TechTown celebrates RetroSense Therapeutics, up-and-coming startups with inaugural Salute! Awards

Date:        September 29, 2016
Contact:   Kristin Palm
Phone:     (313) 483-1326


TechTown celebrates RetroSense Therapeutics, up-and-coming startups with inaugural Salute! Awards
Awardees to be honored at Toast of the Town event on October 13


TechTown Detroit will honor Sean Ainsworth and RetroSense Therapeutics as 2016’s Entrepreneur of the Year at its first annual Salute! Awards, to be presented as part of the Toast of the Town celebration of entrepreneurship October 13. The Salute! Awards honor the year’s standout entrepreneurs with both tech-based and neighborhood businesses. The awardees were selected by a committee led by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and comprised of leaders in the entrepreneurship, small business and economic development fields.


Sean Ainsworth/RetroSense Therapeutics (Shaker/Entrepreneur of the Year Award) is an Ann Arbor-based biotechnology company developing life-enhancing gene therapies designed to restore vision in patients suffering from blindness. The company’s approach is based on pioneering research conducted at Wayne State University and Massachusetts General Hospital. In June, the MIT Technology Review named RetroSense to its annual list of the 50 smartest companies in the world. Last year, RetroSense was named most innovative company by the Angel Capital Association. In September 2016, the company was acquired by Allergan for $60 million. The company is led by CEO and founder Sean Ainsworth.


Three awards will be presented to current or recent TechTown clients in the Labs (technology) and Blocks (neighborhood) programs. These awardees are:


Omer Kiyani/Seninl (Labs on Tap Award): Kiyani left a career as an automotive safety engineer to develop IDENTILOCK, a biometric gun lock that enhances the speed and security of gun access. In January 2016, two and a half years after entering TechTown’s Venture Accelerator, Kiyani launched IDENTILOCK at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, supported by a $100,000 grant awarded by the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation Firearms Challenge and numerous venture capital investors. Amidst a wealth of media coverage, IDENTILOCK is targeted to be available on the market in late fall 2016.


Regina Gaines/House of Pure Vin (Blocks on Tap Award): A 2014 graduate of TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp, Gaines and her business partners opened House of Pure Vin in December 2015. One of the few African American woman-owned businesses in downtown Detroit, House of Pure Vin is a signature retail destination for wine lovers and future connoisseurs, with a focus on Michigan wines and one of Michigan’s three Master Sommeliers (who is also one of only a handful of female sommeliers in the US) on its staff. House of Pure Vin has experienced tremendous success in its first year and is considered a major piece of the Detroit revitalization story. Mayor Mike Duggan celebrated with Gaines and her partners Andrea Dunbar and Terry Mullins at the shop’s grand opening, noting that “Detroit’s going to come back when people like Terry and Andrea and Regina decide that this is a place that they want to start a business.”


Lana Rodriguez/Mama Coo’s Boutique (Blocks on Tap Award): Mama Coo’s, an upscale resale and vintage boutique featuring imported and handmade items, celebrated its grand opening in Detroit’s Corktown August 12. After serving in the military, owner Lana Rodriguez received a degree in art history and political science from the University of Michigan and worked for social justice organizations while developing her business. She received guidance from numerous entrepreneurial support programs, including TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp and SWOT City, along the way. She is also a graduate of BUILD Institute and a recent recipient of a Motor City Match grant. “Mama Coo’s Boutique is a true reflection of my passion for my culture and for the community,” says Rodriguez, a Southwest Detroit native. “My success to date, and in the future, is a win for all the organizations, advisers and people who helped me through this journey.”


TechTown will also honor James Feagin IV with the Mixologist/Business Champion of the Year Award. Feagin works as a consultant to numerous Detroit organizations and programs, including NEIdeas, Motor City Match, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and the Knight Foundation.


“There is so much happening in Detroit’s entrepreneurship and small business community, we could have given a hundred of these awards,” says Ned Staebler, president and CEO of TechTown. “But Sean, Omer, Regina, Lana and James are truly standouts. Their tireless work, community commitment, creativity and savvy are an inspiration, and we look forward to celebrating them.”


The Salute! Awards will be presented at TechTown’s annual Toast of the Town celebration of entrepreneurship on October 13from 6-9pm at TechTown, 440 Burroughs, in Detroit. The event will also feature a strolling dinner with wine from House of Pure Vin and desserts from several other TechTown businesses, including Rose’s Fine Foods, Prince Valley Market and Good Cakes and Bakes; a Marketplace featuring more than a dozen TechTown vendors; a silent auction and raffle with prizes including a Detroit Bikes bike, a Shinola gift set and Tigers box seats and music from Nothing Elegant. For tickets or more information, visit



TechTown is Detroit’s most established business accelerator and incubator, offering a full suite of entrepreneurial services for both tech and neighborhood enterprises. TechTown helps startup and established businesses develop, launch and grow, while strengthening and diversifying the local economy. TechTown is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, founded in partnership with Wayne State University, Henry Ford Health System and General Motors Corporation.