Roundup: RetroSense, America’s Greatest Makers, Naturalicious & More

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

—Wayne State University and Massachusetts General Hospital spinout company RetroSense Therapeutics has been named one of the nation’s 50 smartest companies by the MIT Technology Review. The biopharmaceutical company based in Ann Arbor closed a $6 million Series B funding round last year to support clinical trials for RST-001, an orphan drug that treats the progressive eye disease retinitis pigmentosa. (RST-001 is gene therapy that delivers a photosensitivity gene called Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), which is found in blue-green algae.) The publication chose RetroSense because of what it considers to be pioneering work in optogenetics. RetroSense began clinical testing of RST-001, designed to restore some vision in retinitis pigmentosa patients, in March. There are currently no FDA-approved drugs to improve or restore vision in patients with these retinal degenerative conditions.

—Anca Sala, dean of the College of Engineering at Baker College, has been named the Educator of the Year by the High Impact Technology Exchange Conference, a national organization working to build a highly skilled technological workforce. Sala was recognized for her work building the photonic education infrastructure; she’s a national leader in developing college programs in photonics and optics. Among her many educational endeavors, Sala is also helping to lead technician development as part of the federal Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Initiative, a $610 million project designed to replace copper in conventional microchips with lasers and optical waveguides. Sala holds eight patents related to photonics devices.

The National Week of Making just wrapped up, and now the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan wants to spread the word regarding a casting call for local inventors, designers, and engineers. “America’s Greatest Makers” is on the hunt for cast members for its upcoming season. Do you have a great idea for the next big smart, connected device? “America’s Greatest Makers” is offering the chance to make that idea a reality using Intel’s latest technology, including the Intel Curie Module. The season’s winner will take home a $1 million prize. Click here to apply; the deadline is Aug. 16, 2016.

—The first African American woman to hold a patent for natural hair care, Gwen Jimmere, announced this week that she has opened up a manufacturing facility in Detroit. Naturalicious, her company focused on natural beauty products, will operate out of the shared manufacturing space at Ponyride in the Corktown neighborhood. Jimmere said in a press release that she chose Detroit because of its affordability and access to a growing community of entrepreneurs.

“I believe that Detroit will soon be the number one city for new startups,” Jimmere said. “There’s so much idea generation, collaboration, and resources here for entrepreneurs that aren’t readily accessible in other markets.”

Jimmere, who plans to locate all product development operations in Detroit by the end of the year, also coaches and advises entrepreneurs through her other startup, called Pitch Proof.

LLamasoft CEO Don Hicks has been named EY’s Tech Entrepreneur of the Year for the Michigan and Northwest Ohio region. The Ann Arbor supply-chain software company has experienced steady growth since launching in 1998, and last year, LLamasoft acquired two major competitors: the LogicTools suite previously owned by IBM, and Barloworld Supply Chain Solutions.

“For the past four or five years, we’ve averaged 60 percent growth annually,” Hicks told Xconomy in a 2015 interview, adding that for the past three years, Llamasoft has also landed on Deloitte’s Fast 500 list, which tracks high-growth tech companies. “In the supply chain space, we’re the only company on the list.”

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