- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Cory Hohs’ idea was inspired by a close call with a Chicago fire truck on his motorcycle, but his new app, which warns drivers to the presence of emergency vehicle traffic, is being tested first in Grand Rapids.

That’s because the city’s fire department was not only willing to take part in a pilot, but the agency also let Hohs and his two partners gather research as they rode on fire trucks during emergency calls.

“To be honest, they have been so open and so helpful,” Hohs told The Grand Rapids Press (https://bit.ly/1NDUN6N ). “I don’t think we are going to get that in other cities.”

The technology has the potential to cut down on the estimated 60,000 crashes that happen every year across the country while emergency vehicles travel to calls, according to Hohs’ research.

Drivers’ slower response time in pulling out of the way of oncoming fire trucks, police cars or ambulances also can be blamed on technology. Cars are now designed to cut down on outside noise, while the interiors make it easier to turn up the volume of their music, settle into phone conversations and pay attention to automated directions.

“It can really be hard to hear us coming down the road,” said Capt. Brad Brown in the fire department’s office of strategic planning. “If this makes citizens safe and we can help with that, we are open to that.”

Complementing the traditional sirens and flashing lights with alerts sent via Bluetooth to a car or motorcycle helmet could help drivers and riders’ more quickly get out of the way of emergency vehicles en route to a call.

If the testing goes well for the app, Haasalert could eventually be available in other cities.

Support from the Grand Rapids Fire Department is just part of what the startup - which also includes partners Jigar Patel and Noah Levens - has received since arriving in western Michigan three months ago.

There was also $20,000 in seed capital, access to corporate leaders and mentoring from strategic vendor partners.

The Chicago business was one of eight early-stage startups selected from around the globe to take part in the first session of Start Garden’s new accelerator Seamless.

The latest venture from Amway heir and social entrepreneur Rick DeVos’ venture capital fund is focused on creating the next generation of connected devices. The “Internet of Things” technology embeds software and sensors that can collect and exchange data in everything from cars to furniture to robots.

Products being developed by Seamless’ first class range from a car seat that can prevent road rage while detecting a driver’s emotional state to a hospital bed that can monitor a patient’s vital signs.

Most of the early-stage startups finished the 12-week session with relationships with new investors to fund further development.

The potential for partnerships with billion-dollar corporations is why AlSentis was eager to be part of Seamless. Despite founder David Caldwell’s expertise in TouchSensor technology, the Holland firm has flown under the radar in its own backyard.

“We have plenty of knowledge but no one has heard about us so it is hard to build credibility without those relationships,” said Justin Teitt, chief executive officer. “So we had this hypothesis that if we join Seamless, we would be in intimate relationships with influencer partners in West Michigan. Where relationship and partners exist, we could build credibility quickly, and it has worked beyond our wildest dreams.”

Start Garden, Grand Rapids furniture-maker Steelcase and French-owned auto supplier Faurecia in North America - headquartered in Auburn Hills with a nearly decade-old innovation center in Holland - have made strategic investments in the firm.

Bringing corporations and startups together to speed up the innovation process is a different approach to trying to fuel startups that are disrupting enterprises, said Mike Morin, Start Garden’s chief executive.

“But I feel like in Grand Rapids we can do this as well or better than any place in the world,” Morin said.

While it is too early to call Seamless a success, the accelerator has already garnered headlines in the national tech and business publications.

The next session starts in February, and Start Garden began accepting applications at seamlessaccelerator.com this week for up to 10 spots.

While some of the startups in the first session are moving on, Hohs is among a few that are sticking around.

Beyond its relationship with the fire department and its new investors, Start Garden and Faurecia, Hohs likes the convenience of being able to buzz over to check on the development of a prototype at a local manufacturer in 10 minutes.

“We can move so much faster in Grand Rapids,” Hohs said.


Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, https://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

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