Roundup: Naturalicious, Ford STEAM Lab, MedHealth Summit & More

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

—Gwen Jimmere, founder of Detroit-based beauty startup Naturalicious, has been named one of the 100 most influential African Americans in the country by The Root. Jimmere started the company in 2013 out of her home in Canton. A single mother who had recently been laid off from her corporate job, she taught herself how to apply for a patent to protect her intellectual property and became the first African American woman to patent a natural hair care product. The Naturalicious line, now sold across the globe, is made at the Ponyride co-working space in Detroit.

—Because the U.S. potentially faces a massive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) labor shortage by 2022, Ford announced earlier this month that it would make its STEAM curriculum available to educators free of charge. In 2014, the Ford Motor Company Fund introduced the Ford STEAM Lab, a digital-blended learning program that takes students through a hackathon-style brainstorming session and exposes them to STEM careers and tech entrepreneurship. The program adds an arts component to help students use creativity and innovation in problem-solving. Ford decided to make the curriculum available after the successful #TeacherHack: Using Technology to Disrupt Dropout Rates event, a two-day session held earlier this year for teachers that was modeled after the student STEAM Lab.

The University of Michigan’s Zell Founders Fund, which invests in startups led by recent U-M graduates, has chosen its first company to invest in: Sneakers by Jordana, an e-commerce operation founded by art school alum Jordana Schrager, who has designed custom kicks for celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Nick Cannon. The fund’s $100,000 investment will be used to start mass production on a new footwear and fashion line.

The $10 million Zell Founders Fund is led by three women who say in a press release that they were “instantly captivated” by Jordana’s designs. They offered Schrager $50,000 in cash up front and created milestones she needs to reach—selling at least 50 percent of her first product run, establishing partnerships with other businesses, and increasing her social media following by 50 percent—before she receives the second $50,000. The Zell Founders Fund plans to announce its second investment soon.

—In February, TechTown Detroit will once again partner with Canadian organizations to host the MedHealth Summit, an annual event designed to spur collaboration to solve key healthcare challenges in Southeast Michigan and Southwest Ontario, particularly in the areas of healthcare IT, medical devices, and electronic health record optimization.

As part of the summit, market-ready companies can apply to participate in the MedHealth Challenge pilot program, where finalists will be able to discuss their concepts with healthcare organizations during one-on-one matchmaking sessions. In addition, early-stage startups not quite ready for prime time can compete for cash and in-kind prizes in the MedHealth Challenge Pitch Session. Applications for both will be accepted starting Nov. 7 through Jan. 6 here.

—Earlier this month, Kettering University in Flint hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new GM Mobility Research Center, which the university describes as the only facility of its kind on a U.S. college campus. The center, which began construction last year, was funded in part by a $2 million grant from the GM Foundation. The outdoor lab space and proving ground will be used to enhance research and development of autonomous vehicles, vehicle safety standards, hybrid and electric vehicle technologies, and more.

Kettering is the only university in the country that operates a private 4G LTE cellular network infrastructure, which moves at 10 times the speed of current cellular networks. The U.S. Economic Development Administration recently awarded the university a $1.9 million grant that will support the construction of phase two of the project in early 2017, including a low-speed road course with elevation and surface changes, a research annex, and a garage with automotive bays, conference and office space, and an indoor lab.

—In the lead-up to next year’s GreenLight Business Competition, organizers are traveling around the state in search of startups to compete in the finals held next March. On Oct. 12, 10 companies pitched in East Jordan; at stake were $15,000 in prizes and an the chance to pitch in the finals. The East Jordan winners were Valley View Malt House ($10,500), The House Next Door ($3,000), and My Farm Market ($1,500).

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