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Armune BioScience lands $4M investment, chases another $25M

Armune BioScience closed on a newly expanded Series A worth $4 million last week, and the life sciences firm has its target set on a $25M Series B round for later this year.

Michigan Angel Fund hits 100 members, invests in local startups

Michigan Angel Fund is hitting some significant milestones over the last year with even bigger ambitions for 2016. The Ann Arbor-based angel investor group has 100 members between its two investment funds. It finished 2015 by sending out $2.91 million in investments, of which $1.5 million was made in the fourth quarter of last year.

 

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

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.

Coherix scores $12M to grow manufacturing software in China

Coherix recently landed $12 million to help rapidly grow sales of its manufacturing software around the world. But the Ann Arbor-based startup nearly perished before getting to this point.

The company launched in 2004, making software that help streamline the advanced manufacturing process. Business grew quickly and the startup’s leadership had visions of going public. Then the Great Recession hit. The company's investors, never losing faith in Coherix's potential spent $9.6 million between 2008 and 2010 to keep the company afloat through hard times.

"We have a tremendous group of investors," says Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix.

When the economy turned around and Coherix extinguished its cash burn, Carlson had high hopes to raising a lot more money to fuel its growth.

"I thought they would be throwing money at me because we survived (the Great Recession)," Carlson says.

It didn't turn out that way. Investors saw that Coherix specialized in manufacturing, strike one. It is based in Michigan, strike two. Carlson cut his loses and went back to growing Coherix organically and further developing its technology.

Today its principal technology provides high-speed, high-definition 3D measurement and inspection services for manufacturers that streamlines their production capability. It creates efficiencies through high-tech, optical-based measurement and inspection of the assembly processes.

Coherix has found most of its success deploying this technology in China where 40 percent of that country’s gross domestic product is created through manufacturing. It employs 50 people globally, including 35 in Ann Arbor. It has hired two marketing people in Ann Arbor over the last year now that it has landed its latest investment round.

Carlson expects to hire a lot more people as he starts to put the $12 million in new seed capital to work. One third of that money will go toward building out Coherix's operations in China. The rest of it will be spent building the business in Ann Arbor. Taking Coherix public in the next few years is a dream again.

"Now we're pedal to the metal," Carlson says. "We are going from survival mode to rapid growth mode. We will be hiring an awful lot of people."

Source: Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor startups score seed capital from Innovation Fund

A couple of Ann Arbor-based startups have taken the lion's share of seed funding from the initial round of the Innovation Fund Macomb Community College, Powered by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

MyFab5 and TurtleCell received the top awards, $100,000 each, from the Innovation Fund. The $100,000 investments are focused on helping push those startups toward large-scale funding.

"We're laying the foundation to accelerate our growth," says Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5.

MyFab5's platform works through Instagram, allowing its users to take pictures of their meals at restaurants and then rank their experience. The 2-year-old 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.

MyFab5 averages more than 300,000 users each month. That is more than double its user rate from last fall. MyFab5 users have shared over 1.25 million restaurant recommendations and photos. It now employs a staff of four and three interns.

The platform also streamlines social media marketing for restaurants, providing a dashboard that enables creation of custom marketing plans, analyzing audience, generating leads, creating and publishing social media posts, tracking and engaging fans, and creating analytics reports.

TurtleCell makes a smartphone case with retractable headphones so users can avoid tangled, broken or lost headphones.

The Innovation Fund made five investments overall in startups based in Metro Detroit. The total investment package from the came to $275,000. The $2.7 million fund focuses on stimulating economic development and job growth among promising Metro Detroit entrepreneurs and next-stage businesses with high-growth potential. Investments range from $25,000 to $100,000.

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

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

Reveal Design Automation scores $50K from Zell Lurie Fund

Reveal Design Automation has scored a $50,000 investment from the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, a pre-seed investment fund from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

The money is the last infusion of seed capital the University of Michigan spin-out will received. The angel investments and federal grants total nearly $4 million that is going toward the development of the Reveal Design Automation's semiconductor chip design technology. The $50,000 will go toward helping the Ann Arbor-based company land more customers.

"We have a sales team now," says Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation. "They also provide customer support."

Reveal Design Automation specializes in developing electronic design automation software. The software helps simplify the complicated semiconductor chip design that shortens the verification timeline and lets makers bring it to market faster.

The firm has already finished the Version 1 of its platform and has deployed it to a couple of initial customers in industries like telecommunications and automotive. It now has a team of 12 people after adding a couple over the last year.

"I want to make sure we have more customers," Andraus says. "I'd like to have as many Tier 1 customers are we can support and 20-30 employees."

Source: Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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

Huron River Ventures raises second fund worth $5M, local firms targeted for investment

Huron River Ventures is nearly done raising its second investment vehicle, a multi-million dollar fund the Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm plans to use to further invest in its portfolio of tech startups.

The 5-year-old firm raised a $11 million fund at its onset, which it used to make early stage investments into 15 startups like FarmLogs and cribspot. Many of them are based in Ann Arbor, including a few that it shares shares office space with in Kerrytown.

The second fund, the Huron River Venture Opportunity Fund, will focus on making follow-on investments into the best of the best of the firm’s portfolio of startups. It has already made a follow-on investment into FarmLogs.

"It's all for follow-on investment in our portfolio," says Ryan Waddington, partner with Huron River Ventures. "But only for companies that reach a certain size or hit certain milestones."

Huron River Ventures has executed a first close worth $3.5 million and expects to do a final close worth a combined $5 million by July.

"This is all private capital in the Opportunity Fund," Waddington says. "It's all individuals and family offices."

Huron River Ventures expects to make one more follow-on investment later this year and a handful more after that. The firm has also hired a new venture partner over the last year, expanding its staff to three people.

Source: Ryan Waddington, partner with Huron River Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Michigan Angel Fund closes second fund worth $2.1 million

The Michigan Angel Fund has closed on its second fund worth $2.05 million. The firm specializes in making early stage investments in Michigan-based tech startups. Those investments usually range from $250,000 to $2 million. 

The fund expects to make between eight to 10 investments over the next two years, mostly in startups too young for traditional venture capital investment.

"It is designed to fill that need as well for our tech startups," says Skip Simms, managing member of the Michigan Angel Fund, which is overseen by Ann Arbor SPARK.

The Michigan Angel Fund was also designed to introduce more high-net-worth individuals into angel investing. The fund launched three years ago with 72 members. The second fund has 62 members with more than half of the investors in the first fund.

"The investors come from all over the state and some outside of the state," Simms says. "Some of the investors in the first fund come from as many as four different states."

The first investment vehicle from the Michigan Angel Fund is fully invested. Some of the portfolio companies include AvegantArborlightBioPhotonics SolutionsEco-FuelingEpsilon ImagingLarkystkr.it, and Varsity News Network.

Source: Skip Simms, managing member of the Michigan Angel Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pixel Velocity scores $10M in Series B round

Pixel Velocity has landed $10 million in seed capital thanks to a Series B round of investment in the image processing and data analytics startup.

"They're really well-positioned in an area that combines data from sensors and data analytics," says Jonathan Murray, managing director of the Ann Arbor office of Draper Triangle Ventures, which also participated in Pixel Velocity’s Series B.

The Ann Arbor-based company creates sensor technology that helps provide safety, security and operational continuity solutions to commercial and government facilities. Its imagery and data analytic tools help protect users from accidental or natural threats, such as leaks, spills or intrusion. The company is planning to expand into the oil and gas market this year.

Money from the Series B will fund the Pixel Velocity’s revenue growth and expanding operations by adding more working capital to its bottom line. That money will help do everything from adding inventory to expanding its staff. The company has hired 10 people over the last year, including positions in executive management, software development, and hardware engineers. It currently employs 17 people and the occasional intern.

"We will also be doing some work on our branding," Grisham says.

Source: Heather Grisham, COO of Pixel Velocity, and Jonathan Murray, managing director of the Ann Arbor office of Draper Triangle Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Draper Triangle’s Ann Arbor office spreads the seed capital

Draper Triangle Ventures opened its Michigan office in Ann Arbor a year ago, and the venture capital firm is off to a fast start.

The Pittsburgh-based firm has made investments in two Ann Arbor-based startups over the last year. The first was in Amplifinity, which makes referral software, in early 2014. Draper Triangle Ventures also recently sunk money into Pixel Velocity, a image processing and data analytics startup.

"A person can make and manage two investments per year," says Jonathan Murray, managing director of Draper Triangle Ventures’ Ann Arbor office. "I'll make two investments this year, and Pixel Velocity is one of them."

Draper Triangle Ventures has more than $200 million under management across three funds. Its latest investment fund was set to raise more than $100 million. The venture capital firm invests in early stage tech ventures, such as software and IT startups.

Murray is Draper Triangle Ventures’ lone representative in Michigan. The firm has its main office in Ann Arbor and another satellite location in downtown Detroit. Murray expects to make one more investment in a local startup this year but that number could grow.

"I have a long list (of potential startups to invest in)," Murray says. "There are a lot of very good prospects on it. It could change from two investments to three investments if the right opportunity comes along."

Source: Jonathan Murray, managing director of Draper Triangle Ventures’ Ann Arbor office
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Amplifinity keeps hiring, closes Series B, looks for bigger home

Amplifinity is gunning for the growth trifecta in downtown Ann Arbor this year. The tech startup has been steadily hiring over the last year, is close to locking down a multi-million-dollar round of venture capital investment, and is starting to look at options for a bigger headquarters.

"The size of our organization could easily double in the next year," says Eric Jacobson, president & CFO of Amplifinity.

The 6-year-old company's bread and butter is software that generates Internet referrals through social media called Advocacy Management Platform. The product allows people to advocate for brands by referring new prospects, endorsing products, and amplifying marketing messages.

Amplifinity has hired 12 people over the last year, including a former intern. The firm now has a staff of 37 employees and is looking to hire half a dozen more people, including software developers and client services professionals.

"We're looking for people who are really good at working with other people," Jacobson says.

Amplifinity is in the final stages of securing a Series B round of investment. Jacobson declined to say how much the round would amount to besides saying its worth several million dollars. Amplifinity raised a $3.5 million Series A in 2012.

"We have the capital to grow," Jacobson says. "We are acquiring new customers very rapidly."

The recent growth is also pushing Amplifinity toward the capacity of its office space in Ann Arbor. The firm is starting to explore options for newer and bigger offices in a broad range of locations, but Jacobson says the firm’s leadership has a preference on where it wants to end up.

"We really love Ann Arbor because it’s a wonderful, creative town," Jacobson says. "It has really smart people. It allows us to grow a company here as well as our competitors, which are primarily in Silicon Valley."

Source: Eric Jacobson, president & CFO of Amplifinity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Plymouth Ventures closes on 3rd investment fund worth $61M

Plymouth Ventures doesn't typically add partners to its team, and it's not for lack of qualified candidates. That changed this year for the Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm as it added a new partner and chief financial officer to go with its new $61 million investment vehicle.

"We get about 10 resumes a year from people who grew up in Michigan, went to Washington, D.C, or San Francisco, got married, had children, and want to come home," says Jeff Barry, partner with Plymouth Ventures. "We get 10 really good resumes each year. We usually send them along (to other investment firms) to get placed. This time we happened to be looking for someone."

Two new someones to be exact. Plymouth Ventures brought on Chris Frick as its CFO and Evan Ufer (grandson of University of Michigan broadcasting legend Bob Ufer) as a partner. Both are Michigan returnees from the coasts. Ufer, who is in his mid 30s with a young family, worked in private equity in New York City before coming back to Ann Arbor. Barry points out that Ufer and Frick's resumes stood out so much that the firm knew it had to hire both to help maintain the company's growth.

"We knew we were going to need some added horse power to deploy more capital," Barry says.

Plymouth Ventures closed on its third investment vehicle worth $61 million earlier this month. That’s up from its second fund from a few years ago that totaled $41 million. Plymouth Ventures invests in scalable tech companies in the Midwest and has $100 million under management today. The firm's average investment ranges between $2 million and $6 million.

The 11-year-old firm invested two thirds of its last investment fund in Michigan-based startups. Plymouth Ventures expects to invest about half of its new fund in Michigan-based companies. It has already made its first investment for the new fund earlier this year (Ohio-based Certified Security Solutions) and is on target to make a couple more before the end of the year.

"We're looking at a handful of great companies in the Great Lakes region," Barry says. "We expect to do 2 more (investments) before the end of the year."

Source: Jeff Barry, partner with Plymouth Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Augment Ventures makes 2 investments in lighting startups

Augment Ventures is off to a fast start for 2014, making two investments in clean-tech startups and laying the groundwork to make a couple more before the end of the year.

"Our portfolio is up to five startups right now," says Sonali Vijayavargiya, founder & managing director of Augment Ventures.

Vijayavargiya launched the venture capital firm out of Ann Arbor nearly three years ago. Augment Ventures specializes in making early investments in startups in the clean-tech/sustainability sector. Its most notable investment so far is in downtown Ann Arbor-based logistics tech firm LLamasoft in 2012.

Augment Ventures has made two investments so far this year. Both firms, Revolights and Lumenetix, are based in California. Lumenetix designs, manufactures and sells UL recognized color tunable LED light engines for fixture manufacturers. It is currently working with one of the Big 3 (Vijayavargiya declined to say which one) to integrate its products in the automotive sector. Revolights is working to bring new lighting solutions to bicyclists.

"They're trying to bring 360-degree visibility to commuter bikers," Vijayavargiya says. She adds, "we are very excited about both (startups)."

Augment Ventures has also added a couple of people to its team this year, expanding it to five people. That staff is working to nail down a couple more investments before the end of this year.

"We are actively doing due diligence with five opportunities," Vijayavargiya says. "Two of those firms are Michigan-based."

Source: Sonali Vijayavargiya, founder & managing director of Augment Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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