Innovation & Job News

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

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

 

IDI takes hassle out of time management with Quick Time Entry

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

 

AdAdapted's native advertising tech for mobile goes national

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeward Healthcare turns 2015 pilot program into 2016 profits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Akervall Technologies' mouthguard sales spike, staff grows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Whole Brain Group grows through customer service, added services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arborlight shines a light forward as it ramps up revenues

When Michael Forbis thinks about sales he doesn't have to worry about setting sales goals at his startup, Arborlight.

"We have shipped more than $100,000 in product in the last four months," Forbis says. "We have a pipeline of $1.3 million in sales opportunities right now. It just keeps growing every single day."

Arborlight, which spun out of the University of Michigan, makes a LED light that emits a sun-like light. What the company is branding as a "daylight emulation system" can be used in both residential and commercial settings, imitating sunlight in both color, temperature and even exposure based on the weather or time of day.

"Our clients really care about the health and well being of their workers because it impacts their productivity," Forbis says.

The 5-year-old startup has hired six people in production, accounting and marketing, among other fields in the last year to help it meet rising demand for its products.

"We have tripled in (staff) size over the last year," Forbis says.

Arborlight closed on a $1.7 million seed round last spring. It also won the alternative energy category at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, the state's largest business plan competition for startups. The $25,000 in cash prize for winning will go toward Arborlight's efforts to raise a Series A late next year.

"We have seen a lot of demand for our product," Forbis says. "We want to take advantage of that opportunity."

Arborlight has enjoyed most of its growth with orders from large businesses, including a couple of Fortune 500 companies. It plans to target institutions in the education sector (K-12 schools and universities) in 2016 as it continues to grow.

"We think we can hit $4 million in sales," Forbis says.

Source: Michael Forbis, CEO of Arborlight
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HealPay spikes in revenues and clients, looks to expand

HealPay is locking down clients from a broad variety of industries, and the Ann Arbor-based startup has plans to pursue the biggest ones next year. The tech startup's platform helps bill collectors increase their accounts receiving by enabling users to pay what they owe faster and more efficiently. It started off by helping creditors collect debts owed through its Settlement mobile app. Now it is expanding to a broader range of billing agencies, such as landlords.

"We have widened our scope to include family law firms and bankruptcy attorneys," says Erick Bzovi, CEO of HealPay. "We have expanded more horizontally."

Which has allowed it to spike its revenue and number of clients. HealPay currently does about $10 million in transactions a month, which is double its amount from last year. It is also enjoying a consistent 10 percent bump in transaction per month. That growth has allowed the company to hire two software engineers, expanding its staff to six employees and a couple of independent contractors. HealPay is also looking for an intern.

Bzovi expects those numbers to spike even harder next year. HealPay is currently in talks with municipalities and utilities to handle billing for them as the startup continues to go after larger and larger clients.

"We are slowly getting into new verticals," Bzovi says. "Anybody who does billing would fit."

Source: Erick Bzovi, CEO of HealPay
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor startups score big wins at Accelerate Michigan

When Steve Schwartz went up to collect the ceremonial $100,000 check for taking second place at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week, he was surprised but not shocked. The CTO of Genomenon didn’t expect to win big, but he knew the Ann Arbor-based startup’s team has a lot of potential when it comes to the fight against cancer.

"We all know someone in our lives who has been impacted by cancer," Schwartz says. "We're all passionate about it."

Genomenon is a life sciences company developing a technology platform focused on personalized medicine with simplified genome interpretation software. The University of Michigan spinout's platform tackles the challenges of analyzing DNA sequencing data, including gathering, organizing and interpreting the results. This is process is called tertiary analysis and typically requires extensive manual review that can be frustratingly inefficient and error-prone. Genomenon’s software accelerates tertiary analysis so it can treat patients and publish findings faster.

The 1-year-old startup’s team of seven has built out the product and has begun introducing it to its first paying customers. A larger product roll-out is planned for next year.

"We are now in the process of raising a seed round," Schwartz says. "This (the Accelerate Michigan win for $100,000) is a nice little bump for our seed round."

Five other Ann Arbor-based startups, all of which receive help from Ann Arbor SPARK, also walked away from Accelerate Michigan with $25,000 in prize money. Those include Akervall Technologies (winning the advanced materials category), Arborlight (alternative energy), FlexDex (medical device), Workit Health (IT), and PicoSpray (Advanced manufacturing).

Accelerate Michigan is Michigan's biggest business plan competition. It awards more than $1 million in prizes each year. Ann Arbor-based startups normally dominate the winners circle each year.

Source: Steve Schwartz, CTO of Genomenon
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor's SkySpecs preps to launch drone technology

SkySpecs is gearing up to launch its drone technology early next year. It's on the brink of raising a significant amount of seed capital and already testing its product with customers.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing aerial drone technology that uses artificial intelligence to inspect infrastructure in dangerous locations, such as the blades of wind turbines. It's WingMan platform allows the aircraft to hover near an object without fear of hitting it. Check out a demonstration of the company's WingMan technology here.

"Our first field prototypes are working well," says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs. "We have customers who are working with them in the field. We’re planning a full roll-out in 2016."

SkySpecs got its start three years ago with aspirations of making drones in the rapidly growing industry. That focus shifted to creating technology that makes sure drones can avoid running into objects they are buzzing around, such as wind turbines or hard-to-reach parts of bridges.

Now SkySpecs has shifted again to offering an end-to-end solution for its customers, equipping drones with its technology so operations are turn-key for its customers. Ellis noticed many of SkySpecs potential customers loved the technology but didn’t know much about drones.

"It was extra work for us," Ellis says. "They would come to us and ask us which drones to buy."

SkySpecs won the grand prize worth $500,000 from last year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and is part of the Techstars accelerator in New York City. It currently has a team of eight people mainly based in Ann Arbor after hiring a couple of engineers and a business development professional over the last year.

The seed capital raise is expected to help SkySpecs grow out its team rapidly next year as it begins to roll out its technology on a national scale. It currently has two enterprise customers but Ellis doesn’t expect that his client list to remain that short for long.

"We have more in the pipeline," Ellis says.

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

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

Mountain Labs brings big data muscle to healthcare industry

Healthcare is known for its seemingly insurmountable bureaucracies and mountains of data. Mountain Labs wants to simplify that. The Ann Arbor-based startup recently launched a public health surveillance platform called "Symport" that helps hospitals and medical researchers simplify big data and complicated processes. The end goal is to streamline the healthcare system.

"We're tracking clinical data to alert hospital administrators what they are doing that works," says Alex VanDerKolk, president of Mountain Labs. "It also helps clean and classify data sets."

Mountain Labs counts the University of Michigan and Henry Ford health systems as customers, along with a smattering of other research health systems across the Midwest. It raised a $200,000 angel round last year and is in the process of securing more capital.

"We raised another $350,000 on top of the seed round," VanDerKolk says.

The 1-year-old company currently employs a team of eight people. VanDerKolk expects his staff to continue to grow as it targets more health systems as customers.

"We are growing quickly," VanDerKolk says. "I'd like to have a presence in every state in the Midwest by the end of next year."

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

First electric scooters roll off GenZe's Ann Arbor assembly line

Michigan is famous for putting the world on four wheels in the 20th Century. Now Ann Arbor is making its mark in the world of two wheel vehicles. The first electric scooters are rolling off Ann Arbor-based GenZe production lines this month. Although the first order is just a few scooters, the company expects to hit its production goal of 3,000 scooters by next year.

"We're going to ramp up pretty quickly," says Yesim Erez, head of marketing for GenZe.

GenZe makes an electric scooter and an electric bike. The GenZe 2.0 electric scooter aims to make urban commuting more convenient by combining smart design with new technology. For instance, the scooter can recharge by plugging into a normal outlet but is equipped with a touch pad control center in the handlebars and mobile app so users can monitor power levels and travel plans through GPS. It has enough cargo to carry small loads, like groceries, but is small enough to fit in an elevator. 

?Check out a video on it here.

"They have the built-in capacity for urban commuting," Erez says. "It can satisfy the urban commuters needs throughout the day."

GenZe plans to start retailing its electric scooters for $2,999. It's targeting markets in Portland, San Francisco and Michigan to start, but plans to expand in urban areas across North America over the next couple of years.

GenZe, formerly Mahindra GenZe, opened a tech center in Ann Arbor in 2014. It has since expanded that presence to include a manufacturing facility. It currently employs 36 people, including 10 new hires. The number of staff is expected to increase with sales over the next year.

"We have been hiring as we ramp up production," Erez says. "We plan to continue to build out our staff."

Happy hour startup DrankBank capitalizes on 4 years of growth

Jordan Eckstein, Ian Sabbag and Brian Shepanek were working in digital marketing five years ago when the trio of recently graduated University of Michigan students stumbled upon a business idea: centralizing happy hour specials on the web.

That idea launched DrankBank, an Internet startup that helps people find the best happy hour in their city. It started in Ann Arbor in 2011 and has grown to include major cities across North America from Portland to Chapel Hill. All of these dozens of cities shared one thing in common.

"The happy hour information wasn't available," Sabbag says. "It wasn't easy to find."

Most of the time people go to happy hours at bars they like to frequent or ones friends mention in passing. There wasn't a real option to find new ones outside of that person's regular orbit. DrankBank does that by collecting and centralizing happy hour information for bars and breweries across several major metropolitan areas.

DrankBank has grown about 20-30 percent each year since its launch. The number of visitors has increased each month since its launch. The DrankBank team wants to grow it further by collaborating with some major alcohol brands to expand its reach and sharpen its offerings to users.

Despite all of this growth, DrankBank is still an offshoot of the trio's digital marketing firm, Handprint Digital. The downtown Ann Arbor-based company calls an office in Nickels Arcade above Comet Coffee home. However, Eckstein, Sabbag and Shepanek believe they can turn DrankBank into its own standalone business in the not-too-distant future via its current growth curve.

"We're profitable because we have a low-cost model," Eckstein says. "We want to make it into an viable business in the long run."

Source: Jordan Eckstein and Ian Sabbag, co-founders of DrankBank
Writer: Jon Zemke

Akadeum Life Sciences scores $1M in investment

Akadeum Life Sciences has landed seven figures worth of seed capital thanks to recently announced $1 million seed round for the Ann Arbor-based life sciences startup.

"It will help us build out our team," says Brandon McNaughton, CEO of Akadeum Life Sciences.

The 1-year-old startup spun out of the University of Michigan by developing a platform that helps researchers prepare research and diagnostic samples faster and more efficiently. The buoyancy-activated cell sorting technology uses tiny floating spheres, which Akadeum is describing as "microbubbles," to acquire target cells from biological samples. Check out a video describing it here.

"Our product goes into biological samples, like blood, and pulls out specific cells to improve research diagnostics," McNaughton says. "We do that using microbubbles."

Akadeum Life Sciences raised $150,000 from Michigan eLab, an Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm, last year to kick start development. Michigan eLab led this latest $1 million seed round. Detroit InnovateInvest Michigan, and University of Michigan MINTS also participated in the round. Akadeum Life Sciences plans to raise a Series A next year.

Michigan eLab has pushed Akadeum Life Sciences to adapt lean startup methods, which is not normal practices for life sciences startups. That means Akadeum Life Sciences iteratively built its products to meet the needs of its users, working directly with them to develop products that address their specific problems. The startup is currently selling its technology to pharmaceutical and biotech firms, along with teams from research universities.

Akadeum Life Sciences currently employs four people, but McNaughton expects that number to grow over the next year. The startup plans to build out its sales and business development team as it grows.

Source: Brandon McNaughton, CEO of Akadeum Life Sciences
Writer: Jon Zemke
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