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  Michigan Small Tech leaders explore collaborations at MISTA event

Greg Auner, director of the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems (SSIM) lab, led conference participants through the SSIM facilities at the college.

Mar 22, 2004 - Michigan’s emergence as a top small tech area was evident last week, as the state’s small tech businesses met in Detroit. The landmark event, held at Wayne State University’s College of Engineering, was all about collaboration, and the 125 industry leaders attending “Growing Michigan Business With Small Tech” began the process of forming and cementing business relationships.

“Do you know where your competitors are? Yeah you do. But more importantly, do you know where your collaborators are?” Fred Grasman, a business development manager for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., asked a breakout session on homeland security. Small tech entrepreneurs, Grasman said, are “way out in front of the marketplace.” Survival, then, depends on forming the partnerships necessary to move products along the research and development chain.

Collaboration possibilities in Michigan are plentiful, according to presenter Hal Cantor.

“There are many opportunities for small tech companies to partner on projects and obtain state and federal grants,” said Cantor, president of Advanced Sensor Technologies Inc., of Farmington Hills. Cantor was the presenter in the life science/bio breakout session at the conference.

Cantor’s doctoral research at the University of Michigan resulted in the development of a real-time biosensor system for monitoring endocrine activity. The company he subsequently founded has produced a skin patch with a microscopic monitor and drug-delivery system.

Cantor said he is enthusiastic about Michigan providing a positive, business-friendly climate for small tech industry startups. People find it hard to believe when he tells them how much small tech business and life science research is occurring here, he said.

Keynote Louis Ross, managing partner for the Global Emerging Technology Institute, explained how Asian business partners work together developing technologies before competition kicks in on product applications.

In the defense and homeland security session, panelists were Paul Decker of the U.S Tank Automotive Research and Development Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Rao Boggavarapu of General Dynamics Land Systems, and Uwe Michalak of Sensicore Inc.

Decker talked about small tech funding opportunities under the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems program, which promises to completely overhaul the equipment used by U.S. ground forces before 2015. The $15-billion program provides some opportunities for small tech companies, he said, particularly those working on fuel monitoring, automotive diagnostics, water purification and bio-threat detection. Around $2 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants is available in 2004, he said.

“Right now, a big driver for us is reliability,” Decker said, so the Army needs onboard diagnostics and embedded sensors.

“Keep in mind there's a new acronym in town – CBRNE: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives,” Grasman added. "And if you can figure out a sensor that will detect those kinds of problems all across that spectrum – in a single unit, on a single chip, at the micron level … you're going to be the next Microsoft.”

The morning also included a segment titled "Advantage Michigan" about combining the research and analysis of the Midland-based Michigan Molecular Institute (MMI), Impact Analytical, and Dendritech Inc. MMI is a polymeric research and education institute. Dendritech is a successful nanotech company that was spun out of MMI 10 years ago. And Impact Analytical, the newest company to come out of MMI, offers contract custom research capabilities for companies examining this sector.

Greg Auner, director of the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems (SSIM) lab, led conference participants through the SSIM facilities at the college. SSIM encompasses more than 11,000-sq. ft. of space involving 35 faculty researchers, 37 graduate students, 10 staff scientists and engineers, and 15 undergraduate researchers. SSIM, with its advanced clean room, offers opportunities for small tech companies looking for industry-level production capabilities.

The afternoon featured breakout sessions on small tech in the automotive, defense and homeland security, and life sciences industries. The life sciences panel heard from Nader Najafi, founder and CEO of Ypsilanti-based Integrated Sensing Systems Inc., which has been building micromachined flow sensors and tiny implantable biomedical sensors since 1995; Cantor, of Farmington Hills-based Advanced Sensor Technologies Inc., which has tiny skin-patch biological sensors and drug dispensers now in federal tests; and Fred Dumsa, engineering manager of Delphi Medical Systems, the medical device subsidiary of the Troy auto parts and technology giant.

Later, Patti Glaza, COO of Small Times Media presented the “Small Tech State of State” report on Michigan's improvement to number eight on Small Times' 2004 Top Ten states list. Glaza said Michigan earned its rating on yardsticks measuring research activity, industry activity, company activity, venture capital investment, innovation, workforce and costs. Michigan did best on research: in first place for R&D as a percentage of gross state product, second place in total R&D spending, seventh in total and small tech National Science Foundation grants. It's eighth in terms of total Ph.D.'s and eleventh in total engineers and scientists. And it's seventh in the total number of small tech companies here, around 50.

Small Times News Editor Howard Lovy contributed to this report.

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