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Innovation & Job News

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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. It crossed the 1 million user mark earlier this year, and 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.

Reveal Design Automation scores $50K from Zell Lurie Fund

Reveal Design Automation has scored a $50,000 investment from the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, a pre-seed investment fund from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

The money is the last infusion of seed capital the University of Michigan spin-out will received. The angel investments and federal grants total nearly $4 million that is going toward the development of the Reveal Design Automation's semiconductor chip design technology. The $50,000 will go toward helping the Ann Arbor-based company land more customers.

"We have a sales team now," says Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation. "They also provide customer support."

Reveal Design Automation specializes in developing electronic design automation software. The software helps simplify the complicated semiconductor chip design that shortens the verification timeline and lets makers bring it to market faster.

The firm has already finished the Version 1 of its platform and has deployed it to a couple of initial customers in industries like telecommunications and automotive. It now has a team of 12 people after adding a couple over the last year.

"I want to make sure we have more customers," Andraus says. "I'd like to have as many Tier 1 customers are we can support and 20-30 employees."

Source: Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cool Tools Committee keeps Logic Solutions ahead of tech curve for 20 years

Logic Solutions is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, which makes it a veteran of the local software scene. This is no small feat in an industry where many startups flame out after a couple of years.

So how does the Ann Arbor-based company stay young and relevant in a world of constant change?

"It's about continuing to keep up with the next big thing," says Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions. "It means staying on top of trending technology, adopting it, and getting your customers to adopt it."

Which is a lot easier said than done. It's easy for entrepreneurs to talk about staying ahead of the technology curve by being able to pick the winners and losers of what's next. It's much harder to actually do it.

Logic Solutions has done it. The company, which develops software for everything from websites to mobile apps, has handled 5,000 projects for 2,000 clients in its two decades, creating 3,000 websites or web apps and another 100 mobile apps in that time. That has allowed it to grow to 200 employees in six offices around the world. It employs 45 in Ann Arbor, where it has hired a handful of people over the last year.

Logic Solutions is successful partly because it picks which technology trends to pay attention by committee. Its five-person Cool Tools Committee meets every other week to talk about technology trends and ideas. They debate the merits of what is brought to the table and occasionally pick a winner from that bunch.

"Anything that they think we should dive into or at least take a look at we make plans to do," says Matt Sarkesian, CTO of Logic Solutions.

It's how Logic Solutions got started with the Magento e-commerce platform. It took a year of research and toying with it before the company brought it onboard, but today it makes up a huge part of the firm's revenue.

"These decisions aren't something we make with a hair trigger," Kujava says. "At the same time we try to make and adopt them quickly."

Source: Matt Sarkesian, CTO of Logic Solutions, and Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

First scooters set to roll off Mahindra GenZe’s line this year

Ann Arbor's Mahindra GenZe is gearing up to produce its first scooters this year.

Mahindra GenZe is a division of an Indian-based scooter manufacturer, Mahindra and Mahindra. It opened a regional technical center in Ann Arbor to design scooters to sell in North America three years ago. Its manufacturing facility followed a little more than a year ago. The first scooters are set to roll off the assembly line later this summer.

"We are kicking out our last pre-production prototypes," says Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe. "All of the engineering work is done."

The electric scooter is sleek and simple, focused on the needs of urban commuters looking for a convenient transportation option that works well in densely populated areas. The scooter comes with a 7-inch touchscreen monitor built into the handlebars and plugs into normal electric outlets to charge its lithium-ion battery. Check out a video on it here.

"Our monthly numbers will be very low at the start," Duncan says. "We will increase our output gradually. By the end of the year we hope to be at 3,000."

Mahindra GenZe currently employs a staff of 35 people in Ann Arbor. It has hired a dozen people over the last year in mostly white collar positions. It is also looking to hire another six people who specialize in assembly, electrical engineering, and project management.

That staff is not only working on the company's scooter but widening its product portfolio. The company is currently experimenting with electric bicycles that it is looking to produce in Ann Arbor, too.

"We are building prototypes for them," Duncan says.

Source: Terence Duncan, head of product management at Mahindra GenZe
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Digital marketing, software work drive growth at Enlighten

Enlighten is a digital marketing company that has been around long enough to know success revolves around customer service.

"We are focused on the customer experience," says Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten. "We see better customer service as a path to higher profit margins."

For the 31-year-old company that meant transitioning from marketing to digital marketing to software development to all of the above. The company now offers a comprehensive suite of marketing services along with the software development products to help complement its traditional offerings.

The strategy has worked well. Enlighten grew its revenue by 25 percent last year and it's projecting to do it again in 2015. That has allowed the company to hire close to a dozen people. It now has a staff of about 100 employees and eight interns. It is also looking to hire half a dozen more people now, including senior account managers, software engineers, and project managers.

Enlighten is also pushing forward on its own software projects outside of custom work for its customers. It launched two photo-oriented software platforms in 2012, WhatWasThere.com and YearlyMe.com. OffersNow, a coupon and marketing software program aimed at helping small businesses, launched in 2013.

"Those projects are still going well," Glauberman says. "We are looking to enhance them."

Source: Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Virta Labs tests prototypes to protect medical devices from malware

As the healthcare services start to increasingly rely on technology, they need to start thinking about protecting themselves the same way computers do. Or at least that is how the team at Virta Labs sees it.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, which calls the Tech Brewery building home, is developing a technology platform that will defend medical devices from malware attacks. Pace makers and other high-tech pieces of medical technology are vulnerable to cyber attacks because security is largely undeveloped.

One-year-old Virta Labs, which won the Best of Boot Camp award at Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp last year, focuses on protecting those medical devices. The company has recently built prototypes and is looking to beta test its security technology later this summer.

"The hardware is pretty much complete," says Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs. "We are in the scaling phase of development of our cloud infrastructure."

Virta Labs recently grew its team of 10 people. That staff includes seven PhDs, a fact Foo Kune is quick to point out.

"We pride ourselves on our strong technical team and being engineering driven," Foo Kune says.

That team also recently landed a Phase 1 SBIR grant worth $150,000 to develop its technology. It is also in the midst of raising a six-figure seed capital round.

"We will be closing our seed round very soon," Foo Kune says.

Source: Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AlumaBridge's first aluminum bridges go up in Quebec, Florida

AlumaBridge's big claim to fame is creating a better bridge, made out of aluminum, which is lighter, stronger, and more durable than traditional options. Travelers should get their first chance to test it out later this summer.

The Ann Arbor-based company’s first bridge is being built in Quebec, Canada. AlumaBridge completed the fabrication of its bridge deck sections late last year. Those pieces are currently being constructed by the Quebec Ministry of Transportation.

"It should be open to traffic by the first week of August," says Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge.

The 1-year-old company uses aluminum as its principal material for prefabricated pieces of bridging. The idea is the specially fabricated aluminum pieces will extend the life of aging bridges much beyond the current standards for concrete. The aluminum bridge deck panels are made using friction stir welding and have a non-skid surface. They can easily be applied to the steel girders on existing bridges, giving many more years of service.

AlumaBridge is also working on a fabricating more bridge sections for a span in Florida. It delivered the first sections early this year and expects that project to come online later this year.

"We will have additional panels shipped in August," Osberg says. "They will be tested by the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida International University before they are installed."

AlumaBridge is currently working with Florida and Canada on more potential bridge projects. The company is also trying to make in-roads with the Michigan Department of Transportation, but the company’s most promising prospects appear to be north of the Great Lakes State.

"The city of Montreal also indicated that they have some projects in mind," Osberg says.

Source: Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Greenview Data's solution for zero day viruses drives growth

Sometimes problems are just opportunities in disguise. At least, or so businesses philosophy goes. Greenview Data is proving that mantra is true with the latest edition of its signature product, SpamStopsHere.

The spam prevention software targets an elusive new computer malware called zero day virus. The viruses employ antivirus software signatures that are not yet known to antivirus software.

"We have developed the technology that can find it in an email," says Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data. "It's working very, very well."

He adds that most software solutions for zero day viruses catch about 20 percent of them trying to get through. Green claims his Ann Arbor-based firm's solution can catch them 99 percent of the time. Rising sales of the SpamStopsHere platform have allowed Greenview Data to spike its overall revenue by 25 percent over the last year and hire three people in that time. Green expects that growth to continue.

"The virus is still out there and it's still in the news," Green says.

Greenview Data is also looking to diversify its revenue streams a bit. The 25-year-old software firm has also recently released a new mobile app called Geoscribe.

"It's an app for sharing information about interesting places," Green says.

He adds that it allows people to share interesting information about places they visit so others can look it up on the app when they are there, too. The product is a departure from Greenview Data's normal work, but that's a good thing for Green.

"It helps to have a change of pace," Green says.

Source: Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WorkForce Software's Ann Arbor office taps local talent for growth

WorkForce Software can be counted on for adding a handful of jobs to Ann Arbor’s talent pool each year.

The Livonia-based software firm opened its local office about three years ago as a way to leverage more talent coming out of the University of Michigan and other local colleges. It has since grown its Ann Arbor staff to 20 employees and three interns after hiring three software developers in 2014-15.

"It was a huge success," says Ken Olson, vice president of product development for WorkForce Software. "We are firmly rooted here now with the office in Ann Arbor. We will continue to grow and grab local talent."

Internships have become a significant part of that talent retention strategy. Two of the company's three recent hires were former interns promoted into full-time positions. Those hires work out of both the downtown Ann Arbor and WorkForce Software headquarters in Livonia. 

"We have done a very good job of integrating the Ann Arbor office with the Livonia headquarters," Olson says.

WorkForce Software makes management software for large-scale employers. It has grown significantly over recent years, expanding its revenue by about 20 percent each year. It now employs 500 people.

"Ann Arbor is a key piece of that growth," Olson says.

Source: Ken Olson, vice president of product development
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ocunelis doubles sales of eye-drop tech since last year's launch

Ocunelis hit a significant milestone earlier this month when it sold its 400th DROPin, the company's signature eye-drop assist technology.

That milestone comes on the heals of the Ann Arbor-based bio-tech startup doubling its sales a little more than one year after launching the business. Ocunelis's DROPin products can be found in a few retailers across Metro Detroit, but the company is aiming for bigger gains elsewhere.

"Our primary sales are through Amazon," says David Lorch, CTO of Ocunelis. "We are selling in almost every state through Amazon."

Lorch and Marius Tijunelis came up with the idea to start Ocunelis while they were working through an entrepreneurial apprenticeship out of the Medical Innovation Center at the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center. They saw eye drop application as a pain point in everyday medicine and came up with a easier, pain-free, eye-drop assist technology called DROPin.

They have since been working to expand sales and create a few partnerships to further expand the use of DROPin. The team is also working on a couple of new products it hopes to release relatively soon.

"I would assume that by 2016 we will be releasing new products," Lorch says.

Source: David Lorch, CTO of Ocunelis
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HeatSpring scores in sustainability education, adds staff

It took HeatSpring a few years to find its footing in the online sustainability education world, however, now the company is sprinting forward with some significant revenue gains.

The Ann Arbor-based business grew at a slow pace during its first four years. In the last two years, however, it has scored 30 percent annual revenue gains, thanks to online education going mainstream and a strong economy interested in learning more about sustainability.

"It's all building energy and sustainability (courses)," says Brian Hayden, president of HeatSpring. "It's where we have been since the beginning. We have key partnerships that are strong today."

Those partnerships include creating classes for SolarPro Magazine, Renewable Energy World, and Greentech Media. That learning material has been decisively niche in nature such teaching about advanced solar storage for utilities.

"It's built for top 5 percent of solar users," Hayden says.

That bump in work has allowed HeatSpring to add to its staff. It has hired a content strategist over the last year, expanding the number of employees to five people.

Source: Brian Hayden, president of HeatSpring
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Quantum Signal's spike in client growth leads to more hires

Three or four years ago was not the best time to talk about Quantum Signal's growth prospects. The Saline-based tech firm was in a lull and trying to figure out what was next. Today the company's leadership just needs to open its email to find more work.
 
"Every time I go into my email we have more and more demand for our services," says Mitch Rohde, co-founder & CEO of Quantum Signal.

The 15-year-old firm specializes in math-based engineering and custom product development. That can encompass everything from robotics work to helping develop new products for other businesses to creating simulation software. Rohde has noticed a spike in demand for a broad range of industries - especially medical products, automated vehicles and forensic work.

That has allowed Quantum to hire four people over the last year, expanding its staff to 30 employees and four interns. It is now looking to hire another six people, including software programmers, engineers, and managers to keep up with the needs of the firm's customers.

"It just seems like there is a lot of demand these days," Rohde says. "It just seems to have exploded in the last six months. I don't expect demand to go down."

Source: Mitch Rohde, co-founder & CEO of Quantum Signal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MyFab5 hits 1 million photo milestone this spring

MyFab5 is hitting a number of cool milestones this year. The social media startup's technology has now helped in the sharing of more than 1 million pictures and its getting ready to launch a designed mobile app later this month.

"We have redesigned every feature from head to toe," says Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5. "It's all the same features but much easier to use and looks much better."

The Ann Arbor-based startup allows its users to take pictures of their meals at restaurants and then rank their experience. The 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.

The 2-year-old company now averages 250,000 users each month. Those users shared their 1 millionth photo earlier this year, helping MyFab5 reach a critical milestone.

"That was a pretty big one for us," Seirafi-Pour says.

MyFab5 has hired one person (an Andriod developer) to grow its staff to four employees and three interns over the last year. That team has relied on grass roots and viral marketing efforts to build the startup into what it is today. It's now looking at embarking at a national marketing campaign later this year.

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

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

Ann Arbor Seed Co begins to bear fruit in third year

When Eric Kampe launched Ann Arbor Seed Co with his wife, Meredith Kahn, three years ago he had visions of turning his passion for seed collecting into a full-time job. The Ann Arbor resident is just about there.

The Ann Arbor-based seed company now consumes enough hours of his day to qualify as a full-time gig. He also works two days a week at the Brinery to bring in extra cash to help grow his business. Kahn still has her day job at the University of Michigan but Ann Arbor Seed Co has grown to the point that Kampe and Kahn have brought on another friend to help keep up with demand.

"We're at the stage where she is employed here but we can't pay her what she deserves," Kampe says.

Ann Arbor Seed Co offers seeds for a growing variety of plants. It started out offering 10 varieties of the basics, like tomatoes and leafy greens. It grew its product portfolio to 27 varieties in 2014. This year it's at 38 different varieties that are for sale local farmers markets and stores.

Kampe has noticed that his customers have begun asking for more and more seed and more obscure seeds. To help meet that sort of demand he and his wife have bought a truck and built a second hoop house behind their home to keep up with production needs.

"It's about the journey, not the destination," Kampe says. "They day to day is great. It's great to be out here."

Source: Eric Kampe, co-founder of Ann Arbor Seed Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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