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Michigan Central announced today that applications are now being accepted for a new fund that offers technology-based startups up to $200,000 to help them scale their presence in Michigan.

The Michigan Central Scale Fund is designed to get startups broadly focused on mobility, materials and energy to the next step and to build upon previous pilots or conduct activities that help attract follow-on customers in Michigan. The fund aligns with Michigan Central’s goal of becoming the world’s home of innovation and a leading tech ecosystem.

The fund will award startups $20,000 to $200,000, and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Companies applying for the Michigan Central Scale Fund will be evaluated based on previous pilot activity, business model sustainability and potential to drive economic development for the region. The application is on the Michigan Central website Programs page. Newlab, the mobility innovation hub located at Michigan Central, will support the evaluation of applications and manage the pilots funded through the fund.

“The Michigan Central Scale Fund has two key missions in not only helping advance important technological advancements but to keep startups in Michigan or draw them here,” said Michigan Central CEO Joshua Sirefman. “We’re already seeing incredible innovation and collaboration here at Michigan Central, and the Scale Fund will help us keep that momentum moving forward while helping Detroit’s re-emergence as a leading destination for innovation.”

Detroit-based JustAir Solutions is first recipient

In announcing the opening of applications to the public, Michigan Central also announced the first Scale Fund recipient. JustAir Solutions – a tech startup based at Newlab at Michigan Central – received $33,000 to expand its efforts in the Greater Corktown/ Southwest Detroit area. The Black-owned company, whose technology and fight for environmental justice was showcased nationally on CNN in June, monitors air quality to protect the community and create awareness around the impact of potential unseen dangers in the air.

Darren Riley headshot

Earlier this month, JustAir was named a partner in Wayne County’s $2.7 million initiative to install air-quality monitors to track air pollution and provide real-time data to the 1.8 million residents across the county’s 43 communities. Residents will be alerted to poor air conditions that could worsen chronic health problems, cause new ones such as migraines or nausea, or simply make it difficult to breathe.

Air quality is an increasing area of international concern. A 2022 study by the American Lung Association found that more than 40 percent of Americans – some 137 million people – live in areas with unhealthy levels of particulate pollution or ozone. JustAir’s Scale Fund award also comes after weeks of Michigan suffering from poor air quality caused by Canadian wildfires.

“The air we breathe can have tremendous impacts on our health,” said Darren Riley, co-founder and CEO of JustAir. “With high traffic and industry vehicle exhaust, smoke and industrial emissions next to such dense residential neighborhoods, it’s important to have reliable air quality data so cities can craft the future their residents deserve.

“We are often asked, ‘We have the data, now what do we do about it?’ Our latest product, Air Insights, is a step closer to answering that question at scale. This new tool offers AI-driven air-quality source detection, helping to bring context to air quality patterns and better curate solutions to mitigate sources impacting community health. I am thankful to have the opportunity to test this innovation in the neighborhood where I not only work, but live.”

JustAir will use the Scale Fund award to pilot and test Air Insights through the data captured from monitors installed across the Transportation Innovation Zone, an area around the Michigan Central Innovation District where entrepreneurs can fast-track safe piloting and deployment of new mobility solutions. By facilitating collaboration between innovators, regulators and community leaders, the TIZ can help get new technologies out into the real world, testing them faster and cutting down on development time and costs. For JustAir’s pilot, that first means educating and engaging with residents and neighborhood groups in selecting sensor locations. It may also involve partnering with the City to utilize its streamlined TIZ-permitting process. JustAir will then add its monitors to Detroit’s public-facing air-quality dashboard and hold community workshops in collaboration with Newlab and Michigan Central. This baseline data will allow Newlab and Michigan Central to track progress and impact while continuing to pilot and scale new sustainable mobility solutions and energy technologies.

Newlab at Michigan Central, which officially opened in April, is already home to more than 40 startups and organizations dedicated to addressing significant societal needs by scaling and commercializing emerging technologies and companies.

Where the funding comes from

The Michigan Central Scale Fund is supported by Michigan Central’s public-private partnership with the State of Michigan and the City of Detroit, and through the Michigan Strategic Fund.

“The MEDC celebrates tech startups and seeks to encourage the development of more here in Michigan. MEDC is proud to continue our support of Michigan Central and excited about the launch of its new Scale Fund,” said Quentin L. Messer Jr., MEDC CEO and chair of the Michigan Strategic Fund. “At the MEDC, we are building on Michigan’s history of innovation to ensure that we remain leaders in the future of electrification and mobility. The Office of Future Mobility and Electrification is a driver of this forward momentum, and investing in new mobility solutions and entrepreneurial resources continues to drive high-tech job creation and community empowerment in the city of Detroit. Work continues, and we are proud to support ‘Make It In Michigan’ through assisting more tech startups.”

The companies selected as recipients also will gain membership to Newlab and access to its amenities and business-boosting benefits. Newlab is the startup ecosystem at Michigan Central, and its model draws talent from around metro Detroit and the world to innovate, test and enable the adoption of solutions to society’s mobility challenges.

“Michigan Central is not only helping to re-establish Detroit as the place the world turns for cutting-edge innovation, it’s creating opportunity for Detroiters to be an important part of that movement,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “I’d like to congratulate Darren Riley and JustAir on this award, and I look forward to the exciting things they are going to do at Michigan Central.”