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Wayne State collects millions in new research grants

Wayne State University continues to rake in the research dollars, taking in even more federal and stimulus funds.

Among the recent wins are $775,000 to study PCBs and their relation to cancer, $60,000 for Schizophrenia research and $2.7 million to investigate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. This caps what looks to be a big year for research at the Detroit-based university, which has counted $175 million in federal research grants so far for 2009, including $31 million in federal stimulus funds.

The biggest recent research victory is the $2.7 million from the National Institute of Mental Health. Wayne State researchers will track the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the brains of children and teens in the hope of developing more effective therapies. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood illnesses.

The federal stimulus is funding two grants totaling about $775,000 to study the potential role of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the progression of breast cancer. Wayne State researchers will also delineate the role of a liver enzyme in the development of metabolic diseases such as heart disease, abnormal cholesterol metabolism, and insulin resistant type II diabetes.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine received a $60,000 Young Investigator research grant from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia & Depression. The money will be used to develop a better understanding of the neurochemical and functional bases of schizophrenia, one of the most debilitating mental illnesses in the world. Research suggests the illness is related to disordered brain neurochemistry and function.

Source: Julie O'Connor, spokeswoman for Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

DTE kicks off first operational wind farm

The first of DTE Energy's wind farms is operational now that it has turned on seven wind turbines in northern Michigan near Cadillac.

The 2,000-acre wind farm is the fruit of a partnership between the downtown Detroit-based utility and Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy. The wind turbines can produce about 14 megawatts of renewable energy and measure 403 feet tall. The project created 100 construction jobs and four full-time jobs at the site.

It is the first operational wind farm in Michigan and will be used to meet the state's new renewable portfolio standard. The RPS requires that 10 percent of the utility's power generation come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2015. DTE Energy has struck deals with the likes of Heritage Sustainable Energy to meet that deadline.

DTE Energy has acquired easements on 75,000 acres of land in Huron County in Michigan's Thumb region for development of large-scale wind farms. The company also has two solar energy pilot projects that could produce about 20 megawatts of power.

"We want to get these things going as soon as possible to meet the RPS," says Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy.

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

Macomb starts FastTrac entrepreneur classes

Green job and entrepreneurial programs are sprouting up around Metro Detroit now that Macomb County is trying to grow more entrepreneurs and Henry Ford Community College is harvesting $1.3 million in federal workforce grants.

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the grant to help train people for 'green' jobs over the next two years. The money is part of the $150 million federal Pathways Out of Poverty program that comes courtesy of the federal stimulus. Henry Ford is partnering with Southwest Housing Solutions and a member of the Southwest Detroit Consortium for Green Jobs to help retrain the metro area's workforce for the sustainable jobs of the 21st Century.

TechTown's New Economy Initiative is spreading its wings to Macomb County, which is starting to employ its FastTrac program for entrepreneurs.

The program focuses on helping laid-off and displaced workers pursue dreams of being their own boss. That could mean anything from helping them turn a skill into a business or a hobby into a career or even buy into a franchise business.

"The idea is to develop a business plan that will assess their concept and develop a strategy to implement it," says Don Morandini, regional director for the Macomb Small Business and Technology Development Center.

The 10-week program requires participants to attend one three-hour class each week. There they learn the basics about pursuing a business and making it successful. Normal class size ranges from 15-25 people and the next session begins on Feb. 1.

The New Economy Initiative is partnering with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to create the three-year program based out of Detroit's TechTown business incubator. The New Economy Initiative is making $9.25 million in direct cash investment available while the Kauffman Foundation will provide expertise to help the transition, such as staff, materials, and its FastTrac and Urban Entrepreneurship Partnership programs.

FastTrac is a 15-year-old business development program that helps unemployed or underemployed people transition into entrepreneurship through an intensive 3-10 week training program.

Source: Don Morandini, regional director for the Macomb Small Business and Technology Development Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

Inside Detroit hires 9 new employees downtown

It's been a long, interesting ride for the two women behind Inside Detroit, and the journey is just gaining speed.

Jeanette Pierce and Maureen Kearns started the tour-based venture four years ago when Pierce was working in marketing for the United Way and Kearns was working in IT for Wayne County. It became their full-time jobs two years ago, and the duo just brought on nine part-time employees and three interns, primarily through social media.

"They're all Detroit residents," Pierce says. "They have their fingers on the pulse of what's going on inside Detroit."

Inside Detroit started to make strides last year when it became a non-profit and set up shop in a storefront on Woodward Avenue downtown, next to the Detroit Breakfast House & Grill. There they have started the instantly popular Segway Tours and are sharing the 4,500 square feet of space with local volunteer groups like Detroit Synergy. They also run a retail store and offer free Wi-Fi to tourists and locals alike who just want to hang out.

"2009 was our best year yet and 2010 is shaping up to be even bigger and better than that," Pierce says.

Among the ideas for expansion of services are expanding the Segway tours to two per day. The company also wants to expand its walking tours, begin bus tours of the city, and further expand its popular party tours. The latest offering is a Happy Hour bar tour on Feb. 12. For information, call (313) 962-4590 or (313) 268-6562 or send an email to info@insidedetroit.org.

Source: Jeanette Pierce, co-founder of Inside Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Clean Energy Prize competition heads to Round 2

Round two of the second annual Clean Energy Prize is in the books and eight teams are ready to move on in the sustainability start-up competition.

Downtown Detroit-based DTE Energy and the University of Michigan started the competition last year with the idea of helping fund Michigan's emerging alternative energy start-ups. A total of 32 teams from six universities in Michigan made a go at it this year compared to 23 last year.

They are competing for a $100,000 prize pool of start-up capital. Last year's winner walked away with $65,000. That company, Algal Scientific, is developing technology that uses algae to simultaneously treat wastewater and produce the raw materials for biofuels.

"We hope the competition and the development of a business plan will help push these entrepreneurs toward starting operations," says John Austerberry, spokesman for DTE Energy.

Two of the eight remaining teams include Advanced Battery Control, which is developing a proprietary smart battery management system, which will radically enhance battery utilization in electric vehicles. Another is carbon perks, which is a service that motivates people to incorporate energy efficient practices into their lifestyles while helping utilities reduce the costs of providing peak power.

The teams had to come up with an invention that supports renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grid technologies, environmental control technologies, plug-in electric vehicles, or energy storage. The semifinals will be held on Feb. 12.

Source:
John Austerberry, spokesman for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

GREEN SPACE: Transit Action Conference lands in Detroit on Jan. 30, TRU hiring

This Saturday, January 30, transit advocates will spend an afternoon hunkering down and working towards moving ahead with regional transit goals in the coming year. Hosted by none other than Transportation Riders United (TRU), the 1 to 6 p.m. session includes training workshops as well as organizational business like TRU board elections.

Workshop options include improving the area's existing bus systems, SMART millage renewal, advancing rapid transit, outreach, and leadership development. The opportunities are geared towards both seasoned transit advocates and newer volunteers to the cause. "No matter their skill level, (attendees) will be able to get actively involved in promoting transit in our community," says TRU executive director Megan Owens.

The conference takes place at the new MSU Detroit Center, located at 3408 Woodward, south of Mack. Register here.

While on the subject of TRU, we'd be remiss not to mention that the organization is currently hiring a new assistant director. Job description and application instructions can be found here. The application deadline is Monday, Feb. 1, so get cracking!

Source: Megan Owens, TRU (Read her Metromode blog here.)
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

The Few Records capitalizes on Detroit music scene, creates jobs

Dominic Arellano's record label The Few Records isn't constrained by genres or labels or stereotypes. It's all about good music, hence its motto: "No genre, just good music. We are the few."

The label, based out of Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood, has artists that specialize in hip-hop, electronic, jazz, indie rock, post-classical, and funk. The six artists run the gamut of music in Detroit's smorgasbord of talent.

"I think people listen to a lot more music these days in a lot of different genres," Arellano says.

The 2-year-old company has three employees and six artists. Arellano hopes to hire another two this year and sign a few more artists. He also plans to release a lot more music this year from artists like Silver Ghost and Will Sessions.

"We will be releasing quite a bit of music," Arellano says.

Source: Dominic Arellano, owner and founder of The Few Records
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wayne State branches out with new websites

Wayne State University is making a bigger name for itself in the local website game, expanding one of its established sites and launching another.

The new site is called LivingDetroit. The virtual museum will chronicle Detroit's history through a Wikipedia-style display of audio diaries, photographs, and interactive maps. The website has been developed and maintained by students at the university's Honors College.

It will feature the history of the city as told through the eyes of everyday Detroiters. It will include the personal experiences, knowledge, perspectives, and reflections of several generations of Detroiters. Also incorporated are mapping pages showing what the city looked like both then and now.

The project came out of a 2008 Honors College program where Detroit senior citizens were invited to recount and record their recollections of historic events. The idea is to allow current and future generations to better understand the people, places, and events that have shaped their communities.

Wayne State's Word Warriors website released a list of words that have been neglected but should be brought back in 2010. Launched last year, it's a list of neglected but eminently useful words that visitors to the site and its creators would like to bring back into fashion.

Source: Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

New jobs, investments announced at Detroit Auto Show

Last year the North American International Auto Show was all about whether Metro Detroit will be able to keep its automotive jobs. This year, it's about creating a lot of automotive jobs.

A number of investments in the metro area have either been announced or come to fruition in the recent weeks leading up to and during the show. And these aren't the normal metal-bending jobs pumping out the gas guzzlers of yore. These are the "wave-of-the-future" jobs that specialize in developing new energy efficient technology for the automotive industry.

Here is a little taste of what has been announced:

  • The first advanced lithium-ion battery for the Chevrolet Volt was produced at GM's Brownstown Battery Pack Assembly Plant. GM invested $43 million to turn the 160,000-square-foot building into a landfill-free facility for production of lithium-ion battery packs for the Volt and other electric vehicles with extended-range capabilities.
  • Ford plans to retool its Wayne Assembly Plant (a $550 million investment) to make the compact Ford Focus and its electronic version. That impacts about 3,200 jobs directly.
  • Ford also plans to invest another $450 million in its electric vehicle program. The investment is expected to create about 1,000 jobs in Michigan, creating Ford's next generation of hybrid and hybrid electric vehicles.
  • A dozen Michigan businesses won $248 million in federal tax credits that will create an expected 17,000 green jobs. Among the lucky winners are Livonia-based Stirling Energy Systems (solar power), Troy-based Ilumisys (LED lights) and Monroe-based Ventower Industries (wind turbines).
  • Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE chose Michigan to host a competition that aims to pit some of the world's most fuel efficient vehicles against one another in a quest to win a share of a $10 million prize.
Source: Ford, General Motors, Progressive Insurance Automotive
Writer: Jon Zemke

Inland Waters continues hiring in Detroit

Inland Waters Pollution Control continues its growth in Detroit. The Southwest Detroit-based firm added 15 people to its payroll in the last year, including two in the last month. It expects to keep that growth going into 2010.

"We're probably going to be adding 15-20 people this year," says Al Jedneak, president of Inland Waters Pollution Control, a division of Inland Pipe Rehabilitation.

Inland Waters Pollution Control specializes in rebuilding municipal infrastructure such as water and sewer lines. It does a lot of its work in the city of the Detroit but also branches out to other suburbs and states, Ohio and Pennsylvania among them.

The company recently held a job fair in Detroit and received 600 applications. The response was so strong that the company is still going through them as it evaluates prospective job candidates.

"It's staggering how many good quality people there are out there," Jedneak says.

Source: Al Jedneak, president of Inland Waters Pollution Control
Writer: Jon Zemke

GREEN SPACE: X PRIZE says yes to Michigan as its super-fuel-efficient competition stage

The Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE (AXP) has chosen the state of Michigan to host a multi-stage competition that will pit some of the world's most fuel efficient vehicles against one another...and the reward is quite nice.

A $10 million purse will be awarded to a team that produces a vehicle that achieves 100 MPGe (miles per gallon or energy equivalent) while emitting less than 200 grams of greenhouse gases per mile -- and has a business plan in place that demonstrates that 10,000 of the cars can be produced in a year. As contest literature states, "It is about developing real, production-capable cars that consumers will want to buy, not science projects or concept cars."

Fifty-one super efficient cars from 41 teams survived the design judging phase and now aim to ready their vehicles for the start of on-track performance events in the spring of 2010 -- here in Michigan. AXP teamed up with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) to schedule a series of competition stages, some of which will be public, others closed door.

Initially, AXP had hoped to host the competition series in various states, but the economy derailed that plan. Senior director Eric Cahill says that Michigan was the logical choice because it remains the "epicenter" of the global auto industry.

The competition stages and public events are as follows, although additional public events may be announced at a later date.
  • April 26 - May 7, 2010: SHAKEDOWN STAGE (CLOSED DOOR, MIS) Safety inspections and evaluations of competition vehicles, braking speed, lane change ability, acceleration and refueling/recharging time, among other elements. Non-elimination round.
  • April 29, 2010 COMPETITION OPENER & WELCOME (PUBLIC EVENT, Michigan State Capitol, Lansing)
  • June 20-28, 2010 KNOCKOUT QUALIFYING STAGE (CLOSED DOOR, MIS) Inspections will be re-conducted to certify readiness, then teams must demonstrate that their vehicles can achieve at least two-thirds of the stated 100 MPGe goal while also meeting expectations for range, emissions, and real world performance.
  • July 2010 OPEN HOUSE Exact Date TBD (PUBLIC EVENT, MIS)
  • July 19-30, 2010 FINALS STAGE (CLOSED DOOR, MIS) The remaining teams will compete in scored on-track challenges, and close with a "coast down" exercise to gain key performance information about the aerodynamics and rolling resistance to properly prepare the vehicles for the validation stage. Speed will be important and a maximum and minimum time for events will be established.
  • August 2010 VALIDATION STAGE (CLOSED DOOR, EPA Labs, Ann Arbor and Argonne National Labs, Chicago) Top finalists will undergo dynamometer testing under controlled laboratory conditions at certified labs to verify performance results.
X PRIZE winners will be presented with their checks at an award ceremony in Washington, D.C. in September, 2010.

When talking with Cahill about the entrants, though he deigns to mention any favorites, his excitement is palpable. "Seeing some of these vehicles that have reached a state of development maturity that is impressive, very close to being on par with major automakers," he says. "They just need to add capital...to achieve the scale (necessary to compete)."

Hopefully, that is what the competition spurred by AXP will flush out of the bushes: a brand new kind of personal vehicle, whether it runs (crazily efficiently) on gasoline, finds a new way to extend battery range or is distributed in a radically new way...and Michigan will be the first to see the future.

Source: Eric Cahill, Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh


21st Century Investment Fund invests $36M, brings in 2 new VC offices

--This article originally appeared on July 9, 2009

Michigan's 21st Century Investment Fund has struck again, and Metro Detroit is getting a large slice of that $35.5 million investment pie.

Four investment funds were selected, with the largest chunk ($14.5 million) going to Detroit-based Peninsula Capital Partners, the state’s largest mezzanine fund.

Arsenal Venture Partners, Early Stage Partners and Triathlon Medical Ventures, all based outside of the state, received the remaining share. Early Stage Partners received $10 million and
will establish an Ann Arbor office. It focuses on the educational, scientific, and medical sectors.

Arsenal Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital firm specializing in defense and commercial markets, received $5 million.  The firm will open an office in Ann Arbor.

Triathlon Medical Ventures specializes in the life sciences and
is looking to hire a partner from Michigan to help manage its $10 million share.

Michigan's 21st Century Investment Fund is part of the state's $2 billion 21st Century Jobs Fund. The intiative plans to invest this money over a decade to help diversify the state's industries and create more new economy jobs.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Troy law firm opens North Woodward Tech Incubator

--This article originally appeared on June 11, 2009

Not all business incubators are government run. The North Woodward Tech Incubator is the latest example of one, stepping into the limelight with the likes of the Russell Industrial Center.

The new Troy-based incubator is geared much more toward high-tech, new economy start-ups so raw they can't afford the reduced rental rates of the likes of Ann Arbor SPARK and TechTown. The North Woodward Tech Incubator offers free office space to start-ups and all it asks for is the right to invest in the company later on down the development line.

The incubator is the brainchild of Andrew Basile, president of the North Woodward Tech Incubator. He also lives in Metro Detroit and runs the Silicon Valley office of Young Basile Hanlon MacFarlane & Helmholdt. The 1,200-square foot incubator is in the law firm's Troy office.

"I see so much potential in Michigan but I became frustrated with how it wasn't being realized," Basile says. "I just wanted to help."

The incubator has room for 4-5 start-ups and has already signed one firm, Leftos.com, the developer of a relationship website, run by one of the Technow09 organizers. The idea is to give them room and expertise to grow for 6-12 months before finding permanent space.

Basile would eventually like to find a permanent home for the incubator in downtown Royal Oak or Birmingham. He thinks the North Woodward Tech Incubator needs a home in a strong urban core with high-density and transit-oriented development.

"We believe that strong urban communities are essential to the formation of Silicon Valley-style companies," Basile says.

Source: Andrew Basile, president of the North Woodward Tech Incubator
Writer: Jon Zemke

GREEN SPACE: Detroit's Green Garage business incubator gets moving

--This story originally appeared on August 13, 2009

In Midtown Detroit, a group of people have joined together in an ambitious project that is part business incubator and part green building model. Green Garage, as it is dubbed, recently received approval to move forward with construction from the city's Historic District Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals. The next step is approval from the Buildings and Safety Department; then construction will begin in earnest.

The Green Garage is an 11,000-square-foot building located on Second Ave. between Canfield and Prentis. It was built in 1920 and was used for a number of auto-related businesses, including a Model T showroom. Most recently a warehouse, it was purchased in December of 2007 by Peggy and Tom Brennan for use as a sustainable business center.

Over the last 18 months, brainstorming and work sessions have developed an extensive vision for the property based on a foundation of the triple bottom line, which rests on economic, social, and environmental equity. To that end, the building will work to support the community while incorporating the latest in green building techniques with a goal of zero carbon emissions.

The building's exterior will be returned to its original configuration and will add fencing and native trees and landscaping. The existing loading dock will be transformed into an indoor/outdoor space with a kitchenette. The bulk of the interior space will house three green businesses, but there will be room for "rent-a-desk" enterprises and micro-businesses as well as an information center for the public and conference and meeting space. There will be indoor and outdoor bike parking and bathroom facilities that include lockers and showers.

Most of the interior ceiling will be removed to showcase the building's bow tresses. Two mezzanines will look onto the main floor. The one along the rear of the building will have an "imagination room" for relaxation and room for rent-a-desks, while the one that fronts Second will house a library and a patio deck and garden.

An annex located in an addition built in the 1960s will have workshop space and room for equipment storage. A greenhouse will lead to the adjoining Green Alley.

Green Garage plans to take energy efficiency to a whole new level, with a comprehensive passive energy design that reduces energy needs by 90% right off the bat. Remaining energy needs will come from solar, wind, and geothermal sources. Look for more detailed information on the project's innovative energy design in future Metromode coverage.

Over 40 volunteers from various professional worlds including architecture, engineering, accounting, and business are involved in the various aspects of the complex project. Two interns are also currently working on energy modeling and design.

In the two week interim before hammers start swinging, Green Garagers are focusing their attention on materials sourcing. Their goal is for 90 percent of construction materials to be reused from within the building -- for example, pipes that will be used to fabricate the stairs leading to the mezzanine that faces Second Ave. -- and for 50 percent of the remaining needed materials to be pulled from within the current waste stream.

Sources: Peggy and Tom Brennan, Green Garage
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

(Please note: A version of this story appeared in the August 11 issue of Model D, Metromode's sister publication.)

Franklin Wind Energy Group signs first distributor deal

--This article originally appeared on August 27, 2009

The Franklin Wind Energy Group recently took a major step forward, signing its first distribution contract with Power Distribution Center.

Power Distribution Center deals primarily with solar products, but had fielded a number of requests for wind-power generators from its customers. David Koyle, president and founder of Franklin Wind Energy Group, expects this will be the first of many such contracts that will enable the Franklin-based firm to begin selling wind turbines this fall.

"We are intending to ramp up quickly," Koyle says.

Franklin Wind Energy Group recently acquired the U.S. rights to manufacture and market a 30-foot tall vertical axis wind turbine. The plan is to install these across the state on buildings, in farm fields, and even on cell phone towers. The firm installed its first Franklin wind turbine at Wayne State University's campus earlier this summer.

The alternative-energy firm now employs 15 people, 10 independent contractors, and is looking at bringing in summer interns. All of this growth came this year as the company began to aggressively market its product. The 5kW Franklin Vertical Axis Wind Turbine can take wind from any direction, operates at low RPM with no vibration, and emits little noise

Source: David Koyle, president of Franklin Wind Energy Group
Writer: Jon Zemke
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