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Grant allows Wayne State to debut The LaunchPad

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation will announced a multi-million dollar gift for the New Economy Initiative in Metro Detroit tomorrow as part of a much bigger financial commitment to help foster entrepreneurship and economic recovery in communities hardest hit by the global economic crisis.

Wayne State University and Walsh College will split the money to establish the Blackstone LaunchPad, which will encourage and support entrepreneurship for local college students and recent graduates. The 10 foundations behind the New Economy Initiative will also add a significant grant to provide central coordination services and an evaluation tool to measure the success of the project.

"The Blackstone Launch Pad program at Wayne State University and Walsh College is a tremendous step forward in fostering entrepreneurship, a critical part of the economic revitalization of southeast Michigan," Dave Egner, executive director of the New Economy Initiative, said in a prepared statement. "The New Economy Initiative supports opportunities, like the Blackstone Launch Pad, which focus on developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, capitalizing on existing resources, and developing a solid workforce with the hope that these opportunities will create a more diversified, knowledge-driven economy."

The idea is to foster entrepreneurship that will serve as the basis for a growing, diversified economy based in 21st Century business models. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation plans to make multi-million grants
from its commitment.

The Blackstone LaunchPad will employ a program first started at the University of Miami in 2008 that worked to foster entrepreneurship through higher education.
The program promotes entrepreneurial thinking and activity among undergraduate, graduate students, and new alumni. In its first two years at the University of Miami, the program attracted 1,000 students and alumni who created 45 new businesses and 102 new jobs.

It accomplished this through providing  practical skills, seasoned advice, and professional contacts. The same tactics will be employed at Wayne State University and Walsh College.

Source: The Blackstone Charitable Foundation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Xconomy expands tech coverage into Detroit

Xconomy.com is adding some diversity to its economic ecosystem by spreading its coverage area to include Metro Detroit.

The business webzine that focuses on the new economy has traditionally covered regions that are hotspots for technology and innovation, such as California or Massachusetts, where the nearly three-year-old firm is based. Xconomy Detroit is the company's first foray away from the coasts and in a place more familiar with industrial America.

"It's not a normal choice for us," says Bob Buderi, founder and editor-in-chief of Xconomy. He adds that Metro Detroit doesn't have the robust venture capital or entrepreneurial communities enjoyed by other cities Xconomy covers, such as Seattle or San Diego.

However, that doesn't mean there isn't a story to tell in Detroit and Michigan. Most of the Midwest is trying to reinvent itself and recapture some of the entrepreneurial and investment gusto that made it great a century ago.

"It's still a hugely important thing playing out and we wanted to tell the story," Buderi says. "It's hugely important to the country."

Buderi, a former technology editor for Business Week, started the company after finishing his third book on tech and innovation. It has since grown to 10 employees, four independent contractors, and two journalism fellows from Scandinavia. The Detroit Bureau will have one person to start but could grow to two staffers within the next year, which would put it on par with the Seattle bureau.

Source: Bob Buderi, founder and editor in chief of Xconomy
Writer: Jon Zemke

GalaxE.Solutions to create 500 new IT jobs in Detroit

Downtown Detroit's office vacancy rate fell a bit Tuesday when GalaxE.Solutions decided to take a couple floors of an office tower and create 500 jobs.

The New Jersey-based IT firm plans to invest $4.2 million to create a technical center in the 1001 Woodward office building. That means 70 new jobs right away and 500 new jobs within the next four years. Most of that hiring will take place sooner rather than later.

"Quite frankly, we'd like to see those numbers surpassed," says Tim Bryan, chairman and CEO of GalaxE.Solutions. "We are bullish about expanding our footprint in Detroit."

The 1001 Woodward building has gone through its ups and downs in recent years. It held offices overlooking Campus Martius for decades until it was slated to become condos at the height of the real-estate bubble. That project floundered and the 25-story building went into bankruptcy before 
Dimitrios Papas of Greektown fame bought it and turned it back into office space. GalaxE.Solutions is the first big-name tenant in the circa-1965 structure.

Its location in the center of downtown and across the street from the Compuware headquarters played a major role in GalaxE.Solutions' decision. Bryan sees that district becoming a regional IT hub for Michigan's economy, providing significant upside for future growth.

"We were looking for both a convenient and expandable location in downtown Detroit," Bryan says. "We felt 1001 Woodward was exactly right."

Making all of this happen is a $4.6 million state tax credit over five years from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The city of Detroit is considering a personal property tax abatement for the project, too. GalaxE.Solutions choose Detroit over a competing site in New Jersey.  

Source: Tim Bryan, chairman and CEO of GalaxE.Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit firms land Michigan Microloan funds

Detroit-based companies have taken two of the three loans available in the latest financing round from the Michigan Microloan Fund.

NextCAT and CYJ Enterprises will split $115,000 in loans, along with Ann Arbor-based Ix Innovations. These loans provide scarce seed capital that small businesses need to take the next step in their product development or advancing their business plans.

NextCAT is utilizing technology developed at Wayne State University to push forward the development of biodiesel. This technology allows biodiesel producers to use less-expensive raw materials for production, simplifying the process.

"We enable the next generation of biodiesel processing," says Chuck Salley, president of
NextCAT. "We let producers knock a buck a gallon off the price of biodiesel."

The start-up employs six people and an intern. It hopes to make six more hires and have its pilot demonstration product working by the end of the year. The borrowing will allow that to happen by helping to cover the legal and administrative fees to form the company and create the demonstration pilot.

CYJ Enterprises will use its microloan to fund the commercialization of its first product, e-CYREN, an emergency management system designed to help child and adult care providers quickly and effectively communicate with families before, during, and after emergencies.

The $1.5 million microloan program, administered by Ann Arbor SPARK, will make anywhere from 2-4 loans of a few thousand dollars each per month for 2010. That's another 24-48 fledgling local businesses receiving financing during a time when loans for small businesses have been almost non-existent since the economy crashed.

Source: Chuck Salley, president of NextCAT
Writer: Jon Zemke

TechTown scores $800K grant from Kresge Foundation

More money is starting to pour into Detroit's TechTown small business accelerator. This time it's The Kresge Foundation pledging $800,000 to make room for TechTown's rapidly expanding base of start-ups.

The funding will be used to renovate the old Dagleish auto dealership, across Cass Avenue from the original TechOne small business incubator, into the new TechTwo incubator, which will provide office space and services for hundreds of new companies.

This latest expansion effort is part of the New Economy Initiative's (primarily sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation) plans to reinvigorate Michigan's entrepreneurial economy by creating 400-500 start-ups in TechTown and 1,200 across Metro Detroit. When the initiative was announced last year there were 60 start-ups in TechOne, which had plenty of space ready to be built out. Today there are 201 early-stage ventures and a waiting list for space in TechTwo.

"I'd like to add at least another 100 by the end of the year," says Randal Charlton, executive director of TechTown. "But our ability to do that hinges on us building out more space."

with $9.25 million in grant money, is partnering with the New Economy Initiative and the Kauffman Foundation as well as the expertise, staff, materials and the FastTrac and Urban Entrepreneurship Partnership programs from those organizations. This latest grant puts the total investment in the eight-figure range and more could be on the way soon.

"I certainly hope so and I certainly expect to (receive more grants)," Charlton says. "I also expect these generous foundations to hold us to account."

Source: Randal Charlton, executive director of TechTown
Writer: Jon Zemke

Q&A: Eric Novack of Detroit's Russell Industrial Center

Detroit's Russell Industrial Center is gearing up to celebrate its fourth anniversary this weekend with its annual Spring Open House.

The small business and artist incubator no one saw coming will open its doors to the public between 2-11 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. That means anyone who is interested in walking the grounds, discovering new art, or checking out potential space for rent is welcome to the massive old factory at 1600 Clay, at the northeast side of the I-75/I-94 intersection.

The Russell was holding steady at 285 businesses between its studio space and the Russell Bazaar. Those numbers dropped over the winter when the economy really bottomed out but have since rebounded to 160 businesses in the studio spaces and 125-130 in the Bazaar. It's now signing one new lease every week on average.

"We're holding strong," says Eric Novak, operations manager for the Russell. He adds that about 500,000 square feet of the two million-square-foot complex is available, including 10 studios that range in size from 200-1,200 square feet. Bigger raw factory floor space is also available in chunks as big as 85,000 square feet.

Novack recently answered questions over e-mail about the Russell and what he describes as the "clean, safe and functional" space it provides.

In a sentence or two, sum up what life is like in the Russell Industrial Center?

I can sum it up with one word, motion. A constant state of motion as the tenants keep creating and making their products, and as the Russell keeps creating and making new spaces for them.

The Russell is known for its competitive prices. What can businesses and artists expect (and not expect) to get for their money at the Russell?

Raw space that they can do or design the way they need to. We provide four walls, a roof with 24-hour security, and access. The rest is up to them.

In recent years, there have been a number of places across southeast Michigan that have tried to copy Russell's business model of lots of space for low prices and few rules. What sets the Russell apart from its competitors?

Gaslight windows, the already massive community of artists and small businesses which in a sense really created Russell, we just happen to own it. However, management does get involved with its tenants, makes for a real community. It's not us against them, which you get so frequently in most types of these buildings. It's just us.

Conventional wisdom is starting to suggest that an economic recovery will be in full force by the end of the year. What do you think the Russell will be like a year from now with an economic rebound behind it?

I hope for more of the same: new tenants, new shows, new works of art, more movie productions. I don't know if the outside world affects what is happening on the inside of the Russell Industrial Center. I know it does or should, but you don't see that with a lot of our tenants. They are constantly in motion. So at the end of the day, the Russell is one giant organic machine, and I am sure it will continue to become stronger and more efficient every year.

Source: Eric Novack, operations manager for the Russell Industrial Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

GM doubles size of Warren advanced battery lab

If bigger is better, then the General Motors advanced battery lab is going from good to great now that the Detroit automaker is spending $8 million to nearly double its Warren Tech Center laboratory size to 63,000 square feet.

The space, formerly used for engine testing, will be converted to a battery lab testing facility to meet new requirements for the Alternative Energy Center. Work is set to begin this summer and finish up by the end of the season.

The laboratory develops and tests advanced batteries (think lithium ion) and technologies for hybrid and electric vehicles.
GM opened the lab last spring. It is utilized by a team of more than 1,000 hybrid and electric vehicle engineers.

Most of the facility is used for testing electrochemical battery cells and their enclosures, and to evaluating completed battery packs. The expansion will allow GM to further its research into battery storage and mitigating the effects of heat and thermal shock.

Source: General Motors
Writer: Jon Zemke

State wins $4.39M grant for smart grid jobs

Smart grid development is set to bring $4.39 million in federal stimulus funds to Michigan, along with training for 588 new jobs.

The U.S. Department of Energy grant will allow the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth to leverage $16.7 million more from local utilities for job development training.

"We're killing two birds with one stone with this grant," says Beth Sommers, a green jobs specialist with the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

The newly established Michigan's Electric Power Workforce Training Strategy will train people to handle the new technical aspects of smart grid technology, seen as the next generation of electrical infrastructure. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy expect to hire 186 new workers via the new program.

"Basically all of the occupations across the board will need more technical skills as the smart grid is installed across the state," Sommers says.

Source: Beth Sommers, a green jobs specialist with the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth
Writer: Jon Zemke

WSU, Henry Ford Hospital open clinical research center

Wayne State University and Henry Ford Health System have opened a joint venture that promises to enhance clinical research sharing between the two institutions.

The Clinical Research Center will be housed in the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development, next to the Detroit Medical Center's campus in Midtown. There will be access to medical exam rooms; office space; a large procedure room for conducting intensive and interactive studies; a pharmacy;
trained coordinators; and administrative support for university and hospital investigators to conduct clinical and translational research studies in all areas.

"We're trying to make these services available so they can take their inventions to the next step," says Michael P Diamond, executive director of clinical and translation research at Wayne State University.

The center will aid in
study design and clinical trial management as well as conducting power calculations and data review as studies progress. Think of it as the place that helps slow-moving or stalled studies to speed up or even get on the fast track with pharmaceutical firms or government research funding.

The idea is to increase the volume and quality of clinical and translational research studies while developing the next generation of researchers.
Clinical trials will also focus on historically underrepresented minority groups.

Michael P Diamond, executive director of clinical and translation research at Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

Jennifer Alvarado Q&A: Future of wind energy in Michigan

When it comes to alternative energy, wind energy is seen as Michigan's most promising avenue. It could mean everything from cheap, sustainable energy to new manufacturing jobs to new entrepreneurial activities.

All of that will be discussed at the Michigan Wind Energy Conference next week (April 20-21) at Cobo Center in Detroit. The Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (which is sponsoring the conference) Executive Director Jennifer Alvarado agreed to answer some questions about the potential future of wind energy over email for Metromode.

Wind energy is seen as a potentially big job creator for Michigan in industries like alternative energy and manufacturing. Could Michigan also expect to see job creation in tourism industry because of the wind turbines? Could these turbines become as iconic as Michigan's historic lighthouses? ,

Many Michigan residents and decision makers tour the thumb area to view the wind farm in Ubly, Michigan. During the first few months after completion of the wind farm, at east 800 people had traveled to the area to see the wind turbines. As Michigan continues to build wind energy projects, they will continue to be visited. There is an opportunity to increase tours of the Michigan wind farms that will benefit the local communities.   

The stereotypical wind turbine is a towering piece of machinery that often dots the shoreline or farmer's fields. Could we expect to see more wind turbines designed for urban environments in the near future?

Wind turbines are being developed in all shapes and sizes. The investments in research and development of renewable energy technology is crucial to help design the applications that we can use to best harness the power of our natural resources. We are seeing more wind turbines designed for urban environments.  GLREA tells our members and residents that call us or come to our educational seminars that when buying and installing renewable energy systems and purchasing renewable energy, you need to think about saving energy first through energy efficient applications and then explore the renewable energy resource potential in your area and decide which renewable energy applications will work best to meet your energy needs.

Ann Arbor-based Accio Energy is often seen as a start-up with technology that could revolutionize how man harnesses the power in wind. What's your take on this new technology? Could it live up to its game-changing hypes and if so what would that mean for the local economy?

The technology that Accio Energy is developing, wind turbines without moving parts, is very exciting. This is an example of the kind of innovative technology that has to be explored to solve our global energy demands.  I do not think that there will be a silver bullet solution.  To meet our energy demands of tomorrow, it will take a diversified portfolio of energy resources.  We are moving our global use of energy to get to the most efficient and cleanest use of energy. Michigan possesses the research and development capabilities to become a leader in sustainable energy development and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association is here to help make that happen in Michigan.

If there is one thing Metro Detroit doesn't lack is busy freeways. Could we see the day when turbines line them to generate alternative energy?

Of course, Europe has had solar arrays lining their highways for years and Michigan uses the panels that help light signs. I think wind turbines could be used if the resource is available.

Name one thing the local business community could do to help push forward the development of the wind energy?

Just being informed on the technology and the possibilities of wind energy and other forms of renewable energy will help the business community move towards using wind energy and getting involved in the wind industry business in Michigan. Of course attending the Michigan Wind Energy Conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit on April 20th and 21st would be a great step towards learning how other Michigan businesses moved into the wind industry, what Michigan utilities are planning and investing in this industry, the siting of wind turbines, how off-shore wind projects are being developed in Europe and more.

Source: Jennifer Alvarado, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association
Writer: Jon Zemke

Greening Detroit launches at Detroit's TechTown

Another sustainability-oriented business is launching out of Detroit's TechTown business incubator.

Greening Detroit is a website focused on making sustainability possible for other firms across the metro area.

"We saw an opportunity to provide this region with a website that offers green products and services," says Laurie Efimoff, director of administration for Greening Detroit. "They wanted to provide a one-stop shop for green solutions in our area."

This also includes providing advertising services for green companies. By the time of its launch earlier this month, the nearly one-year-old company had grown to 10 staffers. Plans are to add a few more later this year.

"We continue to be optimistic about the growth," Efimoff says. "We expect to continue to add people."

Source: Laurie Efimoff, director of administration for Greening Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Parade Company creates new curriculum through EMU

The Detroit-based Parade Company continues to be held up as an example of what non-profits can and should do as it develops another revenue stream.

The east side-based non-profit has brokered a deal with Eastern Michigan University to develop a curriculum based on tours of its facilities. One such tour examines Michigan history as depicted in its floats and its decades-long history of running Detroit's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

"It gives us the lesson plans and curriculum so we're not just a field trip," says Steve Abood, marketing and communications director for The Parade Company.

The Parade Company averages between 100 and 150 tours each year, bringing about 32,000 people through its facilities.

"We would like to see a 50 percent increase in tours," Abood says.

The Parade Company employs 15 people and one intern. It also has 1,500 core volunteers.

Source: Steve Abood, marketing and communications director for The Parade Company
Writer: Jon Zemke

Royal Oak, Rochester go for Google Fiber

The bevy of Metro Detroit municipalities that are vying to become Google Fiber communities reads like a list of the best of the best when it comes to vibrant city centers in southeast Michigan.

Ann Arbor, Birmingham, and Detroit have now been joined by Royal Oak and Rochester. The cities believe they have what it takes to get on board with what promises to be the fastest broadband program in the world. And they all see it as a chance to bring even more value and economic opportunity to local residents and businesses.

"Everybody is thinking the same thing," says Nicholas Banda, director of economic and community development for the city of Rochester, which is teaming up with Rochester Hills in its bid. "This is just another edge."

Google plans to build and test ultra-high speed broadband networks in a small number of communities across the country. These lines will stream data at 1 gigabit per second, about 100 times faster than what most Americans get through their current cable and DSL providers.

Local metros are touting their advantages from varied economic landscape (Detroit) to a combination of suburban and urban infrastructure (Ann Arbor). Ann Arbor and Birmingham are also home to two of Google's offices, including the search engine's AdWords headquarters in downtown Ann Arbor.

Source: Nicholas Banda, director of economic and community development for the city of Rochester
Writer: Jon Zemke

TechTown sets up microloan fund for start-ups

Microloan funds are becoming the economic tool of the year for more and more regional business accelerator agencies. The latest is the First Step Fund in Detroit's TechTown business incubator.

Invest Detroit and Ann Arbor SPARK, which runs the Michigan Microloan Fund, are behind the First Step Fund. The idea is to create a funding source for local start-ups starving for seed capital in the midst of the credit crisis, whereas traditional lending institutions have at best been stingy with investment capital.

"If we're serious about dealing with the unemployment rate in the city of Detroit, which is now at 30 percent, we need to develop numerous sources of financing and we need to do it quickly," says Randal Charlton, executive director of TechTown. "This is not a normal situation where we can respond normally."

He adds that TechTown currently has 1,300 entrepreneurs coming through its FastTrac program. About half of them have already graduated and are working toward establishing their entrepreneurial ventures. This fund would make loans to entrepreneurs and start-ups like this that range between $10,000 and $50,000.

The fund hopes to make 40 loans this year, possibly by mid-April. That's when a board independent of TechTown will decide which loans to make first.

"What we hope to do is deploy as much as possible, consistent with reasonable background checks to make sure our candidates are reasonably prepared," Charlton says.

The First Step Fund is part of the New Economy Initiative's effort to turn TechTown into one of the primary economic hubs of Michigan. The Kaufman Foundation and other institutions are investing millions of dollars to create thousands of new businesses in Detroit over the next couple of years.

Source: Randal Charlton, executive director of TechTown
Writer: Jon Zemke

Macomb Comm. College, Wayne State split $5M federal stimulus grant

Wayne State University and Macomb Community College are splitting a $5 million federal stimulus grant to help further research and development of electrical vehicles.

The new electric drive vehicle engineering program known as E3 - Electrifying the Economy, Educating the Workforce is in accordance with President Obama's goal of putting 1 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

The program will develop advanced educational programs in electric drive vehicles at both institutions of higher learning. These degrees will feature a master's in electric drive vehicle engineering and a bachelor's in electric transportation technology. National workshops and outreach programs to secondary education classes will also be offered.

E3 received the grant last fall and just formed its executive advisory committee. It expects to begin kicking the program into high gear later this year.

Source: Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke
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