Varsity News Network 2.0 Launches Early, & Other Recent MI News

Here’s a look at recent news from around Michigan’s innovation hubs:

—When we last spoke to Grand Rapids-based Varsity News Network earlier this year, the company—which connects K-12 student athletes, parents, and coaches—told us it expected to release a “version 2.0” next year that would give users the ability to create profiles and share content. Turns out the company is ahead of schedule: This month, VNN launched three new product updates to its platform, creating comprehensive communication tools for high school athletic directors, the company said.

We caught up with CEO Ryan Vaughn at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition earlier this month, where he was speaking on a panel made up of past grand-prize winners, and he filled us in on the details.

The new features—VNN Scheduler, a roster management tool, and a dashboard—lay the groundwork for the creation of an automated, online community for parents, athletes, athletic directors, and fans at every high school in the U.S, he said. The goal is to be nothing short of “Facebook for K-12 sports,” he said.

“The product updates give VNN the ability to leverage its current system to deliver targeted content to the right people at the right time,” Vaughn said. “Now, game-time text message reminders, post­-game score updates, and player performance notifications can be sent to parents and athletes in an automated process that simplifies life for athletic directors while creating a one­-stop community around school sports in every VNN partner location.”

The K-12 school sports market has traditionally been very difficult to crack, he added, though VNN intends to try. The company seems to be on its way: VNN has about 2 million users nationwide and recently added a former ESPN executive to its team, he said.

—Another sign the auto industry is embracing a more open, collaborative model: Ford announced earlier this month that it will now license its robotic testing technology to other automakers. Ford engineers worked with Utah-based Autonomous Solutions Inc. (ASI) to develop ASI’s software and components enabling autonomous, robotic vehicle tests.

The testing process involves a control module installed in the test vehicle that governs vehicle steering. The module is then set to follow a pre-programmed course, and the vehicle’s position is tracked by cameras in a central control room and via GPS. If the vehicle strays from its course, engineers have the ability to stop it, correct course, and restart the test. Onboard sensors can order the vehicle to come to a full stop if a pedestrian or another car strays into its path. Using Ford’s test, automakers can compress 10 years of daily wear and tear into a course a few hundred meters long, the company said in a press release. The technology was originally developed to test the 2017 Ford F-Series trucks.

Quantum Medical Concepts, a Michigan State Medical Society-backed fund for early-stage healthtech startups, has invested $150,000 in Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan spinout Brio Device. Brio’s products are intended to improve intubation success rates, help doctors enhance their skills, and improve results. Brio will use the funding to get its products to market faster. The company was founded in 2010 by a surgeon, biomedical engineer, polymer engineer, and business executive who came together as fellows at U-M’s Medical Innovation Center.

“We believe physicians are key to the success of healthcare delivery, and can play an equally important role in medical innovations,” Ben Louagie, Quantum’s managing director, said in a press release. “The medical establishment is becoming more open to entrepreneurship, and oftentimes physicians are the ones coming up with the best new ideas for medical devices or therapeutics.”

—Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Snyder was on hand for the opening of the Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (BAPAC) office on Conant Avenue in Detroit—the heart of what is known as BanglaTown, a neighborhood that is home to one of the nation’s densest clusters of Bangladeshi-Americans, and the only place in the country where one can get a voting ballot in Bengali. BAPAC’s office will serve as a meeting place and will help connect the community’s entrepreneurs to resources. BAPAC is currently working with Global Detroit to launch a community planning and engagement process that will use design to help bridge language and cultural barriers.

Entrepreneur magazine and the Princeton Review have named the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies the nation’s number four graduate program in entrepreneurship. This is the sixth consecutive year the publications have ranked Zell Lurie in the top five; in 2012, U-M’s program climbed all the way to second in the nation. (This year, U-M’s undergraduate entrepreneurial education offerings also landed in the top 10.) Zell Lurie works with the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship to manage the TechArb student startup business incubator and the new Desai Family Accelerator, and it also runs an investment fund focused on early-stage tech startups.

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