What’s New With Loveland Technologies, Axonia, 3D Biomatrix?

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

Don’t you hate it when you read an article about a promising new company and then you never hear anything about it again? We do too, which is why we’ve checked in with Loveland Technologies, Axonia Medical, and 3D Biomatrix for updates on the state of their operations, new milestones, and future plans.

Loveland Technologies: Projects Covered in ‘Awesome Sauce’

Loveland Technologies, a Detroit IT company started by San Francisco transplant Jerry Paffendorf whose motto is “changing the urban landscape with community maps, fundraising, and a dash of awesome sauce,” has enjoyed some mainstream recognition since we last spoke. “Our stock does seem to be rising in more traditional ways,” Paffendorf says.

In April, Loveland got a $7,500 grant from the Knight Foundation for its Imagine Detroit Together project, which combines technology and grassroots organizing to encourage residents to participate in large-scale demonstrations of civic unity. Imagine Detroit Together was behind the crowdfunding effort to get a painting by local artist Miguel “BeloZro” Yeoman up on a billboard near I-94. The painting, titled “The Rebuild,” featured futuristic Ford, GM, and Chrysler workers surrounding a globe along with the phrase, “Imagine Detroit working together?” Though Imagine Detroit Together was able to raise the $3,500 needed to slap “The Rebuild” up on the billboard, the billboard owners, fearing a lawsuit, required that Yeoman cover the logos of the Big 3 before they would display the painting.

Despite that experience, Paffendorf says he looks forward to working with Yeoman’s partner/manager James Feagin again. “He has a lot of interesting ideas for how to bring diverse groups into Detroit,” Paffendorf says. One idea is Peak Population Day, where organizers would try to lure 1.3 million people to the city for a massive block party along Woodward Avenue from the Riverfront to 8 Mile. That will require building some digital tools for organizing big groups, which Loveland is working on now.

Perhaps the unlikeliest partnership Loveland has formed is with Nora Maroun, wife of the controversial billionaire Manuel “Matty” Maroun, who owns the busy Ambassador Bridge crossing to Canada. (Yes, that’s right—a privately owned border crossing. Only in Detroit.) Maroun has his share of critics, particularly in southwest Detroit, where a t-shirt depicting him as Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” was popular a few years ago. In addition to the bridge, he owns Michigan Central Station, a.k.a. Detroit’s Most Famous Ruin, a crumbling former train station that was designed by the same architectural firms that designed New York City’s Grand Central Station.

Central Station has long been a conundrum because it’s considered too solidly built to demolish without a prohibitive price tag, and too ruined to be restored without a similarly prohibitive investment. (Though one would imagine if anyone had the money to do either of these things, it would be the 854th richest person in the world, perhaps with an assist from the man he’s tied for 854th richest person with, but that’s an op-ed for another day.) Instead, Maroun has put his wife Nora in charge of working with Loveland on Talk to the Station, a website gathering public suggestions for what to do with the blighted monolith. Residents are invited to share their ideas for preservation via text, voicemail, or online submission. The idea is to foster open, inclusive dialogue that Maroun has pledged to keep her eye on. Though there are no guarantees, to have this discussion in a public forum is actually a pretty big step. (Paffendorf, by the way, has nothing but good things to say about Mrs. Maroun.)

Loveland also continues its work with Why Don’t We Own This, which maps all of the vacant land in Detroit, and Paffendorf says the city is definitely paying attention (finally!), but that nothing official is in place yet. And that crowdfunded Robocop statue? It’s still being built rather painstakingly by hand; keep track of its progress here.

Axonia Medical Raises More Seed Financing

Harry Ledebur, president and CEO of Kalamazoo, MI-based Axonia Medical, says the company has just raised its second million in seed financing. Ann Arbor SPARK’s pre-seed fund and Western Michigan University’s Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center contributed to the round. Ledebur says that Axonia now has enough operating capital to take it through January 2014 as it continues to work toward clinical trials.

As I wrote in a January article about Axonia, the company’s technology, which is spun out of the University of Pennsylvania, hinges on the production of axons, the long thin parts of nerve cells that carry signals to distant target cells. Unlike other regenerative treatments in development, Axonia uses neurons from patients or cadavers to grow long, integrated tracks of axons in the lab and then implants this tissue into the body, which then enables or accelerates the body’s natural repair system. The therapy holds promise for those with peripheral nerve damage and spinal cord and brain injuries.

Ledebur adds that Axonia has formally been admitted to the Rutgers-Cleveland Clinic Consortium of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM), where it will work on military applications of its technology. “Our technology could be very disruptive for nerve regeneration,” he says.

3D Biomatrix Finding Its Market

Spun out of the University of Michigan in 2010, 3D Biomatrix has just wrapped up its first round of Series A fundraising and is now working on round two, according to CEO Laura Schrader. Though Schrader declined to disclose the amount raised in the first round, she did say most of the money came from angel investors in Southeast Michigan. The funding will be used, she says, on product development and marketing.

Schrader also reports that the startup now has 15 distributors for its “Perfecta 3D hanging drop plates,” which are used by researchers to grow cells in culture. Schrader says the plates offer more accurate results than 2D petri dishes. For instance, a cancer researcher trying to develop a tumor-killing drug can use the 3D drop plates to grow a microtumor for testing instead of using a flat layer of cells. Testing round cells in a flat dish results in too many false readings because the cells are reacting differently than they would in a 3D structure, Schrader says, and those false readings cause researchers to waste time and money developing drugs that will ultimately fail in animal or human models.