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Investment to allow real-time virtual interaction between college students, instructors

Troy tech company secures investment from state

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published July 7, 2020

Logo courtesy of Alchemie website

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TROY — Alchemie, a Troy tech company, was among 58 companies selected by the state’s tech startup stabilization fund from 214 applications for a direct investment to help during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced the Tech Startup Stabilization Fund in mid-April.

ID Ventures in Detroit administered the fund 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.

The MEDC is the state’s “marketing arm and lead advocate for business development, job awareness and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy,” states a press release.

Alchemie, on Stephenson Highway in Troy, has a mission “to create innovative, digital learning technology for students. We aim to make intuitive learning both accessible and affordable for students everywhere,” states its website.

According to a press release from the MEDC, “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.”

A total of $3 million was disbursed.

“The typical award amount provided through the Tech Startup Stabilization Fund was between $25,000-$50,000,” said Courtney Overbey, the spokesperson for the MEDC, via email.

Julia Winter, the CEO and founder of Alchemie in 2016, taught organic and advanced placement chemistry for over 20 years.

She said the stabilization fund investment will “keep my people paid. We’ve hired. We’re hiring throughout the crisis.”

She said their goal this summer is to build a platform for adding that human connection to active learning lessons through a new web-based platform.

“Our program will provide that real-time connection between instructors and students and within student-led groups,” she said.

Winter explained that the Synchronous Online Collaboration System, or SOCS, will allow students and instructors to collaborate in real time. The system being released this fall in partnership with a major publisher Winter couldn’t name at press time.

She said this will allow hundreds of students to raise their hands to have questions answered by instructors, and will also allow them to work in groups.

“We’re trying to solve a very difficult problem — bringing the human connection back to learning. It’s a super important problem to solve. We’re running straight at it with a team of eight.”

Alchemie was also awarded a $200,000 Small Business Innovative Research grant by the U.S. Department of Education/Institute of Education Sciences to expand its technology research to create a multisensory augmented reality system to assist students with visual impairments.

“We’ve got a lot of really good tech startups here in Michigan,” said Martin Dober, the managing director of ID Ventures. “And just because of timing and the lack of funding, (they) were in jeopardy of not being able to survive the pandemic — not knowing how long things were going to go on, not knowing when capital markets would open up again to support them.

“And with the pullbacks we saw early on with really good companies who were in the process of raising money when the pandemic hit, we knew something needed to be done to support these companies and help to extend their runways so they had enough cash to continue to operate their businesses and, hopefully, get to the other side.”

“From my perspective, most of the programs were for traditional businesses because they were hit the hardest,” said Fred Molnar, the MEDC’s vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation.

“Restaurants, downtown-type communities, small businesses, those really got hammered. From our perspective at the MEDC that I represent … what we’re trying to do is diversify the Michigan economy through homegrown technology companies across the state. There really were no programs specific to those. Diversifying the Michigan economy is very important, for obvious reasons,” Molnar said. “There’s been a lot of time, investment, sweat and equity into these companies, and the whole thing could have come crashing down, and then you’re almost starting over again. If these companies fail, then you’re at the point where it’s important for the state to diversify its economy — it was really almost a no-brainer to try to keep these companies afloat and continue on their path of success.”

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