A Candid Conversation with Michigan’s Promising Next-Generation Industry Leaders

What excites and motivates you about mobility and the industry you are working in?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

Mobility excites us at SPLT because of the industry’s power to make large and widespread impact that affects people’s lives. When we think about mobility, we think about transforming the way people meet and move by leveraging urban technology. Mobility is a fascinating space to be in because it is changing so rapidly and that is precisely what makes it both challenging and inspiring.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

At Ford I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to work on solving both current and long-term mobility challenges to make mobility affordable economically, environmentally and socially. It’s exciting to look at the future of our transportation system, and more importantly wor

k to solve real challenges people are facing. We’re seeing global megatrends such as explosive population growth, an expanding middle class, air quality and public health concerns, changing consumer attitudes and priorities that continue to impact the practicality of personal vehicle ownership in cities. It’s been exciting to partner with Ford leadership on our Ford Smart Mobility plan, forging a new business area for Ford — one that continues our tradition of providing mobility for all, but now beyond just through personal ownership.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

Cars are an integral part of our everyday lives, and it is exciting to know that the products we develop reach so many people around the world. Products we work on today may not go to market until 2020, so I have a unique glimpse into the future and know my work will continue to impact drivers for years to come.

What does having a great “culture” in a company mean to you?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

At SPLT, culture is baked into everything we do. We believe our company is family. We strive to create a space where our team feels comfortable to grow and innovate. Our culture is a reflection of the people that make up our team. Without culture, what do you really have? We’re about being a great company for our customers, but also for our employees, and achieving that balance requires discipline and mindfulness.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

I’ve been at Ford for 16 years and I think having a great company culture is extremely critical in providing an environment to inspire innovation, creativity and a willingness to continually evolve. We’ve worked hard to energize the entire workforce to think outside of the box and are challenging employees through encouraging experimentation and enterprise-wide innovation challenges. The core company principle of treating others with dignity and respect is something that I really value, and you can see how this plays out within both our internal and external relationships. We’re using our 113 years of industry expertise and talent within the company to evolve as both an auto and mobility company, and our dynamic company culture has contributed to that.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

To have a great culture, you have to go beyond competitive salaries and benefits. For me, work-life balance, team collaboration and good leadership are key. Fostering a company culture that challenges and empowers employees to reach their full potential, while also recognizing their innovations, is equally important.

What critical actions are needed to attract, promote and grow Michigan’s next-generation workforce?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

We need to think different. The easy answer is that we need to attract talent from around the region, the country and around the world to bridge diverse perspectives. But we also need to look right next to us and change the way we value talent. The history of entrepreneurship here is rich and remains, and we need an expectation shift that fosters entrepreneurship among young people.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

The changing automotive and mobility landscape makes Michigan an exciting place to work right now. As we look to bring new talent to our teams, we’re constantly looking to recruit smart minds from diverse backgrounds that will help us create these next-generation transportation solutions. Michigan needs to foster an environment of innovation, continue to bring in and create a receptive environment for entrepreneurs, work with universities to ensure curriculum prepares and generates students that provide the right talent, and be open to expanding into new areas.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

The continued revival of downtown Detroit will help. We must evolve to meet the expectations of the next-gen workforce that grew up with digital devices and lacks patience for outdated tools. Companies must invest in technology, and partner with local colleges and universities to tailor programs so graduates have the skills to work in Michigan. Internships identify talent and build industry knowledge prior to graduation.

What is one thing you like about Detroit and Michigan?

Anya Babbitt, Founder and CEO, SPLT

It’s hard to focus on just one thing, but I would say it’s the people and — in one word — the community. The people of Detroit and Michigan have opened their arms up to us, especially the founders coming from New York and Atlanta. I joke with my co-founder that southern hospitality is one thing, but the Midwestern hospitality is second to none, and we have benefited from the tremendous values of hard work and hustle that makes up the fabric of this community.

Erica Klampfl, Future Mobility Manager, Ford Motor Co.

I am constantly impressed by the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Detroit. Their willingness to transform their own identity and pivot from just being the Motor City to driving entrepreneurship around new mobility solutions inspires me.

Laurent Vioujas, Software Design Champion, Visteon

There’s so much to love about Detroit and Michigan. I especially love the “never give up” mentality here. Detroit has been through some tough times, but the recovery has been remarkable. The automotive industry is moving forward, and Detroit is at the heart of it all – constantly pushing the limits and boundaries of innovation.

Michigan’s Growing Startup Culture and Venture Capital Activity on the Rise

By Audrey LaForest 

All businesses had to start somewhere. For some entrepreneurs, those first ideas were last-minute light bulbs that went off in their heads and came to life on bar napkins, the backs of hands or in a dream. No matter how the idea came to fruition, it more than likely required investments for those businesses to sprout from risky ideas to established companies.

In Michigan, venture capital activity is on the rise, creating an important opportunity for investors and startups, especially in areas of automotive IT and next-generation mobility. In the third quarter of 2016, the state saw $118.8 million invested in 18 deals, ranking Michigan 17th nationally, according to an October report by the National Venture Capital Association and PitchBook, a venture capital database.

Nationally, the number of venture capital firms has decreased by 14 percent, according to the Michigan Venture Capital Association’s 2016 annual report. In Michigan, that number has grown by 257 percent over the last 15 years.

“A significant part of Michigan’s growth has been due to the amount of investment venture capitalists can attract from outside the state,” said Maureen Miller Brosnan, executive director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association.

Every dollar invested in a startup by a Michigan venture capital firm, Brosnan said, attracts an additional $4.31 of investment from outside the state.


“There’s a real possibility that startups and venture capital can be a really key industry in Michigan. It’s consistently growing right now, and it’s attracting some world-class talent,” said Ted Serbinski, managing director of Techstars Mobility, a Detroit-based startup accelerator program focused on next-generation mobility technologies.

Techstars has invested in 22 companies since it was launched here in 2015. Among its investments is ride-share startup SPLT, which relocated from New York City to Detroit last year and is providing a sustainable solution to congested weekday commutes by offering companies a way for their employees to share the ride to work; and Lunar, another startup that relocated from NYC to Detroit that is offering a new kind of smartphone with no monthly bills.

At Fontinalis Partners, a Detroit-based venture capital  firm founded in 2009, co-founder and partner Chris Thomas said Michigan’s combination of people, intelligence and history are three factors impacting the state’s steady growth in venture capital and startups.

“We have a strong venture capital community. We have a strong and growing entrepreneurial community, and we have fantastic people,” Thomas said. “We have some of the best engineers in the world. We have some of the best workers in the world, and we have this amazing opportunity to give them the chance through funding from companies like ours to go out and develop and achieve their dreams.”

Fontinalis, which is strictly focused on investing in companies that provide solutions for next-generation mobility, has funded big names like Lyft and continues to see opportunity in Detroit’s automotive and mobility ecosystems. The firm also has investments in Karamba Security, a startup that is protecting connected cars from cyberattacks.

“We have something very special to offer here because — for better or for worse — Detroit is the largest transportation technology cluster in the world … larger than Silicon Valley,” Thomas said.


As venture capital investments continue to grow, startups are becoming the state’s most promising job creators.

“Startup companies and the venture capitalists that invest in them to fuel their growth bring increased employment of highly educated workers, utilize service providers like attorneys and accountants, and lease office space to support operations,” said Tony Grover, managing director at RPM Ventures, a seed and early-stage venture firm founded in 2000 with offices in Ann Arbor and Silicon Valley.

The company has invested in startups like Automatic, a company that is connecting cars on the road to the internet via an app and plug-in car adapter that can diagnose “check engine” codes, give driving feedback and track mileage.

Startups may begin as small, high-risk endeavors, but “their goal is to build industry-defining businesses,” Grover added.

“Companies like Intel, Apple, Amazon and Facebook all started with a dream of a founder that was then backed by venture capital investment to lead an industry,” he said. “Each of these companies now employs tens of thousands of employees, providing direct and indirect economic benefits to the cities and states in which they reside.”

Audrey LaForest is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

For Auto Industry, Attracting and Retaining Millennial Talent Requires an Inclusive Company Culture

By Daniel Lai

The millennial generation is the fastest-rising workforce and will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, according to PwC. In order for Michigan’s automotive and mobility industry to reap the talent it needs to maintain its leadership in connected and autonomous vehicle development, changing “the company culture” to appeal to millennials is not only necessary, it is essential. That was a key message Marvin Mendoza, director of talent innovation at PwC, delivered to more than 150 automotive industry leaders and stakeholders at the sixth MICHauto Annual Meeting.

“What we’re seeing, regardless of industry, are three megatrends impacting businesses: the rise of the millennial workforce, the rise of the flexible and freelance workforce, and the explosion of mobile and digital technology,” Mendoza said. “To stay ahead of the game, you have to adapt to these trends quickly and strategically.”

According to Mendoza, companies must adjust their culture to appeal to the next generation of talent. In conducting its own study, PwC determined that millennials are highly satisfied working for companies that provide: opportunity for career progression, merit bonuses, training, flexible working schedules, and a sense of doing something “good” for society. Additionally, millennials prefer to receive performance feedback in a real-time face-to-face environment.

Following Mendoza’s presentation, he was joined on stage by Anya Babbitt, founder and CEO of SPLT; Steven Fitzgerald, vice president and chief human resources officer for Visteon Corp.; and David Whitman, senior manager of global talent acquisition strategy and business planning for General Motors Co., for a discussion on how the “culture of making a difference” has positively impacted their business’s growth.

“We see a lot of talent coming back to Michigan,” Whitman said. “We have figured out that if people feel like they are making a difference in a very real way, and if they are happy, they will stay. What better way to capitalize on this than this convergence of the automotive and technology industries?”

In responding to a question from moderator Joann Muller, Detroit bureau chief for Forbes Media LLC, about preparing the next-generation to fill the talent pipeline, Fitzgerald said Michigan universities have stepped up with a plethora of degree programs. However, the automotive industry must not be afraid to look globally.

“There are only 300 million people in the United States trying to fill the demand of a global population of 7 billion people. There’s no way that a country as proportionally small as the United States is to the world can keep up with the talent demand in education if we continue to look solely in our borders,” he said.

MICHauto Names Sen. Ken Horn Legislator of the Year; American Axle’s Bill Smith Honored for Volunteerism