Roundup: U-M, NextEnergy, Blackstone LaunchPad, Rockwell Medical & More

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

—The University of Michigan is constructing a 32-acre mini-city to test driverless vehicles on the northern part ofcampus. Called M City, it will include a network of roads with up to five lanes, intersections, roundabouts, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, bus facilities, benches, simulated buildings, streetlights, parked cars, pedestrians, and obstacles like construction barriers. It’s being built in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation as part of the Mobility Transformation Center, a public-private partnership to bring autonomous vehicle technology to market. It’s expected to be operational by spring.

—Earlier this month, more than 30 teams of middle and high school students gathered at NextEnergy in Detroit for the VEX Robotics Competition, which is the largest robotics competition in the world with more than 7,300 teams from 26 countries participating in hundreds of events throughout the year. The competition culminates with a world championship, being held this year in Kentucky in April. The Haslett VEX Raptors from MSU College of Engineering, Trutech from Grand Blanc East Middle School, and Gear Mashers from Grand Blanc East Middle School were crowned the tournament champions, and they’ll go on to the world championship in the spring. The VEX Robotics Competition is sponsored and organized by the Heroes’ Alliance, a coalition of parents and community members in Detroit supporting the growth, development, and well-being of children. U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is also one of the sponsors, and it hopes to foster the growth of young talent and enable hands-on experience in STEM-related fields.

—Michigan high school and community college students are invited to participate in Walsh College’s Blackstone LaunchPad Make It Better competition. Created to spur entrepreneurial ventures, the competition requires those interested in competing to describe in 1,000 words or less how they would redesign an existing product or service, or develop a new one to help improve the quality of people’s lives, or make the state of Michigan or their community a better place to live. Prizes include two $500 top awards and four Apple gift cards. Competition applications can be obtained by contacting Diane Fisher at (248) 823-1670, or by clicking here. Winners will be announced in April.

—On Monday, Wixom’s Rockwell Medical announced it has received FDA approval of Triferic for commercial sale as an iron replacement product to maintain hemoglobin in adult patients with hemodialysis-dependent, chronic kidney disease. CEO Rob Chioini said in a press release that it’s the first drug approved to replace ongoing iron losses and to maintain
hemoglobin levels in hemodialysis patients. Raymond Pratt, Rockwell’s chief medical officer, said, “We see Triferic as a paradigm shift in the treatment of anemia. Importantly, Triferic is the first product that can safely allow dialysis patients to maintain target hemoglobin without the need for IV iron.”

—Applications are now open for the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge, a competition organized by the SAE International, the MIT Alliance of Michigan, and NextEnergy. The competition is meant to cultivate new automotive technology and find innovative companies. Participants are asked to submit an online proposal in one or more of the challenge categories—vehicle electrification, V2X, and advanced mobility; advanced materials, sensors, and manufacturing; infotainment; and new disruptive technologies—by 11:59 pm EST on March 6, 2015. A judging panel will review the submissions and select semifinalists. A semi-finals presentation will be held at NextEnergy in Detroit on April 2 and the challenge finals will be held at the SAE World Congress on April 21. More than $200,000 worth of business acceleration services and cash will be awarded to four winners. To apply, click here.

Start Garden, the Grand Rapids-based venture capital fund that invests in over a hundred ideas a year in small increments, has made a rash of $5,000 investments in the past month. Companies receiving funding are Pinchaser, a website that offers instructional videos and allows golfers to track their stats online; Projection Hub, a Web app that helps startups create financial projections for potential investors; Legal Buddy, a website that offers tools and resources to simplify legal matters; Fruitera, a monthly subscription service that delivers ready-to-blend organic smoothies; Fluency, an app that provides access to live interpreters and 160 languages from your smartphone or tablet; and Hex, a bluetooth remote that allows users to easily access their music or phone controls hands-free.

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

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