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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

Licensing of U-M Startup Arborsense Celebrated with Bell Ringing Ceremony


After years of delay due to the pandemic, on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, Innovation Partnerships finally had the chance to celebrate the licensing of the biochemical startup Arborsense with the ringing of the startup bell. Arborsense was founded by Girish Kulkarni, Xudong Fan, Mark Ilgen and Zhaohui Zhong, and has since brought on Jason Tizedes as the company’s business advisor and CEO. 

Arborsense is based on Kulkarni’s Ph.D. dissertation work at the University of Michigan, which focused on chemical and biological detection using nanomaterials, specifically graphene (a microscopic layer of carbon atoms joined in a honeycomb structure). Together with Fan, Ilgen and Zhong, Kulkarni found that the technology analyzed in his dissertation could be used for the monitoring of biochemical markers transpiring through the skin along with sweat. Arborsense has taken this technology and shared it as an answer to the problem of substance abuse monitoring within the criminal justice system. Traditional biochemical sensors for illicit substances, specifically alcohol, are clunky and highly visible, making the process of monitoring feel stigmatizing for the wearer. Arborsense’s monitoring system, called the GRADE™ alcohol wearable, is roughly the size of a Garmin watch and is able to be worn on the wrist or ankle, is less obtrusive than its predecessor. This reduction of size and visibility allows for a more streamlined and effective monitoring and rehabilitation process for individuals in the criminal justice system struggling with substance abuse. The Arborsense team has been awarded grants from both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health totaling over $4.8 million for their work on solutions for the substance abuse crisis. The team also closed a seed round from Michigan-based VCs in 2021.

Looking at the journey of Arborsense, Kulkarni credits the team at Innovation Partnerships at the University of Michigan for the ability to get his team’s ideas off the ground. “As someone entering the innovation space from academia,” Kulkarni states, “I was not necessarily aware of everything that went into invention commercialization. Innovation Partnerships was immensely helpful in guiding us through the process of incorporating a startup, from patent protection and customer discovery to bringing our innovation to market.” 

To learn more about Arborsense, visit their website at