That’s right. Instead of a breathalyzer one-time analysis of blood alcohol levels or other periodic tests for drug use, these graphene nano-sensors continuously monitor blood alcohol levels to track patient sobriety, health, and more.
The University of Michigan has a Princeton Review #1-rated ecosystem for student entrepreneurs and multiple venture accelerators, which is great support for budding startups in Ann Arbor and Michigan’s growing tech industry. But what really goes on behind closed doors? As supportive as the University of Michigan is for new businesses being spun out from faculty or run through funded programs with multiple levels of mentorship, this can all still look a bit opaque from the outside. As part of our mission to highlight the accelerating growth of Ann Arbor and Michigan regional tech over the past few years, we wanted to sit down with the Desai Accelerator run out of U-M’s Zell Lurie Institute at the Ross School of Business to hear how things work and what resources are out there for people looking to connect. This is a newer program, and still being shaped.
It’s been a while since we played a scavenger hunt, but these days augmented reality seems just the thing to make these old-fashioned games fresh again. Plus, on our phones we don’t have to get in trouble deciding if we should follow a clue like “find the oldest bones around” by taking forbidden photos in the dinosaur museum or asking an old guy crossing the street to take a selfie with us…. Closing out our summer series on Michigan-based gaming studios is Scavenger, another student launched out of the University of Michigan OptiMize program that has continued as the co-founders Kyle Zappitell (CEO) and Harry Stephens (CPO) and other team members moved to LA, New York, and Chicago. Co-founder Kyle Zappitell tells us his startup Scavenger is an augmented reality scavenger game app that allows users to combine augmented reality and real-world gaming to win cash prizes. For now, the testing zone for the game is based in Chicago, but other cities are coming soon.
College campuses have been through a number of crises lately, from dealing with increasing academic pressure to a growing number of active shooters to high rates of alcohol abuse among young people. One startup aims to offer students support in a format that works for their lives–in demand, online, and peer to peer. hEARt is a new startup founded at the University of Michigan out of the OptiMize program, which is creating a platform and peer mentoring service to combat the mental health crisis facing many students in college and even in high school.
In 2013, a group of University of Michigan students wanted to support each other’s startup ventures. Some were tech focused, others social impact-oriented startups that needed time and financial backing to give them a chance to grow. “We spent time taking tests, writing papers, but hadn’t tried our hand at solving problems,” says Jeff Pituch, Associate Director for Social Innovation at Optimize. “We started Optimize as a program for early-stage ventures.”
Honestly, it’s tricky, predicting the future. Would you listen to anyone who told you what to expect in 5 years, much less 10? We went into the a2Tech360 conference 2029: What The Future Holds with a teeny bit of skepticism since all we do is future tech and now tech and vaporware tech that will…