Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Signs of Life

October 2010

By Mike Gould

I'm not an expert on economic matters (or much, else, actually), but I pretend to be when writing these articles. It seems to my uneducated eye that Michigan has stopped stumbling around the recessionary ring, has shaken off some of the recent headbutts and body blows, and is starting to get in some counterpunches and uppercuts. I'm also not an expert on boxing, but you get my drift.

Up and Coming On Strong
So here is a quick run down on a few of the sluggers fighting to create industries and jobs here in Michigan, especially in the Ann Arbor area. The following is a quick overview of some companies doing interesting things in our corner of the ring, but is in no way a complete listing of all such entities. For more info about this sort of thing, consult the New Enterprise Forum, among others (URLs below). Thanks to David C. Bloom, a Venture Catalyst with Factotem, for providing introductions and advice.

Current Motors
I am partial to these guys because they started out in the A2 MechShop, a "Technical coworking facility for entrepreneurial Engineers" (as their website puts it) that hosts the monthly meeting of the Makers group I belong to, GO-tech. They still use the shop for R&D and electrical assembly. Current Motors makes electric scooters and I have seen their cool products at the various Maker Faires I have attended. Envision a motorcycle with a boatload of batteries built into it and you have the high-tech Current Motor bike.

Their electric scooters are just starting to be put into production at their brand-new 10,000 square foot facility on Jackson Road, west of Ann Arbor. The preliminary specs are impressive: speeds of up to 60mph, 4-hour recharge time, cruising range between 30 and 70 miles, (depending on which battery package you buy), and, hey, it's a brand new concept, thought up right here in Michigan. Quiet, Earth-friendly, economical; gotta love it.

Their management team boasts a good mix of engineering, MBA and sales and marketing skills, sometimes embodied all in the same person. Their President, Peter Scott, used to design aircraft engines, and has an MBA from the U of M, as well as a bunch of other degrees in engineering, etc.

Working with Stunning, a Michigan marketing, PR and design firm, Current Motors is travelling to San Francisco to talk to VCs there about funding opportunities.

Hygieia, Inc.
Life Science is one industry that is clearly a mountain in the Michigan industrial landscape. Inspired by research coming out of the University of Michigan, all sorts of health and medical products are being developed in our area.

Hygieia, Inc. is working a product called The Diabetes Insulin Guidance System or DIGS™. Given the rise of Type II Diabetes in this country, this sort of device sounds like a natural for successful production. The DIGS is a way to optimize insulin dosage in treating diabetes. Their product is based on research that shows that frequent adjustments to the amount of insulin used in managing diabetes can improve the patient experience and the effectiveness of the treatment. Hygieia uses a patented "Frequently Adjusted Insulin Therapy by Hygieia" (FAITH) algorithm to dynamically manage insulin dosage, and with it, an insulin-taker's blood sugar.

There are 23M insulin-takers in the USA alone - Hygieia is going after a $3B market with a disruptive technology that has attracted rave reviews at the recent ADA and AADE conferences. Though the device is still a long way from market, the FDA recently gave a favorable opinion on its regulatory pathway. And Hygieia has outgrown its offices in the SPARK Central Business Incubator - they move into their new home later this month.

SPARK has been taking a very active role in assisting local life-tech companies make it to market. Hygieia is but one of several health-related companies working with SPARK; others include 3D Biomatrix, AAPharmaSyn, and Accord Biomaterials.

Arbor Photonics
Lasers are a subject near and dear to my heart, as I run a laser lightshow and am developing other laser devices. My lasers are low-power, visible, and intended for entertainment. Arbor Photonics develops lasers that are usually invisible, extremely powerful, and used for industry. We're talking pulsed lasers that pack an enormous amount of mojo into an incredibly short period of time, like a BrontoWatt into a femto-second, which is a like bazillionth of a second, or something. All this down an optical fiber the size of a hair. Serious tech.

Once you can control this amount of power in a very small space, there are a lot of things you can do in the realms of machining, high-precision materials processing, and basic physics research.

In September of 2010, they received some serious funding:

(From their website)
Arbor Photonics [was] Awarded SBIR Phase IB funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its work on "High Power Pulsed Fiber Lasers for EUV Lithography". This supplemental award will support production of 3CTM (Chirally-Coupled Core) optical fiber to achieve 200 W average power, several mJ, nanosecond lasers in the 1030 - 1090 nm wavelength range with single mode output.

Like I said, mondo power in a bazillionth of a second.

There are other laser-related companies in our area as well: IMRA, Jodon, Inc., and Kaiser Optical Systems, Inc., all come to mind. Now if we only had a laser lightshow supply store in town: we're looking for some cheap diffraction gratings...

Companies mentioned:
Current Motor: http://www.currentmotor.com/
Hygieia, Inc.: http://hygieiamedical.com/
Arbor Photonics: http://www.arborphotonics.com/

More about new companies in the Ann Arbor area:

New Enterprise Forum (NEF)
http://www.newenterpriseforum.org/

SPARK
http://www.annarborusa.org/

Great Lakes Entrepreneur Quest
http://www.gleq.org

Ann Arbor New Tech Meetup
http://www.a2newtech.org

Mike Gould was a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of the FacTotem constellation, builds lasers into lunchboxen, performs with the Illuminatus Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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