Innovation & Job News

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Digital marketing, software work drive growth at Enlighten

Enlighten is a digital marketing company that has been around long enough to know success revolves around customer service.

"We are focused on the customer experience," says Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten. "We see better customer service as a path to higher profit margins."

For the 31-year-old company that meant transitioning from marketing to digital marketing to software development to all of the above. The company now offers a comprehensive suite of marketing services along with the software development products to help complement its traditional offerings.

The strategy has worked well. Enlighten grew its revenue by 25 percent last year and it's projecting to do it again in 2015. That has allowed the company to hire close to a dozen people. It now has a staff of about 100 employees and eight interns. It is also looking to hire half a dozen more people now, including senior account managers, software engineers, and project managers.

Enlighten is also pushing forward on its own software projects outside of custom work for its customers. It launched two photo-oriented software platforms in 2012, and OffersNow, a coupon and marketing software program aimed at helping small businesses, launched in 2013.

"Those projects are still going well," Glauberman says. "We are looking to enhance them."

Source: Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten
Writer: Jon Zemke

Virta Labs tests prototypes to protect medical devices from malware

As the healthcare services start to increasingly rely on technology, they need to start thinking about protecting themselves the same way computers do. Or at least that is how the team at Virta Labs sees it.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, which calls the Tech Brewery building home, is developing a technology platform that will defend medical devices from malware attacks. Pace makers and other high-tech pieces of medical technology are vulnerable to cyber attacks because security is largely undeveloped.

One-year-old Virta Labs, which won the Best of Boot Camp award at Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp last year, focuses on protecting those medical devices. The company has recently built prototypes and is looking to beta test its security technology later this summer.

"The hardware is pretty much complete," says Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs. "We are in the scaling phase of development of our cloud infrastructure."

Virta Labs recently grew its team of 10 people. That staff includes seven PhDs, a fact Foo Kune is quick to point out.

"We pride ourselves on our strong technical team and being engineering driven," Foo Kune says.

That team also recently landed a Phase 1 SBIR grant worth $150,000 to develop its technology. It is also in the midst of raising a six-figure seed capital round.

"We will be closing our seed round very soon," Foo Kune says.

Source: Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

AlumaBridge's first aluminum bridges go up in Quebec, Florida

AlumaBridge's big claim to fame is creating a better bridge, made out of aluminum, which is lighter, stronger, and more durable than traditional options. Travelers should get their first chance to test it out later this summer.

The Ann Arbor-based company’s first bridge is being built in Quebec, Canada. AlumaBridge completed the fabrication of its bridge deck sections late last year. Those pieces are currently being constructed by the Quebec Ministry of Transportation.

"It should be open to traffic by the first week of August," says Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge.

The 1-year-old company uses aluminum as its principal material for prefabricated pieces of bridging. The idea is the specially fabricated aluminum pieces will extend the life of aging bridges much beyond the current standards for concrete. The aluminum bridge deck panels are made using friction stir welding and have a non-skid surface. They can easily be applied to the steel girders on existing bridges, giving many more years of service.

AlumaBridge is also working on a fabricating more bridge sections for a span in Florida. It delivered the first sections early this year and expects that project to come online later this year.

"We will have additional panels shipped in August," Osberg says. "They will be tested by the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida International University before they are installed."

AlumaBridge is currently working with Florida and Canada on more potential bridge projects. The company is also trying to make in-roads with the Michigan Department of Transportation, but the company’s most promising prospects appear to be north of the Great Lakes State.

"The city of Montreal also indicated that they have some projects in mind," Osberg says.

Source: Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

Greenview Data's solution for zero day viruses drives growth

Sometimes problems are just opportunities in disguise. At least, or so businesses philosophy goes. Greenview Data is proving that mantra is true with the latest edition of its signature product, SpamStopsHere.

The spam prevention software targets an elusive new computer malware called zero day virus. The viruses employ antivirus software signatures that are not yet known to antivirus software.

"We have developed the technology that can find it in an email," says Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data. "It's working very, very well."

He adds that most software solutions for zero day viruses catch about 20 percent of them trying to get through. Green claims his Ann Arbor-based firm's solution can catch them 99 percent of the time. Rising sales of the SpamStopsHere platform have allowed Greenview Data to spike its overall revenue by 25 percent over the last year and hire three people in that time. Green expects that growth to continue.

"The virus is still out there and it's still in the news," Green says.

Greenview Data is also looking to diversify its revenue streams a bit. The 25-year-old software firm has also recently released a new mobile app called Geoscribe.

"It's an app for sharing information about interesting places," Green says.

He adds that it allows people to share interesting information about places they visit so others can look it up on the app when they are there, too. The product is a departure from Greenview Data's normal work, but that's a good thing for Green.

"It helps to have a change of pace," Green says.

Source: Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data
Writer: Jon Zemke

WorkForce Software's Ann Arbor office taps local talent for growth

WorkForce Software can be counted on for adding a handful of jobs to Ann Arbor’s talent pool each year.

The Livonia-based software firm opened its local office about three years ago as a way to leverage more talent coming out of the University of Michigan and other local colleges. It has since grown its Ann Arbor staff to 20 employees and three interns after hiring three software developers in 2014-15.

"It was a huge success," says Ken Olson, vice president of product development for WorkForce Software. "We are firmly rooted here now with the office in Ann Arbor. We will continue to grow and grab local talent."

Internships have become a significant part of that talent retention strategy. Two of the company's three recent hires were former interns promoted into full-time positions. Those hires work out of both the downtown Ann Arbor and WorkForce Software headquarters in Livonia. 

"We have done a very good job of integrating the Ann Arbor office with the Livonia headquarters," Olson says.

WorkForce Software makes management software for large-scale employers. It has grown significantly over recent years, expanding its revenue by about 20 percent each year. It now employs 500 people.

"Ann Arbor is a key piece of that growth," Olson says.

Source: Ken Olson, vice president of product development
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ocunelis doubles sales of eye-drop tech since last year's launch

Ocunelis hit a significant milestone earlier this month when it sold its 400th DROPin, the company's signature eye-drop assist technology.

That milestone comes on the heals of the Ann Arbor-based bio-tech startup doubling its sales a little more than one year after launching the business. Ocunelis's DROPin products can be found in a few retailers across Metro Detroit, but the company is aiming for bigger gains elsewhere.

"Our primary sales are through Amazon," says David Lorch, CTO of Ocunelis. "We are selling in almost every state through Amazon."

Lorch and Marius Tijunelis came up with the idea to start Ocunelis while they were working through an entrepreneurial apprenticeship out of the Medical Innovation Center at the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center. They saw eye drop application as a pain point in everyday medicine and came up with a easier, pain-free, eye-drop assist technology called DROPin.

They have since been working to expand sales and create a few partnerships to further expand the use of DROPin. The team is also working on a couple of new products it hopes to release relatively soon.

"I would assume that by 2016 we will be releasing new products," Lorch says.

Source: David Lorch, CTO of Ocunelis
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

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

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

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

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

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.

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

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

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

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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