MI Roundup: Automation Alley, Baker College, Google DevFest, & More

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

Automation Alley, a Southeast Michigan technology business association, has released its annual economic report, and it contains a bold prediction: The region will outperform Silicon Valley in several key areas, including revenue, R&D investment, and hiring. To compile the report, Automation Alley surveyed senior tech executives in both Southeast Michigan and Silicon Valley. Almost all of the local tech executives predict revenue growth this year, and 25 percent of those predict more than a 15 percent increase.

The report also tried to hammer home Michigan’s relative affordability: 83 percent of Southeast Michigan executives believe technology companies can have greater return on investment doing business in metro Detroit, while only 69 percent of their Silicon Valley counterparts believe the same to be true about the Bay Area. The cost of living is also much lower in Michigan, the report found, where median house prices are 412 percent lower than in San Jose.  The majority of executives surveyed said they plan to spend more on R&D and hiring in 2016 than they did in 2015.

So, what does it all mean? “We compete with the best and brightest in America,” said Ken Rogers, executive director of Automation Alley, in a press release. “Use the data to recruit. Tell that college grad that they have a tech future right here.”

—Last week, about 100 students from Detroit’s Martin Luther King Jr. and University Prep high schools who are interested in pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers got a big surprise. Comerica Bank is going to pony up for the students to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix when it takes place in Detroit in June. During the tour, the kids will learn about tech careers related to racing.

The students from MLK high school are building a race car that generates electric power with compressed air for the 2016 Square One Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge. These students will meet with racing professionals while on the tour for demonstrations and advice regarding the design challenge.

—Baker College students training to be sign-language interpreters are helping a Michigan School for the Deaf student compete in a robotics competition. The Baker College team, known as Aftershock, is building a robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition, held at Kettering University in Flint this weekend. The student-interpreters will help the deaf student and his deaf mother communicate with the rest of the team, which also has two members who are hard of hearing.

Aftershock coach Jeff White, a Baker College engineering professor, said he recruited the deaf and hard-of-hearing students because he realized they weren’t getting the opportunity to participate in robotics programs. The experience also gives the interpreters the chance to practice speaking in more technical terms. The competition, similar to a game of capture the flag, involves robot teams trying to breach their opponents’ defenses and draws participants from across the state.

—The Mobile Technology Association of Michigan is looking for startups with the next great idea in energy technology to apply to the Shell Great Lakes Innovation Competition. At stake is $20,000 and the chance to pitch to investors and potential industry partners. Participating startups must be past the proof-of-concept phase and working to solve energy-related challenges in homes, vehicles, or cities. The competition will take place on April 21 at the Shell Powering Progress Together forum at Cobo Center in Detroit. The deadline to apply is March 13.

Zoetis, the animal health company with R&D operations based in Kalamazoo, has received FDA approval for Simparica, a once-a-month chewable flea and tick medication for dogs. The active substance in Simparica is sarolaner, a new ectoparasiticide in the isoxazoline class. Zoetis researchers tested its efficacy on more than 900 dogs of varying breeds over a three-month period. The company said in a press release that Simparica’s rapid onset means that fleas are killed before they have a chance to lay eggs, preventing home infestations and providing relief to dogs suffering flea allergy dermatitis.

—Over the weekend, 200 tech-minded middle school girls from around metro Detroit got the chance to participate in a hands-on learning event, courtesy of Wayne State University’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. The girls learned about various engineering disciplines, got a glimpse of the college experience, and made magnet-powered hovercrafts, candy asphalt, and an artificial lung. Women engineers working at companies such as Ford were on hand to talk to the girls about their experiences. The event, called FutureSWE, drew students from 41 schools and was supported by a grant from the ExxonMobil Foundation.

—The upcoming Google DevFest conference, planned for April 30 at Grand Circus in Detroit, has issued a call for speakers. Are you passionate about Android or Google/cloud technologies and capable of delivering a 45-minute presentation, sharing what you’ve learned? Do you have a good story to tell about how you conquered a technical hurdle using Google tech? If so, submit your presentation idea here; the application deadline is March 15.

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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