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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.

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

Guffly expands product availability to meet demand

--This article originally appeared November 12, 2009

Detroit's Guffly is gaining traction as it expands its product offerings to meet consumer demand.

The TechTown-based start-up features a new eco-friendly product on its website every day. It also makes a point to find products that have a bit of flair to them. The site launched late last summer and has met with a bit of success since then as people continue to demand some of the products.

"We're calling them out top Guffs because they're our top sellers we're making available," says Kelley Walker, chief interwebs troublemaker for Guffly.

Among those products are tote bags made of old seat belts and cuff links made of Legos. It all comes back to the idea that the green lifestyle needs to invoke a little more style.

The idea came from a couple of students at Bizdom U. They came up with the idea for the name by combining the words good and stuff with an -ly added to the end to make it catchy. The company's two founders are Chanell Scott (chief love distributor for Guffly) and Jordan Contreras (chief strategic friendship ninja for Guffly). They are working to establish the company in its first year and continue to build its network of suppliers.

Source: Kelley Walker, chief interwebs troublemaker for Guffly
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit's Asterand acquires BioSeek

Asterand, TechTown's main tenant, continues to grow now that it has acquired a drug-development company.

The Detroit-based firm bought San Francisco-based BioSeek, a pioneer in the application of predictive human biology to drug discovery through its human primary cell-based disease model. The deal is worth $14 million.

Asterand is considered a leader in human tissue research and development. This acquisition is part of its larger strategy to consolidate its position in the global human tissue and human tissue-based services market, both organically and through acquisitions. This is Asterand's first acquisition and is expected to complement the TechTown firm's products and services.

BioSeek was founded in 2000 and employs 14 people. Asterand plans to maintain the South San Francisco office and staff there.

Source: Asterand
Writer: Jon Zemke

Kauffman Foundation sets up shop in TechTown

The Kauffman Foundation is consolidating its commitment to growing a new entrepreneurial ecosystem in Detroit.

The Kansas City, Mo-based foundation has opened up a satellite office in the TechTown business incubator in Detroit's New Center neighborhood. The new office will employ a staff of 3-5 people and focus on the foundation's Urban Entrepreneurial Partnership program.

"It's a vibrant area," says Lena Rodriguez, director of development for the Urban Entrepreneurial Partnership program. "There is a lot of activity there with a lot of innovation going on."

The program is being renamed to UEP Detroit 150, a reference to the program's mission of helping 150 of Detroit's displaced minority auto suppliers retool and diversify into other industries like biotech and military.

The Kauffman Foundation is partnering with the New Economy Initiative of Southeast Michigan and TechTown to create more than 1,200 new start-ups in Detroit within the next three years. TechTown is planning on a rapid expansion of its campus in the shadow of the Fisher Building to accommodate all of these new firms.

Lena Rodriguez, director of development for the Urban Entrepreneurial Partnership and TechTown
Writer: Jon Zemke

GREEN SPACE: U-M's Graham Institute launches intensive research to shape a sustainable Detroit

Ann Arbor, meet Detroit.

Yes, the University of Michigan has had a physical presence in Detroit for several years at its Detroit Center, but its Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute is preparing to take on a multi-year Integrated Assessment (IA) of the city.

Translation: Teams of researchers engaging with policy-makers, community groups, and other educational institutions.

John Callewaert, the IA program director for the Graham Institute, explains that the process is designed to handle "wicked problems", particularly challenging issues -- such as climate change -- that "are things we might not necessarily 'solve,' " he explains. "But we can make some good progress, come up with some policy options, an action plan to move forward."

So the three-year-old Graham Institute is taking on sustainability in Detroit in that spirit. Callewaert says the city was a natural fit for in-depth research and policy recommendations precisely because there are "a lot of people working in Detroit...now seemed like a really good time." The Detroit IA will work to build on previous efforts such as last year's SDAT.

Some of the issues to be considered will be right-sizing, open space usage, transportation, and green energy generation. Callewaert estimates that six teams will be funded, meaning that at least a dozen faculty will be spending time in the D. Ann Arbor will remain the home campus, but he anticipates the Detroit Center being used for IA meetings and larger events.

The IA endeavor kicks off on Monday, Dec. 14 with two brain-storming sessions (one at 3:30 p.m., the second at 6:30 p.m. Register here by Dec. 10.) to be held at the aforementioned Detroit Center at 3663 Woodward Ave. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

Source: John Callewaert, UM Graham Institute
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

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