Innovation & Job News

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Inmatech expects breakout year for its battery tech

Inmatech has some grand ambitions for its battery technology in 2016. The Ann Arbor-based firm is looking to close on a couple of partnerships, bring its platform to market, and hire a lot of people along the way.

The University of Michigan spinout is developing advanced battery technology that greatly improves the performance of super capacitors for electronics. These super capacitors enable the batteries to improve the delivery of energy and increase energy density.

"We would be able to charge and recharge faster," says Les Alexander, CEO of Inmatech. "Our energy density is two-to-three times that of the other super capacitors on the market today."

The Inmatech team of eight people has been working on the technology for five years, mainly out of the University of Michigan's Venture Accelerator in the university's North Campus Research Complex. It made significant strides forward in 2015, hiring six people. The new hires range from technicians to executive leadership, including promoting Alexander from COO to CEO.

Inmatech expects to hire even more this year, a move that it will force it to find its own office space. First it needs to land some investment in order to make the commercialization of its battery technology possible.

However, Inmatech isn't going the traditional venture capital route. It is working to broker joint development agreements with two corporate partners. One would put Inmatech's technology in automotive applications.

"It’s a huge step forward for us," Alexander says. "It puts us on the path toward commercialization."

Inmatech is currently proving its battery technology through prototypes. It is currently at the later end of that process, which has helped the company land on Michigan’s 50 Companies to Watch list.

Source: Les Alexander, CEO of Inmatech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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HealthCure sets sights on investment, new customers in Midwest

HealthCure is a startup looking for funding, but not one desperate to land it. The Ann Arbor-based healthcare firm, which also has an office in Detroit, is on the precipice of landing a Series A investment later this spring.

"We are very close," says Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure.

Arizmendi expects that round to amount to $2 million in seed capital. That money will help fund the firm's expansion across the Midwest later this year. HealthCure has already secured a couple of customers, giving it some breathing room on the funding front.

"We made a profit in 2015," Arizmendi says. "We are not falling over ourselves to make a bad deal."

HealthCure platform helps hospitals reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections. Its software team works with the staff of medical centers to find places where infections can be prevented, and helps the institution meet Affordable Care Act benchmarks.

The 6-year-old company is looking to land customers through its pilot programs, a strategy that worked with Oakwood Healthcare System last year. HealthCure is currently working on another pilot program it is optimistic about, and aims to land another 3-4 customers in 2016.

"We want to focus on the upper Midwest right now," Arizmendi says. "We want to be in our natural constituency to start."

This past year, HealthCure hired one person in customer relations. It now has a staff of 10 employees and is already preparing to accommodate its expected growth.

"As soon as that pilot is finished we will be hiring," Arizmendi says.

Source: Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Revenue growth spike inspires HookLogic to increase its high-tech staff

This reporter got a tour of HookLogic's Ann Arbor office in downtown a little more than a year ago. At the time the software firm had taken over the old home of Leopold Bros Brewery and was filling it out with techies of all stripes. The front half was full and bustling while employees were just starting to take desks in the back half.

That has changed since then.

"It's pretty full now," says John Behrman, chief product officer of HookLogic.

HookLogic creates software for paid product listings on commerce sites that help influence online shoppers. Its three verticals include retailers (Target), online travel agencies (Expedia), and automotive dealerships. The firm is based in New York City, but its leadership team has deep roots with Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, prompting it to set up shop here.

HookLogic took over the old microbrewery/distillery at 523 S Main St a few years ago. It turned the 11,000 square foot former industrial space into a startup hotbed, preserving the historic aesthetic of the circa-1927 building while modernizing its infrastructure for the new economy of the 21st Century.

Today 62 of HookLogic's 140 employees work from there. The company has hired 15 people in project management and software development at the Ann Arbor office over the last year and it's looking to hire another 16 now. It also plans to welcome 10 new summer interns later this year.

"The space can hold 100 people," Behrman says. "This summer it will definitely get cozy. It will open up later this year. We will have to start to get creative with our space in 2017."

A significant growth spurt has powered this expansion in Ann Arbor. HookLogic had a goal of hitting the $100 million revenue milestone in 2015. It hit $115 million.

"We're shooting to double up our revenue with $200 million this year," Behrman says.

Source: John Behrman, chief product officer of HookLogic
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Online Tech aims to hit 100-employee mark by 2018

Online Tech is on track to hit some big numbers in the not-too-distant future. The biggest milestone might be the size of its staff within the next two years.

"We expect growth close to 30 percent a year," says Yan Ness, CEO of Online Tech. "In fact we expect that over the next three years. We expect to be at 100 people by 2018."

The Ann Arbor-based company runs data centers and specializes in providing software for cloud infrastructure for large companies. It has five data centers across the Midwest, including two in Ann Arbor, one in Flint, one in Westland, and another in Indianapolis. It also runs two cloud-computing infrastructures in mid Michigan Indianapolis.

The cloud infrastructures allow Online Tech’s clients to more safety and maneuverability for their IT needs. That way they can either back or switch their IT needs from one infrastructure or another with a few key strokes.

"A customer can run their applications in our cloud infrastructure in mid Michigan and a fail copy in Indianapolis," Ness says. "Or it could have two resilient copies in both infrastructures."

Online Tech also recently introduced a new product called disaster recovery as a service, which allows its customers to essentially back up their IT and data infrastructure in case of a system collapse or hacking. The idea is to help offer its clients a robust set of data center services that would take years of work and millions of dollars for clients to set up themselves.

"We now have IT infrastructure that rivals a Fortune 500 company," Ness says.

This has allowed Online Tech to continue to grow steadily in recent years. It had a top-line revenue growth of 25 percent last year and it expects to do that again this year. Online Tech also hired 23 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 68 employees. It is also looking to hire another three people in sales, digital campaign management, and software development.

Source: Yan Ness, CEO of Online Tech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Seat Side Service expands smartphone software to pay for event concessions

Growth at Seat Side Service isn't just about offering the best mobile concession services at events. It's about giving people more options. "The product has expanded tremendously," says Barak Leibovitz, founder & CEO of Seat Side Service.

The Ann Arbor-based startup got its start four years ago developing a mobile concession software. The platform enables spectators at athletic events to order and pay for food and beverages through their smartphone. Their order is delivered from a centralized kitchen, enabling vendors to only have to carry the food ordered.

Seat Side Service got its first start working with the Toledo Mud Hens, the AAA affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It developed its original idea over a couple of minor league baseball seasons, but has expanded how it does business over the last year. Users can now place an order on the system and go pick up the food and the system can be used by cashiers at a venue.

"We're more of a full-service, point-of-sale system for entertainment venues," Leibovitz says. "The utility of the product has grown tremendously along with the applications for it."

That has allowed Seat Side Service to add more types of clients, such as concert venues, golf courses, and amplitheaters. Seat Side Service has also closed a six-figure seed capital round late last year and is in the midst of leveraging it to grow its footprint across North America.

Source: Barak Leibovitz, founder & CEO of Seat Side Service
Writer: Jon Zemke

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3.7 Designs grows via word-of-mouth referrals, adds new partner

The plan wasn't to give Declan O'Neill a piece of the business when he started working at 3.7 Designs, but that's what ended up happening as the company grew. The young professional got his start doing side project work for the Ann Arbor-based web development firm in 2011. Today he is a full-fledged parter at 3.7 Designs.

"He started out working for us part-time," says Ross Johnson, CEO of 3.7 Designs. "He was a stay-at-home dad who helped us with sales and other projects."

That role evolved into a managerial one, handling projects for the company. Today he helps oversee the firm's staff of nearly a half dozen folks, including a recently hired software developer and another developer opening that is about to be filled. "He has proven himself very valuable," Johnson says.

3.7 Designs got its start 10 years ago building digital presences for local companies. Today it has established itself as a staple in Ann Arbor’s tech community. It handles a variety of projects for some big local names, such as the University of Michigan. That has allowed it to grow its bottom line with more interesting work.

"It has proven to be a really great mutually beneficial relationship (with U-M)," Johnson says.

3.7 Designs also has been working on growing its Panorama software. The platform specializes in project management. Sales of it have grown 25 percent over the last year with word-of-mouth referrals. Johnson plans to grow those numbers even more this year with more targeted marketing.

"We do little marketing for it," Johnson says. "It's mainly just people who come to us looking to grow that we recommend use it."

Source: Ross Johnson, CEO of 3.7 Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Visual Compass expands into mobile app development

For most of its 17 years Visual Compass has been a side project for Vince Chmielewski. The technology firm started out of Chmielewski's University of Michigan dorm room in the 1990s where he put together websites for family and friends. It has incrementally grown since, going through a range of names, such as VC Web Designs, VC Web Services, Visual Compass Web Design, and now Visual Compass.

But it had always been a side project for Chmielewski while he worked a full-time job at U-M. Even when the tech firm was graduating from Ann Arbor SPARK's East Incubator, hiring a handful of people, and moving into new offices in Ypsilanti, Chmielewski still pulled double time, managing the firm and commuting to his job in Ann Arbor.

That changed about a year ago. Chmielewski finally left the security of his full-time job to focus on running Visual Compass the right way.

"Things were growing pretty quickly," Chmielewski says. "I needed to hire somebody to do the day-to-day management duties or do it myself. The time was right."

Visual Compass isn’t missing a beat. The company hired a new graphic designer a couple months ago and now has a staff of eight employees and handful of 1099s in its new office space in Depot Town. The company moved into the space a little more than a year ago to accommodate its growth and give it more room to do more creative things for digital marketing. It even has a photo studio that the company occasionally subleases out to freelance photographers.

"It's not full yet but some days it seems pretty crowded," Chmielewski says.

Visual Compass has traditionally stuck to website design but is now expanding into other areas of digital marketing and technology. It has started doing more custom mobile app creation for customers and is gearing up to release its own app later this year.

"It's a Pinterest recipe app," Chmielewski says.

All of that work adds up to some solid growth for the firm. Its revenue has jumped 40 percent over the last year as it adds more customers and more work from existing customers.

"We are doing more stuff with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University," Chmielewski says. "We also picked up some big industrial clients."

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

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Growth spike pushes Portal Architects to release new software

The team at Portal Architects have enjoyed so much success with their software that they have begun to focus on the next generation of their technology. The Ann Arbor-based company launched SkySync a couple years ago. The platform helps companies better connect IT systems to the cloud through a Windows app. The end result is a smoother, shorter ride when it comes from synchronizing and moving files across digital storage systems.

"We solved a major pain point," says Mark Brazeau, CEO of Portal Architects. "Anytime you can solve a major pain point and do it in a way that people can just download and install, you will get a lot of traction."

That means 357 percent revenue growth over the last year. It now has nearly 2,000 clients, including a lot of Fortune 500 clients. The company has hired 16 people, mainly software professionals, expanding its staff to 27 employees.

"The lion's share of your growth is from new clients," Brazeau says.

Portal Architects is now working toward the release of the second generation of its software. Brazeau describes it as a federate search of digital files that enables users to find what they’re looking for in a matter of a few clicks.

"If you think of what we do is enabling then this is game changing," Brazeau says. "Jaws dropped when we have shared the concept."

Portal Architects is working to release the new platform as part of a rolling roll out in April.

Source: Mark Brazeau, CEO of Portal Architects
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Digitization drives Image Data Conversion growth in Saline

The world is full of more paperwork than anyone could, or want to, read in a lifetime. Image Data Conversion is building a business by digitizing all of it for the 21st Century.

The Saline-based company owns three subsidiaries that digitize documents. It acquired eBeam Film in 2011, launched Reveal Digital in 2011, and acquired NA Publishing in 2013. All of them are working to corner the digitizing markets, such as helping libraries put large collections online.

"Now they are generating more service offerings to help libraries solve the problems they have today," says Joe Mills, managing director of Image Data Conversion.

Specifically NA Publishing is working to digitize every issue of Publishers Weekly. That means cover-to-cover of each issue dating from 1872 to today.

That sort of work has allowed Image Data Conversion to notch double-digit revenue gains in each of the last couple of years. It has more than doubled its staff since 2010, going from 32 employees to 70 people today. It expects that growth curve to remain steady as it keeps moving forward this year.

"We are adding a lot of staff," Mills says. "We are investing a lot in these businesses."

Source: Joe Mills, managing director of Image Data Conversion
Writer: Jon Zemke

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RightBrain Networks continues rapid growth in cloud IT work

Jamie Begin has worked for someone else. He's found himself in an unemployment line. And then he found himself starting his own IT business, RightBrain Networks. Now he's just trying to hold on for dear life.

The Ann Arbor-based company has been on a rapid growth streak. Two years ago it tripled in size. This last year it’s growth is nearly the same... and not showing any signs of slowing down.

"We have doubled in size," Begin says. "We are on schedule to double in size again this year. Our schedule calls for 16 hires but I think we will exceed that. We have really hit our stride."

RightBrain Networks provides IT and cloud-computing services for both large and small companies. Some of its customers include Intuit and the University of California, Berkley. It recently added Toyota’s Ann Arbor research-and-development center to its client list. Today it's clientele is made up of big firms and small startups trying to get their IT needs done.

That has allowed RightBrain Networks to hire 14 people over the last year, including professionals in IT, administration, and sales. The 6-year-old company now has a staff of 24 people and is in the process of trying to hire a handful more right now. Begin is bullish on his firm’s prospects.

"We're expecting to double again," Begin says. "This is such a fast change industry it's hard to budget appropriately. We are just hanging on and enjoying the ride."

Source: Jamie Begin, founder & CEO of RightBrain Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Michigan eLab bridges the gap between Silicon Valley and Ann Arbor startups

Michigan eLab opened with an idea for bridging the startup economies of Silicon Valley and Ann Arbor. Most people would assume that means focusing on California first, then Michigan. The team at the Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm has found the opposite to be true.

"We just wrapped up our eighth investment with this fund," says Doug Neal, co-founder & managing director of Michigan eLab. "We are on pace to do an investment per quarter. We did two investments in the fourth quarter of last year."

That last investment is in an artificial intelligence startup based in Ann Arbor. Neal declined to disclose the name at this time but believes it can become a household name in tech. The investment before that was in a startup called Rachio, which was co-founded by a University of Michigan alumni. The startup's technology helps maximize the water used by sprinkler systems through wifi and software.

"Think of it as nest for your lawn," Neal says. "It saves people as much as two thirds of the water they would use on their lawn."

Michigan eLab raised nearly $25 million in this investment fund with a focus on investing in early stage tech startups. So far about half of the fund is committed and Neal expects to make a number of investments later this year.

"Were off to a good start," Neal says. "We're close on one right now. That will be our first quarter investment. We have found that deal flow is not a problem for us."

Source: Doug Neal, co-founder & managing director of Michigan eLab
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Millendo Therapeutics scores big VC round, Duo Security clocks record growth

A couple of tech startups in Ann Arbor are making a splash with some big headlines. Millendo Therapeutics reports that it has raised a $62 million Series B investment round, setting a new record for venture capital investment in Michigan. Duo Security also is reporting 200 percent revenue growth for 2015 over the previous year. Both are banner headlines for a couple of Ann Arbor’s most promising growth firms.

Millendo Therapeutics, formerly Atterocor, is a biopharmaceutical firm working on treatments for endocrine diseases. The University of Michigan spinout is focused on developing novel, disease-modifying treatments for specialty and orphan endocrine diseases caused by hormone dysregulation. It recently signed an exclusive license agreement with AstraZeneca for the worldwide development and commercialization rights to test a new compound for the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Millendo Therapeutics Series B investment round will fund clinical trials for that new compund and expand its testing of the drug ATR-101, a treatment for adrenal cancer patients. Among the investors in the Series B is the University of Michigan MINTS (Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups) program.

Duo Security also announced some big growth news in its recent revenue gains. The downtown Ann Arbor-based company specializes in providing cloud-based access security through two-factor authentication. Last sprung Duo Security launched its Platform Edition, which builds on two-factor authentication to offer cloud security and endpoint visibility.

Over the last year, Duo Security has doubled its customer base, serving a broad spectrum of companies and institutions including American Public Media, Duke University, DraftKings, and, the makers of Candy Crush. Duo Security analyzed nearly 2 million devices with 1 million users, and handled nearly 2 million authentication events per day by the end of last year.

"It's all about ease of use and keeping our customers happy," Dug Song, CEO and co-founder of Duo Security, said in a press release. "We're passionate about continuing to be the most loved company in security. People are feeling the pain of the cumbersome security products and we're here to make it painless for them."

Source: Millendo Therapeutics and Duo Security
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Oxford Companies plan more murals as part of growth plan

Art is an afterthought for most real-estate companies. For Oxford Companies, it's a critical part of its business plan. The Ann Arbor-based company made a splash last year with the creation of one of the largest murals in downtown Ann Arbor. This year it's making plans to add two more significant pieces of public art in downtown. The idea is to raise both the quality of life in the city and the value of its real-estate portfolio.

"It (public art) is part of our core values," says Jeff Hauptman, CEO of Oxford Companies. "We are very much a part of the community. Anybody can be a landlord, but what are you going to do with it? ... How can we use our success to improve our community?"

What the two new murals will look like or where they will specifically be placed has not been released because the finer details about them are still being worked out. But Hauptman (a former chair of the Ann Arbor Art Center) did say they will go up in the area of State and Liberty streets.

"Our goal is to get another mural launched each year over the next few years," Hauptman says.

Oxford Companies has recently become the largest landlord in Ann Arbor. It manages more than 1,000 units of student rentals next to the University of Michigan. It invested a lot in upgrading the rentals, earning the designation of best landlord from The Michigan Daily last year.

The 18-year-old company also purchased $115 million in commercial real-estate in Ann Arbor last year, and refinanced another $50 million worth of local properties. That accounted for a 50 percent growth in its commercial holdings and the company is eyeing more this year. Oxford Companies also hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 60 people.

"We are focusing on improving out internal systems," Hauptman says. "We put a lot of emphasis on the people of our company. If we take care of our people and they are happy they will take care of our tenants. If our tenants stay then our investors are happy."

And at the center of that philosophy is making Ann Arbor a better place through public art.

"Art is important to us," Hauptman says. "Public art, if done well, can have a great influence on the community."

Source: Jeff Hauptman, CEO of Oxford Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Humantech expands workplace ergonomics through software

For more than 20 years Humantech was known as a go-to consulting firm when it came to workplace ergonomics. If a company wanted to streamline its office, it would turn to Humantech to tell it where to make the best improvements.

The Ann Arbor-based company has become one of the largest consulting ergonomics firm in the U.S. since its founding in 1987. But it needed more to maintain its upward trajectory.

"We decided we need to change up our whole profile," says James Good, president of Humantech. "We evolved into a software firm."

Humantech still works in workplace ergonomics consulting, but the addition of software was aimed at broadening its service offerings to its clientele. It developed a SaaS platform for its customers, the idea to provide more efficient and effective service that not only points them in the right direction but spells out how they got there.

"We teach our clients what we do," Good says. "We transfer our skills to them."

The pivot has worked. The company has hired about half a dozen people over the last year and is looking to add another four right now to keep up with growth.

"We have expanded our workforce by 20 percent over the last two years, primarily in technical and software development,” Good says.

Powering the company's growth is its new offerings in software. That accounts for more than half of its revenue (up from nothing a few years ago) and its where the company sees as the source of most of its future growth.

"We have had 30 percent revenue growth over the last two years," Good says. "2016 will likely be our highest growth year for us."

Source: James Good, president of Humantech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Simple Continuity aims to become TurboTax for risk assessment

Steve Aiello worked in consulting for several years and was never happy. Well, at least as never as happy as he wanted to be in his job. For years he worked with firms trying to figure out a better way to run their business. He did good work but was never totally satisfied with it.

"I was never really happy with the results we got," Aiello says. "They were soft, and not what we really wanted to give them."

So he decided to launch his own startup, Simple Continuity. The downtown Ann Arbor-based company, it calls Ann Arbor SPARK’s incubator home, is developing a software-as-a-service platform that helps businesses perform a better risk analysis. Its being branded as RADAR and is focused on providing more cost-effective and time-efficient compliance with federal regulations.

"Think of it as a TurboTax for risk assessment," Aiello says.

Simple Continuity's team of four people recently won the Best of Boot Camp at Ann Arbor SPARK's 27th Entrepreneur Boot Camp. That team is currently beta testing the platform with the firm’s first customers and is aiming to launch it publicly soon.

"We're looking to launch it in 60-90 days," Aiello says.

Source: Steve Aiello, founder of Simple Continuity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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