High Tech Ann Arbor
Can Ann Arbor become the next big thing in high tech?
Story by Julie Halpert
Photos by Benjamin Weatherston
Grace Hsia, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan, thinks she has the next big business idea and she spends most of her waking hours making sure it succeeds. • As an undergraduate engineering student, she and a team of five others got a patent on a non-electric heat technology they use to make infant warming blankets. She’s CEO of a company they founded, Warmilu, which seeks to reduce infant mortality from hypothermia, a condition that kills 140 infants in developing countries every hour, she said. • “I am passionate about spreading warmth to save lives,” she said. Hsia and her five partners have raised $30,000 to launch the product, which is being tested in Bangalore, India. • For the past 17 months, Hsia has spent as many as 90 hours a week nurturing her startup from her cramped, 196-square-foot apartment in downtown Ann Arbor. She tends to her pet project while perched on her lone piece of furniture, a cappuccino-colored futon. • She also takes a full 16-credit class load in her master’s of entrepreneurship program and works 20 hours a week at U-M’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy. She even manages to squeeze in exercise, logging 56 miles on a stationary bike on a recent Saturday while typing away at her laptop. • She doesn’t sleep much. “When you know your technology is saving lives, it really makes you go the extra mile,” she says. Hsia is extraordinarily committed, but she’s not alone. Ann Arbor has a growing techie subculture of people chasing their dreams, hoping to cash in on the next great idea.