Manhattan software company opens R&D operation in downtown Ann Arbor
Manhattan-based LanguageMate, which develops software to bridge cultural and language barriers in health care settings, plans to expand its research-and-development presence in Ann Arbor after temporarily locating in a downtown business incubator.
"This is the kind of environment we thrive in, and we like to be surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs and talent,'' says Bill Z. Tan, who founded LanguageMate in 2002 and last year was named one of Crain's New York Business' 40 Under 40 Rising Stars.
Photo courtesy of LanguageMate
LanguageMate is temporarily leasing low-cost space in SPARK's incubator on Liberty Street while Tan negotiates a lease with Ann Arbor-based real estate firm McKinley Inc. for permanent space downtown.
LanguageMate, which has 50 full-time employees, expects to hire seven to eight full-time employees in Ann Arbor within a year. Tan said he's seeking a general manager, a chief technology officer and software and content developers.
"LanguageMate deciding to open an office in Ann Arbor is especially gratifying as an example of the growing entrepreneurial eco-system," said Daryl Weinert, executive director of the Engagement Center, in an email.
Tan's company grew out of his experience seeing his immigrant relatives struggling to navigate a complicated health care system with limited English-language skills. He also found research showing that in New York City alone, schoolchildren miss tens of thousands of school days taking relatives to appointments in order to translate for them. LanguageMate's products are designed to be both user-friendly and to facilitate direct communication between patient and provider.
Government grants have fueled the company's growth. The company has secured $20 million in funding from the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program over the last 10 years. The firm has a number of products, including Canopy, a Web-based, Spanish-language learning program designed for healthcare providers, and an audio-enabled mobile application that translates medical language into a patient's native language.
LanguageMate will launch the app, which so far has English and Spanish applications, at a conference of the American Association of Medical Colleges in Denver next week. Tan says the app will eventually be able to translate 10 languages, including Mandarin and French.
Canopy is in use in various large academic medical centers in New York and in medical schools, including in Kansas and Puerto Rico, he says. A goal is developing a medical English-language program for Canopy that can be used by foreign-born healthcare professionals and providers in other countries, Tan says.
In the meantime, Tan hired Ankush Sharma, a recent graduate of U-M's School of Public Health, as operations manager. Sharma, 27, is a California native who found Tan through a jobs network at the school.
"My public health background points to my interest in social justice rather than the bottom line, about addressing health disparities rather than making money," Sharma says.
Tan isn't sure yet which projects he'll start in Ann Arbor. He asks that anyone wishing to apply for a job do so through LanguageMate's website.
Julie Edgar is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com.