Innovation & Job News

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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.

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.
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