Detroit Labs, Compuware & More on the Mobile Opportunity in Michigan

4/13/12Follow @XconomyDET

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month in an attempt to get a picture of Michigan’s mobile tech sector:

Paul Czarnik, Chief Technology Officer, Compuware

About the company: The Detroit-based software giant has been in business for 40 years and counts among its clients 46 of the top 50 Fortune 500 companies and 12 of the 20 most-visited U.S. websites, including Google, Facebook, LG, Yahoo, Logitech, the National Football League, and Amazon.

Industry impressions: “All of Compuware Ventures‘ startups are mobile-based. Our perspective is to look for tech-based companies that we can incubate. We’re focused ferociously on Detroit. We tend to share the love and share the risk. If Detroit Venture Partners passes on something, we’ll take a look and vice-versa. The biggest surprise has been how cheaply and quickly you can develop mobile startups. Software companies need to understand that their biggest competition now is four kids in a dorm room with laptops. The new model for software companies is very lean.”

Michigan’s strengths: “Proximity of low-cost office space.”

Michigan’s weaknesses: “I’m stunned by the lack of talent out there. So much so that Compuware is working with the universities and the MEDC to change that. Kids are leaving Michigan because Silicon Valley snatches them up. They’re saddled with student loans, and if they can land a good job it takes the pressure off. The biggest vacuum is in startups, because there’s a shortage of technical founders. With all of that debt, the kids can’t afford to be part of a startup.”

Jim Hankins, president and founder, Safety Grid

About the company: Chesterfield-based Safety Grid offers a “panic button” app for the iPad and iPhone. Hankins, who spent nine years in the military, created the company after he lost a good friend in the 9-11 attacks who was hit in the head by falling debris and dropped his phone in the street. “I thought there has got to be a way we can leverage technology to make it easier to locate people in a disaster,” Hankins says.

Safety Grid is available as a free download or a $9.99 per month monitored system. The free version will notify up to five contacts with an automated message if the user trips the silent alarm, and the monitored version functions like OnStar, with a human handling the alert. So far, Hankins says, 2,700 people have utilized it in a rescue, and it’s the only rescue app certified by the United Nations.

“People dial 9-1-1 and can’t converse because they’re being victimized by violent crime,” Hankins says. “There’s no additional information provided to the dispatcher. Safety Grid provides medical information, and we can coordinate a rescue anywhere in the world or add medivac coverage to repatriate you to your home country.”

Industry impressions: “I have a telecom background, but I taught myself how to write apps through online courses and reading books. It took one and a half years from when I came up with the concept to when it was available for download. It’s been a very rewarding experience.”

Michigan’s strengths: “Michigan has, especially with the automotive industry, a large group of folks in marketing, advertising, graphic design, and photography. Those skill sets can be easily tapped for the mobile industry.”

Michigan’s weaknesses: “There’s a fairly large contingent of developers in the area, but I haven’t had the chance to rub elbows with them. Often, developers have personality quirks that make them pretty solitary people. [Developers] need to come together as a community to draw people out.”

Ron Harwood, CEO, Illuminating Concepts

About the company: Based in Farmington Hills, Illuminating Concepts has taken the old-fashioned studio control room mobile. The company specializes in “immersion experiences” and uses apps to control all forms of lighting, sound, and special effects at venues like Disney World and Campus Martius. After 9-11, the company delved into emergency alerts, way-finding, and digital signage. “We’re taking tech literally to the street, and all of it is controllable on the fly through mobile devices,” Harwood says.

The company is currently developing a way to use … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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