Rounding out its third year, the annual Manu-Tech Pitch Competition took place Dec. 7, 2022, serving as a forum for manufactures, tech companies and investors to share the latest advancements in manufacturing and industry 4.0 technologies. Beyond the tech, the gathering also focused on what was needed for domestic manufacturing to remain globally competitive. Lathrup Village’s Mint Conference Center hosted the event.
This year’s theme was Catalyzing Sustainability in Domestic Manufacturing. Presenters, panels and pitches provided key insights into breakthrough technology that is enabling operational efficiency and resiliency for our Michigan manufacturing firms. It also featured best-in-class technology from companies in the Industry 4.0 Accelerator, an Automation Alley developed program with partners Lean Rocket Lab and the Centrepolis Accelerator.
Since 2020, the Industry 4.0 Accelerator’s focus has been to utilize funds managed by Automation Alley to support early-stage tech companies developing I4.0 solutions for manufacturing. In addition to the investment, the portfolio companies receive key guidance on technology development and how to address the needs of manufacturing customers.
Portfolio companies further work with Automation Alley on molding themselves into a Learning Organization through our Leadership Evaluation and Assessment. We’ve seen that following our icube™ process results in better growth outcomes in this space. The I4.0 Accelerator team also puts in place a custom path for the companies regarding product offering and introducing them to manufacturing customers. Many of those customers are manufacturers or manufacturing integrators that assist in bringing I4.0 innovation to their facilities.
To start off the event, attendees learned about the leadership Michigan developed in the I.40 manufacturing space. Content covered Automation Alley’s view of where technology is taking us, Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s programs for small and medium manufacturing companies, and how the Accelerator connects the pieces.
The comprehensive approach taken here is one that I think will become a template for other regions to follow — startup companies working with experts, connecting to manufacturing opportunities and manufacturers turning to the Automation Alley, Pure Michigan Business Connect and the I4.0 Accelerator to identify the pipeline for innovation.
Additionally, small and medium manufacturers should take note that the MEDC has in place the Industry 4.0 Technology Implementation Grant Program. The program works with regional grantees and alongside the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and Automation Alley to administer this effort that has helped award nearly $2 million in matching funds for manufacturers to further their I4.0 journey.
Attendees also benefitted from two panels, focused on connected yet distinct issues:
The first was “A Manufacturer’s Perspective on Adopting Industry 4.0 Technology.” It featured experts from Gerdau Special Steel, Forvia, Detroit manufacturing Systems and Bennit A.I. The discussion centered on the challenges faced by manufacturers when introducing innovation as well as scaling these changes across an enterprise.
The second panel discussion followed with a focus on venture capital, manufacturing, and technology. The “Investing in I4.0 Technology” panel included participants from Venture Capital programs at LEAR, General Motors and Magna International. In the past these initiatives looked for technology products to enhance their corporate portfolio. However, this year the discussion revealed how the model is changing to include technology investments that help the company manufacture. They shared how they diverge from traditional VCs in that 10x returns are not the primary driver. They look for technology partners that “are a good fit within our Business Units”. The key takeaways for a startup looking for opportunities with a large corporate VC were:
• Provide a first look to see if there is an engineering fit for your solution in their manufacturing plant.
• Seek to develop a pilot to aid in building a business case for this integration.
• Identify a common connection to make the soft introduction needed with these groups (Keep in mind that these programs get over 500 submissions annually, so be ready when your number is called).
Lastly, they cautioned companies to focus on the problem as it exists, rather than trying to get the manufacturing plant to modify their needs to fit the proposed solution.
A third panel covered the “The Decarbonization of Manufacturing.” As energy costs rise and regulation on carbon emissions increases, this issue will rise in prominence in the coming years. Attendees heard representatives from Amazon Web Services, DT4.0, Whirlpool, Siemens and Gerdau speak on modifications their companies are making to become more efficient in this fast-growing segment.
While panels and keynote presentations were welcome, the event’s main goal was to present innovative I4.0 companies either in the display area or through the two pitch competitions. We were joined by over 20 companies, some presenting their solutions at their booths and some pitching for prizes.
Early-Stage Pitch Companies included: Amplio, Khenda Lightspeed Concepts, Savormetrics and Ulendo. These companies are ready to go but are still interested in raising capital to take that next step.
The second group of Pitching Companies are Growth stage. That includes companies that are revenue positive and still growing. This group included: Capriol, Kiuey (PPAP Manager), Elm Park Labs, Gildform and DT40.
All the pitchers fielded questions from a distinguished panel of judges. The event wrapped up with winners being announced and big checks being handed out.
Detroit-based on-demand jewelry platform Gildform won the growth company competition, earning a $10,000 investment. Lightspeed Concepts won the early-stage competition and a $10,000 investment as well. The Jackson-based company focuses on adapting additive manufacturing for the use of sand molds in the metalcasting industry.
Look for future content pieces on the group of winners and many of the other companies emerging from this innovative ecosystem.
For those that wish to see or review what happened at the event, check out the full video here. An agenda is featured at 00:35.
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