Roundup: OptimizeRx, Parabricks, URC, Startup Detroit, ACM and More

The weather is finally starting to cool—I’m a fan of fall —but Michigan’s tech startups and entrepreneurs are still red-hot: they’re raising money, buying competitors and complementary companies, launching new products, and more. Read on for recent news about the state’s innovation community.

—Rochester’s OptimizeRx, a digital health company focused on facilitating digital communication between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry, last week acquired Somerset, NJ-based CareSpeak Communications, a patient engagement platform.

OptimizeRx paid $9 million to buy CareSpeak, and the company says it will help OptimizeRx “expand its reach to communicate directly to patients, resulting in greater medication adherence, persistence, and affordability.” According to a press release, CareSpeak will maintain its New Jersey staff and headquarters.

—The University Research Corridor, a partnership between Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, has released its 2017 economic impact report. According to the report, the three universities contributed $18.7 billion to the state’s economy last year, up from $16.5 billion in 2015. The organization says that marks a 46 percent increase since 2007, the year it was formed and began benchmarking its impact on the state of Michigan. The URC also reported that it generated 78,845 jobs in 2017.

Last year, the report says, the URC spent $2.3 billion on research and development, an increase of 54 percent since 2007. The URC also attracted 94 cents of every federal dollar spent on academic research in Michigan, and accounts for 92 percent of all R&D conducted at higher education institutions in the state.

—On September 4, Damian Porcari was sworn in as the new director for the U. S. Patent and Trademark Midwest Regional Office. The Detroit office was one of three satellite USPTO offices made possible by a 2011 Congressional act; in 2012, it was the first of the three to open. The Elijah J. McCoy Midwest Regional Office is located in the Stroh’s Building along Detroit’s riverfront, and it helps tech startups and inventors in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin apply for patents.

A2 New Tech is a well-known meet-up group in Ann Arbor that regularly attracts hundreds of participants, serving as fertile ground for cross-pollination among the region’s tech entrepreneurs. Now, thanks to the tireless folks at Bamboo Detroit, there is a Motor City version called Startup Detroit. Organizers say anyone new to the community can go to the accompanying online hub and join the Slack channel. Startup Detroit meet-ups are held the second Thursday of every month; the next one will be on Nov. 8. The meetings are free of charge and open to all.

—The Zell Founders Fund, a venture fund led by students at the University of Michigan, has invested $100,000 in SMPL, a startup founded by a U-M alum. SMPL makes a line of vegan, gluten-free, organic snacks loaded with superfoods. The company, founded by Ellis Fried in 2016 during his junior year in college, came about after he tested hundreds of recipes for energy bars in his kitchen. Ellis said in a press release that he plans to use the money to expand SMPL’s distribution and refine branding.

Parabricks, the Ann Arbor startup using “proprietary high-performance computing techniques” to speed up analysis of genomic data, has received a $748,104 Phase II SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation. The company said in a statement that it planned to use the funding to commercialize its technology and conduct further research. The Michigan Emerging Technologies Fund matched the grant with $125,000 to support commercialization efforts. The company presented its latest product advancements at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics last week in San Diego.

—The American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township has launched a project to research and test automated convoy platooning. The two-year study will involve both commercial and military-grade trucks, and “aims to autonomously control an entire fleet of vehicles—throttle, brake and steering—while optimizing fuel efficiency and safety,” the ACM said in a statement. The organization also says that if completed, it will be the first research project of its kind in the nation.

Others participating in the study include Auburn University, University of Michigan-Dearborn, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the United States Army and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).

—Midland-based Chemical Bank has partnered with Ann Arbor SPARK to sponsor Starting Your Own Business, a monthly program that teaches first-time business owners and entrepreneurs the fundamentals needed to succeed: product development, intellectual property management, business plan development, marketing strategy, and more. SPARK says Chemical Bank’s sponsorship will help provide workshop scholarships by waiving the $25 registration fee for qualified attendees. The one-day program is held every month at SPARK East in Ypsilanti; to register, click here.

—The Michigan Strategic Fund, administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, has approved funding for seven statewide programs designed to strengthen Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and encourage development of talent and technologies. Those programs and entities receiving funding include the Michigan Venture Capital Association ($300,000), the BBC Entrepreneurial Training Corporation ($480,000), MTRAC innovation hubs ($2.6 million, of which $2 million is allocated to U-M’s life science innovation hub); and the Michigan Small Business Development Center ($5.6 million).

—Speaking of the Michigan Venture Capital Association, the organization held its annual awards gala earlier this month, attracting a record-high crowd. Among the honorees were the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition (community impact award—see the item below for more information on the event), Duo Security (exit of the year), Grand Angels’ Jody Vanderwel (lifetime achievement), and Strata Oncology (up-and-coming company).

Accelerate Michigan, the state’s largest startup competition, has announced the 24 semi-finalists competing for cash and prizes in this year’s event. The semi-finalists were selected from nearly 300 applicants and judged by a panel of more than 70 investors, who chose companies based on innovation, business development, and customer traction. Accelerate Michigan will be held Nov. 13 at the Lexus Velodrome in Detroit; click here for tickets.

Light Guide Systems, the Wixom-based maker of augmented reality tools for industrial use, was named innovator of the year this week at the annual Fourth Industrial Revolution Awards. The awards recognize Midwestern leadership and innovation in the manufacturing industry.

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