Lawrence Tech Hosts GLITR Award Winners

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Oh, man, you missed it.

What a terrific program Thursday morning at Lawrence Technological University, where the four winners of the first-ever GLITR Awards told their stories.

But apparently two WWJ-GLITR events in two days was a bit much for the busy Southeast Michigan technology community, and only a handful of people attended.

Don’t worry, I’m here for you. I’ll tell you all about Ann Arbor’s Adaptive Materials Inc., Dexter’s ReCellular Inc., Grand Rapids’ LPIT Solutions Inc. and Neil Yaremchuk of the wonderful Made in Michigan Movement.

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Hitting the Lawrence Tech stage first was Aaron Crumm, founder and “chief visionary officer” of Adaptive Materials, which won the award for Breakaway Company of the Year, the company that’s using technology to break away from its competition.

“We’ve been around 12 years and we’re just now coming in to our breakout year,” said Crumm, who founded the company out of his research as a graduate student in materials science at the University of Michigan. “We had an idea, could you make a fuel cell, make it manufacturable, and miniaturize it. We started with the U.S. Department of Defense, which has been a wonderful partner.”

Today, Adaptive Materials employs 60 people and is growing, and its products are starting to be used by soldiers overseas. The idea is to replace the 20 to 50 pounds of batteries soldiers have to carry to power all their electronic gizmos with fuel cells weighing two to five pounds.

Adaptive Materials’ fuel cells don’t burn exotic fuels like hydrogen, but instead common propane. Their exhaust is water and carbon dioxide.

The fuel cells are also being eyed for applications to replace gasoline-burning generators in recreational vehicles and boats. Crumm said Adaptive Materials is now looking for channel partners to approach those markets.

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Next up was Chuck Newman, founder and CEO of Dexter-based ReCellular, which won the award for Green Company of the Year.

ReCellular recycles four to five million wireless phones a year, keeping them out of landfills.

Yet Newman states wryly that both the company itself and its current performance stems from failure.

Newman said he started out in business buying, selling and renting “microcomputers” (think workstations before PCs) and decided to rent cell phones back when their electronics required a briefcase to house.

“We didn’t think there would be 290 million cell phones in use in this country,” Newman said. “Even AT&T thought there would only be a few million. They gave away that business when they broke up, although they did keep the Yellow Pages.”

Newman said some of its cell phone rental customers quit making payments and had their cell phones repossessed. Newman tried to sell those used cell phones, and discovered there were no used phone dealers.

So, ReCellular became the first used phone dealer. “We got into it to recoup some of our losses,” Newman said.

Today, ReCellular has annual revenue upward of $100 mllion, several hundred employees, and complex supply chain relationships extending to Asia. Almost all of the used cell phones ReCellular collects are refurbished at Asian factories and resold, either as warranty replacements or prepaid phones.

But Newman said he’s disappointed that he’s managing to recycle only a few million of the 100 million cell phones a year in this country that are discarded. They contain nasty heavy metals and other compounds that shouldn’t go into landfills.

Newman said ReCellular will continue to try to expand its phone collection efforts and plans to expand into recycling other electronics.

More at www.recellular.com.

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A fascinating story came next from Neil Yaremchuk, founder of the Made in Michigan Movement.

The movement was born out of Yaremchuk’s personal crisis — a pink slip from an auto supplier on Dec. 23, 2008. He said his wife gave him 24 hours to be emotional about the layoff, and then demanded a solution.

“I lost my job because a significant Michigan product is not being purchased,” he said. “I thought, what are the significant Michigan products? What’s made here? I don’t have an economics degree, but I know that keeping money in our local economy is better than seeing it leave.”

So, Yaremchuk created Made in Michigan Movement on Dec. 24, 2008 with $53. He created it as a Facebook page, and by the end of Christmas Day he had 200 followers, and within 30 days he had 5,000.

Yaremchuk said he originally envisioned being a made-in-Michigan listing service, but other people were doing that better. Then he thought about putting on a trade show, but other people were doing that better too.

So he decided to offer assistance in reaching customers to the small and “micro” business owner in Michigan.

And he’s now combining it with fundraising for schools and organizations, after being troubled by seeing high school students essentially pandhandling for money for bands and cheerleading. His Made in Michigan Marketplace School and Group Fundraising system will allow groups to fundraise by selling the products of elite, vetted made-in-Michigan products, online or through catalogs.

More at www.madeinmichiganmovement.com.

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The final speaker at Lawrence Tech was John Post, CEO of LPIT Solutions Inc., a company he and a partner started in 2002, and which won the GLITR Reinvented Company of the Year award.

“We were both working for large companies, me for CDI, my partner for IBM, we both had young families and we were both working 80 and 90 hour weeks,” Post said. “We decided if we were going to work those hours, we might as well do it for ourselves, and at home.”

LPIT started out as a custom Web and software development shop. “We grew to 19 employees by saying yes to everybody,” Post said.

But it was a constant struggle getting programmers. So instead of doing custom products, the company looked around for products to develop, which it could offer as a service and collect ongoing, predictable fees.

The first such product, PropCore, helpd property managers keep track of their finances.

But then he met someone who worked in a health care organization that had just failed to meet an accreditation standard for handling human tissues, and who asked Post to help the proglem with software.

“I saw some glimmers in the eyes of my staff, ‘Isn’t every hospital going to have this problem?'” Post said. “The answer was yes. So we agreed to write the software for free for this group of hospitals, if they could make sure the software would meet the needs of hospitals everywhere.”

The new product, TrackCore, launched in early 2007 at a nursing trade show. It tracks human tissues and other inventory at hospitals (up to 27,000 separate inventory items at one hospital client). It’s now in use in hundreds of hospitals in 34 states. The biggest major client win: Cleveland Clinic and its affiliates.

LPIT is now up to 13 employees, and plans to hire five more in the coming six months.

“We’re looking mostly for people to help train users in hospitals,” Post said. “We’re closing 25 hospitals a month.”

More at www.lpitsolutions.com.

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So there you have it. Four fascinating tales of tech company growth at Lawrence Technological University. Now you know why you need to put Last Thursdays Unwired at Lawrence Tech U. on your calendar and leave it there — no matter what else is happening the day before.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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