Innovation & Job News

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Betty Brigade refines business model, in hiring mode

Betty Brigade joined Goldman Sach's 10,000 Small Businesses program last summer, and it ended up having a profound impact on the concierge service's bottom line.

The Ann Arbor-based company’s sales are up 90 percent in both January and February, and are trending in a positive direction for the rest of the year.

"We have had tremendous sales growth when we are typically quiet," says Sharon McRill, president of Betty Brigade.

McRill started Betty Brigade in 2004 after being laid off at Borders. It now employs 10 people. It has hired three people over the last year and is looking to hire two more now.

That growth is largely thanks to the lessons McRill learned at the Goldman Sach's 10,000 Small Businesses program. She was able to cut $4,000 worth of monthly overhead from her business without laying anyone off or cutting salaries. One of the ways was downsizing the company's offices by half because the whole space wasn't being fully used.

"That really helped me clean up some areas that weren’t working and places we were spending money where it wasn't effective," McRill says.

It also helped the Betty Brigade attract more profitable work. For instance, it has been doing more work for trusts and banks at cleaning out houses and buildings.

Source: Sharon McRill, president of Betty Brigade
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

iVantage Group expands core team, moves into new home

Brighton-based iVantage Group has gone through a lot of changes over the last year. The 10-year-old staffing firm has moved into a bigger home (4,500-square-feet) and hired a new recruiter. The firm is looking to add three more recruiters and two sales professionals to the team. It has also made strategic investments in its technology infrastructure, allowing its recruiters to work more efficiently.

"We did all of this stuff without going into debt," says Juliet Shrader, president & CEO of iVantage Group.

The company specializes in staffing services for the IT, insurance and banking sectors, helping its clients find IT, engineering, finance and executive talent in the tech world. It was able to leverage its internal investments into a growing revenue, hitting nearly $10 million in revenue.

"We're doing business smarter," Shrader says.

Today iVantage Group employs a staff of 14 core team members and about 100 people in the field. Shrader expects to grow both numbers significantly in 2015.

"We're going to continue to add to those numbers," Shrader says.

Source: Juliet Shrader, president & CEO of iVantage Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Premier acquires U-M spinout Electric Field Solutions

Premier, a gas and electrical industries service company, has acquired Electric Field Solutions, a University of Michigan spinout specializing in electric field measurement and detection.

"The company that acquired us has been working with use for over a year," says Nilton Renno, co-founder & CEO of Electric Field Solutions. "The testing exceeded its expectations by far."

Renno, a University of Michigan professor of engineering, first developed Electric Field Solutions' principal technology to measure electric fields caused by dust storms on the surface of Mars. The Ann Arbor-based company, it calls the Venture Accelerator home, is developing the Charge Tracker, a sensor product that can identify stray voltage from a distance of more than 10 feet. That technology caught the attention of Premier, a unit of Houston-based Willbros Group, which acquired Electric Field Solutions for an undisclosed amount.

Electric Field Solutions employed a couple people and a few independent contractors. Renno is now going on to work on another startup that helps detect black ice and sends feedback to the braking system in vehicles. Why leave Electric Field Solutions and go onto a new venture?

"I have a full-time job," Renno says. "I think we went through three CEOs with the company. We didn't find the right person to direct the company. When the last CEO left I decided to sell the company."

Source: Nilton Renno, co-founder & CEO of Electric Field Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor State Bank continues growth streak, adds new hires

Ann Arbor State Bank is making significant strides forward with its bottom line and is expanding its product offerings... and staff.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based bank has made about 90 percent of its profits from commercial and mortgage lending. It is now adding private banking and leasing services to its portfolio. The leasing services would focus on commercial and equipment leases for businesses.

"It's a small piece but we hope it will become a big piece," says Peter Schork, president & CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank.

The 6-year-old bank has grown its staff, adding six new hires over the last year. It currently has a staff of 37 employees and one intern. Its new hires include professionals specializing in mortgage lending, private banking, and commercial leasing.

Ann Arbor State Bank has grown quite a bit over the last year, going from $205 million in total assets to $230 million in total assets by the end of 2014. Schork expects the community bank to make similar gains this year.

"We had a great year," Schork says. "A very profitable year."

Source: Peter Schork, president & CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Current Motor launches new product line, Mini-fleets-in-a-Box

Current Motor Co is launching a new product line this winter, expanding on its core offering of electric scooters.

The Ann Arbor-based company's Mini-fleet-in-a-Box product consists of four Current Motor Co’s new Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycles inside a shipping container that also acts as a solar charging station. That way the patent-pending product can be transported to remote locations with everything from a train to a helicopter. The standard Mini-fleet-in-a-Box comes in a standard 20-foot shipping container but can be made to fit a larger container as necessary.

"We can do a large one as well," says Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co. "It's not a problem. I like to say they work outside of the box."

Current Motor Co is targeting customers that need self-supportive transportation options in remote locations, such as international mining and manufacturing companies. The 5-year-old firm has completely redesigned its electric scooter to create the Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycle, a 100-percent electric vehicle.

The Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycle is advertised as very low maintenance requirements because it has no belts, chains or gears. It has a top speed of 70 mph, and can go up to 50 miles per charge. The motorcycle’s frame has been made stronger to carry more cargo (a driver and substantial cargo or two passengers and light cargo) through the use of high-strength Niobium (Nb) micro-alloyed steel.

Current Motor Co's Nb Solar Charging Station can easily fit in a standard shipping container, allowing it to house four Nb Electric Cargo Motorcycles. The station can charge the bikes in five hours with its solar-powered 22-kilowatt-hour battery. The whole package starts retailing at $130,000 and can reach as much as $300,000 depending on the extras.

"It really depends on what you put on it," Flanagan says. She adds, "We build it out to fit that need."

Current Motor Co has hired five people over the last year. Those new jobs include business development professionals, technicians, engineers, and skilled labor. The company currently has a staff of 17 employees. That team is looking to start shipping the first orders of the firm’s Mini-fleet-in-a-Box this month.

"I think we’re going to have a very good year," Flanagan says.

Source: Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

3.7 Designs grows staff as its workload expands

Ann Arbor-based 3.7 Designs is looking at a growing bottom line, staff and office space all within the last 18 months.

The 10-year-old website development firm moved to a newer and bigger space above Arbor Brewing Co in downtown Ann Arbor in July 2013. It has also hired two people over the last year, expanding its team of five people. It is also in search of a front-end software developer right now.

"We have been really busy," says Ross Johnson, design strategist for 3.7 Designs. "A lot of our existing clients are doing more work. They have bigger budgets and more work. We have been picking up new clients as well."

Johnson adds that 3.7 Designs' clients have been asking for more comprehensive work over the last year. Before they were looking for more project-based work and now they are steadily updating sections of their website over time instead of doing it all at once.

"Every couple weeks we redesign another section and launch it," Johnson says.

Last year 3.7 Designs also released its own software platform focused on project management called Project Panorama. The company has been adding to the features of the platform as it continues to ramp up sales.

"That has been doing really well," Johnson says. "Better than expected."

Source: Ross Johnson, design strategist for 3.7 Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Q LTD adds new work, such as new website for The Ark

No joke: A longtime Ann Arbor institution and a local business that has been around the block a few times meet in a downtown bar. The result is a brighter 2015 for both.

Q LTD is working with The Ark, the renown performance venue, to redesign and revamp its online presence. The downtown Ann Arbor-based non-profit hasn't updated its website in more than a decade. The new website is now mobile friendly and includes more information about The Ark's well-known events, such as the Folk Festival.

"The Ark is heading into its 50th year this year and it's kicking off a capital campaign," says Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD.

The 34-year-old firm has been doing more work in recent years and is looking to add to its staff. Q LTD currently has a staff of 12 employees and an intern. It’s looking to hire a software developer, too.

The Ann Arbor-based firm has taken on a wide variety of projects as of late. Those include work for the University of Michigan's Human Resources and SIGGRAPH, which is short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques.

"We are feeling a definite uptick in projects and work," Golus says. "We are seeing an improvement in the economy."

Source: Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

GENOMENON leverages local startup support for success and growth

GENOMENON is one of those startups that local leaders get all warm and fuzzy about. The Ann Arbor-based company is a cross between life sciences and tech, and has a very promising future.

And then there are the startup resources that have been invested in its success. GENOMENON has leveraged just about every new economy startup program in southeast Michigan. It spun out of the University of Michigan, taking advantage of U-M's Office of Technology Transfer along the way. It has worked with Ann Arbor SPARK, the local small business development center, and the Great Lakes Entrepreneurs Quest initiative, among others.

"We have really maximized the resources in the Michigan startup community," says Dr. Mark Kiel, co-founder & CEO of GENOMENON.

GENOMENON is the product of three U-M pathologists, including Dr. Kiel. They are developing software focused on interpreting the mountains of data that come from genome sequencing. The end result could lead to things like improving cancer diagnosis and treatment. Think of it as data analytics for genome sequencing.

"We can produce the data really efficiently," Dr. Kiel says. "It's interpreting the data that is the problem."

GENOMENON is currently made up of seven people after launching last May. It is currently looking to hire a handful of software developers.

"We need boots on the ground, people who can code," Dr. Kiel says.

Source: Dr. Mark Kiel, co-founder & CEO of GENOMENON
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Visual Compass Web Design moves into bigger space in Ypsilanti's Depot Town

Visual Compass Web Design has always been an Ypsilanti-based tech firm. It was the first graduate of the Ann Arbor SPARK East Incubator in downtown Ypsitlanti. Its first stand-alone office was in downtown Ypsilanti. Its next move up was to Depot Town. Now the 6-year-old firm is taking over one of Depot Town's largest office spaces.

"After a year we basically filled the space (its previous office)," says Vince Chmielewski, president of Visual Compass Web Design, formerly VC Web Design. "We wanted to hire but didn’t know where to put them."

About the same time longtime Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti staple Fantasy Attic was closing its doors. Visual Compass Web Design took over the space, and moved right in last year. It now employs 10 people there and is looking to add interns this summer. It recently hired one photographer/UX designer and is looking to hire a software developer.

Visual Compass Web Design’s new home measures out to about 3,000 square feet. The company now has room for things like a dedicated photography studio, which occupies about a third of the square footage near the large historic windows.

"We have been trying to expand our video production services and this is a great space for that," Chmielewski says.

Visual Compass Web Design has doubled its revenue over the last year and is on pace to do it again. It has landed new clients, like Perfect Tacos, which owns 160 Taco Bell franchises. Visual Compass Web Design is also looking to add more work in graphic design and animation.

"We're trying to do a lot more mobile application development," Chmielewski says.

Source: Vince Chmielewski, president of Visual Compass Web Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Anonymous incubator set to grow 10 fold this winter

The anonymous incubator space at 333 Parkland Plaza is about to get much bigger as the owners begin to move to a new building that is much, much larger.

"We will essentially be 10 times bigger than we are today," says Mark Smith, co-owner of 333 Parkland Plaza.

Smith never intended to end up in the small business incubator game. He ended up with his current building just off Jackson Road in the early 2000s when a bio-tech company he invested in went under. Smith recruited young biotech and medical device firms to fill it, offering an all-inclusive rental rate with professional and mentoring services aimed at helping those startups grow.

It worked. The building has been full for years, and Smith has had to turn away prospective tenants because there is no room at the incubator. His current client list includes Evigia, ePack and AVAcore Technologies, which take up all of the 7,500 square feet.

Now Smith and his partners are in the process of closing on and moving into another commercial space nearby. The transition should be done by the of the first quarter or early second quarter. The 75,000-square-foot facility will include thousands of square feet of dry and wet labs. Smith plans to build in a co-working space, and add to the services offered with the likes of human resources, 3D printing and CAD software. Smith is looking to hire four people to operate the new facility with jobs ranging from facility management to IT.

"We are starting at 10 (companies occupying space in the new facility)," Smith says.

Those include all of the other firms currently at 333 Parkland Plaza and a few more. Smith can now accept applications for space in his incubator with the idea of having enough room to accommodate the requests. Smith plans to keep the facility at 333 Parkland Plaza and currently has a tenant lined up to take over the entire space.

Source: Mark Smith, co-owner & manager of 333 Parkland Plaza
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

FlexSys launches new airfoil tech, grows staff

FlexSys has spent several years developing cutting-edge airfoil technology, and now the Ann Arbor-based aerospace firm is within a few months of testing to commercialize it.

"So far everything has worked flawlessly," says Sridhar Kota, founder of FlexSys.

The 14-year-old company started testing FlexFoil with NASA last fall. The technology is a variable geometry airfoil, which could replace the wing flaps on a jet.

"We replaced the conventional flaps on that with a continuous piece of metal that changes shape," Kota says.

FlexFoil is a deformable, seamless surface that changes shape for optimized performance throughout the flight regime saving jet fuel and reducing noise. Check out a video about the technology here.

"We are the only company who has equipped an airplane with a surface like this," Kota says.

FlexSys expects to finish testing the FlexFoil by March, and begin selling it commercial aerospace companies shortly after. FlexSys currently has a staff of 11 employees and two interns. It is looking to hire two more people, including a software developer and a senior technician in business development.

Source: Sridhar Kota, founder of FlexSys
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Systems in Motion doubles Ann Arbor office with 130 hires

On-shoring IT work is turning into a good thing for Ann Arbor. Systems in Motion, a California-based firm specializing in bringing IT work back to the U.S., has hired dozens of people for its Ann Arbor office over the last year.

"It's actually far and away our biggest office," says Colin Chapman, vice president & general manager for Systems in Motion.

Today the company employs 230 people in Ann Arbor after hiring 130 in the last year. Those new hires include software engineers, quality testers, and developers. The company is also looking to hire more people now.

"We're always looking for the best athlete," Chapman says. "We're constantly trying to build out our bench with strong people."

Systems in Motion specializes in application development, information management and testing services. It uses an Agile software development methodology, which makes the creation of software viable through a system of incremental improvements. That system enables it to be cost-competitive with overseas companies.

Systems in Motion plans to hire 150 people in Ann Arbor this year. It's a move the company expects will prompt it to looking for a bigger office space in the coming months.

"We're close to full occupancy at the building now," Chapman says.

Source: Colin Chapman, vice president & general manager for Systems in Motion
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AdAdapted doubles staff as its mobile technology gains traction

AdAdapted has doubled its staff over the last year thanks to its principal mobile advertising platform gaining traction in the market place. The Ann Arbor-based startup has hired four people over the last year, including software developers, account managers, and sales professionals. It now has a staff of nine employees and one intern.

"We anticipate hiring 2-4 more people in the next six months," says Michael Pedersen, CEO of AdAdapted.

AdAdapted got its start developing a native advertising platform for mobile apps. The idea is to better connect advertisers with developers to create customized advertisements for target audiences. It has since expanded its reach to include content tracking of brands and purchases for its customers.

The company has watched its revenue spike over the last year. Pedersen describes the gains as "substantial" and anticipates the company to grow its revenue by at least 100 percent over the next year.

"We are inking deals now that are worth well into the six figures," Pedersen says.

Source: Michael Pedersen, CEO of AdAdapted
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Dexter-based kSpace Associates creates 5 new jobs

Last year turned out to be quite the year for kSpace Associates. The Dexter-based tech firm tied for its best year ever (2011) in terms of revenue generated.

"A good chunk of that was solar panel metrology tools," says Darryl Barlett, CEO of kSpace Associates. "We anticipate we will have similar sales level in 2015."

The 23-year-old firm develops and manufacturers diagnostic tools for the semi-conductor industry. In addition to solar metrology sales, several sales of its MOS Ultrascan system, which measures the curvature and bow of semiconductor wafers, were made to Chinese firms.

Those spiking sales allowed kSpace Associates to hire four people over the last year, expanding its staff to 26 employees and the occasional summer intern. The new hires include an optics engineer, a sales engineer, a field service technician, and an office assistant. It is currently looking to hire a software developer.

The company is also looking to pump up its sales of LED-based metrology products in 2015. The firm also landed a Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop new products. The first phase of the grant is worth $150,000.

"Phase 1 is a six-month project," Barlett says. "We hope to apply for Phase 2 by the end of the year."

Source: Darryl Barlett, CEO of kSpace Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Seat Side Service lands big client in Toledo Mud Hens

Last year was Seat Side Service's first appearance at the plate with its mobile concession software. While it didn’t hit a home run on its first swing, it didn't whiff at the pitch either.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup landed the Toledo Mud Hens (the Detroit Tigers AAA minor league affiliate) as a customer last year. Seat Side Services technology enabled the baseball club to increase its concession sales by double digits, specifically its per-capita-crowd-expenditures by 44 percent.

"It's an astronomical number," says Steve Ventura, senior vice president of Seat Side Service. "They (Mud Hens management) was more than pleased."

The 2-year-old startup created a mobile software platform that enabled spectators at athletic events to order food and beverages through their smartphone. They can pay online and the orders are delivered from a centralized kitchen, enabling vendors to only have to carry the food ordered. Seat Side Service’s first season with the Mud Hens allowed the company to show what it can do.

"It allowed us to open a lot of doors in other sports, not just baseball," Ventura says. The company is now speaking to teams in Major League Baseball, NCAA, NHL, and the NFL. Ventura expects to have a dozen teams signed up for Seat Side Service’s platform by the end of the year.

"I would think the number is going to be triple that by the end of 2016," Ventura says.

That success has allowed Seat Side Service to do some hiring. It has added two employees (Venture and a technical lead) over the last year, expanding its staff to six employees and 4-6 interns. It is also looking to hire another five people in software development, sales, and marketing.

Source: Barak Leibovitz, founder & CEO of Seat Side Service, and Steve Ventura, senior vice president of Seat Side Service
Writer: Jon Zemke

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