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Court Innovations aims to streamline court experience

Ever been stuck in a courthouse wading through the mundane and time-consuming process of challenging a traffic ticket? Court Innovations thinks it has an answer for that soul-crushing experience.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has created a software platform that enables litigants to navigate the local court system online for things like civil infractions. The idea is to eliminate the need to stand in line at a court house when an issue can be resolved with the click of a mouse pad?

"We are moving from weeks and months (of time spent on small legal matters) to days," says MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations.

The fledgling startup spun out of the University of Michigan Law School a little more than a year ago with the help of $3 million in seed capital from the university's Third Century Initiative. It has since launched in three district courts in Ypsilanti, Highland Park and Bay City where it has been used by hundreds of litigants. Bay City started off using it for traffic court and civil infractions, but has since moved it to more areas.

"That's where they has the highest volumes of traffic," Cartwright says. "In Bay City we were able to expand it to the warrants, like failure to pay or show for a warrant."

The Court Innovations team (seven employees and five interns) is aiming to expand that even further to include people who are pleading down from low misdemeanors to civil infractions. It is also working to establish itself in more courtrooms across Michigan and the Midwest, a task Cartwright plans to begin fundraising for later this year.

"We'd like to be in a dozen courts in Michigan and hopefully one outside of Michigan," Cartwright says.

Source: MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Trilogy Health Ventures expands into Oakland County

Trilogy Health Ventures continues to expand in Michigan's home healthcare market, but this time the growth is taking place a little closer to home.

The Ann Arbor-based firm owns a handful of franchises for the Right at Home In-Home Healthcare & Assistance brand, which provides home healthcare services for the elderly and injured people who need help but want to stay in their homes. It recently bought the franchise that covers western Oakland County.

"It's a huge opportunity with the aging demographic there," says Barry Paxton, president of Trilogy Health Ventures. "That is an affluent area where people would like to stay home for their finals years."

Trilogy Health Ventures has three other franchises across Michigan, including on in Mid Michigan (Bay City, Mt. Pleasant and Flint), the Ann Arbor-Jackson area, and the greater Grand Rapids region. The businesses have taken off over the last two years. It has quadrupled its revenue over the last year alone.

Trilogy Venture now employs 145 people, including 80 hires over the last year. Some of those hires are due to normal turnover in the workforce and a majority of the jobs created as for nurses and caregivers. Paxton expects his staff to hit 250 people by next year.

Source: Barry Paxton, president of Trilogy Health Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

IncWell invests in automotive cyber security startup TowerSec

Cyber-security startup TowerSec has landed an investment from venture capital firm IncWell, helping bring its technology to the automotive industry.

"It's something we see scaling very quickly," Sophia Kahn, project manager for IncWell.

The Ann Arbor-based startup specializes in beefing up cyber security for automobiles. The idea is that as cars are becoming bigger targets for hackers now with the advent of infotainment and driverless automotive technologies. So not only could hackers steal a motorist’s identity while driving but even take control of the car.

"It's a growing concern with cars becoming more connected," Kahn says.

IncWell is a Birmingham-based venture capital firm that invests in technology startups. Some of its other investments include CureLauncher (a Bloomfield Hills-based startup that refers to itself as the Wikipedia of clinical trials) and iRule, a downtown Detroit-based home entertainment startup.

IncWell's investment in TowerSec was part of seed round for the startup. Kahn declined to say who led the seed round, who else participated in it, the total amount raised in the round, or the size of IncWell's investment.

Kahn also declined to detail much about TowerSec’s platform besides that it is designed as a business-to-business play aimed at commercial and fleet vehicles. She adds that TowerSec's platform is "integration ready" in its development but wouldn't explain further what that specifically meant.

Source: Sophia Kahn, project manager for IncWell
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

TLS Productions grows beyond core auto show biz

TLS Productions has been around 60 years, spending most of that time making a name for itself as the go-to firm for auto show lighting. Today it's working to be more than just that.

"We want to continue to serve the auto industry but we want to do more corporate events," says Carl Kedzierski, marketing manager for TLS Productions. "We recently did a gig with ESPN."

The Ann Arbor-based firm provides sales, rental, and production for the stage part of special events. It does this for all of the major auto shows, such as the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit, and smaller events, such as theater productions.

An ownership change two years ago moved TLS Production's focus from auto show all the time to an effort to diversifying its clientele. The lion’s share of the company’s revenue still comes from auto shows, but its non-auto-show work has grown significantly over the last two years. It’s a trend the company hopes to expand over the next year.

"If lighting and audio can be applied to the event then we’re going for it," Kedzierski says.

TLS Production's employs a core staff of 17 employees and the occasional intern. It also has a stable of 30-45 freelancers it consistently leans on during its busy times. It is currently looking to hire 10 account executives across the U.S., including one in each the Ann Arbor-area and Metro Detroit markets.

Source: Carl Kedzierski, marketing manager for TLS Productions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

NewFoundry hits $1M in revenue as it adds more staff

NewFoundry's first two years have been anything but boring as the Ann Arbor-based software firm hits some significant revenue milestones and hires more staff.

"It's been pretty crazy," says Richard Chang, CEO of NewFoundry. "We have been working with a lot of organizations from big corporations to startups."

NewFoundry, which calls the north side of the city overlooking the Huron River home, hit $1 million in revenues in its second year. That enabled it to hire three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and two summer interns. it is currently looking to hire six people in project management, mobile app development, and web development.

"We've just been completely swamped," Chang says. "We have more work than we need, which is why we are on a big hiring spree."

Prior to launching NewFoundry, Chang worked at Mobiata, a software startup that made travel apps before it was acquired by Expedia. He founded NewFoundry with an idea of making custom mobile apps and other software applications for clients along with its own apps. Last year it launched Ramblehook, a mobile app that helps better organize meetings by listing agenda items, presenters, and time allotted for each topic.

Chang would like to continue to diversify NewFoundry's revenue stream by creating more equity projects and apps to sell to consumers. He believes this will enable NewFoundry to continue on its current growth trend.

"Our goal is to double our revenue each year," Chang says.

Source: Richard Chang, CEO of NewFoundry
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Ann Arborís picoSpray locks down $1M Series A

PicoSpray, a startup creating technology to make small engines more energy efficient, has locked down a Series A worth $1 million, money the company plans to reinvest into its tech development.

"We are going to continue working with customers so we can adopt the technology to their needs and expand into new markets," says Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up's technology aims to replace the carburetor in small engines with a low-cost electronic fuel injection system. Small engines for things like motorcycles, mopeds, and generators have a lot of room to create energy efficiency gains and cut pollution.

Automotive engines have already done this with fuel-injection technology but bringing that to small engines has proven cost-prohibitive. PicoSpray is completely redesign this part of the small engine with a fuel-injection system that can reduce fuel consumption by 10-15 percent and be installed at half the cost of current options. Check out a video on the technology here.

Nong declined to name the investors in the Series A but said the money is going toward the final development of the technology. It has also enabled picoSpray to hire two people (a technician and an engineer), expanding its staff to six employees. That team is currently testing its technology out with engine and motorcycle manufacturers.

"We're looking at how we can mass produce it," Nong says.

Source: Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

TurtleCell begins selling iPhone case with retractable earbuds

TurtleCell is starting to sell the first wave of its iPhone case with retractable earphones this spring, and is gearing up to for its next big shipment of cases.

The Ann Arbor-based startup received its first shipment of cases (10,000 in total) and is marketing them for sale online and in retail stores. They are currently available in 25 Michigan-based Verizon stores. TurtleCell’s second cohort of iPhone cases (30,000) is in production and set to arrive later this year.

TurtleCell was launched three years ago by a handful of University of Michigan undergrads who were tired of constantly untangling their earbuds whenever they reached in their pocket for their iPhone. The answer was an iPhone case with retractable earbuds.

"It's a convenience product so you don't loose or tangle your earbuds," says Jeremy Lindlbauer, director of brand & marketing for TurtleCell. "It also protects your iPhone."

The team experimented with the concept for a little more than a year. Trying to build it out with a failed crowd funding campaign and other trial-and-error moves. They really started to gain traction when they entered the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The product won the People's Choice award two years running but more importantly was introduced to Auburn Hills-based consumer electronics company Digital Treasurers.

That gave TurtleCell the expertise and the seed capital it needed to more its product development forward smartly. Today it’s selling its cases for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S for $39.95. It plans to add iPhone 6 compatible cases later this year when its second production shipment arrives.

To keep up with that growth TurtleCell has expanded its staff to seven people, hiring four in the last year. Those new hires included designers and multimedia professionals. It is currently looking to add a couple more employees.

"We are always looking," Lindlbauer says. "We are usually looking for an electrical engineer. It depends on the fit."

Source: Jeremy Lindlbauer, director of brand & marketing for TurtleCell
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Stkr.it finds unexpected customers, expands

Stkr.it launched as a startup looking to leverage the emerging new economy. Today it's generating revenue from an unlikely source: quilters.

"They have taken to our technology to label their quilts," says Mike Newman, president of stkr.it. "There are 16 million quilters in the U.S., and two million of them spend $3,000 a year on it."

The 4-year-old startup, which calls both Ann Arbor and New York City home, launched as software platform that helped people capture digital memories on their mobile devices, such as text messages. It pivoted a few years ago to helping people create and connect new messages to items like greeting cards and scrapbooks.

Meeting with business owners in the greeting card and gift store industries led to introductions to the quilting world. Scrapbookers have also flocked to the service.

"It wasn’t part of the original business plan," Newman says.

But it's a welcome addition. Stkr.it has grown its team to five people and is looking at expanding its reach in these new revenue streams. It is also aiming to create a few more over the next year.

Source: Mike Newman, president of stkr.it
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

New Eagle expands staff at new facility in Ann Arbor

New Eagle moved into a new office in Ann Arbor last year and has been growing its staff and bottom line since.

The automotive, energy-efficiency company took over a 21,000-square-foot space on the city's western outskirts. It has spent equal parts of the last few months working on its hybrid technology and modernizing its new home.

"We took it from an old, dingy commercial space to a collaborative office," says Rich Swortzel, president of New Eagle. "It's open. It’s a fun environment."

The 6-year-old company specializes in hybrid technology for the automotive sector. Its recently released Raptor platform helps create fuel-savings for heavy vehicles like garbage trucks. It accomplishes that with a connected and distributed control system that is advanced, scalable, self-diagnosing, and remotely controllable.

"The goal is to mature it and grow it," Swortzel says.

New Eagle has enjoyed growing sales of technology both domestically and internationally recently. International sales accounted for half of the company’s revenue over the last year. That has allowed the company hire a handful of people over the last year.

Source: Rich Swortzel, president of New Eagle
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Arbormoon Software grows with work in beacon projects, watch apps

Arbormoon Software isn't the little software firm that could. It's a small business that did. Or, at least, is doing it.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company recently was recognized as a FastTrack award winner for the third consecutive year. That means it had at least six-figure revenues with an annual growth of 20 percent for the previous three years. Arbormoon Software has accomplished this for three years running.

The company's leadership[ chalks that success to its work of creating mobile apps that have huge amounts of downloads, such as creating the apps for Weather Underground and XanEdu. "We're small but we have a lot more reach than larger companies," says Dave Koziol, president of Arbormoon Software.

The 11-year-old firm offers a comprehensive set of services for creating custom mobile apps. That work allowed it to move into a larger office last year and hire a couple of software developers, expanding its staff to a dozen people.

Arbormoon Software has also been working on creating software for new technology. For instance it has produced a couple of apps for mobile phones worn as watches. It is also working on beacon technology projects that help enhance mobile signals in places with limited receptions, such as large buildings.

"We're pushing the technology envelope and seeing how things evolve," Koziol says. "We're on the bleeding edge of technology looking for new things."

Source: Dave Koziol, president of Arbormoon Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Civionics brings wireless sensors to manufacturing

Civionics got its start spinning out of the University of Michigan in 2009 by commercializing wireless sensor technology. The platform was primarily used to measure the strength of large-scale infrastructure, such as bridge supports.

That's changing now. The startup is pivoting from its previous work, which mostly generated revenue from government grants, to a product platform.

"We have a new product we began selling at the end of last year," says Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics. "We hope it will help us enter some new verticals."

That new product is called Constellation. It is based on Civionics original technology but applies it to manufacturing equipment in factories. The idea is to monitor the strength of those machines and avoid breakdowns with well-timed maintenance. The company is aiming to focus on Michigan’s automotive market as a start.

To help make that happen, Civionics has joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program. The program helps small businesses leverage cutting edge manufacturing technology, opening the door for them to go to the next level of production.

"Automation Alley clearly has the connections in the area that we lack," Zimmerman says.

The Ann Arbor-based company currently employs a core team of a handful of people after adding one over the last year. Zimmerman expects to grow that team later this year as it lines up the first customers for Constellation.

Source: Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

U-M students launch healthy food startup called Fruit Fairies

Densu Dixon and his friend Eric Jensen were both dedicated athletes when they came to the University of Michigan. They not only took their workouts seriously, but also their diets. It's a lifestyle choice that took an unusual turn when it became their business.

"We started to get frustrated with the availability of fresh produce on campus," Dixon says. "We couldn't find a service to help us so we decided to make one ourselves."

The U-M sophomores launched Fruit Fairies earlier this year. The startup aims to eating healthier in college more affordable through a weekly subscription service that delivers baskets of healthy food to the doorsteps of co-eds across the country. The baskets include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and additional options.

The Fruit Fairies staff assembles the baskets on Sundays and delivers them to its customers across Ann Arbor. The Sunday assembly-and-delivery system allows them to buy fresh food in bulk from wholesalers. The student-run startup is currently trying to raise $7,500 through a crowd funding campaign to grow its business later this spring. Check it out here.

"We are hoping for the beginning of April," Dixon says.

Source: Densu Dixon, co-founder at Fruit Fairies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Renaissance Venture Capital Fund closes on second fund worth $79M

The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund has closed on its second investment vehicle, a $79 million fund destined for Michigan-based startups and the venture capital firms investing in them.

The 6-year-old firm, which has offices in Ann Arbor and Detroit, is a fund of funds, meaning it invests in smaller venture capital firms. It closed on its first fund for $45 million in 2010 with an idea of helping grow Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by infusing it with more seed capital and attracting more outside investors.

Some of Michigan's biggest corporations have contributed to Renaissance Venture Capital Fund’s investment vehicles. The hope is by including them they will help these startups grow by providing revenues and potential acquisitions. The fund also invests in out-of-state venture capital firms looking to invest in Michigan-based startups.

"For every $1 we put in them they put $4 into the state," says Chris Rizik, CEO of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund. "It has worked out very well."

For instance, the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund made an investment in Houston-based Mercury Fund, which opened its Midwestern office in Ann Arbor. Mercury Fund has invested in Ann Arbor-based startups like DeepField and Swift Biosciences.

The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and its team of four people have already made eight investments in venture capital firms and is aiming to make three side-by-side investments in startups with those VCs. The second fund has been active for two years and is looking to continue to keep going this year.

"We probably have another 3-4 years left to invest," Rizik says.

Source: Chris Rizik, CEO of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Message Blocks eyes expansion into event software with new hires

If slow and steady wins the race it also can build the business. That's what the team behind Message Blocks is learning.

The Ann Arbor-based startup offers a comprehensive event-planning software platform that streamlines the event-planning process. The platform focuses on the event planner's experience, allowing users to share documents and presenters to use plug-in presentations. Message Blocks launched this platform in the fall of 2013 and has built it up ever since.

"We have kept every customer," says Len Gauger, founder & CEO of Message Blocks. "Our retention rate is quite high."

The 2-year-old startup has also attracted new clients. It landed the Michigan Realtors Association, which is using the platform for everything from events to media releases. Message Blocks also has pilot programs with new customers underway in Michigan, California, and Washington, D.C. This year the company is looking to take on bigger events, such as concerts.

"We are looking at out-of-the-box verticals that deal with large amounts of people," Gauger says. "It's about helping their team organize better."

Message Blocks currently employs a team of seven people and is looking for a few summer interns this year. It has hired three people over the last year and is looking to add another three right now.

Source: Len Gauger, founder & CEO of Message Blocks
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

U-M student startup app helps track loved ones

A group of students at the University of Michigan are trying to bring campus safety into the 21st Century with a new mobile app called Companion.

The five students began working on the app a few months ago after noticing there wasn't a comprehensive public safety tool that worked with their smartphones.

"It was the culmination of a number of experiences we have had for years," says Danny Freed, co-founder of Companion. "We would get crime alerts that are 12 hours old and useless or there are the blue safety stations that no one uses."

Companion's mobile app harnesses real-time walking data that allows for family and friends to keep an eye on you as you walk home late at night. It matches that data with historical walking pattern and a predictive engine so local campus police can determine the optimal placement of officers.

Companion won the Pryor-Hale Award for Best Business at the Michigan Business Plan Competition. That came with $20,000 in seed capital. The team, all U-M undergraduates, also won the Most Successful Undergraduate team award for $2,500 as well as the Marketing Award sponsored by Marketing Associates for $2,500.

That $25,000 will go toward further developing the app. A Beta version is currently available in the Apple App Store, but the team is looking to enhance its capability.

"We are continuously adding features," Freed says.

Source: Danny Freed, co-founder of Companion
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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