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Q LTD transforms contractors to employees to fill out staff

Rounding out a creative team with independent contractors has been a popular strategy for boutique firms trying to find a balance between adapting to a flimsy economic recovery and staffing up for projects.

Q LTD is moving beyond that practice, hiring the last of its 1099 workers to become full-time team members this fall. The digital strategy firm has been growing incrementally for years now and making this last handful of hires was the right move for its growing amount of work.

"For us it's a nice, normal pace of growth," says Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD. Paul Koch, a creative strategist for Q LTD adds, "Our goal is controlled steady growth."

The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm has hired four people over the last year, including the two former independent contractors. It now has a staff of 14 employees and one intern.

"All of the people are working full-time," Golus says.

And working on a number of projects. Q LTD has helped human resources at the University of Michigan design a new website. It also put together conference programs from the American Dental Association. Currently, Q LTD is working on a website redesign for The Kresge Foundation.

"The work indicates we will need that many more people," Golus says. "It's why we are hiring them on."

Source: Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD, and Paul Koch, a creative strategist for Q LTD
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Library of Congress work helps power re:group's growth

Soon web surfers will be able to go to the website for the Library of Congress and click on the retail catalog for its e-commerce platform. They'll be able look for the work of re:group, but perhaps can't find the products from the downtown Ann Arbor-based firm at first glance? They will be able to take a step back and look at the whole catalog. Then they can can see it.

The 12-year-old digital marketing agency recently created the online retail catalog for the Library of Congress, which should go live later this fall. Its part of a bump in work from some big names, which include Taubman, the global retail development firm based in metro Detroit. The Tilted Kilt, a national restaurant franchisee, also named re:group as its agency of record.

That work has added up to a 5 percent bump in revenues for re:group, which has allowed the company to hire four people in the last year, expanding its staff to 34 employees.

"We'd like to grow 10 percent," says Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group. "It's a little more than we did last year but we don't want to grow too rapidly. We don't want to disrupt the service we are giving our clients."

Much of that growth has come from referrals. It is also coming from re:group's work with franchise businesses. It has steadily grown its business bringing on more and more franchisee clients, like the Tilted Kilt. That is why it's continuing to host a quarterly conference, Franchise Business Update, for franchises in Ann Arbor with the next one happening next week in downtown.

Source: Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Goldman Sachs invests $50M in Ann Arbor's LLamasoft

Goldman, Sachs & Co is placing a big bet on LLamasoft, a downtown Ann Arbor-based startup that has been growing rapidly for years. The New York City-based investment banking firm is sinking $50 million into LLamasoft as part of its Series B in exchange for a minority investment and a seat on LLamasoft's board.

Company leadership says it has been meeting with a who's who of private equity firms to further fund its growth and at the end of the day partnering with Goldman Sachs made sense because of the culture fit, the people working the deal, and access to large amounts of capital for future growth.

"We felt the most comfortable with Goldman Sachs in the end," says Toby Brzoznowski, co-founder & executive vice president of LLamasoft.

The 12-year-old company specializes in supply chain software that help optimize logistics for large corporations and organizations. Its customers include multi-national corporations in a large variety of industries, ranging from aerospace to pharmaceuticals.

The $50 million from Goldman Sachs will help fund numerous technology development and growth initiatives, such as investing in supply chains analytics and developing new applications for its customers. All of that is expected to spike LLamasoft's growth in the near term.

"We have averaged 50 percent growth over each of the last five years," Brzoznowski says. "That's revenue growth but you can’t do it without the people. We're adding a good deal of people every month."

LLamasoft has hired 75 people over the last year, expanding its employee base to a little more than 300 people worldwide. Just under 200 of them are based in downtown Ann Arbor, and about 60 percent of its new hires work in Ann Arbor. Brzoznowski is optimistic those number will remain consistent, if not increase in the not-too-distant future.

"We continue to add people at a rapid pace," Brzoznowski says.

Source: Toby Brzoznowski, co-founder & executive vice president of LLamasoft
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Municipal admin services power Carlisle/Wortman Associates growth

Carlisle/Wortman Associates got its start offering civic planning services, such as helping local municipalities figure out zoning issues or plan for community growth. It built a respected brand around that work over the years. Today the Ann Arbor-based firm is increasingly known for more than that.

Carlisle/Wortman Associates is generating more and more of its revenue from offering administrative services for local municipalities. Those typically include running community development departments or building departments. Last year it opened an office in Oakland to help facilitate such work. Today 40 percent of Carlisle/Wortman Associates' staff focuses on providing municipal administrative services, which is up from 30 percent last year.

"It's becoming a much bigger part of the business," says Dick Carlisle, president of Carlisle Wortman Associates.

The firm got its start offering municipal administrative services about 10-15 years ago at the specific request of its customers. The side business started out innocently enough but soon turned into something that needed to be paid attention to.

"The more we did it the more we realized this is something we need to purposely try to do," Carlisle says.

Today Carlisle/Wortman Associates employs a staff of 26 employees and an intern. It has hired two people over the last year, including a building inspector and a landscape architect. Carlisle expects those hires to continue as its municipal administrative service continues to grow.

"I think its highly possible (municipal administrative services could equal half of the firm's work in the near future)," Carlisle says. "That part of the company is growing at a much more rapid rate than our core business. But it's only growing because of our core business."

Source: Dick Carlisle, president of Carlisle Wortman Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Coherix scores $12M to grow manufacturing software in China

Coherix recently landed $12 million to help rapidly grow sales of its manufacturing software around the world. But the Ann Arbor-based startup nearly perished before getting to this point.

The company launched in 2004, making software that help streamline the advanced manufacturing process. Business grew quickly and the startup’s leadership had visions of going public. Then the Great Recession hit. The company's investors, never losing faith in Coherix's potential spent $9.6 million between 2008 and 2010 to keep the company afloat through hard times.

"We have a tremendous group of investors," says Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix.

When the economy turned around and Coherix extinguished its cash burn, Carlson had high hopes to raising a lot more money to fuel its growth.

"I thought they would be throwing money at me because we survived (the Great Recession)," Carlson says.

It didn't turn out that way. Investors saw that Coherix specialized in manufacturing, strike one. It is based in Michigan, strike two. Carlson cut his loses and went back to growing Coherix organically and further developing its technology.

Today its principal technology provides high-speed, high-definition 3D measurement and inspection services for manufacturers that streamlines their production capability. It creates efficiencies through high-tech, optical-based measurement and inspection of the assembly processes.

Coherix has found most of its success deploying this technology in China where 40 percent of that country’s gross domestic product is created through manufacturing. It employs 50 people globally, including 35 in Ann Arbor. It has hired two marketing people in Ann Arbor over the last year now that it has landed its latest investment round.

Carlson expects to hire a lot more people as he starts to put the $12 million in new seed capital to work. One third of that money will go toward building out Coherix's operations in China. The rest of it will be spent building the business in Ann Arbor. Taking Coherix public in the next few years is a dream again.

"Now we're pedal to the metal," Carlson says. "We are going from survival mode to rapid growth mode. We will be hiring an awful lot of people."

Source: Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Huron Valley Financial growth rapidly with new service offerings

Huron Valley Financial got its start selling mortgages to people in Washtenaw County in the mid 1990s. Today it's doing the same across the country and offering a whole lot more as it grows at its fastest clip to date.

"We have had some of our best months ever in 2015," says Casey Daniels, vice president of business development for Huron Valley Financial.

The Ann Arbor-based company can now sell mortgages in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. It is also in the process of getting approval to sell mortgages in South Carolina. To accommodate that growth the firm has hired 18 people in sales and operations over the last year and is looking to hire another six now. It currently has a staff of 90 people.

The bigger staff and geographic footprint helps with Huron Valley Financial's growth. But its biggest gains are coming from its larger portfolio of services it can offer. Huron Valley Financial has been approved to service loans (a function it formerly had to outsource to larger financial institutions) and sell loans to Fannie Mae.

"Us getting our Fannie Mae approval was pretty big," Daniels says. "It allows us to streamline a lot of our processes."

Huron Valley Financial also launched a wholesale division earlier this month. It can now sell its mortgages and other lending products, like construction loans, to community banks and credit unions. The mortgage lender is also planning to further broaden its product portfolio, but Daniels declined to elaborate on those plans.

"We are always looking at additional products to add," Daniels says.

Source: Casey Daniels, vice president of business development for Huron Valley Financial
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MuniRent targets large govt agencies to spike growth

MuniRent launched with the idea of bringing the sharing economy to municipalities across Michigan. Today the Ann Arbor-based startup is looking to spike its growth by bringing its technology to large government agencies, like state departments of transportation.

The 1-year-old startup's software enables municipalities to share heavy equipment, such as backhoes and earth movers, that would otherwise sit around and gather dust. It's two-person team had recruited 24 Michigan municipalities into its fold when the Oregon Department of Transportation came calling. It wanted to use MuniRent's platform internally for its nearly 100 work crews.

Nearly a year later the Oregon work crews (each crew is the equivalent of small city in Michigan) are averaging between 1-3 transactions a day. They have clocked 5,800 days of reservations for equipment that is in steady use.

"The data is unbelievable," says Alan Mond, co-founder & CEO of MuniRent. "It's real telling how much equipment use increased."

And word is getting around. MuniRent is fielding interest from state transportation departments in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota, along with the city of Los Angeles.

"We want to have at least 20 different large governmental agencies in the fold by next year," Mond says.

Source: Alan Mond, co-founder & CEO of MuniRent
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TorranceLearning looks to hire six in downtown Chelsea

TorranceLearning is a name that gets around, but it doesn't have to pay to reach its customer base. The downtown Chelsea-based firm lets it track record do the talking. And that has spurred its growth.

"We don't pay for advertising," says Megan Torrance, CEO of TorranceLearning. "We only pay for two trade show booths a year. It's really about the quality of our work that gets us our attention."

TorranceLearning calls the Chelsea Clocktower home and specializes in creating custom education projects for companies and non-profits. Its clients range from major auto suppliers like Denso to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. It recently landed work with NSF International, Consumers Energy, and Steelcase. That has allowed to start looking to hire half a dozen people to add to its staff of 13 people.

"We will finish the year 40-50 percent higher than last year," Torrance says.

TorranceLearning has been able to attract those new clients and expanded business through its growing reputation. The 13-year-old firm has landed several stories in niche publications about its work and growing business. Work like that has made Torrance optimistic about the company’s near-term prospects.

"I'd like to triple our revenues next year," Torrance says. "I'd to have a team of two dozen people or more."

Source: Megan Torrance, CEO of TorranceLearning
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DeepField doubles staff, revenue, and bike house space

Doubling is a popular word at DeepField this year. The IT startup has doubled its customer base, revenue, and staff over the last year. And its doing that by doubling down in downtown Ann Arbor.

The 4-year-old startup recently moved to its new downtown home to accommodate its growing staff. DeepField currently has 40 employees after hiring a cool 20 over the last year... and it's still hiring.

"We'll be at 45 by the end of the year," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField. "Most of them will be in Ann Arbor."

DeepField's software helps big companies keep up with the constant changes that come with Internet's back-end IT infrastructure. That platform leverages big-data analytics that correlates telemetry from routers, switches, DNS, and more, decoding that morass of information. The user ends up with a better view of their IT network.

"We're about to launch our second and third products this year," Groe says.

Hence the growing staff to keep up with demand and to continue innovating new products.

However, while the company is filling out its new office space with new hires it has to come up with new ways to help get them to the office. Deepfield has reserved several spots in the newly opened bikehouse in the Ann Ashley Parking Structure. Its employees already had a couple of spots reserved in the sold-out Maynard Street Parking Structure bike house.

"We have a lot of young people who tend to bike to work," Groe says. "The average age of our employees is in the late 20s. Our current space wouldn’t allow us to have bikes in the office. It's also not the best place to have bikes."

Source: Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HistoSonics raises $3.5M as it pushes clinical trails forward

HistoSonics has closed on seven figures worth of seed capital over the last year as the Ann Arbor-based startup pushes forward the clinical trails of its biotechnology that treats prostate disease.

The 5-year-old company raised an $11 million Series A in 2009 and is in the process of raising a Series B. It raised $3.5 million in a couple of interim fundraising rounds over the last year as it preps to land an even bigger Series B.

"We're looking to do a much larger round next year," says Christine Gibbons, president & CEO of HistoSonics. "We're thinking the first quarter of 2016."

The University of Michigan spinout got its name by combining histo (meaning tissue) and sonics (meaning sound waves). The firm’s primary platform is a medical device that uses tightly focused ultrasound pulses to treat prostate disease in a non-invasive manner with robotic precision.

HistoSonics and its team of 15 people (four more than last year) is currently in the midst of its clinical trails, which it has completed enrollment in. It plans to expand that clinical trail in the next year and wrap it up by 2016. HistoSonics is also looking to add more applications for its platform over the next year, which it is looking for partners in the medical device world.

"This next round of financing we are looking for strategic partners and investors," Gibbons says.

Source: Christine Gibbons, president & CEO of HistoSonics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

A2B Bikeshare aims to become Uber/Lyft of bike sharing

Pivots and partnerships. Those are two words that start with P that A2B Bikeshare hopes will add up to yet another P word: profit.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, homed in Menlo Innovations' Startup Garage, recently executed a pivot in its business plan and struck a partnership that helps move its new bikesharing technology forward. It's in the midst of launching its technology in a couple U.S. cities with more plans in the works.

"We're looking to launch a couple of hundred bikes before the end of year," says Ansgar Strother, founder & CEO of A2B Bikeshare.

The 1-year-old startup wants to become the Uber or Lyft (popular car-sharing startups) for bicycles. A2B Bikeshare originally got its start with the idea of launching bike-sharing programs for cities with fleets outfitted with touch screens and credit card swipes for users to navigate and pay on.

"It ended up being too expensive and not durable enough," Strother says. "We switched to a low-energy bluetooth technology."

The general idea of launching a bike sharing program for a city is still the same now but use a mobile app for patrons to reserve and pay for their bike.

"When you're all done you just push it back into the rack," Strother says.

A2B Bikeshare also struck a partnership with a bicycle supplier that provides bicycle fleets for large corporations. A2B Bikeshare plans to leverage those fleets of bikes for its own customers.

Today A2B Bikeshare is working to launch a bike-sharing fleet in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Marfa, Texas. It is also working to launch in other cities before the end of the year and lay the groundwork for a national network of bicycles its patrons can use across the country.

Source: Ansgar Strother, founder & CEO of A2B Bikeshare
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Double-digit revenue growth drives Arbor Teas expansion

Arbor Teas is hitting the sweet spot for its tea production, clocking double-digit revenue growth and pushing its packaging to become even more sustainable. The Ann Arbor-based online retailer for loose-leaf tea prides itself on selling its teas in compostable packaging. It upgraded that system earlier this year by adding a compostable adhesive that makes it packaging easier to assemble and biodegrade.

"That was fairly revolutionary for us," says Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas.

Jeremy Lopatin launched Arbor Teas with his wife, Aubrey Lopatin, a little more than a decade ago. It now has a staff of seven people, including three hires since early 2014. The new jobs include inventory management at its warehouse on Ann Arbor's north side and customer service.

Arbor Teas sells a broad variety of organic-certified teas from around the world. It recently added teas from Kenya, Korea, and Hawaii. It sells them online but is aiming to expand into brick and mortar sales over the next year. The Lopatins are also looking at opening an organic tea bar in Ann Arbor.

Arbor Teas grew its sales by 25 percent last year. It is exceeding its sales forecasts for this year so far.

"We're doing about 21 percent this year," Jeremy Lopatin says.

Source: Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LLamasoft continues hiring spree in downtown Ann Arbor

This is how much LLamasoft has grown in recent years: It just sent out a press release announcing a new hire that "will lead business development efforts for the LLamasoft team worldwide."

Lots of companies like to talk about going international or becoming global firms. A sizable number of those are PR smokescreens. LLamasoft isn’t exhaling any of those vapors. The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm is now running logistical operations on six out of the world's seven continents.

"We are a very global company," says Ginger Stegmier, vice president of global marketing at LLamasoft. "Our first customer was in Europe. We have offices on every continent, except Antarctica."

And the 13-year-old company has the statistics to back up that reach. It is a $40 million firm with 264 employees world wide, including more than 146 in Ann Arbor. It has hired 60 people over the last year and is currently looking to hire another 20.

"We are hiring people every week," Stegmier says. "I had two people accept offers this week."

One of those hires is Bob McFarland, the new senior vice president of global sales at LLamasoft. Before coming to LLamasoft, he worked as the senior vice president of retail sales at Epicor and has built a career working in management at retail, technology, and logistics.

"At this point we need someone who will have an overarching view of all of our activity," Stegmier says.

Source: Ginger Stegmier, vice president of global marketing at LLamasoft
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ingenex Digital Marketing adds to clientele, staff in downtown Ann Arbor

Ingenex Digital Marketing is practicing a common equation for growing a business in downtown Ann Arbor: New clients plus more work equals a bigger bottom line and larger staff.

The company has hired three people over the last year, including a graphic designer and content producer. It is also recruiting for two more content producer positions. Ingenex Digital Marketing now has a staff of 10 employees and five interns, filling out its new space above Arbor Brewing Co, which it moved into last year.

"The downtown space is so packed right now I am glad we have it," says Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing.

The 9-year-old firm has watched its overall business grow 20 percent over the last year. It has attracted new clients include the Ann Arbor franchise for TITLE Boxing Club and Spring Arbor University.

"We have definitely expanded our client portfolio," Mehraban says.

Source: Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor startups score seed capital from Innovation Fund

A couple of Ann Arbor-based startups have taken the lion's share of seed funding from the initial round of the Innovation Fund Macomb Community College, Powered by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

MyFab5 and TurtleCell received the top awards, $100,000 each, from the Innovation Fund. The $100,000 investments are focused on helping push those startups toward large-scale funding.

"We're laying the foundation to accelerate our growth," says Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5.

MyFab5's platform works through Instagram, allowing its users to take pictures of their meals at restaurants and then rank their experience. The 2-year-old company got its start allowing users to rank their top five businesses in certain genres in local areas, but transitioned to a photo-based version when it noticed its users liked using it with Instagram.

MyFab5 averages more than 300,000 users each month. That is more than double its user rate from last fall. MyFab5 users have shared over 1.25 million restaurant recommendations and photos. It now employs a staff of four and three interns.

The platform also streamlines social media marketing for restaurants, providing a dashboard that enables creation of custom marketing plans, analyzing audience, generating leads, creating and publishing social media posts, tracking and engaging fans, and creating analytics reports.

TurtleCell makes a smartphone case with retractable headphones so users can avoid tangled, broken or lost headphones.

The Innovation Fund made five investments overall in startups based in Metro Detroit. The total investment package from the came to $275,000. The $2.7 million fund focuses on stimulating economic development and job growth among promising Metro Detroit entrepreneurs and next-stage businesses with high-growth potential. Investments range from $25,000 to $100,000.

Source: Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5
Writer: Jon Zemke

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