Innovation & Job News

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FarmLogs scores $10M in Series B round from big-name investors

FarmLogs has landed $10 million in venture capital, seed money the Ann Arbor-based software startup plans to leverage for some significant growth in 2015.

The agricultural technology company latest injection of funding is a Series B round with existing investors Drive Capital, Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures, and Hyde Park Venture Partners participating. New investors in the Series B round include SV Angel and Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator. FarmLogs has raised a combined $15 million in venture capital to date.

"We're a software company so most of that capital goes toward paying salaries for great people," says Jesse Vollmar, CEO of FarmLogs. "That's what we will continue to do."

The 2-year-old startup launched out of Y Combinator incubator in Silicon Valley and immediate moved to Ann Arbor. Its headquarters is now in Kerrytown. The company employs 22 people after hiring a dozen in 2014. It is currently looking to hire 21 more (more info on the openings here) and Vollmer expects his staff to hit more than 50 people next year.

"That's safe to say," Vollmar says. "We will have more than 50 people working for us."

FarmLogs platform modernizes farming, streamlining the process with software and applying data analytics to maximize yield production. It is currently serving farms in all 50 states and in 130 countries around the world. It currently has $12 billion worth of crops under management from its software.

Source: Jesse Vollmar, CEO of FarmLogs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Pillar Technology Group hires 30 software developers in Ann Arbor

Pillar Technology Group is about to become a company on the move. The software firm is in the process of moving its Ann Arbor office from the Tech Brewery to a new space in downtown Tree Town.

"They should be in there putting up drywall as we speak," says Charles Fry, executive vice president of global growth for Pillar Technology Group.

The 20-year-old company is moving to a 10,000-square-foot office at 301 E Liberty St in downtown Ann Arbor early next year. The company has called the Tech Brewery, a software entrepreneur collective located on the city’s north side, home for the last few years. However, a spate of rapid-fire hiring has prompted it to find a new space with more elbow room.

"We just outgrew it," Fry says. "It (Tech Brewery) is a great space. It has done great things for us. We have a holiday party next week and it will probably be standing-room only. We are just busting at the seams."

Pillar Technology Group provides software and consulting services for a broad range of industries in the Midwest, such as automotive, financial, insurance and telecommunications, among others. The company has hired 30 people (mostly software developers) in Ann Arbor in 2014, expanding its staff to 60 employees and two interns.

Pillar Technology Group is currently looking to hire as many as a dozen software engineers. It is looking for senior-level developers with a high-end skill set.

"We are always looking for the smartest software engineers we can find," Fry says.

Source: Charles Fry, executive vice president of global growth for Pillar Technology Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Oxford Companies aims at residential, commercial market expansion

Oxford Companies is positioning itself to become the property management company in Ann Arbor, strengthening its holdings in both residential and commercial areas.

The Ann Arbor-based company acquired the Northeast Corporate Center this year, a 220,000-square-foot commercial space near Plymouth and Green roads.

"It is the largest acquisition ever for our company," says Andrew Selinger, investment analyst for Oxford Companies. "It also made us the largest commercial property manager in Ann Arbor."

The 16-year-old, full-service real-estate firm also recently expanded into the residential market. It purchased the Arch Realty portfolio of off-campus student housing near the University of Michigan in 2012. It has since folded the properties into its operations, upgrading the buildings and improving relations with tenants. The Michigan Daily, U-M's student newspaper, named Oxford Management Services (Oxford Companies residential arm) the best landlord this year.

"It's going very well," says Deborah Pearson, marketing director of Oxford Companies. "We have integrated it into our company and opened up a whole new market. We have come a long away with our residential portfolio."

Oxford Companies currently has a staff of 50 employees and three interns. It has hired eight people over the last year, including maintenance workers, construction tradespeople, property managers, and a COO. The company is looking to hire two more people right now. The hiring is helping the firm keep up with its growth and prepare for more in 2015.

"We are still in a growth mode working on acquisitions," Pearson says. "We're working on an acquisition right now."

Source: Deborah Pearson, marketing director of Oxford Companies; and Andrew Selinger, investment analyst for Oxford Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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RightBrain Networks triples in size as it hits $1M in revenue

RightBrain Networks has experienced quite a growth spurt over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based IT firm has tripled in size, added several jobs, and is closing in on a major milestone.

"It has grown substantially," says Jamie Begin, CEO of RightBrain Networks. "This will be our first $1 million year."

Begin launched RightBrain Networks in 2009. He had been laid off from his position in IT when the recession hit in 2008.

"I couldn't fathom sending another resume and not getting a response back," Begin says.

RightBrain Networks grew slowly at first. It hit three employees about a year ago, and then really started to hit its growth streak. The company has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 13 employees. The new hires include IT professionals, marketeers, administrative folks, and project managers.

The Ann Arbor-based company is now a team of engineers providing IT and cloud-computing services for both large and small companies. Some of its customers include Intuit and the University of California, Berkley. Begin would like to expand its client roster even more and do so closer to home.

"In 2015, I would really like to grow our business in our backyard," Begin says.

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

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Digital Inclusion bridges digital job skills divide in Ypsilanti

Eastern Michigan University is developing a new way to help bridge the digital divide in Ypsilanti's low-income communities and enhance the city's downtown retail scene.

The university's The Business Side of Youth program, also known as the the B. Side, is debuting Digital Inclusion this fall. The social enterprise teaches local at-risk youth how to repair and refurbish computers. It has opened a pop-up store in downtown Ypsilanti where the students sell their services and reconditioned electronics.

"It gives them a viable skill," says Jack Bidlack, director of The Business Side of Youth. "It's giving them unique knowledge and skills to fix computers. It also bridges the digital divide in low-income communities."

Working class communities have long struggled to keep up with technology advancements. That often means they are at a disadvantage in the job market, especially in the technology-dominant Information Age of the 21st Century.

The Business Side of Youth launched six years ago out of EMU with the idea of giving local young people born into working class communities a chance to make inroads in technology careers. The program has facilitated 137 at-risk young people over the years. Each semester is takes on about a cohort of about a dozen of them to teach them skills in both technology and entrepreneurship.

"There are plenty of people who work in automotive design because they learned how to change oil," Bidlack says.

Digital Inclusion is the latest iteration of that initiative. It is operating a pop-up store where these young people work on computers and mobile devices at competitive prices. The pop-up is located at 10 N Washington St and is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Tuesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The pop-up will run through Dec. 17, and Bidlack is evaluating whether it could become a permanent part of the program.

Source: Jack Bidlack, director of The Business Side of Youth
Writer: Jon Zemke

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BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting expands to 29 states

BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting isn't known as a company that is big on hiring.

The life sciences consulting firm hasn't hired or fired anyone over the last year, and doesn't plan to in the near future. It just stays steady at seven employees. In fact, when it moved to a new office last summer it went to a smaller space.

"That building was bigger than what we needed all along so we sold it," says Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting.

What it is doing is growing its footprint. The Ann Arbor-based firm is now doing work in 29 states, up about five from its mark last year. That means it is helping life sciences startups snare non-dilutive government funding to develop their technologies. Kurek hopes to expand the firm's reputation and prowess even more in 2015.

"I'd like to see us in 39 states next year," Kurek says.

BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting has built up a steadfast reputation as one of a boutique consulting firm with a deep expertise in helping startups capture six figures or more in government research funding. If you’re a region looking to build a life sciences startup scene, you want a BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting in your backyard, or for it at least to have a presence there. More and more states are coming around to that idea, bringing BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting into their regions.

"We're in a very niche area of expertise," Kurek says. "It (the firm's growth) is a combination of referrals and presence at national conferences. Our web and social media presence helps, too."

Source: Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Online Tech hires 15, opens fifth data center

Online Tech is opening its fifth data center this fall. The newly refurbished facility is the company's fourth in Michigan.

This is Online Tech's first data center in metro Detroit and part of its expansion plan across the Midwest. The Ann Arbor-based company took an old telecom data center and refurbished over six months to handle cloud computing demands as well.

"That is two we have opened this year," says Yan Ness, co-CEO of Online Tech.

The other data center is another beefed-up facility that can handle cloud computing demands in Indianapolis. That one opened last spring, and was Online Tech's first outside of Michigan. The 20-year-old company also has three data centers in the Ann Arbor area.

Online Tech is embarking on a multi-year expansion plan across the Midwest. It is taking on other Midwestern markets as opportunities present themselves. The company is open to the idea of launching another data center next year but doesn’t have an immediate plans to do so.

"It's up in the air," Ness says. "We're certainly excited about Metro Detroit and Indianapolis."

Online Tech has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 55 people. It is also looking to hire another six people in sales, network administration and support staff.

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

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InfoReady hits 800 percent growth in three years

InfoReady recently won one of Ann Arbor SPARK's FastTrack Business Awards, which recognizes local companies with 20 percent annual average growth over three years. Except the Ann Arbor tech startup's growth numbers are much bigger.

The 4-year-old firm has closed 800 percent revenue growth over the last years. Sales of its research grant writing and management software continue to take off as the company grows beyond Michigan.

"Most of that growth has come from more than 50 clients now," says Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady. "We're getting a real national footprint. We have clients in 25 states."

The GDI Infotech spin-off's software platform helps researchers find and apply for the best grant opportunities and then review and track progress of the project. It also had features that matches researchers with other research projects. Most of its client so far have been in the medical sciences and engineering areas of research & development.

InfoReady raised $2 million in seed capital shortly after it launched. It plans to begin raising a Series A round late next year or early 2016. It has hired eight people over the last year, expanding its staff to 25 employees. It also is looking to hire another six people now to help accommodate its growth next year.

"We expect to double in size in 2015," Kulkarni says.

Source: Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Blaze Medical Devices adds staff, scores $200K SBIR grant

Blaze Medical Devices recently scored a nice boost in funding, adding a Small Business Innovation Research grant to its bottom line. The Phase 1 SBIR grant is worth $200,000 and will be used to pay for a pre-clinical study of 50 patients. The company hopes to go for a Phase 2 grant worth $175,000 next year.

Blaze Medical Devices is developing blood transfusion technology that enables medical professionals to better control and optimize blood banking and transfusions. Its clinical tests assess the quality of stored blood and its laboratory instruments help facilitate blood research.

"We anticipate to get our first revenue from this service before the end of the year," says Michael Tarasev, COO of Blaze Medical Devices.

Blaze Medical Devices currently employs a staff of five people after adding a researcher over the last year. The company hopes to keep expanding its team as it generates its first revenues next year and pushes its core technology closer to commercialization.

Source: Michael Tarasev, COO of Blaze Medical Devices
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Brinks Gilson & Lione expands Ann Arbor office with new hires

When the name Brinks Gilson & Lione comes up the word Chicago is not far behind. Which makes sense because that is where the intellectual property law firm is headquartered.

What isn't widely known is the firm's Ann Arbor office is its biggest satellite office, and it's growing. Brinks Gilson & Lione recently added another attorney to its Ann Arbor office, bring its number of lawyers to 18 and total staff to 28. All of them are working to keep up with the growing amount of work in the southeast Michigan area.

"There just seems to be a lot of entrepreneurial energy in Ann Arbor," says Steven Oberholtzer, managing partner of the Ann Arbor office for Brinks Gilson & Lione. "We expect that to continue."

Much of the office's work comes from technology spinning out of the University of Michigan. Everything from software to material sciences need patents, trademarks and other intellectual property protection as they grown into startups or parts of larger businesses.

Brinks Gilson & Lione also does a lot of work in the automotive industry, working with new technologies in automotive connectivity to increasing fuel efficiency. The total amount of work from the auto industry is up 20 percent in the last five years. The law firm also does a lot of bio-technology and life sciences work even though Pfizer pulled up stakes years ago.

"The professionals who left Pfizer are now starting their own companies," Oberholtzer says.

Source: Steven Oberholtzer, managing partner of the Ann Arbor office for Brinks Gilson & Lione
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Ornicept looks to hire 3 as it aims to quintuple in size

Ornicept is on the precipice of a big growth year. The Ann Arbor data-collection startup has already enjoyed a nice growth spurt over the last year but now has it sights set on even bigger things 2015.

Ornicept is projecting to grow four or five times its current size over the next year. The company currently stands at a staff of 10 employees after making two hires in business development and software. It also looking to hire another three people for senior positions right now.

"We're growing really fast," says Russell Conard, CEO of Ornicept. "I'm lucky to work with a really good team."

The 3-year-old company’s software platform that helps field workers log and manage data. That means everyone from wildlife biologists to infrastructure inspectors can input information into a mobile device and have it processed in a central computing source.

The technology was good enough to allow it to take first place in the IT category of last month's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in downtown Detroit. The $25,000 in prize money will be put toward Ornicept's Series A round, which will be worth seven figures and close on by next year.

"The round is going really well," Conard says.

Ornicept's current platform is full operational and being used by some large companies across the U.S.

"We have some of the biggest companies in the world relying on our platform," Conard says.

Source: Russell Conard, CEO of Ornicept
Writer: Jon Zemke

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FreeStride Therapeutics scores win at Accelerate Michigan, adds positions

FreeStride Therapeutics won the Life Sciences category at last month's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The win came with a check for $25,000. The Ann Arbor-based startup, which is repurposing a human drug for veterinary purposes, made a number of connections with investors and fellow entrepreneurs at the four-day business plan competition in downtown Detroit.

"It was a generally rewarding and a literally rewarding experience," says Michael Long, CEO of FreeStride Therapeutics.

FreeStride Therapeutics is developing a drug that relieves and even prevents shin pain for racing horses. It even has implications for companion animals, like dogs and cats, suffering from arthritis. The startup is working on raising $1 million in a Series A to complete the final two studies necessary to bring it to market. The $25,000 from Accelerate Michigan will go toward that effort.

"We'll probably be able to close on that by the end of the year or early next year," Long says.

The three-person company plans to raise a Series B after it starts to generate revenue for its technology. That money will go toward overcoming the final hurdles on the way to FDA approval.

"We'll have a very good understanding of what the market wants from us," Long says.

Source: Michael Long, CEO of FreeStride Therapeutics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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MagicBook creates app that makes paper books come alive

Enjoying paper books and participating in the digital revolution doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. That's what the team behind MagicBook is thinking.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing a mobile app that helps make reading physical books fun for kids.

"We were thinking of things we could do to connect technology with physical books," says Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook. "All of us grew up enjoying physical books. That really spoke to us."

The four-person team found that kids are reading less and less for fun, a practice that could potentially negatively impact intellectual development. To counter that, MagicBook is combing 21st Century technology with traditional books. Kids using MagicBook can hold a mobile device using the app to a book they are reading. The app will play music, animations, and even interactive characters to engage the user.

MagicBook won the People's Choice at the most recent Detroit Startup Weekend. The team is currently working on taking off the rough edges of the app so it can be ready for the general public.

"We're hoping to have it ready within the next six months," Knepp says.

Source: Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Wisely brings personal touch to customer loyalty programs, jobs to Ann Arbor

Loyalty to businesses isn't always about the money. Often its about the personal attachment or special connection to that company. An Ann Arbor startup is trying to capitalize on the latter with a new mobile app.

Wisely launched its customer loyalty platform in Ann Arbor earlier this fall. Most customer loyalty programs track who buys what which business how often and giving a certain percentage of discount based on patronage. Wisely offers a tiered system of personal rewards for steady customers.
"When you have memories of going to a place you go back because of this emotion," says Mike Vichich, CEO of Wisely.

The 1-year-old company and its team of just under 10 people (it's looking to hire three people now) have signed up 30 local businesses in Ann Arbor to take part. They are mostly made up of bars and restaurants, such as Mani Osteria & Bar, the Raven’s Club, Slurping Turtle, and Ashley’s.

Each user of the Wisely app that qualifies for a certain level or reward with their patronage receives a special incentive to come back, such as the ability to make a reservation for two when the normal reservation threshold is six people. In the case of Raven’s Club, silver level Wisely users can receive a bottle of homemade hot sauce.

"It's a great way to create an emotion attachment in a customer," Vichich says.

The Wisely app tracks all of these purchases through the user's debit and credit cards. There is no other loyalty card to carry around and swipe or scan when making the purchase. Wisely is perfecting the app in Ann Arbor this fall and winter with the hopes of taking it national next year.

Source: Mike Vichich, CEO of Wisely
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Xoran Technologies records best sales year since 2006

Xoran Technologies recorded its best year in nearly a decade in 2014. The Ann Arbor-based company installed more of its Mini CAT CT scanners this year than any year since 2006.

"2014 was actually a really good year for us," says Rachel Gajda, director of marketing for Xoran Technologies. "We hope to kick it up even more in 2015."

The 13-year-old bio-tech company manufacturers and sells point-of-care CT scanners. Its principal technology is MiniCat, a compact machine that can produce high-resolution bone window imaging of the sinuses, temporal bones and the skull. It controls about 75 percent of the market it serves.

Xoran Technologies has been developing a second product called xCAT, a mobile, inter-operative CT scanner. The company plans to start selling these in earnest within the next 12 to 18 months.

"2015 will bring Xoran Technologies to a new level of innovation and advancement," Gajda says.

In the meantime the firm is expanding its staff to accommodate that. It has hired seven people over the last year and is looking to bring on another six right now.

Source: Rachel Gajda, director of marketing for Xoran Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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