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Published: Thursday, 4/16/2009

Plan takes shine to Rust Belt

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A foundry has opened in downtown Toledo.

It doesn't make heavy steel parts like foundries of old but miniature sensors used in products like vehicle air bags, advanced medical instruments, and cellular phones.

MidWest MicroDevices LLC, at 14th Street and Madison Avenue, is one of eight graduates of a local program that aims to scrape the rust off metro Toledo's Rust Belt economy. The latest four graduates of the Launch program, announced this week by the sponsoring Regional Growth Partnership, are involved in ensuring proper medication regimens for people with chronic diseases such as diabetes; an early warning system for harmful bacteria in lakes and streams; a system for getting critical test results to patients; and making first-aid kits for paramedics at sea.

"These are companies that have successfully reached a commercialization milestone and are poised to enter the market," said Tasha Hussain Black, director of the Launch program.

Most of the firms - though not all - have begun selling products.

Toledo's Xunlight Corp. hasn't yet begun commercial sales of solar panels but has attracted $40 million in investments from around the world, she noted.

Launch, which works with new ventures, helps owners set up companies, identify potential customers, estimate potential sales, draw up business plans, and perform product-testing.

It doesn't provide grants or investment funds to firms, but instead picks up the tab for services such as business consulting, legal advice, and testing. "Our job is to take the risk out of these early stage companies," Ms. Hussain Black said.

Firms involved in the program collected more than $25 million last year from grants, sales, and private investments, she said.

Besides the graduates, Launch officials are working with 20 other start-ups.

Ken Bachmann is optimistic about prospects for his firm. CeutiCare LLC markets software and procedures for helping physicians ensure that diabetics and other patients with chronic illnesses receive the right medications at the right dosages.

Two medical practices in central Ohio have signed up, and a dozen others are considering the program. It is targeted at hospitals that own large medical practices.

Mr. Bachmann, a retired pharmacy professor at the University of Toledo, operates from his home. His business partner does the same from his home near Columbus. CeutiCare eventually will put down roots in northwest Ohio.

"This is the right time to be in this market," Mr. Bachmann said. "Health care is looming as a very big priority of the administration and Congress over the next few years."

Other new graduates are Blue Water Satellite, Radar Medical Systems, and Seavival LLC.

Some older program graduates have hit speed bumps, however.

Midwest MicroDevices, formed in 2004, is providing sensors for a half-dozen products that stand a good chance of going into full-scale production, President Christopher Melkonian said. The firm makes no products under its own name, but rather contracts to perform work for other companies.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," Mr. Melkonian said. Over the years, the firm has worked with about 30 customers but none of the products - many of them experimental - for which it provided sensors turned into long-term contracts.

"We're not where we wanted to be at," he acknowledged. "The economy doesn't make things easier."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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