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WSU offers first degrees in electric auto engineering

Wayne State University is launching the first engineering curriculum in the nation focusing on the electrification of the automobile, and it has a few million in federal stimulus funds to make it happen.

The U.S. Dept of Energy gave the university a $5 million grant to set up bachelors and masters degree programs dealing with the emerging sector. The idea is to help start training the next generation of engineers to tackle fuel-efficient automotive technology.

"We have created and standardized programs that I don't think exist anywhere else," says Mumtaz Usmen, dean of the college of engineering at Wayne State University.

Wayne State's Electric-Drive Vehicle Engineering programs are following the transformation of the automotive industry from the gas-powered engine to hybrid and electric-only propulsion systems. The transformation is expected to accelerate as automakers race to meet the new 2020 CAFÉ standards.

Expect to see more hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles, and electric and fuel cell cars. Wayne State's new degree programs cover all of these areas and relate them to alternative energy sources. The new programs (a bachelor of science in Electric Transportation Technology and a master of science in Electric-Drive Vehicle) are set to begin this fall.

"This will be the type of curriculum to provide them with the background to be successful and for the automotive industry to be successful," says Jerry Ku, director of electric drive engineering graduate program at Wayne State University.

Source:
Mumtaz Usmen, dean of the college engineering at Wayne State University and Jerry Ku, director of electric drive engineering graduate program at Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

TechTown's MitoStem wins $200K stem cell research grant

Stem cells are paying off for TechTown, or at least for one of its start-ups, now that MitoStem has nailed down a $200,000 federal grant.

The Detroit-based firm, originally called TechTown Ventures, plans to make its first hire this spring. It expects to have a staff of three by the end of year and seven employees by the end of 2011.

"As soon as we have the money in the bank we will hire a lab person," says James Eliason, president and chief scientific officer with MitoStem.

MitoStem specializes in stem cell research, focusing on regenerative medicine, or the way stem cells can reproduce themselves. The six-figure grant is a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I grant from the National Institutes of Health, which received the money from the federal stimulus program. The grant will be used to optimize its stem cell technology developed at Wayne State University.

The technology promises to have an impact on a variety of diseases. The idea is for the stems to help a patient's cells reproduce and replace diseased or damaged tissues. It was originally developed by Jianjun Wang, an associate professor of biochemistry in the School of Medicine at Wayne State University.

"So you can take a skin cell of a blood cell and turn it into a cell with all of the properties of any other cell in the body," Eliason says.

Source: James Eliason, president and chief scientific officer with MitoStem
Writer: Jon Zemke

Q&A: Franck Nouyrigat of Detroit Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend is returning to Detroit for the second time this Friday at Wayne State University's College of Engineering.

Startup Weekend holds these types of events all around the world, including at Compuware's headquarters in downtown Detroit last year. Detroit Startup Weekend is designed for students and professionals from all disciplines who have big ideas and who actually want to make these things happen. The 54-hour long event focuses on community building, networking and finding ways for entrepreneurs to improve their start-ups or get their ideas off the ground. More about the event here.

Franck Nouyrigat, the director of Startup Weekend, agreed to answer a few questions over email about Startup Weekend and Metro Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

What can people expect to come away with from this year's Detroit Startup Weekend?

We expect them to come away with more experience and a better understanding of what being an entrepreneur is about. According to our past Startup Weekend, 10 percent of them should have incorporated their start-up within the next six months. Finally, the greatest thing about Startup Weekend is networking.

Metro Detroit has put a lot of emphasis on building up its entrepreneurial ecosystem in recent years. How far along is it developmentally in comparison to other major metro areas?

The entrepreneurial ecosystem requires two things, a community of entrepreneurs and some investors to support them. In the case of Startup Weekend we focus on start-ups (Silicon Valley like). The pieces necessary to build the ecosystem already exist in Detroit, but the shift is to truly instill a culture that fosters innovation. The entrepreneurs need to understand how a start-up works and the investor needs to learn the differences between a classic investment and a high-tech or early stage investment. Some cites like Seattle or San Francisco have already developed these models, some have already evolved and changed a lot these past years, like Austin or Boulder. I think the financial crisis is accelerating this process, and more and more major cities are facing the challenge of redefining their local economy.

Metro Detroit and Michigan have invested a lot of money in business accelerator agencies like TechTown and Ann Arbor SPARK, and their programs, such as the Michigan Micro Loan Fund. How important is it to have these sorts of resources if a region or a state wants to reinvent itself economically?

This is a good move. Start-ups need a place to be nested. This is part of industrializing the "Silicon Valley Magic." Again, it is about building a system and a culture that truly supports start-ups, entrepreneurs and innovation. All you need is a physical space, some money, and a chance to let the best developers and entrepreneurs work together. The failure rate can be high, and investors need to remember that results will not happen overnight. This process is a long one, and little by little cities like Detroit will be able to have their own start-up industry.

Name one no-brainer change that the leadership of Metro Detroit or Michigan could make to help encourage more entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurs are people. Having the leadership of Detroit or Michigan meeting their new ecosystem and discussing it with them is what will make a difference. What does this mean? Have them attend local events not as speakers or public figures, but as attendees. This is a learning process for everyone.

Source: Franck Nouyrigat, director of Startup Weekend
Writer: Jon Zemke

The LaunchPad takes off at Wayne State, Walsh College

The future of business in Metro Detroit isn't in the stodgy private clubs or wine tastings with the khakis/blazer/no tie crowd. It's in the halls of higher education and the students who walk them today.

That's why The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is investing $2 million into establishing the Blackstone LaunchPad program at Wayne State University and Walsh College. The idea is to help everyday students harness their entrepreneurial ambitions and create the companies and jobs that will carry the region into the 21st Century.

"Most growth in terms of job creation took place in firms that are less than 15 years old," Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO and chairman of Blackstone, said during a recent press conference.

The $2 million is part of The Blackstone Charitable Foundation's new commitment to invest $50 million over the next five years into institutions and programs that will foster entrepreneurship and economic opportunity in the regions hardest hit by the Great Recession, such as Metro Detroit. The Blackstone Charitable Foundation's multi-million dollar pledge is accompanied by another $800,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation to provide central coordination services and an evaluation tool to measure the success of the project.

The Blackstone LaunchPad program is modeled after a similar program developed at the University of Miami in 2008 that has led to the creation of 45 new businesses and 102 new jobs, primarily from students. Wayne State's version will be housed near the front doors of its Undergraduate Library.

Advisors and mentors will help aspiring studentpreneurs turn their ideas into real businesses by providing practical skills, advice, and contacts. Think of it as a TechTown for Wayne State students or the TechArb student business incubator that the University of Michigan launched last year.

The program's organizers will spend this spring and summer setting up offices and infrastructure in anticipation of helping students in the fall. The office will be open to any student with an idea who wants to walk in. Organizers hope to expand to recent graduates in 2011.

"We're open to accommodate as many students as we can," says Ahmad M Ezzeddine,
associate vice president of education outreach and International Programs at Wayne State University. "As many students that are interested."

Source: Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO and chairman of Blackstone and Ahmad M Ezzeddine, associate vice president of education outreach and International Programs at Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

After 5 Detroit launches new summer intern program

A start-up and a foundation walk into a bar full of corporations and walk away with a few hundred interns. That's not a joke. The latest initiative to keep young talent in Metro Detroit helps them take advantage of the region's lifestyle.

The Connect After 5 Summer Intern Program is being run by Detroit-based After 5 Detroit and is being funded by the Hudson-Webber Foundation. It's signed up 205 interns from DTE Energy and Digerati to take part in the program. It hopes to add a few hundred more from other area companies by the time the summer turns consistently warm.

"We are working with a number of other companies right now to get them and their interns on board," says Kerry Doman, CEO of After 5 Detroit, a website that highlights events, hot spots, and information targeted at young professionals who wish to fully experience the Detroit lifestyle. It's one of a number of programs that are being employed to help staunch the state's brain drain of young, educated, and entrepreneurial professionals.

"That's who we need to retain for a strong workforce and deeper workforce and overall stronger economy," Doman says.

For information on the program, click here.

Source: Kerry Doman, CEO of After 5 Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

DTE scores $84M for smart grid; 1,050 jobs

Metro Detroit's transformation to a smart grid got a big boost last week when the U.S. Dept of Energy gave DTE Energy an $84 million grant to improve Metro Detroit's electric grid.

DTE Energy's SmartCurrents initiative is spearheading the smart grid transformation, which involves the development of a high-tech electrical infrastructure to prepare for new technologies that will provide customers with ways to better manage their energy consumption. DTE Energy will match the grant, bringing the initiative's war chest to about $170 million.

That investment is expected to create 1,050 new jobs over the next couple of years, consisting of 700 deployment and construction jobs for IT contractors and overhead linemen and 350 permanent supplier positions.

"It will begin shortly," says Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy, adding that it will take 6-8 years to make the switch to a smart grid.

Part of the smart grid switch will include installing 600,000 new smart meters in parts of Wayne, Oakland, Livingston, Lapeer, Ingham, and Tuscola counties. These meters allow for easier access to energy usage information through wireless communications. This and other technologies are expected to improve electrical service reliability and give better control of energy consumption and costs.

Source:
Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

S3 creates 53 new IT jobs in downtown Detroit

Strategic Staffing Solutions has established a new IT center in downtown Detroit, creating 53 new jobs immediately with a further promise of expanding employment to 150 by year's end.

"We have people who are starting in the facility every day," says Cynthia J Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions. "Our goal is to pass that number."

The Detroit Development Center is located in the Penobscot Building, which is also Strategic Staffing Solutions headquarters. It will handle IT work for Blue Cross Blue Shield in house in Detroit instead of offshoring that work.

"There is a tremendous amount of IT talent here that is available," Pasky says.

Strategic Staffing Solutions has existing commitments from two anchor customers to be serviced by the Detroit Development Center, putting the firm on track to achieve its four-year commitment to hire more than 400 IT specialists.

Source: Cynthia J Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County opens $500K microloan fund

Microloan funds are spreading through Metro Detroit faster than the flu, with the latest outbreak taking place in Oakland County.

The Oakland County Microloan Program will provide loans of $500 to $35,000 to small businesses. It is modeled after the highly successful Michigan Microloan Fund run by Ann Arbor SPARK. The idea of the microloans is to help fill the capital void for small businesses that want to grow and create jobs but are being hampered by the nearly frozen credit lines of the financial industry.

"We expect the demand will be high for these loans because traditional lending channels are all but dried up for small businesses," says Maureen Krauss, director of Economic Development and Community Affairs for Oakland County. "There are a lot of people who want to start their own businesses."

Eligible businesses must be based out of Oakland County, pay a $75 application fee, have a business plan if they are under three years old, and at least two letters of denial from traditional lending sources. Owners must be current on child support, student loans, and income taxes.

Oakland County, in partnership with the Center for Empowerment & Economic Development and the U.S. Small Business Administration, is giving $100,000 towards creating the fund, as well as a $500,000 pool to start with.

The Michigan Microloan Fund draws from a $1.5 million pool and also from other six-figure funds provided by Washtenaw County and the city of Ann Arbor that are geared toward businesses in those respective communities. It
expects to make 24-48 loans this year. Detroit's TechTown has also formed its own fund and Oakland University's OU INCubator is taking steps to set up its own program.


Source:
Maureen Krauss, director of Economic Development and Community Affairs for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

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.

TechTown-based
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."

TechTown,
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
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