GM Ventures investments benefit Mich. businesses

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors Ventures, which invests in new technologies on behalf of General Motors Co., is putting money into several businesses with ties to Michigan.

Four of the six businesses in which GM Ventures has invested are linked to the automaker's home state, the Detroit Free Press recently reported.

The main goal of GM Ventures is to change the way GM develops and updates its products by giving it early, immediate access to entrepreneurs' high-tech ideas. Jon Lauckner, the president of GM Ventures, said it's not a "ZIP code investor" focusing on Michigan.

"We're not insisting that the companies locate in southeast Michigan," Lauckner said. "What we try to do ... is just say, 'Look, if ... you're thinking about a location, we can certainly make introductions to the right people within the state.'"

Still, the state appears poised to benefit -- both from business investment as well as help broadening the scope of Michigan's economy.

"We had this economy in which a relatively small number of big companies provided huge employment opportunities for many people, many of which were not very high on the skill chain," said economist Charles Ballard, a Michigan State University professor. "The world changed, and we were not nimble -- certainly General Motors was not nimble."

Before its 2009 bankruptcy, GM cranked out too many mediocre products and was forced to offer big discounts to clear them off the lots. GM, which took government aid, has closed plants, eliminated brands and plowed the savings into making better vehicles.

The GM Ventures team, which has less than a dozen people reporting to Lauckner, has reviewed applications from about 400 companies. It received $100 million when it was founded last July, with more money to come each year if GM Ventures is successful.

So far, Lauckner and his team manage $45 million in investments.

Businesses include Sakti3, an electric-vehicle battery maker based in Ann Arbor and run by a University of Michigan professor. Another venture, Powermat, makes wireless charging mats for mobile phones and has its sales headquarters in Oakland County's Commerce Township in suburban Detroit.

Plug-in hybrid developer Bright Automotive and solar-energy company Sunlogics both moved some work to Rochester Hills after getting backing from GM Ventures.

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Online:

http://www.gmventures.com.

Published: Tue, Aug 30, 2011

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