Innovation & Job News

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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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Michigan Angel Fund hits 100 members, invests in local startups

Michigan Angel Fund is hitting some significant milestones over the last year with even bigger ambitions for 2016.

The Ann Arbor-based angel investor group has 100 members between its two investment funds. It finished 2015 by sending out $2.91 million in investments, of which $1.5 million was made in the fourth quarter of last year.

Among its investments include leading a $750,000 Series A in Detroit-based BoostUp, a first-of-its-kind social savings platform that helps people save for a down payment on their next car or home purchase. The Michigan Angel Fund also participated in angel rounds for Romulus-based Eco-Fueling, Detroit-based, and Ann Arbor-based Genomenon.

"We can do a couple more deals," says Skip Simms, managing member of Michigan Angel Fund. "We expect to be closing on them in the first quarter of this year."

The Michigan Angel Fund has raised two investment funds worth more than $4 million. Simms plans to begin raising a third fund within a few months.

The Michigan Angel Fund invests between $250,000 and $2,000,000 in early stage startups with an ability to scale their growth that are based in Michigan. As many as 400 startups apply for funding Michigan Angel Fund each year. About 80 percent of them come from Michigan-based business accelerators and the other 20 percent are through referrals and startups reaching out to the fund.

"Every one of the companies that we have invested in have benefited from services provided by local tech accelerators," Simms says.

Source: Skip Simms, managing member of the Michigan Angel Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Arbor Brewing Co expands in India market with new production plant

Arbor Brewing Co made headlines a couple of years ago with its expansion into India, opening a brewpub in Bangalore. Today it's capitalizing on that success by working to open a production plant in Goa then follow with taverns that stretch across the continent.

"The plan is to open a series of taverns that are fed from this central location," says Rene Greff, who co-owns Arbor Brewing Co with her husband Matt Greff.

Arbor Brewing Co launched in 1996, opening a brewpub in downtown Ann Arbor. It followed with the Corner Brewery near Ypsilanti’s Depot Town a few years later. The company employs about 90 people between the two locations. It brews about 6,500 barrels of beer for distribution across Michigan between the two locations.

A former University of Michigan student and patron of Arbor Brewing Co reached out to the Greffs about opening up a franchise of the micro brewery in India a few years ago. Not long after that Arbor Brewing Co India opened in Bangalore and started packing big crowds into its space. The Greffs have talked about expanding further into India or Asia with another franchise.

The plans for a production plant are more ambitious. When fully operational the India brewery will have the capability to producing 100,000 barrels of beer annually.

"This is going to be much bigger (than Arbor Brewing Co's Michigan operation, which maxes out at 10,000 barrels a year)," Rene Greff says.

Arbor Brewing Co India has already purchased the land for the production plant and expects to begin construction within a month. Brewing equipment is set for delivery in early May.

"It would be really nice if we were producing beer by the end of the year," Rene Greff says. "But I wouldn't be surprised if it slips into the spring of 2017."

The master plan for the India expansion also includes the opening of at least half a dozen taverns in regions across India. The Greffs hope to open a couple this year at the same time the production plant opens with as many as six within the next three years. Distribution of Arbor Brewing Co's beers across India and Asia is also up for consideration within a couple of years after the production plant opens,

"When we first get up and going we plan to focus on the Indian market," Rene Greff says.

Source: Rene Greff, co-owner of Arbor Brewing Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Local Orbit's new software connects big institutions with local food producers

Four years ago, Local Orbit made a name for itself as the software startup that better connects the local food economy. For instance, its platform made it easier for restaurants to buy fresh produce from local farmers.

Today, the Ann Arbor-based supply chain startup has its sights set on bigger connections in the local food economy. Local Orbit is currently beta testing a new platform, LocalEyes, that connects major institutions, like college campuses and corporate entities, with local food producers.

"This new service is built to support the growing demand for local food," says Erika Block, founder & CEO of Local Orbit.

Local Orbit has been fine tuning its original version for smaller food producers and food makers. That software platform is used in 80 farmers markets across North America.

"We have customers in 30 states and Canada," Block says. "We have a new customer that is coming online in Argentina."

It is also working on the beta for its new platform for high-volume purchases for big institutions in Metro Detroit, San Francisco and New England. It plans to launch this platform publicly next year.

To make that happen Local Orbit has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to eight employees and an intern. Among its recent hires are a recruit from Chicago (working in service management) and keeping one person in Ann Arbor who was on the brink of moving out of town (Local Orbit's new COO).

Local Orbit has raised six figures worth of seed capital this year, bringing its total seed capital raise to more than $1 million. It is also eyeing another multi-million fundraiser soon.

"We will be raising a Series A in 2016," Block says.

Source: Erika Block, founder & CEO of Local Orbit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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ContentOro provides marketeers with access to authoritative content

Bob Chunn sees a big problem in modern marketing, a lack of authoritative content. To him it's one thing to get consumers' attention but its quite another to get their respect for your product. That’s where having expert information comes in, and validated expertise is increasingly fewer and farther between on the Internet.

Solving that problem is at the heart of his new startup, ContentOro.The Ann Arbor-based company specializes in providing marketeers with access to authoritative content.

"There is a shortage of quality, authoritative content," Chunn says. "We are leveraging 130 million books to solve that problem."

Chunn ran into this problem often when he was the chief marketing officer for Pet Supplies Plus. People would often turn to the website for information. Having so-so information led to a pause in buying. Having a wealth of expertise on hand usually sealed the deal when it came to spending money.

"I was solving a problem I had run into myself as a chief marketing officer," Chunn says. "I was looking for authoritative content for the company I worked for."

What distinguishes authoritative content from the rest of the pack is complex, but Chunn sees a trend in books. While unsigned content written by freelancers can be persuasive, taking information from books written by respected authors goes much farther. However, the rub is there is a digital divide between the written word in books and what’s easily available online.

ContentOro's platform bridges that divide. It links marketing departments with the expert resources. ContentOro's team of five people launched the platform in August and have landed a couple of large customers. Chunn declined to name them, but did say two of the top three firms in the pet space are leveraging ContentOro.
"We're developing the world's first content marketplace," Chunn says.

Source: Bob Chunn, CEO of ContentOro
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Ann Arbor's PriceLocal browser app compares Amazon pricing to local retailers

When PriceLocal launched a little more than a year ago it was a spunky, local startup carving out a niche by helping local retailers compete with e-commerce prices. Today it is a significantly bigger startup looking to make grow even more during the holiday shopping season.

The Ann Arbor-based startup connected with a couple dozen retailers in 2014. This year it has scaled that number into hundreds of retailers and even more users.

"We have thousands of users across the country, in all 50 states," says Matt Chosid, CEO of PriceLocal. "We have hundreds of businesses across the country."

PriceLocal's technology is a plug-in for your web browser. The platform helps consumers search for a product online and then provides local stores the opportunity to match the online price. So, if you are are searching Amazon and other e-commerce sites, you now have the option to see if a local business can offer a comparable price.

"That's the frosting," Chosid says. "The real cake is you can search and find where something is located."

Chosid worked on the litigation team at Borders from the 1990s until it closed, watching e-commerce sites play a critical role in toppling the national bookseller. That experience inspired him to start PriceLocal with the help of Alfa Jango. He also brought on Larry Freed, formerly CEO of ForeSee, as chief strategy officer. PriceLocal currently has a staff of 10 people working toward leveling the playing field for retailers.

“The most important thing to us is local retailers,” Chosid says.

Source: Matt Chosid, CEO of PriceLocal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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IDI takes hassle out of time management with Quick Time Entry

Integrated Design Inc has been in the software business for a long time. The Ann Arbor-based firm is a year shy of celebrating 30 years of delivering customized application-integration software for its clients. It plans to spend the next year introducing a new, time-management software platform.

Integrated Design Inc, also known as IDI, will be launching Quick Time Entry, a web-based application designed to streamline the tracking of employee hours, labor and pay codes each pay period. The solution provides an alternative time-entry system for organizations that do not need a full time-and-attendance application but do need to gather and manage time sheets. Check out a video of it here.

"It's an online timecard entry application for organizations that are capturing hours either in excel spreadsheets or timecards," says Kit Dickinson, president of Integrated Design Inc. "This gets those organizations off of antiquated methods and onto a more reliable, accurate time-management solution."

Integrated Design Inc is marketing the platform to non-profits, project-based businesses, construction companies, and other small businesses that need to grapple with payroll and employee time management but are not familiar with what technology options are available or feel overwhelmed by them.

"They just don’t need all of that overhead of a full time and attendance system or ERP," Dickinson says. "They need something that is simple, transfers time data to their payroll or other systems and comes in at a lower price point."

Integrated Design Inc also makes the lions share of its revenue from custom integration software projects it gets through a partner network. That network has grown from handful of companies to a half dozen. Integrated Design Inc has also grown its revenue by 11-13 percent each year over the last few years, allowing it to hire three people in tech support over the last year. Dickinson expects to repeat those gains soon.

"The goal is to do that again, and Quick Time Entry can help get us there," Dickinson says.

Source: Kit Dickinson, president of Integrated Design Inc
Writer: Jon Zemke

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AdAdapted's native advertising tech for mobile goes national

AdAdapted isn't just a little tech startup with big dreams in Ann Arbor anymore. The 3-year-old native advertising company is building a sizable client base with ambitions of landing a few national advertising campaigns.

AdAdapted has created a native advertising platform for mobile apps. It connects apps with advertisers with an easy-to-use technology to create and place customized native ads. It also provides content tracking of brands and purchases for its customers. Demand for AdAdapted's technology and services has spiked.

"We are on pace to double our revenue since last year," says Michael Pederson, CEO of AdAdapted. "2016 is looking to be significantly larger."

It also employs a team of nine people, including three full-time hires in engineering and client services over the last year. AdAdapted has built up a client list that includes some large multi-national corporations, including Nestle and Proctore & Gamble. Pedersen and his team want to add more of those sorts of large clients in 2016.

"That's our target area," Pedersen says. "We're looking for brands that want to advertise on a national level instead of a local or regional level."

To do that, AdAdapted is looking to raise some seed capital next year. It has raised $1 million since 2013 as part of a seed round. It is also in the beginning stages of raising more but those efforts are still in their infancy. With that said, Pedersen knows one thing is certain.

"We will raise some money next year," Pedersen says.

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

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Homeward Healthcare turns 2015 pilot program into 2016 profits

Homeward Healthcare started this year testing its healthcare technology at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. It's ending this year with a successful pilot program and a few paying customers in its pocket, not to mention ambitions to take its business model national next year.

The 2.5-year-old startup has developed a mobile platform that enables clearer communication between hospital staff and patients. It provides a questionnaire to patients to illicit more frank information about their health free from social pressures to say certain things to impress doctors or other medical staff. The idea is to enable medical professionals to deliver better care.

"We use an interactive medical platform to provide risk stratification to help prevent patient re-admissions," says Joe Gough, president & CEO of Homeward Healthcare.

Homeward Healthcare's pilot program dealt primarily with cardiac patients. Kettering University is about to release a white paper on the results of the program that shows a 47 percent reduction in readmission of patients dealing with congestive heart failure and a 33.4 percent reduction in readmission in patients in general cardiac care.

"That translates to 69 fewer readmissions out of 1,000 patients," Gough says.

Homeward Healthcare has been able to translate that work into three paying customers, including Hurley Medical Center, Mammoth Hospital in California, and Evolution Hospital in Las Vegas. Homeward Healthcare also has a handful of other hospitals lined up to become customers in the first quarter of 2016. The health systems they are attached to could mean that Homeward Healthcare has customer ceiling of up 600 hospitals.

Homeward Healthcare plans to go national with its platform next year. Besides its office in Ann Arbor, it also has offices in Toledo and San Francisco. It employs 18 people, including 11 hires over the last year. Gough expects those numbers to rise as his team works to raise more seed capital. It closed on a $1.5 million Series A a year ago and is currently raising a $1 million bridge round with an eye on closing a Series B by the end of next year.

"We opened it (the bridge round) last week," Gough says. "We already have $250,000 in it."

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

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Accio Energy scores $4.5M to field test wind-energy tech

Accio Energy just landed a lot of money. And that means further development of its innovative wind energy generation systems. And the Ann Arbor-based startup has its eyes on raising even more in busy 2016.

The 7-year-old startup received a $4.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy to fund the field testing of Accio Energy's technology. Accio Energy plans to spend next year laying the groundwork to field test its off-shore wind energy generation systems off the coast of Maine in 2017.

"This is our opportunity to scale it more than 10 times and take it offshore," says Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy.

Accio Energy's technology generates alternative energy from the wind without the turbine. Its aerovoltaic technology harnesses the electrokinetic energy of the wind (think static electricity) through a screen-like piece of equipment with no moving parts. The technology has been proven in wind tunnels, but this new funding means it can be built up for field testing in Penobscot Bay of Maine near the town of Castine.

The federal funding is a bit more than a grant because the feds will have an active role in the project, but the money is still non-dilutable government funding. It will also allow Accio Energy to hire a few more people to its staff of eight employees. The federal partnership comes with a 10 percent match requirement for Accio Energy and Baird expects to begin raising a multi-million-dollar seed round next year.

"It's a big step," Baird says.

Source: Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Akervall Technologies' mouthguard sales spike, staff grows

Akervall Technologies won the advanced materials category at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition earlier this week for the second year running. But that's the least of what the startup is excited about these days.

The Saline-based mouthguard manufacturer has spiked its sales by 60 percent over the last year and it’s on pace for similar growth in 2016. It is also looking at launching a handful of new products to help it grow even more.

"We think we can sustain our growth rate," says Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies. "We are the bottom of the hockey stick and it (the company's growth) is about to take off."

The 6-year-old company’s primary product is the SISU Mouth Guard, which is marketed toward athletes as a stronger alternative that is both lighter and less obstructive that traditional mouth guards. SISU is a popular word in Finland that roughly translates to "determination, strength, resilience." Other products include the SOVA mouth guard which is designed for people who grind their teeth in their sleep.

Akervall Technologies has been based out of Sassa Akervall's basement in Ann Arbor until about a year ago when it took over a light-industrial space in Saline. It now employs a staff of 17 people and a summer intern. It has hired five people over the last year, including research scientists and marketing professionals.

Akervall Technologies made the finals of this year's Accelerate Michigan, the state’s largest business plan competition for startups. Winning the advanced materials category comes with a $25,000 cash prize, which Akervall Technologies plans to use to help purchase production equipment.

"It just sharpens your mind," Akervall says of Accelerate Michigan. "If helps you figure out how other companies think."

Akervall Technologies plans to launch its next-generation version of the SISU Mouth Guard that is stronger than the current version in the first quarter of next year. It is also planning to launch some other products later in the year.

Source: Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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The Whole Brain Group grows through customer service, added services

The Whole Brain Group has been adding clients by focusing on itself over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based digital marketing agency has moved into a bigger home, beefed up its technical expertise, added staff, and expanded its services. That cleared the way for it to grow its revenue by 20 percent in 2015 and aim for 30 percent growth in 2016.

"We are trying to offer a well-rounded set of services," says Marisa Smith, head brainiac at The Whole Brain Group. "A lot of our clients are growing companies that are looking to scale their growth."

The Whole Brain Group has added a number of new clients, including a RV dealership in upstate New York, Arborlight (an Ann Arbor-based lighting startup), and Great Lakes Scrip out of Grand Rapids. That new work has allowed The Whole Brain Group to add two new jobs, expanding its staff to 14 people. The firm moved to a new office near Briarwood Mall and plans to stay put for the next few years.

"We are going to stay in our same space because there is room to grow," Smith says.

The Whole Brain Group also recently achieved platinum partner status with HubSpot, a digital marketing platform used by businesses around the world. The status is the second to top tier for HubSpot, making The Whole Brain Group only one of two in Michigan to achieve it.

"We have attained a certain level of expertise and a number of clients who use that software," Smith says.

Source: Marisa Smith, head brainiac at The Whole Brain Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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