What does an iPhone have in common with nineteenth century Japanese theater? The block M, of course.

For IMRA America, Inc., an ultrafast laser company founded in 1990, everything seems to circle back to the University of Michigan.

In fact, IMRA America was founded in Ann Arbor, by executives from Japanese automotive-part manufacturer Aisin Seiki Co., Ltd., specifically because it was home to U-M.  With its rich history of automotive partnerships, cutting-edge early stage research, and successful start-ups, U-M was the perfect resource for Aisin to tap for their new venture, IMRA America, which was to focus on the development of fundamental technologies for industrial use.

IMRA America established its first research agreements with the College of Engineering in 1991. This research ultimately led to the development of a revolutionary laser process, patented by a U-M team in 1994, which IMRA America then licensed as its first commercial product, Femtolite, through U-M’s Office of Tech Transfer.  Today, that U-M technology is an integral part of IMRA America’s business, in combination with IMRA America’s state-of-the-art femtosecond fiber lasers, which it markets to leading manufacturers of LEDs used in many devices such as LCDs (used in computers, televisions, and the ubiquitous smartphone) and in general lighting.

To date, IMRA America has sponsored over $1.5 million in research awards to U-M.

“The variety and depth of research taking place at the University of Michigan truly makes for great partnerships,” states Makoto Yoshida, President of IMRA America.  “Drawing from such a talented pool of faculty and students catalyzes our ability to develop and test new technologies.  Supporting U-M philanthropically also aligns with IMRA’s values of community engagement and advocacy for education.”

It also doesn’t hurt to support a winning team.

One of six platinum sponsors of the U-M solar car team, IMRA America provides indispensable financial support and creates opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in various fields of engineering.  The team is a nine-time winner of the American Solar Challenge, has placed third in the World Solar Challenge five times, and has won one international championship.  The 2017 team placed a speedy second in the World Solar Challenge.

It’s clear that IMRA America’s impact reaches far beyond lasers–and research.  IMRA America has contributed nearly $2.6 million to the University in corporate philanthropy, ranging from gifts to the College of Engineering and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, to the Museum of Art.

“IMRA America is a great partner to the University of Michigan, supporting both faculty research and student education,” says Umesh Patel, Senior Director, Business Engagement Center.

Kabuki art piece from the special exhibit currently on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Kabuki art piece from the special exhibit currently on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

“We look forward to continued collaboration and innovation with IMRA America in the future.”

A gift that perhaps best illustrates IMRA America’s unique bond with U-M is a recent donation to the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA).  In 2016, Aisin Seiki, IMRA America’s parent company, gave $10,000 to help fund UMMA’s special exhibition, Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater from the Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

“Kabuki Theater has deep and long-standing roots in Japanese culture. The support from Aisin Seiki for this exhibition meaningfully endorsed the museum’s mission to connect visitors to the rich artistic legacy of the past and today,” says Dr. Natsu Oyobe, Curator of Asian Art.

As a Japanese subsidiary, IMRA America’s interest in promoting Japanese culture may not come as a surprise.  Its commitment, as a company with global reach, to local engagement, however, is a welcome one.  IMRA America’s breadth of support for the University of Michigan, from lasers and nanoparticles to kabuki art and solar cars, is undeniably impressive.