Innovation & Job News

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HeatSpring scores in sustainability education, adds staff

It took HeatSpring a few years to find its footing in the online sustainability education world, however, now the company is sprinting forward with some significant revenue gains.

The Ann Arbor-based business grew at a slow pace during its first four years. In the last two years, however, it has scored 30 percent annual revenue gains, thanks to online education going mainstream and a strong economy interested in learning more about sustainability.

"It's all building energy and sustainability (courses)," says Brian Hayden, president of HeatSpring. "It's where we have been since the beginning. We have key partnerships that are strong today."

Those partnerships include creating classes for SolarPro Magazine, Renewable Energy World, and Greentech Media. That learning material has been decisively niche in nature such teaching about advanced solar storage for utilities.

"It's built for top 5 percent of solar users," Hayden says.

That bump in work has allowed HeatSpring to add to its staff. It has hired a content strategist over the last year, expanding the number of employees to five people.

Source: Brian Hayden, president of HeatSpring
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Quantum Signal's spike in client growth leads to more hires

Three or four years ago was not the best time to talk about Quantum Signal's growth prospects. The Saline-based tech firm was in a lull and trying to figure out what was next. Today the company's leadership just needs to open its email to find more work.
"Every time I go into my email we have more and more demand for our services," says Mitch Rohde, co-founder & CEO of Quantum Signal.

The 15-year-old firm specializes in math-based engineering and custom product development. That can encompass everything from robotics work to helping develop new products for other businesses to creating simulation software. Rohde has noticed a spike in demand for a broad range of industries - especially medical products, automated vehicles and forensic work.

That has allowed Quantum to hire four people over the last year, expanding its staff to 30 employees and four interns. It is now looking to hire another six people, including software programmers, engineers, and managers to keep up with the needs of the firm's customers.

"It just seems like there is a lot of demand these days," Rohde says. "It just seems to have exploded in the last six months. I don't expect demand to go down."

Source: Mitch Rohde, co-founder & CEO of Quantum Signal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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MyFab5 hits 1 million photo milestone this spring

MyFab5 is hitting a number of cool milestones this year. The social media startup's technology has now helped in the sharing of more than 1 million pictures and its getting ready to launch a designed mobile app later this month.

"We have redesigned every feature from head to toe," says Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5. "It's all the same features but much easier to use and looks much better."

The Ann Arbor-based startup allows its users to take pictures of their meals at restaurants and then rank their experience. The company got its start allowing users to rank their top five businesses in certain genres in local areas, but transitioned to a photo-based version when it noticed its users liked using it with Instagram.

The 2-year-old company now averages 250,000 users each month. Those users shared their 1 millionth photo earlier this year, helping MyFab5 reach a critical milestone.

"That was a pretty big one for us," Seirafi-Pour says.

MyFab5 has hired one person (an Andriod developer) to grow its staff to four employees and three interns over the last year. That team has relied on grass roots and viral marketing efforts to build the startup into what it is today. It's now looking at embarking at a national marketing campaign later this year.

Source: Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Ann Arbor Seed Co begins to bear fruit in third year

When Eric Kampe launched Ann Arbor Seed Co with his wife, Meredith Kahn, three years ago he had visions of turning his passion for seed collecting into a full-time job. The Ann Arbor resident is just about there.

The Ann Arbor-based seed company now consumes enough hours of his day to qualify as a full-time gig. He also works two days a week at the Brinery to bring in extra cash to help grow his business. Kahn still has her day job at the University of Michigan but Ann Arbor Seed Co has grown to the point that Kampe and Kahn have brought on another friend to help keep up with demand.

"We're at the stage where she is employed here but we can't pay her what she deserves," Kampe says.

Ann Arbor Seed Co offers seeds for a growing variety of plants. It started out offering 10 varieties of the basics, like tomatoes and leafy greens. It grew its product portfolio to 27 varieties in 2014. This year it's at 38 different varieties that are for sale local farmers markets and stores.

Kampe has noticed that his customers have begun asking for more and more seed and more obscure seeds. To help meet that sort of demand he and his wife have bought a truck and built a second hoop house behind their home to keep up with production needs.

"It's about the journey, not the destination," Kampe says. "They day to day is great. It's great to be out here."

Source: Eric Kampe, co-founder of Ann Arbor Seed Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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DesignHub wins digital marketing race with steady growth

The good times are never too sweet for DesignHub, and the bad times are never too sour. It turns out both things are a recipe for steady-but-modest, year-to-year growth at the Saline-based digital marketing agency.

DesignHub has averaged high single-digit gains each of the last several years. It's not hockey stick growth spikes, but its the type of momentum that keeps the company consistently headed in the right direction.

"We work really hard and grind out the hours, and this is where we seem to land," says Chris Kochmanski, partner at DesignHub. "The three partners are all over 50, and by this stage in our lives, we're seeing how doing excellent work for a limited number of preferred clients can be much more satisfying than run, run, run all the time in pursuit of growth for the sake of growth."

The five-person company handles most creative and development work while relying on a stable of trusted freelancers when needed. It gets roughly half of its business through website design and development with the remainder coming from marketing strategy and planning, content development, advertising and publicity, and design and production of marketing materials for print and other media.

DesignHub has grown its work with existing clients like Dynamic Computer Corp, Advanced Photonix, Berry & Associates, Center for Automotive Research, Corner Health Center, Daycroft Montessori School, Dexter Research, Dimensional Engineering, and the City of Saline. It has also added several new clients like doing an advertising campaign for Huron Valley Financial, fundraising appeals for Evangelical Homes of Michigan, and new sales support materials for VolunteerHub.

"We have a lot of prospective clients we are dealing with right now," Kochmanski says.

Source: Chris Kochmanski, partner at DesignHub
Writer: Jon Zemke

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TSRL pivots business model to become technology accelerator, grows staff

To say Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories has been through a lot over the last year might be an understatement. The Ann Arbor-based life sciences firm lost its president and general manager, John Hilfiger, in April of last year. That led to the promotion of Elke Lipka as president of the company just at the time when it started to pivot its business model from drug development to technology accelerator.

"We are partnering intensely with academic institutions," Lipka says. "We are providing the wet lab space and drug development services."

...And more importantly showing its clients the way to non-dilutive seed capital. Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories, commonly known as TSRL, uses an ongoing collaborative process that lets entrepreneurs leverage its expertise to obtain the data and non-dilutive funding necessary to develop and commercialize their technologies. In exchange, TSRL takes a fee and small equity stake in the company.

"Much smaller than a venture capital firm would take," Lipka says.

TSRL is focusing on companies that optimize treatment for infectious diseases, such as influenza, HSV, VZV, CMV, EBV, poxvirus, HPV, Adenovirus, and RNA viruses. It is currently working with a handful of partners, including one from the University of Michigan.

"Three are pretty active right now," Lipka says.

TSRL has hired two people over the last year, including a business development manager and a chemist. It is currently looking to hire a research scientist to add to its staff of 10 employees and one intern.

Source: Elke Lipka, president of Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Urban Ashes surge in sales of reclaimed wood lead to big expansion

The operations for Urban Ashes used to be scattered. The Ann Arbor-based reclaimed wood firm had a corporate office on one side of town, a prototyping facility on the other side of town, and outsourced its manufacturing to Brighton. That all changed last fall. The 6-year-old business consolidated its operations into one building adjacent to the home of Leon Speakers on Ann Arbor's south side. It now has 3,000 square feet of work space and a symbiotic relationship with Leon Speakers to help it grow its business.

"Now it's all in-house (manufacturing) and in one location," says Paul Hickman, founder of Urban Ashes.

And Urban Ashes growing. It has added two new products on top of its original offering of picture frames made of wood reclaimed from deconstructed Detroit homes. Now it is also producing home goods and furnishings for businesses, such as tabletops made from reclaimed wood for restaurants.

Urban Ashes has hired five people over the last year to keep up with its production, including four ex-felons. It is also looking to hire two people to add to its staff of seven employees. They are all striving to keep product in the company 225 retail locations across North America.

Urban Ashes has also grown its revenue significantly. It has doubled its sales in each of the last three years and is aiming for an even loftier goal this year.

"Our goal is to triple our sales," Hickman says. "We're going to come close. I'd like to add two more people this year sooner rather than later."

Source: Paul Hickman, founder of Urban Ashes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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More project work leads to more hires at Motawi Tileworks

Motawi Tileworks has been on a hiring streak over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based firm has hired four production workers in the last 12 months and is looking to add another three right now.

The 23-year-old art tile firm and its sister company, Rovin Ceramics, now employ 35 people combined. Company leaders expect that number to grow for it to be able to keep up with the current workload.

"We have taken on numerous projects," says Christa Quinn, marketing & communications coordinator for Motawi Tileworks. "They include installations in public places and in private homes."

Motawi Tileworks specializes in arts-and-craft ceramic tiles, such as ceramic pieces of art people use to make a kitchen back splashes pop. It acquired Rovin Ceramics, its primary ceramics supplier, a few years ago to make sure it supply chain wasn't interrupted. Since then Motawi Tileworks has expanded its tile line and embarked on a partnership with the Ann Arbor Art Center where it’s tiles are sold there on consignment.

Quinn points out that Motawi Tileworks’ revenue is up but declined to say how much. She is optimistic for the company’s near-term prospects.

"Our plan is to always keep growing," Quinn says. "We want to grow both sides of the business (art tile retail and installations)."

Source: Christa Quinn, marketing & communications coordinator for Motawi Tileworks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Damian Farrell Design Group grows thanks to diversified workload

It seems like Damian Farrell Design Group's client project cup runneth over. The Ann Arbor-based architecture firm is handling a lot of residential remodeling, designing a multi-family project in Saline, working on an adaptive reuse of a historic building in downtown Saline, designing a couple restaurants, and doing work for a shooting range in Ann Arbor.

"We have always had a pretty good variety of work," says Damian Farrell, owner of Damian Farrell Design Group. "This is just an extension of that."

He estimates his company’s revenue is up 10-15 percent over the last year. It's growth that has allowed him to hire an architect and two interns, expanding his staff to seven employees and two interns.

Farrell points out that the design and building industries are stronger now than they have been in years, and there is a shortage of skilled workers developing in them. He adds the market isn’t as good as it was before the Great Recession but its on its way there.

"We want to continue what we’re doing," Farrell says. "Every market we are working in we are noticing growth."

Source: Damian Farrell, owner of Damian Farrell Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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U-M Credit Union acquires Flint credit union, adds commercial lending, jobs

University of Michigan Credit Union has spent the last year significantly expanding its membership, product offerings, and geographic reach. The downtown Ann Arbor-based credit union executed a merger with Family Community Credit Union in Flint last March, adding three more branches and 5,700 new members. U-M Credit Union had been expanding its presence at the University of Michigan-Flint last year when the opportunity to merge with Family Community Credit Union presented itself. It turned out to be just the right fit.

"It all just worked out perfectly," says Tiffany Ford, CEO of the University of Michigan Credit Union.

U-M Credit Union has also been growing organically, signing up new members in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw Community College, and U-M Dearborn and Flint. This focus on campus development has allowed U-M Credit Union to grow its membership by 11 percent to 70,910 people and its assets from $571 million to $633 million.

"We have been able to build member awareness in the Ann Arbor area and increase the number of new accounts at Washtenaw Community College and U-M Flint," Ford says.

Which has allowed U-M Credit to expand its product offerings. The credit union has long focused on expanding its membership’s usage of the credit union's credit cards that feature low-interest-rate or rewards programs. Twenty seven percent of the credit union's members now use one of those two credit cards, increasing its balances $2.9 million over the last year to $35 million. U-M Credit Union has also increased its auto loan balances by $18.6 million over the last year to $121 million.

"We know we can increase that penetration significantly," Ford says.

That success has opened the door to U-M Credit Union expanding its mortgage loans. It is also preparing for a soft launch of a new commercial lending program next week. That program will offer lending products to members in commercial real-estate development, and business lines of credit.

U-M Credit Union now has 13 branches, including two virtual branches it recently opened at Washtenaw Community College and U-M Flint. The credit union is also in the process of replacing its credit union at Main Street and Eisenhower Road with a new branch at 2725 S State St on the south side of Ann Arbor.

That growth has led to several new hires for the U-M Credit Union. The institution has hired 17 people over the last year, including professionals in customer service, marketing, and human resources. It currently has a staff of 142 employees and three interns. The credit union is currently looking to hire another 7 people right now.

"We have been hiring in all areas of the credit union," Ford says.

Source: Tiffany Ford, CEO of the University of Michigan Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Ann Arbor startups claim lion's share of Michigan Pre-Seed Fund

Ann Arbor-based startups are taking the lion’s share of the new early stage seed capital from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0.

Promising small businesses from Tree Town made up three of the last five recipients from the fund. Ann Arbor-based ventures have also comprised 10 of the 18 investments made so far.

"The recent activity has been concentrated in Ann Arbor," says Charles Moret, president of Invest Michigan, which manages the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0. He adds that there are plenty of other promising startups at the front of the line for funding, including several from the west side of Michigan and Metro Detroit.

Invest Michigan launched a little more than a year ago and currently employs a staff of four people in downtown Detroit. It oversees the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0. The $5.8 million fund is capitalized by the Michigan Strategic Fund, which is administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0 makes small investments ($50,000 to $150,000 in a convertible note or equity investment) in early stage startups looking to rapidly grow their businesses. All companies that receive funding are required to secure a minimum of 1:1 in matching co-investment funds. Some of the industries it is targeting include automotive, agriculture, alternative energy, defense, IT, and life sciences. Startups that do well can receive a follow-on investment worth up to $500,000 from the fund.

"Our strategy in Michigan is to enable investors to pool their money together to support early stage startups," Moret says.

The most recent companies to receive funding include ENT Biotech Solutions, NanoRETE, Arborlight, Cribspot and Picospray. The last three are based in Ann Arbor. Arborlight makes architectural lighting that mimics daylight. Cribspot serves as clearinghouse for rentals on and near college campuses. Picospray is developing technology that makes small engines more fuel efficient and produce fewer emissions.

Moret expects to make another 10-12 investments in Michigan-based startups before the end of the year.

"We have funding for the next two years if we maintain our current pace," Moret says.

Source: Charles Moret, president of Invest Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Cribspot scores $50K as it adds more U.S. campuses to its off-campus housing service

Cribspot has landed some more seed capital, enabling the Michigan-based startup to start taking its software platform national.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company (it also has an office in downtown Detroit) recently landed a $50,000 investment from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0, a fund capitalized by the Michigan Economic Development Corp to invest in early stage tech startups. That investment brings Cribspots total seed capital raise to $680,000, which includes investments from Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures and a number of angel investors.

"It (early stage investments from local funds like the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0) is extremely important," says Jason Okrasinski, CEO of Cribspot. "The access to state funding, grants, and debt is one big advantage and differentiator from San Francisco."

Cribspot and its team of seven people is creating a centralized online portal for college students looking for off-campus housing. The co-founders, mostly University of Michigan students, were inspired to start the company after struggling with their own searches for off-campus housing that usually entailed Craiglist ads and looking for landlord signs in the sides of buildings.

Cribspot is a product of the Bizdom accelerator program in downtown Detroit. It also won $100,000 when it took second place at last year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Shortly after that win Cribspot started to spread its presence across the U.S.

"We currently have a presence at 175 campuses," Okrasinski says

Source: Jason Okrasinski, CEO of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Three Leaf Ventures opens Midwest office in downtown Ann Arbor

Three Leaf Ventures is opening an Ann Arbor location to serve as the venture capital firm’s Midwestern office.

The Denver-based firm, an affiliate of The Broe Group, aims to invest in healthcare companies that specializes in everything from IT to genomics to consumer medical devices.

"We have already drummed up a lot of venture capital activity," says Sean Kearney, managing director of Three Leaf Ventures. "We believe a lot of deal flow will come from Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Michigan."

Three Leaf Ventures will lease space in Kerrytown. It's office will be staffed by Kearney who plans to move to Ann Arbor this summer. A couple of part-time staffers are expected to join him later this year.

The 3-year-old venture capital firm is stage agnostic when it comes to its investments, meaning it is willing to invest in either early, middle or late-stage startups. Three Leaf Ventures hasn’t made an investment in a Michigan-based startup yet but Kearney expects that to change before the end of the year because there are already a couple of good candidates in the pipeline.

"That (one investment this year) is a conservative goal," Kearney says.

Source: Sean Kearney, managing director of Three Leaf Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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DeepField plans to move to bigger space to accommodate growth

DeepField is moving to a bigger office in downtown Ann Arbor, making room for more staff. The extra people are needed to keep up with the demand for the company's IT infrastructure platform. The Ann Arbor-based firm will be moving from its current office above the Michigan Theatre to the second floor of 111 N Ashley, taking over 5,200 square feet of office space.

"It's three times the size of where we are right now," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField.

The 4-year-old startup makes software that helps big companies keep up with the constant changes that come with Internet's back-end IT infrastructure. The platform leverages big-data analytics that correlates telemetry from routers, switches, DNS, and more, decoding that morass of information. The user ends up with a better view of their IT network.

DeepField launched its platform a little more than a year ago with a handful of customers. It had grown that clientele list to nine firms by the end of last year and is now servicing 15 customers today. Groe aims to have 20 big corporations using DeepField's technology by the end of this year.

"We have a number of companies who are testing it right now," Groe says. "Our pipeline is really strong."

DeepField has been hiring quickly to keep up with that demand. It has added 12 people over the last year, including software developers, sales and marketing professionals, and executives. It is also looking to hire another five people right now to add to its staff of 29 employees and four interns.

"We are certainly looking to hire and grow," Groe says. "Our goal is to be at 45 people by the end of the year."

Source: Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

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Blaze Medical Devices earns first revenues, new investment and hires up next

Blaze Medical Device accomplished a big milestone many other bio-tech startups never even get close to.

"For the first time we are generating revenues," says David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices.

The Ann Arbor-based startup made its first sale of its blood analysis services earlier this year. Blaze Medical Devices' platform enables medical researchers and product developers to better understand blood damage from all causes.

"They didn't want to wait," Weaver says. "It has a huge upside for us. It shows that the market is real."

Blaze Medical Devices is now working on adding more clients by the end of the year. The 9-year-old firm is also in the midst of raising a $2 million angel found. Late last year it landed a $200,000 SBIR grant and has since landed more angel investor capital. So far the company has raised $1.3 million toward its $2 million goal, which it expects to close on by the end of the year.

Blaze Medical Devices employs a staff of six employees and is looking to add some summer interns. It has hired one lab technician earlier this year. Weaver expects his staff to continue to grow as it generates more revenues and closes out on its angel round.

Source: David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices
Writer: Jon Zemke

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