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Wisely brings personal touch to customer loyalty programs, jobs to Ann Arbor

Loyalty to businesses isn't always about the money. Often its about the personal attachment or special connection to that company. An Ann Arbor startup is trying to capitalize on the latter with a new mobile app.

Wisely launched its customer loyalty platform in Ann Arbor earlier this fall. Most customer loyalty programs track who buys what which business how often and giving a certain percentage of discount based on patronage. Wisely offers a tiered system of personal rewards for steady customers.
 
"When you have memories of going to a place you go back because of this emotion," says Mike Vichich, CEO of Wisely.

The 1-year-old company and its team of just under 10 people (it's looking to hire three people now) have signed up 30 local businesses in Ann Arbor to take part. They are mostly made up of bars and restaurants, such as Mani Osteria & Bar, the Raven’s Club, Slurping Turtle, and Ashley’s.

Each user of the Wisely app that qualifies for a certain level or reward with their patronage receives a special incentive to come back, such as the ability to make a reservation for two when the normal reservation threshold is six people. In the case of Raven’s Club, silver level Wisely users can receive a bottle of homemade hot sauce.

"It's a great way to create an emotion attachment in a customer," Vichich says.

The Wisely app tracks all of these purchases through the user's debit and credit cards. There is no other loyalty card to carry around and swipe or scan when making the purchase. Wisely is perfecting the app in Ann Arbor this fall and winter with the hopes of taking it national next year.

Source: Mike Vichich, CEO of Wisely
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Xoran Technologies records best sales year since 2006

Xoran Technologies recorded its best year in nearly a decade in 2014. The Ann Arbor-based company installed more of its Mini CAT CT scanners this year than any year since 2006.

"2014 was actually a really good year for us," says Rachel Gajda, director of marketing for Xoran Technologies. "We hope to kick it up even more in 2015."

The 13-year-old bio-tech company manufacturers and sells point-of-care CT scanners. Its principal technology is MiniCat, a compact machine that can produce high-resolution bone window imaging of the sinuses, temporal bones and the skull. It controls about 75 percent of the market it serves.

Xoran Technologies has been developing a second product called xCAT, a mobile, inter-operative CT scanner. The company plans to start selling these in earnest within the next 12 to 18 months.

"2015 will bring Xoran Technologies to a new level of innovation and advancement," Gajda says.

In the meantime the firm is expanding its staff to accommodate that. It has hired seven people over the last year and is looking to bring on another six right now.

Source: Rachel Gajda, director of marketing for Xoran Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MedHub adds 6 positions as it grows its software platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TurtleCell hires 5, preps to launch retractable earbud iPhone case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ArborWind set to begin installing wind turbine tech in spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leon Speakers hires 12 as it grows, evolves business model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann Arbor-based startups all but sweep Accelerate Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SkySpecs wins Accelerate Michigan, spot at Techstars incubator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caelynx expands bottom line on growth of software platform

Three years ago Caelynx made all of its money from its engineering consulting and staffing services. By next year its only going to get about half of its bottom line from those sources. The other half, from its rapidly growing software platform.

"Software is continuing to be the major growth area," says Hans Steiner, director of business development for Caelynx. "All areas are growing but software is leading it."

The Ann Arbor-based company's computer-aided engineering platform works as a simulation platform for the company.

"This allows them to test it virtually so they can see if it performs," Steiner says.

Caelynx recently notched another 20 percent revenue growth year, making it the sixth consecutive year to do it. Ann Arbor SPARK has now recognized Caelynx as one of its FastTrack award winners for exponential revenue growth.

Caelynx has also hired one person in the U.S. and three for its Romania office over the last year. It now has a staff of 12 people in the U.S. and six in Romania. The company also recently moved from Ann Arbor's southside to a new office just north of downtown near the Amtrak train station.

"It's smaller but it's the right size for us," Steiner says.

Source: Hans Steiner, director of business development for Caelynx
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor lands office for Texas-based VC firm, Mercury Fund

Mercury Fund, a Houston-based venture capital firm, is opening its Midwestern office in Ann Arbor and is taking aim at making investments in Michigan-based startups.

To solidify its plans it has brought on Adrian Fortino as a partner to run the Ann Arbor office. Fortino had been running the Invest Detroit fund (he will remain an advisor) and will utilize his local expertise to make more investments in local startups.

"We are deeply interested in exploring the research and industrial background here," says Adrian Fortino, partner with Mercury Fund. "I see an immense opportunity in the industrial and research corridors."

Mercury Fund is in the midst of raising a $100-million investment vehicle, which Fortino expects to close before the end of the year. Mercury Fund has made investments in two local startups, DeepField and Swift Biosciences, and is currently looking at other potential investments.

The Ann Arbor office of Mercury Fund is located in the Headwaters space in Kerrytown. Headwaters is a small community of startups and early stage investors led by Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures.

"There is an incredible value to being around other investors in town," Fortino says.

Source: Adrian Fortino, partner with Mercury Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Edmunds acquires Tech Brewery’s Carcode SMS

Automotive website Edmunds has acquired Ann Arbor-based Carcode SMS, making the mobile startup the firm's first acquisition.

Carcode SMS created a website plugin that allows consumers to text automotive dealership staff and inquire about a specific car. The software assigns local cell phone numbers to dealerships so mobile shoppers can text them and provides the dealership with an app that allows staff to respond and manage conversations in a compliant environment. Edmunds plans to launch this technology across its dealership network, providing CarCode SMS for free to both dealers and consumers.

"More and more traffic is going through the dealerships mobile websites," says Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS.

The Tech Brewery-based got its starts a couple of years ago creating mobile technology for automotive dealerships that leveraged QR codes. The three-person team pivoted a year ago to focus on the text-message conversations platform. It won the 2014 Edmund Hackomotive contest last spring.

That was the first contact Carcode SMS had with Edmunds, which led to an invitation to participate in the company’s newly formed startup accelerator program last summer. It also led to a spike in the startup’s revenues thanks to dozens of new dealerships signing up for its .

"We ended up generating revenue very quickly after the hackomotive competition," Schwartz says.

It ended with the acquisition. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Schwartz and one of the other co-founders are leaving the company while Carcode SMS' CEO takes on a role with Edmunds.

Source: Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Universal Marketing Group hires 75, looks to hire 100 more

Universal Marketing Group announced the opening of a new call center in Ann Arbor last year with lots of fanfare. The Toledo-based firm promised to creates dozens of jobs and invest millions in Tree Town.

One year later it has accomplished a lot of those things. The 11-year-old company has grown the Ann Arbor office (its second location) to 75 people, and it’s in the process of hiring 100 more people.

"It's going pretty well," says Kirk Schimmoeller, general manager of Universal Marketing Group. "We are taking on more clients as well as servicing our existing client. We have the new office up and running now."

Universal Marketing Group is occupying a large section of the former Border headquarters. It received a $600,000 incentive from the state to open the location with the promise of creating 400 new jobs by 2016.

The company currently employs 300 people overall, and plans to have 150-200 employees in Ann Arbor by the end of next year. That hiring is ramping up now because its the beginning of the company’s busy season handling work for retailers and gyms.

"Our busy season continue through the first quarter," Schimmoeller says.

Source: Kirk Schimmoeller, general manager of Universal Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cayman Chemical hires 17 as it fills out Ann Arbor offices

Interns are an important part of Cayman Chemical's growth. The bio-tech firm has hosted a steady stream of interns over the years and turned a number of its former interns into full-time positions.

The Ann Arbor-based company hosted 15 interns over the summer, and has three right now. Over the last year, the company has turned seven into full-time employees making up nearly half of its new hires. And the firm is looking for more.

"We are working to hire interns all year," says Christine Booher, vice president of human resources for Cayman Chemical. "We want to hire five right now."

The 34-year-old company provides researchers with bio-chemical tools and research services. It has hired 17 people over the last year, and is currently looking to hire another four people right now. Those new job openings include two entry-level scientists, a regulatory affairs professional, and a facility management professional. Check out its open positions here.

That growth puts Cayman Chemical’s staff to 225 employees. A consistent growth in revenue (Booher declined to say how much) has lead to the constant hiring. That has allowed the firm to continue filling up newly acquired space. The company doubled its building count in Ann Arbor to four last year, and recently just opened a new product shipping area.

"We have our facilities pretty much full at this time," Booher says.

Source: Christine Booher, vice president of human resources for Cayman Chemical
Writer: Jon Zemke

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