GLITR Tech Tour Day Six: Midland’s Magnificent

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GLITR Editor Matt Roush and Barbara J. Muessig, spokeswoman for the Mid-Michigan Innovation Center, takes a golf cart for a spin powered by GreenSeal advanced batteries from Clare-based Advanced Battery Concepts.

GLITR Editor Matt Roush and Barbara J. Muessig, spokeswoman for the Mid-Michigan Innovation Center, takes a golf cart for a spin powered by GreenSeal advanced batteries from Clare-based Advanced Battery Concepts.

MIDLAND — The Mid-Michigan Innovation Center is dead! Long live the Mid-Michigan Innovation Center!

The business incubator at the eastern Midland city limits on Ashman Road, all 112,000 square feet of it, lies mostly empty and quiet. Dow Chemical Co., its owner, plans to tear it down after the last tenants move out at the end of the month.

But there will still be a Mid-Michigan Innovation Center, I learned on Tuesday, Day Six of the Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report’s 2012 Spring Tech Tour. Boy will there ever.

The new MMIC will be at 2007 Austin St. in Midland. And it will be a svelte 7,000 square feet to start, with an option on another 8,000 square feet.

Why? Because the MMIC is changing how it does incubation.

“We’ve been actively graduating folks the last few months,” said MMIC program director Chris Moultrup. “Really, our new approach is to view the community as an incubator — to use vacant and available space throughout the community.”

Also, Moultrup said, “the building was getting too expensive to maintain, so it made sense to move to something else.”

Moultrup said the MMIC will begin working with local landowners to make sure its clients get the space they need, from special requests like data centers to wet lab space for life sciences companies.

The MMIC’s service area is huge, ranging from the Midland – Mt. Pleasant – Clare area in Mid-Michigan to Traverse City to Alpena to the Thumb, which makes it even more important to stay flexible when it comes to real estate.

There were 12 companies at the old incubator, and five will move in to the new. The MMIC deals with another 20 companies outside its doors as virtual incubator clients. Moultrup said the incubator hopes to reach financial self-sufficiency in its new space, “operating as a business with revenue goals, responding to client needs rather than providing what we think they need.”

MMIC also now has a permanent office in the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce Building, staffed by Heather Fortin, who has the title programs director for northern Michigan. Fortin got involved with the MMIC while pitching a business of her own at an MMIC event, and wound up working for the organization. In the Traverse City area, she’s helped launch a Northern Michigan Angels organization of individual investors — it’s been meeting monthly since November, with 35 to 40 attending the meetings, including 10 officially accredited investors. It’s also helping guide crowdsourcing of startup ideas, including two Traverse City teen-agers with the idea of selling portable liighting for nighttime bicycling, skiing and skateboarding, a company called 45th Parallel Lighting with products called Action Glow.

MMIC is also launching Stone Soup, a Web site where entrepreneurs can add expertise for public consumption. It will have sections in topics like intellectual property, marketing, operations, search engine optimization, personnel management and project management.

I also checked out a couple of companies still in the MMIC.

Serenus Johnson Portables creates portable, temporary structures — MetaSpace for temporary hospitals and medical centers, LiveSpace for temporary barracks, dorms and dining spaces, and WorkSpace for offices.

A MetaSpace hospital is now at work in Joplin, Mo., replacing a hospital leveled by the May 22, 2011 tornado, an F5 monster that leveled most of the city, as well as at other disaster scenes. More at www.sjohnsonportables.com.

There’s also Gantec Inc., a company using the seeds of Africa’s neem tree for natural pesticide, and spinoff Organibliss LLC, which develops a high end of the Gantec product for high-value plants.

MMIC will also sponsor its fourth annual Heading for the Big Leagues event at Midland’s Dow Diamond baseball stadium Thursday, May 31. This event will transform Dow Diamond into a technolgoy and innovation showcase for up to 40 promising and successful companies and hundreds of visitors. The event starts with educational seminars for entrepreneurs from 1 to 6 p.m., awards and recognition from 6 to 7 p.m. and networking and exhibitor showcase from 6 to 9 p.m.

More at www.mmic.us.

My day in Mid-Michigan ended with a quick trip from Midland to Clare, for a visit with MMIC “graduate” Advanced Battery Concepts.

ABC is working on a new wrinkle for old-fashioned lead-acid battteries, namely, biopolar batteries. The company was founded by Chicago-area native and MIT doctorate holder Edward Shaffer II, a former Dow Chemical Co. employee. The company moved in October 2011 into a 22,000-square-foot building in an industrial park along US-127 in Clare.

Actually, plant manager Scott MacPhail said, bipolar lead-acid batteries are “an old technology that really nobody has harnessed.” Conventional battery producers, MacPhail said, will tell you the technology doesn’t work. Well, physics says otherwise, and Advanced Battery is now producing bipolar lead-acid batteries that weigh roughly half as much as the conventional batteries they’re replacing.

The batteries are intended for deep-cycle, slow-discharge applications like golf carts, electric motorcycles, golf carts, wheelchairs, trolling motors — and, eventually, wind and solar energy storage. The company is working with the Univerity of Toledo on using the batteries to store solar energy.

Advanced Battery currently employes eight full-timers and five part-timers in Clare and another five in Ohio.

And while the company isn’t hiring at the moment, it will be shortly, says MacPhail with a grin. That’s because it’s going to start mass-producing the batteries later this year.

“We’re already competitive on price,” MacPhail said. “We plan to start commercial production in six to eight months.”

So start looking for GreenSeal advanced batteries in stores!

With that, my visit to Midland was done, and I hit the road for Grand Rapids, where I’ll be seeing still more amazing Michigan technology Wednesday. Onward!

Be sure to listen afternoons on WWJ Newsradio 950 for special reports on the GLITR 2012 Spring Tech Tour. And check out photos from the Tech Tour road at http://detroit.cbslocal.com/photo-galleries/2012/05/11/glitr-spring-tech-tour-2012/#photo-323016.

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