Innovation & Job News

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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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MedHub adds 6 positions as it grows its software platform

MedHub is one of those business that reliably hires. It doesn't go through a huge growth spurt hiring dozens at a time, nor does it go years without adding staff. Each year the healthcare software firm creates a few jobs as it moves forward. Those numbers are starting to accelerate.

The 13-year-old firm now stands at 13 people after hiring six over the last year. Those new hires include software developers and support staff.

"We'll probably hire another six this year. Minimum," says Peter Orr, president of MedHub.

MedHub's software platform helps teaching hospitals better manage their medical residents by improving communication, collaboration and tracking of the about to be newly minted doctors. It also helps ensure the hospitals maximize Medicare reimbursements.

It is currently being used by a number of brand name teaching hospitals, such as Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, along with the health systems at Stanford and Duke universities. MedHub recently on boarded UCLA and George Washington’s hospitals, and is planning to bring on more soon.

"Our pipeline is full all the way through next year," Orr says.

MedHub moved from Ann Arbor to downtown Dexter last year. It took over the circa-1899 Old Grain Mill at 3515 Broad Street, redeveloping it into a space for technologists. The company is now filling out that space nicely with its new hires.

MedHub is also working to add more healthcare education institutions to its client list, such as nursing schools.

"We're starting to get into that more aggressively," Orr says.

Source: Peter Orr, president of MedHub
Writer: Jon Zemke

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TurtleCell hires 5, preps to launch retractable earbud iPhone case

People want TurtleCell's iPhone case with retractable earbuds so badly they are willing to give the Ann Arbor-based startup $10,000 to get the job done. Twice.

The smartphone accessory startup won the People's Choice award at last year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, which came with a check for $10,000 in seed capital. The company did it again earlier this month, taking the People’s Choice award at Accelerate Michigan and another $10,000.

"We do feel like we're a fan favorite," says Jeremy Lindlbauer, co-founder and director of branding & marketing for TurtleCell. "We weren't surprised. We were holding our breath for a bigger check."

The 2-year-old startup didn't win one of the main prizes (top prize came with $500,000) but its team did leave knowing it would be able to deliver on its promise to sell iPhone case with retractable earbuds. The company is working with Digital Treasures in Auburn Hills and expects to sell between 300,000 and 500,000 units next year.

"We're expecting to be in mass production and delivery by next March," Lindlbauer says.

TurtleCell got its start when a couple of University of Michigan students got frustrated with constantly untangling the earbuds for their iPhones while walking to class. The group of three went through a few prototypes and started to really gain traction with their latest version.

TurtleCell's main product allows full access to the smartphone’s buttons and has a four-foot-long headphone that easily retracts back into the case. The earbuds are higher-quality. TurtleCell has hired five people over the last seven months to get the product ready for sales in 2015.

"We have a lot going on over the next few months," Lindlbauer says.

Source: Jeremy Lindlbauer, co-founder and director of branding & marketing for TurtleCell
Writer: Jon Zemke

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ArborWind set to begin installing wind turbine tech in spring

ArborWind successfully finished testing its wind turbine technology this year, and now the Ann Arbor-based firm is aiming to install about a dozen units in Michigan in 2015.

That increase has prompted the 4-year-old company to hire two people over the last year in sales and marketing. It currently has a staff of five employees and an intern, and expects to do some more hiring next year as it starts building wind turbines.

"We're looking at expanding pretty rapidly," says Dilip Nigam, president & CEO of ArborWind. "We'll probably need more sales and marketing people."

ArborWind is taking the traditional wind turbine design (think pinwheels) and turning it on its ear. ArborWind’s turbine employs a vertical-axis design so it looks like the beater ends of a hand mixer when harnessing the wind. This design enables the turbine to turn regardless of which direction the wind is blowing. Check a video explaining the technology here.

"This turbine will last 50 years," Nigam says. "We designed it for that."

Each of ArborWind’s turbines generates 200,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually. ArborWind plans to install 11 of them across the state in early 2015 and use that to set the stage for an even bigger growth spurt.

"We want to expand rapidly and do 50 turbines," Nigam says. "Each of those turbines costs more than half a million dollars so it will be a large order."

Source: Dilip Nigam, president & CEO of ArborWind
Writer: Jon Zemke

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U-M student creates mini-insoles to keep heels in high heels

High heels are one of those accessories that are usually high fashion with low functionality. A new startup based in Ann Arbor thinks it can improve the functionality.

High heels are notorious for being unstable pieces of footwear that can be tough to walk in. Heel Secret is making a small insole that helps keep the users foot securely in the shoe.

"That insole has a clear elastic strap that goes over your heel and forces your foot into the shoe," says Kiri Chapman, founder of HeelSecret.

Chapman is a student at the University of Michigan going for a bachelors in dance and a certificate in entrepreneurship. She is also a dancer who worked in a professional ballet troupe before coming to Ann Arbor. College came with more opportunity to wear high heels for Chapman, which presented both a problem and an opportunity.

"That's when I started to play with my shows to make them fit better," Chapman says.

She launched HeelSecret a year ago and then took second place the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition earlier this month. That showing comes with $5,000 in seed capital that will help Chapman create more prototypes of her insole, which she plans to perfect before selling them to the public.

"We really want a product that will speak for itself," Chapman says.

Source: Kiri Chapman, founder of HeelSecret
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Leon Speakers hires 12 as it grows, evolves business model

Leon Speakers is forever evolving, and the evolution of the Ann Arbor-based company has accelerated over the last year.

The high-end electronics company got its start in a University of Michigan dorm room making custom speakers in 1997. It has since grown into its own international business with dozens of employees. The company executed its first acquisition late last year, and has now upgraded its manufacturing process by implementing lean manufacturing.

"It's been a pretty big transition lately," says Noah Kaplan, founder & president of Leon Speakers.

The company has hired a dozen people over the last year, bringing its staff to just under 50 people. Among its new hires are product managers, sales directors and factory labor. That expanded staff has helped the company post double-digit revenue gains over the last year.

A big part of growth is thanks to Leon Speakers acquisition of Florida-based Media Decor, makes custom frames for flat screen TVs. Leon Speakers has folded Media Decor's portfolio into the rest of the company. It has also upgraded its factory to enable a more efficient production. It can now produce high-end electronics that can aim to be price competitive with electronics made overseas.

Leon Speakers is also working to make its newly redone factory into a tour-ready facility that it wants to make part of its artistic expression. The company is also aiming to expand its physical presence to Europe next year.

"We are leveraging the factory and our capability to manufacture so we can compete internationally," Kaplan says. He adds, "we're looking at some more exponential growth and a tour-ready factory."

Source: Noah Kaplan, founder & president of Leon Speakers
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Ann Arbor-based startups all but sweep Accelerate Michigan

Ann Arbor-based startups all but swept the awards at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week, taking home a combined $740,000 in seed capital.

Startups from Tree Town took the top two spots, and won six out of the nine sub categories. A startup led by University of Michigan students also took second place in Accelerate Michigan's student portion of the competition.

The big winner was SkySpecs, a startup developing drone technology, taking home the $500,000 first place prize. Getting here has been a long road for Ann Arbor-based company, originally placing in the student portion of the competition in 2012.

"This was our third year doing it," says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs. "It was a really, really good competition. I was impressed with so many of the competitors."

Cribspot, which calls Kerrytown home and has an office in downtown Detroit, took second place in the overall competition. That showing earned it $100,000 in seed capital, which company plans to use to adds staff to help further develop and expand its online-student-housing platform.

The following Ann Arbor-based companies took home category awards:

- Ornicept won the IT prize (worth $25,000) for its software platform that helps field workers collect and manage data.
- Solartonic won the Alternative Energy prize ($25,000) for its flexible solar panel technology, solarap, that attaches to non-traditional surfaces, such as wrapping around the pole of a street lamp.
- Akervall Technologies won the Advanced Materials prize ($25,000) for its thin-yet-tough mouthguard made of non-compressible, perforated materials.
- Freestride Therapeutics won the Life Science prize ($25,000) for its drug that relieves and even prevents shin pain for racing horses.
- AlertWatch won the Advanced Transportation prize ($25,000) for its patient-monitoring technology.
- TurtleCell won the People's Choice award ($10,000) for the second year in a row for its Phone case that comes with retractable earbuds.

HeelSecret took second place in Accelerate Michigan's student competition ($5,000) for its shoe attachment that helps better connect high heels to the people wearing them. The startup is led by University of Michigan students.

Source: Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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SkySpecs wins Accelerate Michigan, spot at Techstars incubator

Third time turned out to be the charm for SkySpecs. It took the Ann Arbor-based drone startup three tries at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition before it won it all and a hefty payday to go with it.

SkySpecs first participated in Accelerate Michigan's student competition in 2012 when the startup was being launched by some University of Michigan students. It took third place in the student portion that year. It came back again in 2013 and made the semifinals of Accelerate Michigan. This year it went all the way and took home $500,000 in seed capital.

"The biggest things for us is it's going to really accelerate our product development," says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs. "It will enable us to do what we need to do to get our project out into the world and hire more people."

SkySpecs is developing aerial drones that use artificial intelligence to inspect infrastructure in dangerous locations, such as the blade of wind turbines. It's WingMan platform allows the aircraft to hover near an object without fear of hitting it. Check out a demonstration company’s WingMan technology here.

SkySpecs has hired two people (business development and computer programer) over the last year, expanding its staff to nine employees. Those nine people are currently working in New York City at the Techstars incubator. The company plans to wrap up its tour there and return to Michigan by February when it hopes to have 10 prototypes working in the field.

"We thought (Techstars) was going to help us to take it to the next level," Ellis says. "They have the right network and the right skill set."

Source: Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Cribspot adds $100K to seed round with Accelerate Michigan win

Cribspot announced raising a $660,000 seed round a little more than a month ago. Add another six figures to that number after its win at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, it also has an office in downtown Detroit, took second place at Michigan's pre-eminent business plan competition. That showing comes with $100,000 in seed capital the startup can use in the best way it sees fit.

"We want to add more features that cater more toward landlords," says Jason Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot. "We also want to have a larger footprint across the country."

The 1-year-old startup and recent Bizdom graduate is creating an online portal that creates one central website for off-campus housing in higher education. The co-founders, mostly University of Michigan students, recognized that finding off-campus houses is an exercise of searching craigslist ads and signs on the sides of buildings. Cribspot offers a central location where students and landlords can come together to find/offer/manage student housing.

Cribspot landed $660,000 in seed capital early this fall with the round led by Huron River Ventures. It plans to put most of the $100,000 it won at the Accelerate Michigan competition to hiring another software engineer, expanding its staff to six full-time employees and four interns. It is also looking to expand into an other few university markets (it’s currently in 15) including Wayne State University and the University of Detroit Mercy.

Source: Jason Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke

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