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Ann Arbor Spark

June 15, 2020

Mobility Entrepreneurship Moves Ann Arbor Native Back to Hometown

Mcity Associate Director Greg McGuire

Mcity is the University of Michigan’s advanced mobility research center and test facility. This 32-acre, full-scale outdoor laboratory features more than 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure, simulating both urban and suburban environments. While Mcity Associate Director Greg McGuire did not return to Michigan in 2011 specifically for a job at the university, the innovation happening throughout the region certainly influenced his trajectory. “Once I entered the field, I always kept my eye on Michigan when it came to what was happening in transportation, especially at the university.”

Even entering the transportation field wasn’t initially in Greg’s plans. In 1996, he left Ann Arbor to attend Case Western Reserve University and earn a degree in biomedical engineering. “At the time, I remember someone from the state called me as part of a survey to ask me about retention — why I was leaving, and would I be back. Honestly, it was something we never really thought we would do.”

The “we” Greg is referring to is his wife Emily, another Ann Arbor native. They started dating in college while she was going to school in Boston, and he joined her there after graduation.

It was while living out east that Greg embraced the opportunity of a lifetime through a series of serendipitous interactions. After being rear-ended and totaling the car she and Greg shared, Emily started looking into options that didn’t involve buying a new automobile. That was when she discovered Robin Chase who had just started operating Zipcar out of her house with her husband Roy. “At the time, my good friend from college, Carl Tashian, was crashing on our sofa. When Emily picked up the keys from Robin, they got to talking and Robin mentioned they were looking for software engineers to build the business using the internet.” Emily referred Carl and a few days later, he was pitching Greg on the idea. “I agonized about the decision because I had a job at a large software company. Taking the job ended up being a very formative part of my career and got me totally hooked on transportation.”

Greg and Emily then moved to Austin, Texas so Emily could join the master’s program in speech pathology at the University of Texas. While there, they welcomed the arrival of their first child. They lived there for a couple of years until Greg had the opportunity to start another ridesharing company with Robin — this time in France. After weighing their options, proximity to grandparents significantly influenced the family’s move back to Ann Arbor. “As the recession was ending in 2011, there suddenly seemed like there was a lot of opportunity in Ann Arbor. And I was still able to launch Buzzcar with Robin, building all of the software and hardware components remotely. It was a good time to come back.”

What did Greg discover after 15 years away from Ann Arbor? “Coming back to Ann Arbor, it was kind of shocking to see how many opportunities there were in the city. There were a lot of good ideas emerging with more angel investors in Ann Arbor and generally more startup activity. The number of startups that are in the city now and the number of new ideas coming out of the university — it’s very exciting.”

Living in Ann Arbor also has its perks. According to Greg, Ann Arbor punches above its weight for opportunity and interesting attractions. “There’s just so much — and maybe we as residents take it for granted — but there’s so much available to us regardless of what your interests are that you wouldn’t see in another 100k population city. Ann Arbor also has an affordability that Boston and Austin can’t approach, and its schools are exceptional. It’s such a relaxing place to live. It’s really hard to beat.”

After Buzzcar, Greg worked at a few other startups, but the launch of Mcity piqued his interest. “Mcity was looking for someone to run its labs and the timing worked out that I had just sold another startup I had launched with some friends in California.” Greg started at Mcity at the end of 2016 and in May 2019 became Mcity’s associate director. “I love the state’s focus on mobility — and thinking beyond the car. We’re thinking about systems, public transit, micromobility.” At a local level, Greg sees the needle moving as well. “Ann Arbor is attracting people in city government and at U-M who bring with them new ideas about how a city can be built and function. How else can we take the engineering knowledge we have and use it for new things? That feels like the right move to me.”

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