COVID-19 Update: Area Banks End Merger Agreement Due to Pandemic, Tech Startups Get $3M from State Fund, WSU Researchers Developing Virus Risk-prediction System, and More

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
courtesy of Bridge, as of June 25
Courtesy of Bridge, as of June 25

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

Area Banks Terminate Merger Agreement Due to Pandemic Economic Uncertainty
Arbor Bancorp Inc., the holding company of Bank of Ann Arbor, and Bancorp Inc., the holding company for First National Bank in Howell, have mutually agreed to terminate their agreement to merge due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The termination of the merger, originally announced on Feb. 3, was approved by both companies’ boards of directors after careful consideration, given the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. economy and all the related uncertainties, including on the regulatory approval process.

“While both companies believe in the benefits of the merger, we believe it would not be prudent at this time to continue with the merger and integration of our companies given all of the economic uncertainty,” says Tim Marshall, president and CEO of Arbor. “Like we have done before during periods of heightened economic risk and uncertainty, we believe it’s warranted to play defense and take an internal-focused approach to our business right now.”

Ron Long, president and CEO of FNB, says, “There are just too many unknowns to press on with the deal at this time. There’s a wide range of economic possibilities here. We too believe a caution-first approach is warranted at this time.”

Marshall and Long say in no way does this action reflect changes to either bank’s financial position. In fact, both said they have discussed ways in which they can do business with one another going forward.

Early Stage Tech Companies Receive $3M in Support from State Startup Stabilization Fund
A total of 58 early stage tech companies are receiving direct investments or loans from the state of Michigan’s Tech Startup Stabilization Fund to assist them during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. announced Thursday.

Established in mid-April, the Tech Startup Stabilization Fund has been administered by ID Ventures in Detroit to support early stage tech companies in Michigan with fewer than 50 employees and a demonstrated need for support due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.

“This outbreak presented unprecedented challenges for businesses of all sizes over the past three months, and we are proud to help support Michigan’s small businesses to not only survive COVID-19, but continue innovating long after,” says Mark A. Burton, CEO of MEDC. “The technologies and discoveries these small businesses are pursuing will have an invaluable impact on our ability to strengthen and rebuild our state’s economy over the coming months as we work to enable economic prosperity across all corners of our state.”

The Tech Startup Stabilization Fund prioritized support for early stage companies that are headquartered in Michigan and that demonstrated a strong customer value proposition, comprised a team with proven execution capability, and pre-COVID-19 were on a path for an additional round of funding, in addition to other criteria. Support through the fund ranged from $10,000 to $125,000 depending on demonstrated need and allowed recipients to retain their workforce, advance vital high-tech research initiatives and support operating costs, in addition to meeting other critical needs.

Among the 58 high-tech companies to receive support through the fund, many represent regionally diverse areas in the state, including Houghton and Hancock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Grand Rapids, Jackson, and Troy. While 53 percent of the companies represent the advanced information technology sector, the range of industries represented includes life sciences, mobility, and advanced manufacturing – all key industries within the MEDC’s overall strategic plan.

“The companies that received funding from the Tech Startup Stabilization Fund represent some of Michigan’s most exciting startups that were on a strong growth trajectory before the pandemic,” says Martin Dober, managing director of ID Ventures. “This support, along with talented CEO leadership, has been critical for these companies to help weather the current crisis and continue their pre-COVID momentum.”

Applications for the fund were available for three weeks, attracting 214 applications from companies throughout the state. During this time, the New Economy Initiative approved a $150,000 grant for the fund, aiming to provide additional support for more vulnerable minority and women entrepreneurs in southeast Michigan.

For a complete list of companies receiving funds, visit here.

Wayne State Researchers Receive Funds to Develop COVID-19 Risk-prediction System
Researchers from Wayne State University’s College of Engineering and the Henry Ford Health System, both based in Detroit, have received a $150,000 RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation and a $10,000 Google Cloud Platform grant to design and implement a COVID-19 risk-prediction and update system so that individuals and organizations can be aware of the potential risk of infection when traveling locally, nationally, or abroad.

Since the initial case of COVID-19 was diagnosed at the end of December 2019, there have been 62,306 cases reported in Michigan, with 5,887 deaths as of June 25. In the U.S., the care total is more than 2.3 million, causing more than 120,000 deaths as of June 25. Around the globe, there have been more than 9.5 million cases reported, with more than 489,000 deaths.

According to Weisong Shi, Ph.D., associate dean of research and graduate studies and professor of computer science at Wayne State, the team will work together to devise a system that can assess infection risk at different levels, such as individually or at large-event and institution levels. Shi also noted that the system must dynamically update the risk level based on the latest outbreak reports, as well as be able to preserve user-sensitive data while sharing adequate and appropriate data that will allow risk-level calculation.

The project, called CORPUS: An Edge Intelligence-assisted Multi-granularity COVID-19 Risk Prediction and Update System, will includes a mobile app running on personal phones, as well as a large-scale distributed protocol behind the app that collects and updates the information.

“CORPUS will build a multi-granularity risk-analysis model that will cover fine-grained personal risk; small, clustered-meeting risk; and coarse-grained large clustered event/organizational risk,” says Shi. “In addition, CORPUS will employ a data-propagation protocol to build and update the risk-analysis model.”

The data could include spatial data (such as a GPS signal), temporal data (like calendar events), as well as input from the user (a meeting with a specific person). To insure confidentiality of personal information, CORPUS will leverage privacy-preserving algorithms such as node-level feature pooling and anonymous parameters of the model instead of raw user data when multigranularity models request personal risk information.

“The great thing about CORPUS is that it will have the potential to meet the needs of many by leveraging personalized information and edge intelligence,” says Shi. “For a group or an organization, CORPUS will provide risk-related information to help them judge the feasibility of holding a meeting or an event during an outbreak, especially for large-scale international events, such as conferences and more.”

In addition, the system is expected to be able to proactively aid users based on the risk information provided to reduce the spread of COVID-19. CORPUS should be able to assist governments to perceive the risk of infection in their jurisdictions, and thus guide infection prevention and control for effective governance.

The Google Cloud Platform will be leveraged to train the risk prediction and analysis models of CORPUS, as well as to host the cloud services for data storage.

Shi’s collaborators include Ming Dong, Ph.D., professor of Computer Science at Wayne State, and Dr. Marcus Zervos, infectious disease specialist at Henry Ford Health System and assistant dean of global affairs in the Wayne State School of Medicine.

Meijer to Support Blind and Low-vision Customers with Free App
Grand Rapids-based Meijer is offering free support to blind and low-vision customers by partnering with the Aira app to increase accessibility and ease in their shopping trip. The Midwest retailer says it is the among the first in the Midwest to provide customers free access to the app while shopping at any of its stores.

Aira is a service that connects blind and low-vision people to highly trained, remotely located agents through the cameras of their smartphones. At the touch of a button, Aira will connect customers who need immediate visual assistance with anything from reading in-store signage to product labels.

“Our mission is to enrich lives in the communities we serve,” says Tim Williams, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Meijer. “We are happy to offer this tool that ensures our low vision customers experience the same independence as any other customer with quick and easy access to the information they need.”

Aira previously has been accessible for a per-minute fee in Meijer stores. The new partnership provides customers the option to shop without paying a premium for accessibility.

Upon entering any Meijer store or neighborhood market, including Bridge Street Market and Woodward Corner Market, any Aira user will receive a notification that their use of the app will be complimentary. In addition, the app can be accessed using the free Wi-Fi available in all Meijer locations, eliminating all potential costs to the customer.

To download the Aira app, visit here.

MSU Researchers Using $700,000 Grant to Aid Neurological Impairment Recovery
Researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing are using a $700,000 National Science Foundation grant to work on robot-assisted learning for people with movement impairments after strokes and other neurological injuries.

“Motor impairments are extremely common in many neurological injuries, and impairments in the hand can lead to difficulties in performing activities like reaching and grasping,” says Rajiv Ranganathan, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Kinesiology and a co-principal investigator of the grant. “By using soft robotics to assist and modify these movements, we can complement current therapeutic approaches, potentially providing a way to accelerate rehabilitation.”

Rehabilitation of neurological injuries typically requires re-learning complex motions of a number of joints in the body. Common rehab approaches like instruction and visual feedback are usually not effective for these types of movements, so this project will use robots to apply forces to joints in the hand as a way to help learn complex movement patterns. This research has a range of applications beyond just rehabilitation. It can also help with skill training for athletes, robot-assisted surgery and collaborative human-robot manipulation.

The multidisciplinary project includes the lead principal investigator Vaibhav Srivastava, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. The combined expertise in motor learning, computational modeling, robotics, and controls will result in a rigorous framework for human-robot learning through physical interactions.

The project aims to discover how to provide physical assistance using a soft robotic glove to facilitate motor learning of hand and finger function and will lead to the development of a novel soft-robotic glove that can sense finger movements as well as provide physical assistance. Associated algorithms that facilitate efficient robot-assisted motor learning will also be developed and calibrated using human motor learning experiments, Srivastava says.

An added benefit for patients using a robotic glove is portability.

“Robotic rehabilitation assistants can be used anywhere and anytime,” Srivastava says. “Aiding rehabilitation of complex motor functions such as finger function are hard even in a traditional setting. The ability to provide assistance at the level of finger joints and its potential societal impact would be very satisfying.”

#313Reads Challenge to Inspire Reading Across Detroit
Detroit ACE (Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship) has partnered with the Detroit Public Library on a new program to promote reading this summer, the 313 Summer Reading Challenge. The entire city and beyond is encouraged to read together during the COVID-19 pandemic to reach 3.13 million minutes as a symbolic gesture for the determination, perseverance, and celebration of the city’s love for reading and one another.

The #313Reads reading challenge was established to inspire young readers and families across the city to focus the minutes they read as much as the steps they take. Between now and Sept. 7 residents are encouraged to log the minutes spent reading to participate in the challenge and even win prizes. Readers are encouraged to share what they are reading by using hashtag #313READS.

“As an advocate for improved reading for my entire life, there is no better time to encourage people to dive into good books – and get prizes for it – than now while we’re at home,” says Rochelle Riley, director of Arts and Culture. “I may not use a Fitbit, but I plan to log my reading minutes! I hope everyone in the city does.”

As readers rack up minutes in their reading logs, they have a chance to win weekly drawings for gift cards from $25 to $100.

Readers can sign up for the 313 Summer Reading Challenge by creating an account here. Once an account is set-up, readers record how much they read into their reading log. For each hour they read, a new badge is unlocked. Keep reading to earn badges and minutes that count toward the overall library total of reaching 3.13 million minutes.

There also are activity challenges that provide different tasks such as reading to a family member, listening to an audio book, downloading an e-book, or attending a virtual program.

“Reading is the best way to learn about what is going on in the world today,” says Atiim J. Funchess, assistant director of marketing and communications at the Detroit Public Library. “It’s also the best way to temporarily escape the world and journey into your imagination, pleasures and purpose. Take advantage of the time you have and join our reading challenge. It’s a fun and exciting way to share your joy of reading along with the city you’ve always loved and supported.”

DTE Energy Supports Gleaners’ Expanded Emergency Response Efforts
Detroit’s Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan’s has received a $94,468 donation from DTE Energy’s matching gift program for its expanded emergency response efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A significant number of individual donations from DTE Energy employees, contractors, retirees, and board members were matched by the DTE Foundation to achieve the total donation amount.

“Gleaners is encouraged by the generosity of DTE Energy employees who are stepping up for their neighbors in need,” says Gerry Brisson, president and CEO of Gleaners. “We also are thankful for DTE Foundation’s match that encouraged so many people to give back. Not only does this support provide nourishing food to households deeply affected by the pandemic, it also helps our entire community. When we come together to fight hunger—everyone wins.”

The recent gift from DTE Foundation will support Gleaners’ ongoing emergency response efforts that provide nutritious food to 12,000-15,000 additional households per week. By launching 70 twice-monthly food distribution sites throughout southeast Michigan, Gleaners provides families with consistent access to healthy groceries. Through more than 120 partnerships with community organizations, Gleaners helps deliver emergency food to vulnerable populations, including seniors, veterans and homebound healthcare patients.

Since March, Gleaners has increased food distribution by 45 percent, delivering a total of 6.4 million pounds of food every month. In addition to the emergency response efforts, the organization continues to serve a network of agency partners, including school districts. Through ongoing and expanded food distributions, Gleaners is reaching more than 150,000 households every month during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Feeding America, food insecurity in Gleaners’ service area is projected to increase to an average of 18 percent for 2020, up from 13 percent pre-COVID. Gleaners is committed to remaining a reliable source of food in the region and will proceed with ongoing emergency response efforts to meet this increase in need.

In addition to matching donations, DTE Energy Foundation launched “Caring in the Crisis,” an awareness effort aiming to make sure Detroit-area residents who need help know how to get it during the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation donated 2 million respiratory masks to first responders and medical professionals, supported basic needs for 100,000 families, and helped 400 small businesses with grants.

Michigan Opera Theatre Receives $175,000 National Grant for Digital Programming
Michigan Opera Theatre has received a $175,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to sustain its MOT at Home digital programming campaign. The grant, part of the federal CARES Act, supports economic stabilization for more than 300 cultural institutions across the country.

MOT is one of only eight performing arts organizations and the only opera company to receive NEH funding. This is MOT’s first award from the NEH.

MOT at Home uses MOT’s social media channels to provide daily opera and dance content to the community during this period of social distancing, which includes performances, blogs, podcasts, interviews, and more.

The posts also are available on the MOT at Home website and distributed through weekly emails. The program includes MOT Learns at Home, which provides weekly educational opera and dance study guides, lessons and other resources for students and teachers. MOT at Home was launched in April, and the grant will sustain the program through the end of the calendar year.

“During these challenging times, the arts are more important than ever,” says Wayne S. Brown, president and CEO of the MOT. “We are appreciative to the National Endowment for the Humanities for their support that will enable Michigan Opera Theatre to enhance its audience engagement in the Detroit community and beyond. Until it is safe to re-convene at the Detroit Opera House, MOT at Home allows us to remain connected to our community and to continue to offer performances and educational content digitally during this time of social distancing.”

To learn more about MOT at Home, visit here.

Michigan Mega Food Truck Rally Returns to Canterbury Village July 4
The Annual Michigan MEGA Food Truck Rally, presented by the Friends of the Village Charity, will be hosted on 21 acres at Canterbury Village in Lake Orion on July 4 in two sessions, between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. to ensure social distancing.

The event will showcase a selection of cuisine, beer, wine, and cocktails, food trucks, music, and shopping. Tickets ($5 per person per session) are available for online advance purchase only here. Active-duty military, veterans, and children under 5 are free.

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