Innovation & Job News

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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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Covaron Advanced Materials raises seven-figure Series A

Big changes have taken place at Covaron Advanced Materials over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based startup has brought in a new CEO, raised a seven-figure Series A, and consolidated its investor circle to one person.

Covaron Advanced Materials, formerly Kymeira Advanced Materials, is developing a new chemistry for ceramics. The new technology was developed by company founder Vince Alessi and co-founders Cam Smith and Reed Shick. The advanced ceramics formula makes ceramics a more affordable and streamlined option for a number of molds and durable goods, such as those used in the automotive sector.

"We are a game-changing technology for a lot of industries," says Michael Kraft, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials.

Which explains why it won the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in 2012. And then the main competition at Accelerate Michigan in 2013. It also raised a $300,000 seed round from a number of local venture capital organizations, like Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures and Invest Detroit's First Step Fund.

"We had a lot of help from the Ann Arbor SPARK Business Accelerator Fund," Kraft says.

Those investors are gone now. Kraft says a single investor he declined to name but described as a person who owns "a Michigan-based consortium of companies" bought out everyone else and provided the money for a Series A. Kraft declined to name the individual or the exact amount of the Series A besides saying it was in the "seven figures" and provide enough funding to grow the company for 24 months.

Kraft, a Michigan State University graduate, was recruited from California to serve as Covaron Advanced Materials' new CEO. He explains the plan is to focus on growing the company through targeted application development of its ceramics technology. The idea is to aim for a long-term growth cycle (similar to what life sciences startups go through) so it can maximize the use of its technology in several markets. Covaron Advanced Materials and its team of 10 people (all recently moved from independent contractors to full-time employees) plans to leverage the sole investor’s portfolio of firms to grow.

"We're in a consortium of companies that employs more than 1,000 people and has more than $150 million in capacity," Kraft says. "That gives you an idea of the support we have."

Kraft acknowledges this is a unique situation for a startup. There are no exit requirements or need to pump up artificial value or need to exit because a subset of the startup's investors needs to cash out. There is only the goal of growing a big business that could one day have its fingers in a lot of pies.

"We have choices," Kraft says. "We don't need to paint ourselves into a corner."

Source: Michael Kraft, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Coyote Logistics' Ann Arbor office spikes to 45 people

Last year Coyote Logistics made headlines with its plans to open up an office in Ann Arbor and create dozens of new jobs. This year the Chicago-based company is well on its way to meeting that goal.

Coyote Logistics has hired 45 people at its new office after opening it late last year. That puts it roughly a third of the way toward it goal of hiring 125 people in Ann Arbor over its first three years. The company is still moving toward that goal aggressively.

"We're going to hire 35 more people there over the rest of the year," says Jodi Navta, vice president of marketing & communications for Coyote Logistics. "It's a variety of positions."

Coyote Logistics provides third-party logistics and transportation services for North American shippers. While it's based out of state, many of the firm's employees have roots in Michigan. Navta and Coyote Logistics’ CEO, Jeff Silver, are University of Michigan graduates. Those connections, along with a $1 million Michigan Business Development Program incentive from the state of Michigan, sealed the deal to open the office. The company's leadership team hasn’t been disappointed so far.

"We're happy with the talent and we're happy with the number of people we have there," Navta says.

Source: Jodi Navta, vice president of marketing & communications for Coyote Logistics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Software firm Deque doubles staff in Ann Arbor

Deque's presence in Ann Arbor has been growing both organically and rapidly in the last year. The software firm has doubled its local staff, hiring 13 people. It now has 25 of its 80 employees based in Ann Arbor, which is up from six two years ago.

"People love Michigan," says Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque. "They keep wanting to relocate there."

Deque's software makes websites more accessible to people with disabilities. The idea is to tap into larger markets by making a digital process accessible to everyone. For instance, Deque's products and services make it easier for blind people to access popular websites. Check out more of Deque's accessibility success stories here.

The 15-year-old company has experienced a significant spike in the demand for its services over the last year. It was able to attract a dozen new customers in 2013. As of July, it has landed 21 new customers for this year. Among those new customers, many of them are in the financial services, e-commerce, education technology, and aviation sectors.

"Airlines are definitely warming up to it," Kumar says.

Which has led to a spike in growth in the Ann Arbor office. The Virginia-based company has had a presence in Ann Arbor for years. It’s CTO lives in Ann Arbor. Today it has 25 people in the office and Kumar expects that number to keep growing at an aggressive pace.

"We continue to add good people to the team," Kumar says. "Right now our biggest bottleneck is us. The pipeline is healthier than ever."

Source: Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

The Whole Brain Group moves to bigger office in Ann Arbor

The Whole Brain Group found a new home in Ann Arbor this summer.

The digital marketing firm moved from Tree Town's downtown to a new office near Briarwood Mall in May. The new space measures out to just under 5,000 square feet, which is double the size of its previous office.

"We were sitting on top of each other," says Marisa Smith, head brainiac at the The Whole Brain Group. "People were doing desk sharing or working from home. Our creative director was moving here from California so we needed a place to put everyone."

The 12-year-old company started off building websites and evolved into a full-service digital marketing firm. Among its offerings are consulting on inbound marketing and sales lead generation. Many of its new customers are gazelle firms that are growing fast. Smith has noticed they are looking for a more comprehensive help when they contract with The Whole Brain Group.

"I saw that these business owners not only needed marketing advice but business advice," Smith says. "We wanted to offer both things so we could be a one-stop shop."

And it's worked out for The Whole Brain Group so far. It's revenue is up 40 percent, allowing it to cross the $1 million threshold over the last year. It has also hired four people, expanding its staff to 13 employees.

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Mountain Labs streamlines medical research with software

Alex VanDerKolk is a graduate of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business but also a fan of medical research. The recent recipient of a BBA is leveraging both passions to launch his own startup, Mountain Labs.

"I have always been interested in the medical field," VanDerKolk says.

The Ann Arbor-based company is developing data collection software, called Symport, for medical research. The idea is to create a platform that is simple to use, HIPAA complaint, and smart enough to streamline what can often be the archaic world of the healthcare research.

VanDerKolk has firsthand experience of how archaic that healthcare research can become. The 20-something worked as a data analyst for the University of Michigan Health System for a few years before he graduated late last year. He was appalled at the 20 Century-style tools university researchers were using to conduct 21st Century research on multi-million-dollar projects for a multi-billion dollar research institution.

"It was just a very inefficient process," VanDerKolk says. "We saw a lot of very smart people spending a lot of their time doing very mundane managerial tasks."

That inspired him to launch Mountain Labs last April. He raised $200,000 in seed capital and put together a seven-person team to build the software platform (with the help of Atomic Object’s Ann Arbor office) this summer. The technology is now in private Beta being tested with a few different research teams at U-M.

"Now we're starting to add software developers and bring our developers back in house," VanDerKolk says.

Mountain Labs is aiming to conduct a true pilot phase with a University of Michigan research department this fall. It is also looking to raise a $750,000 Series A by January so it can start looking at doing pilots outside of U-M.

Source: Alex VanDerKolk, president of Mountain Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Ilium Software grows with work on eWallet platform

Ilium Software's eWallet platform is driving growth for the Ann Arbor-based firm.

The technology stores and categorizes all of the various passwords for its user, enabling them to access their private information, financial instruments, and other important online functions. The software can be used from a desktop computer to a mobile device.

Sales of the eWallet platform have risen smartly over the last year with the Windows 8 version (a full-screen app) leading the way. Ilium Software has in turn spend most of its time improving eWallet, releasing a new iOS version and upgrading its security features. It's also looking at accessing Apple’s fingerprint technology for mobile device and Apple Pay.

"It's our product that has gone back to the beginning of the company in 1997," says Ken Morse, managing partner of Ilium Software.

Ilium Software has been making mobile apps before most people had even heard of the word, designing apps for PDAs and other forms of technology in the late 1990s. The firm's team of half a dozen employees (it hired someone about a year ago) and a handful of independent contractors are focused on making its software platforms like eWallet ready for the next big thing in software.

"We're in the process of seeing what we can do with this latest iOS version," Morse says.

Source: Ken Morse, managing partner of Ilium Software
2005 Articles | Page: | Show All
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