Innovation & Job News

2011 Articles | Page: | Show All

Warmilu finds economic soft spot with warming blankets for seniors

The team at Warmilu has discovered that nothing is as easy as it seems, especially when you're trying to create a new product from scratch.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has been working to bring its warming blanket technology to market for the last year but has run into snags along the way, such as getting labeling and packaging right. However, the 3-year-old company is still looking to launch sales of its blanket later this fall, perhaps as soon as November.

"That's our goal, but we know it’s an ambitious goal," says Grace Hsia, CEO of Warmilu.

Warmilu represents its blanket as a non-electric heating wrap that acts instantly, is reusable, and microwave safe. Hsia and her two co-founders (all University of Michigan graduate students) developed the blanket with the idea of keeping newborns warm. It has since grown the idea to include using it for the elderly and people dealing with pain or soreness from ailments like arthritis.

"There is a robust home-heat-care market," Hsia says. "It's mainly men and women over the age of 50."

Warmilu and its team of five people (it recently hired a marketing and creative director) are hoping to use the revenues from its initial sales to help fund the further development of the blanket for neonatal care. The startup is also working to raise a seed capital round of $250,000 to fund the development of the technology, but Hsia and her partners would prefer to continue bootstrapping the venture by growing its sales beyond Michigan.

"We want to reach out and build that Warmilu presence not only in Ann Arbor but globally," Hsia says. "We would like to self-finance our growth."

Source: Grace Hsia, CEO of Warmilu
Writer: Jon Zemke

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U-M student-led VCs look for a few good startup investments

Opportunities for finding seed capital for local startups are anything but in short supply this fall. A broad range of financial sources are looking to invest tens of thousands of dollars in promising ventures, such as the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund and the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

Three student-led venture capital funds at the University of Michigan are putting out calls for applications. The VCs are looking to sink $50,000 to $100,000 per investment, and they are looking for a broad range of startups to evaluate.

"We invest in 1-2 companies per year," says Joanna Herrmann, director of investments for the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund. "Last year we invested in two companies."

The other two student-led funds (the Wolverine Venture Fund and the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund) are looking to make investments of similar sizes in a wide variety of ventures.

This is the fifth year for the university's Social Venture Fund. It has made five investments in that time, including an investment in downtown Detroit-based software mapping startup Loveland Technologies, which has hired three people in recent months. The Social Venture Fund looks for companies that are for-profit and aim to make a social or environmental impact.

"We try to cast a really wide net," Herrmann says.

Bigger money is at stake at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition this fall. The annual business plan competition offers prizes that are often worth $10,000 or more. Top prize is $500,000. Startups from Washtenaw County, and the U-M specifically, have historically fared quite well, often taking the top spot and walking away with six figures in seed capital. For information this year’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition click here.

Source: Joanna Herrmann, director of investments for the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

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U-M Tech Transfer accelerates invention production

The University of Michigan has set another round of records this year when it comes to inventions and innovations.

The university's Office of Technology Transfer reported 439 new inventions for the last fiscal year, which us up from 421 the previous year. U-M also recorded 148 option and license agreements (up from 108 a year ago) and launched 14 startups.

"It has been a steady (upward) trend for the last five years," says Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research and tech transfer at the University of Michigan.

Now each invention doesn't equate a new startup. Oftentimes a startup developing a new technology platform will be based on a handful of patents. Nisbet estimates that about 25 percent of new inventions are robust enough to become their own startups.

"These inventions are a whole range of ideas," Nisbet says. "It could be a platform technology that is big and broad or a smaller piece of technology that a company can enhance."

He adds that each newly created startup spun out of the university requires much more complex technology than say a software developer coming up with a new mobile app. Because of the complexity of it means that more than a dozen new startups launched each year puts U-M toward the more prolific end of research university technology transfer programs. For instance, MIT normally leads the way and it routinely notches about 20 new startup launches each year.

"Fourteen is a pretty robust number when you consider the type of startup it is," Nisbet says.

The University of Michigan has 22 startups currently housed in its Venture Accelerator on the North Campus Research Complex. Each of those startups employs a couple of people. For instance, Exo Dynamics is a U-M spinout that is developing a back brace for the 21st Century. It currently has a team of five people working on the venture.

Check out a video promoting U-M’s Tech Transfer program here.

Source: Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research and tech transfer at the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Huron River Ventures optimistic about local deal flow

Huron River Ventures recently announced its investment in Cribspot, leading a $660,000 seed round in the Ann Arbor-based startup.

An Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm investing in a Michigan-based startup isn't that unusual. However, it's becoming much more par for the course for Huron River Ventures. The Kerrytown-based venture capital firm has made 12 investments since it launched in 2010, and is on course to make a couple more before the end of the year.

"We are almost exclusively looking at Michigan-based companies right now," says Tim Streit, partner of Huron River Ventures.

That includes two that are in the final stages of due diligence before a potential investment. Streit says that startups in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem are maturing after several years of development. It means that the team of nearly half a dozen people at Huron River Ventures don’t have to travel far to make investments.

"We are seeing an exceptional deal floor out of the state of Michigan right now," Streit says. "We haven't had to look very far out of state to find companies."

Cribspot is latest example of it. The 1-year-old startup was launched by University of Michigan students who were looking to make the process of finding off-campus rental housing more efficient. The startup, which also has an office in downtown Detroit, went through the Bizdom program to help it sharpen its business plan.

"It's a great example of how the world is shifting," Streit says.

Source: Tim Streit, partner with Huron River Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Hannigan Insurance consolidates offices in new Ann Arbor HQ

Hannigan Insurance is consolidating its operations into a new office in Ann Arbor, a move that is bringing a handful of new jobs to Tree Town  - with the promise to create dozens more in the next few years.

Hannigan Insurance is both a technology company and national insurance brokerage. Its web-based distribution platform provides insurance options for people who are looking for everything from automotive insurance to renters insurance. The platform also offers similar services in the financial industry. Because the company is primarily doing online work, it meant positioning itself for growth by setting up show where knowledge workers want to live and work.

"For us it’s all about attracting top talent," says Brian Hannigan, CEO of Hannigan Insurance.

Hannigan Insurance has offices in Clinton Township and Ann Arbor. It employs five at each office. It has hired four people over the last year, primarily insurance agents.

"We wanted to pick a spot," Hannigan says. "We looked at spots like Royal Oak, Birmingham, and downtown Detroit. We already had a facility in Ann Arbor and choose to consolidate there."

Hannigan Insurance is looking to go through a period of fast growth over the next few years. It’s opening an customer retention and acquisition center in Ann Arbor in November that will provide space for it grow to from 10 people to 25 before the end of the year. It currently has 15 open positions for insurance agents and software developers.

"We have a three-year plan to scale up to 75 jobs," Hannigan says. "We're going to grow rather quickly."

The Michigan Economic Development Corp is providing Hannigan Insurance with a $400,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant to execute the move. Ann Arbor SPARK also helped broker the deal.

Source: Brian Hannigan, CEO of Hannigan Insurance
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Try2See app works to better connect people, places, things

Lots of startups are trying to master the 21st Century version of customer loyalty programs. A new Ann Arbor-based startup, Try2See, thinks it has found the way to do it.

The 1-year-old startup has come out with a mobile app that utilizes QR codes and smart phones that enable customers, businesses and locations to better connect and keep track of who does what where.

"We're looking for a way to automate that process," says Barry McDonald, founder of Try2See.

The general idea from the three-person team is to enable customers to swipe in their purchases at local stores with the scan of a QR code at the establishment. That way customers don’t need to carry an extra card to scan or wait for a cashier to punch a paper card. All of it can be done with a simple QR code scan.

Try2See is working with local businesses districts in Royal Oak, Ferndale, and the Avenue of Fashion along Livernois Avenue in Detroit. So far 62 businesses are signed up and the Try2See team is working to get more businesses owners and their customers on board.

"We're trying to get the entire business district to use the system," McDonald says.

Source: Barry McDonald, founder of Try2See
Writer: Jon Zemke

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U-M grad creates new video game, Black-White Game

A recent University of Michigan graduate is creating a new video game, and it stars a "Happy Dude."

What exactly the Happy Dude in Black-White Game is is still up for debate. It’s a small white character going through a Super Mario Brothers-like game made up of black, white, and grey scenes. This much is known, the main character is small and happy.

"He is sort of a block with legs," says Paul Nagel, creator of Black-White Game. "He is of his own species. He's not a marshmallow or a tooth. He is just a happy little dude."

Nagel, who also goes by the alias James Covenant, graduated from the University of Michigan earlier this year with a bachelors degree in industrial engineering. He is currently working at the university as a video editor while working to create Black-White game.

"We have a lot of the mechanics down, general story outline," Nagel says. "If we had the funding now we would ship it a year from now."

Nagel describes the game on its Facebook page as, "Black-White is a puzzle platform video game for PC/Mac/Linux. You must invert Happy Dude's color from black to white to solve challenging puzzles." So the Happy Dude can change colors which will allow the protagonist to make his way through different levels. Check out a demo of the game here.

"When you're playing it it's very intuitive," Nagel says. "It makes a lot of sense."

Nagel plans to launch the Black-White Game for laptop next year. He is working to launch a crowd-funding campaign for the video game later this fall.

Source: Paul Nagel, creator of Black-White Game
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Logic Solutions adds to team on eCommerce growth

New work in eCommerce is helping drive some growth at Logic Solutions office in Ann Arbor. The tech firm is has watched a significant uptick in demand for its eCommerce services, allowing it to more than double its eCommerce team from six to 14 people. The firm currently employs about 50 people in Ann Arbor out of 250 worldwide.

"What we're seeing in the market place is a much bigger uptick for eCommerce technology in general and for Magento in particular," says Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions.

Logic Solutions primarily focuses on Magento and WooComerce eCommerce platforms. Magento holds a 26 percent market share of the top one million websites using eCommerce, while WooCommerce is one of the most popular eCommerce plugin for Wordpress websites.

While eCommerce work focused on normal websites is still king in the space for Logic Solutions, it has watched a big growth in mobile as of late. More and more customers are looking to make their eCommerce platforms accessible to mobile users.

"We're having many more conversations about mobile," Kujava says.

Source: Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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J-RO School of Music focuses on contemporary music

Josh Ross is starting his career by combining the two main subjects he studied in college, business and music.

Ross graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelors degrees in both business administration and music earlier this year. So he launched the J-RO School of Music, a new business that teaches young people about music by using both classical and contemporary examples.

"Everyone teaches classical," says Josh Ross, founder of J-RO School of Music. "That's great but if someone wants to learn about pop or hip-hop there aren’t many places that do it."

The idea is to swim with the current when it comes to teaching young people about music by teaching them fundamentals for songs they are already excited about. Ross does camps and workshops that put equal emphasis on contemporary music, like pop, rock, musical theater, and hip-hop, and classical music.

"What's great about it is the kids are familiar with the songs and then they want to learn how to play them," Ross says.

The J-RO School of Music has facilitated 50 students so far this year. The students have ranged in ages from 7 to 70-years-old. Ross, who is releasing his own acoustic rock album this fall, would like to up those numbers beyond 100 and open his own storefront for the company over the next year. He hopes to use the base of that business to do more community outreach so underprivileged kids can have equal access to music education.

"I want to make it sustainable so I can provide some programs for children who don’t have those opportunities," Ross says.

Source: Josh Ross, founder of J-RO School of Music
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Avicenna Medical Systems signs first deal with VA health system

Avicenna Medical Systems recently signed a contract with the VA Health System Region 11, a move that will help deploy the startup's software platform in a number of medical institutions.

"That includes 11 hospitals and 20 site clinics," says Khaled El-Safty, co-founder & CTO of Avicenna Medical Systems. "We are working day and night to deploy it."

Avicenna Medical Systems' software platform is called AviTracks, which enables users to better manage treatment of their chronic diseases from home. It's aimed at people who utilize blood thinners or monitor cardiac rhythms. The idea is to lessen the information burden on healthcare IT systems, freeing medical staff to maximize time with patients and employ best practices for treatment.

The 7-year-old company's contract with the VA is set to last three years starting this summer. Avicenna Medical Systems is now looking to get into more regions of the VA health system now that it has signed one contract.

"Getting into the VA is one of the harder things we accomplished," El-Safty says.

Avicenna Medical Systems currently employs a staff of four people. It is looking to hire three more before the end of the year, including an account manager and software developer.

Source: Khaled El-Safty, co-founder & CTO of Avicenna Medical Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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HealPay expands focus to billing activities for businesses

HealPay originally made its name by creating software that helped debtors pay their bills. Today the Ann Arbor-based startup is taking aim at a bigger market.

"We have submerged ourselves into billing," says Erick Bzovi, co-founder of HealPay.

HealPay is now offering its clients a more comprehensive option where it handles all of their billing and payments. Those services can now be done online or over the phone. It is also offering this with its original settlement app.

"We're deploying an IVR so that debtors can check their balance at any time," Bzovi says. "That's huge."

HealPay currently employs a staff of four employees and two interns. It recently turned one of those employees (a software developer) into a full-time position. It could do that because it has grown its client list to a number of medium-sized law firms and other businesses across the U.S., and that clientele is growing.

"We want to be in a place where we double our client size," Bzovi says. "We'd like to have 60 or 70 clients and in more states. We're in seven different states now. We would like to be in 20 states."

Source: Erick Bzovi, co-founder of HealPay
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Homeward Healthcare delivers better hospital discharges

The inspiration for Joe Gough's current startup hit a little too close to home. He was working at the University of Michigan when his son had to go to the hospital. A bad discharge complicated his son’s recovery (he's fine now) and inspired Gough to launch Homeward Healthcare.

Homeward Healthcare creates a mobile app that helps medical staff better communicate with their patients and make more informed decisions about treatment and discharge. The Ann Arbor-based company's software platform enables a patient to help direct their care letting them fill out questionnaires on a mobile device where they can be free of social pressure to say certain things.

"You're trying to get honesty from a patient," says Joe Gough, president & CEO of Homeward Healthcare.

The idea is to help give medical staff the best information possible so they know when best to discharge the patient and what medical treatment would be most appropriate at which time. Today hospital readmissions are a leading cause of longer hospital stays and higher bills.

"It's a severe problem in the healthcare space," Gough says.

Homeward Healthcare and its team of eight people have built out the mobile app and are getting ready to launch it at Hurley Medical Center in Flint this fall.

"We are in one hospital right now," Gough says. "We will be going in front of patients next week."

Source: Joe Gough, president & CEO of Homeward Healthcare
Writer: Jon Zemke

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The Upswing Report helps young guys climb the social ladder

Ever look at a young man, notice what they're wearing and think, 'Ooohhhh... Not a good look'? A new startup founded by a University of Michigan graduate is looking to prevent that from ever happening.

The Upswing Report is an online lifestyle publication that reps itself as "a young gentleman's guide to fashion, business, and lifestyle." It's a place where young men can go to figure out what works best for them when it comes to improving their game, whether it being climbing ladders socially or in the workplace.

"It helps young guys go to the next level," says Austin Waldo, founder of The Upswing Report.

Waldo graduated from the U-M in May with a dual bachelors degree in business administration and screen arts & cultures. He enjoyed sharing his thoughts on fashion and business and decided to turn it into The Upswing Report in February. The publication now has two editors and four writers. He has built his bi-weekly newsletter list to 2,000 people, but has bigger aspirations for it.

"I want to use it as a platform to launch a clothing line," Waldo says. "It has taught me a lot about Internet marketing."

Source: Austin Waldo, founder of The Upswing Report
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Cribspot raises $660K seed round, plans to add 3 positions

Cribspot has made a name for itself as a startup that helps connect college students to off-campus rental housing. Now the Ann Arbor-based company is aiming to become a national name in student housing.

The 1-year-old startup has raised $660,000 in seed capital from Bizdom (Cribspot also has a location in downtown Detroit) and the First Step Fund. Local venture capital firm Huron River Ventures led the round.

"We're going to see some real exciting growth from them in the next few years," says Tim Streit, partner with Huron River Ventures.

Cribspot got its start as A2cribs when Tim Jones, Evan Dancer, Jason Okrasinski and Alex Gross (all University of Michigan students) created one central website for off-campus housing. Finding off-campus housing is usually an archaic mess made up of ads on Craigslist, newspapers, and on the sides of the buildings. Cribspot looks to solve that by giving landlords and students a central location to advertise and find off-campus housing.

Cribspot is currently on 15 campuses across the U.S., adding 10 more to its list this fall with Michigan State University, University of Iowa, and the University of Texas. More universities are set to come online soon.

"We're trying to grow as fast as we can," says Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot. "We plan to open in Detroit at Wayne State University in the next few months."

Which will mean more campus reps. Cribspot currently employs a staff of six people and is looking to hire three more. Even more hires in the form of campus reps are set to happen soon thanks to the seed round.

"We're using that money for the marketing and user growth," Okrasinski says. "We're also using it for new hires."

Source: Tim Streit, partner with Huron River Ventures; and Jason Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Duo Security raises $12M Series B from Silicon Valley VC

Duo Security announced this week that it has raised a $12 million Series B round with a big-name Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm (Benchmark Capital) leading the way. What’s interesting is that Dug Song, the startup's CEO & co-founder, never had any intention of raising the 8-figures worth of new funding.

"Benchmark approached us," Song says.

More specifically Matt Cohler approached Song. He approached Song multiple times. Song didn't respond. He didn't even pick up the phone when Cohler called because Duo Security wasn’t raising seed capital. Song finally did pickup the phone when several of his friends told him he was crazy for ignoring one of the most successful entrepreneurs in tech today.

Benchmark Capital has been in the middle of a number of high-profile deals in the Bay Area since its launch in the mid 1990s, including investments in Zillow, Zipcar, Yelp, and Twitter. It's probably most famous for investing early in eBay.

"They are probably one of the top three venture capital investors in the world," Song says.

Cohler made a name for himself by getting in on the ground floor at number of high-profile startups over the last decade. He was a founding member of Linkedin. Then he went on to become an early hire at Facebook. Kohler joined Benchmark Capital as a general partner in 2008 and led investments in Dropbox and Instagram. He is now the point person for Benchmark Capital's investment in Duo Security.

Duo Security makes online security software, specifically a two-step verification process that confirms the right person is accessing protected information. Duo Push seamlessly integrates with the user's online password system, so when a user logs in on a computer Duo Push sends a push alert to that user's smartphone asking whether to approve or deny the login request. Check out a short video of it here.

Song (a big proponent of A2 New Tech Meetup and the Ann Arbor Skatepark) and Jon Oberheide launched the startup in 2009 at Tech Brewery. They raised a seven-figure seed round off the bat, attracting local venture capital firms (Reasonant Ventures) and coastal VCs (True Ventures). They have since grown the company to several dozen employees. Song declined to say how many but did say Duo Security is looking to hire 10 people right now.

"There are more (open positions) being added," Song says.

Which is why Duo Security is moving. It's nearly tripling its office space to 14,000 square feet at 123 N Ashley in downtown Ann Arbor.

"We're about to move," Song says. "Our anticipated move date is in November. It's a big build out."

Which might help explain why Song is too busy to take extra investor calls, and why they’re calling in the first place.

Source: Dug Song, co-founder & CEO of Duo Security
Writer: Jon Zemke

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2011 Articles | Page: | Show All