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Another Rinse turns old golf clubs into new tools

One day, Michael Sydlowski was walking through Ann Arbor with his wife and wandered into a boutique store. The couple happened upon an old wooden golf club that had been fashioned into a bottle opener.

"We looked at it and said this is perfect," Sydlowski says. "Then we looked at the price and said it’s not so perfect."

That inspired the sales and marketing professional to start his own business, Another Rinse, four months ago. The Ann Arbor-based company specializes in taking old things and giving them new life as a refashioned product. In this case, it is turning old wooden golf clubs into bottle openers.

"Sadly, wooden golf clubs have been pushed to the corner of the garage or the resale shops or even the trash because technology has made them obsolete," Sydlowski says.

Now they are starting to collect in Sydlowski's basement where turns them into bottle openers and coat hooks. He is also working some of the same magic by turning old wooden tennis rackets and baseball bats into bottle openers and old golf balls into corkscrews. All of which are available on Another Rinse's website.

"This is increasingly fun to do," Sydlowski says.

Sales for Another Rinse's products have steadily increased since its launch. Sydlowski is currently working to get licensed to make his products with logos from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. He hopes to get Another Rinse on more store shelves in 2014 and move the business out of his basement into its own space later this year.

Source: Michael Sydlowski, president of Another Rinse
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HealPay partners with Commercial Legal Software

HealPay, a software startup focused on improving debt collections, has brokered a partnership with one of the leading software firm’s in its industry, Commercial Legal Software.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup and its team of five people hope to tap into Commercial Legal Software’s vast customer base to expand its own business in 2014.

"Our goal is to double our business this year in terms of revenue," says Erick Bzovi, co-founder & CEO of HealPay.

The 3-year-old startup got its start creating its Settlement App, which helps people collect what is owed them. Last year HealPay, debuted its Rent Roll App, which helps landlords collect monthly rent checks. HealPay is paid per transaction. Its Settlement App still brings in the lion’s share of revenue.

"It has been growing nicely," Bzovi says. "The Rent Roll App is something we have used to diversify."

HealPay plans to market Rent Roll App more aggressively in 2014 while it works to bring more customers online with its Settlement App.

Source: Erick Bzovi, co-founder & CEO of HealPay
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Foreign sales spur growth at kSpace Associates

Sales at kSpace Associates were nothing to write home about in 2013. But the Dexter-based tech firm is already off to a fast start this year with new sales and job openings.

"Our sales backlog for the first quarter of 2014 looks like it's going to be a great year," says Darryl Barlett, CEO of kSpace Associates. "2014 looks like it’s going to be a great year."

The 22-year-old firm develops and manufacturers diagnostic tools for the semi-conductor industry. Its sales last year were flat but they have spiked so far this year, with rising orders from solar projects and Chinese firms. The foreign sales are largely centered around kSpace Associates' Ultrascan System, which measures the curvature and bow of semi-conductor wafer.

"We have a large amount of sales going to China," Barlett says. "Larger than we typically see."

That has spurred kSpace Associates to create a couple of job openings. The firm is looking to hire an engineer and a sales associates. The company currently has a staff of 24 employees and the occasional summer intern. Barlett expects those staffing numbers to continue to grow as his company keeps on its current growth streak.

"It looks like it’s going to be a good year," Barlett says. "It looks like foreign sales are going to be a big part of that."

Source: Darryl Barlett, CEO of kSpace Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Biovigil Hygiene Technologies adds 8, looks to hire 2 more

Biovigil Hygiene Technologies is fattening up its staff just in time for the holidays. The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup is looking to hire two new engineers right now. That's after it has hired eight people over the last year. It currently has a staff of 16 employees and one intern.

Growth is coming on the heals of Biovigil Hygiene Technologies preparing to launch the fourth generation of its hand-sanitizing system for hospitals. The 3-year-old startup's technology is designed to detect and monitor hand washing in medical facilities, such as hospitals. It utilizes a room sensor, a base station, and an identification badge to monitor and automatically communicate compliance information. The idea is to help improve compliance and cut down on infections. Biovigil Hygiene Technologies expects its next generation of this technology do that more effectively.

"It's more sophisticated and more intelligent," says Brent Nibarger, chief sales & marketing officer at Biovigil Hygiene Technologies. "It's smaller and lighter."

Biovigil Hygiene Technologies is currently working to raise a Series B round of seed capital worth $5 million. It hopes to close on that round early next year.

"That would fund our commercialization effort," Nibarger says.

Source: Brent Nibarger, chief sales & marketing officer at Biovigil Hygiene Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Estrakon hires 4 as it expands LED signage offerings

Estrakon has been notching double- and triple-digit gains in the recent years and is collecting its fair share of awards hardware to show for it.

The Ann Arbor-based LED sign manufacturer has been named an Ann Arbor SPARK Fast Track award winner this fall, making it the second year it has been recognized for its continued growth.

"We grew very quickly in 2011," says Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of Estrakon. "I think it was 202 percent. That presented some challenges as we consolidated our gains. We had 20 percent growth in 2012 and 40 percent in 2013. We are targeting 80 percent growth in 2014."

Helping fuel this growth is world-wide demand for more energy-efficient products, and LED lights are the most-efficient light system on the market. The company has also expanded its product lineup, moving into digital signage systems and creating software that allows for remote control of them. It is now looking at adding some outdoor signage products in 2014.

"We are now at 15 different products," Ochtman says.

That has allowed Estrakon to hire four people over the last year, including professionals in financial controller, design, sales and administrative work. It currently has a staff of 30 employees and one intern. It also recently opened a satellite office in England.

Source: Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of Estrakon
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Epsilon Imaging closes in on $4M Series B round

Epsilon Imaging is landing more and more investment and the startup is close to closing on a sizable seed round.

The Ann Arbor-based company recently landed a $250,000 investment from Automation Alley's Pre-Seed Fund, which is part of more than $3 million it has raised for a Series B round. It is aiming to raise $4 million, a goal that is within the firm’s grasp.

"There is a small amount left," says Eric Sieczka, CEO of Epsilon Imaging. "We expect to have it closed out by the end of January."

Epsilon Imaging's principal product is EchoInsight, an ultrasound for cardiac imaging that quantitatively measures the strength and weakness of the heart's muscles. The technology helps medical staff analyze and interpret echo studies for cardiac patient care.

The company has been closing on sales since last summer. EchoInsight is now available in 35 hospitals across the U.S. and abroad. "We have been expanding into Europe as well," Sieczka says.

Which has required Epsilon Imaging to hire more staff. It has brought on two new employees (in sales and software development) over the last year and currently employs nine people. More hires are expected in 2014.

"We have lots of business coming at us so we need more sales people," Sieczka says. "We have a lot of business in the pipeline so we need more bodies to pull it through."

Source: Eric Sieczka, CEO of Epsilon Imaging
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Applied Engineering scores grant for wastewater tech

Applied Engineering Technologies has scored a $38,000 grant from the state of Michigan to further the development of its wastewater-treatment technology.

The Ann Arbor-based company has secured five patents on its technology that helps wastewater treatment centers clean dirty water in a more efficient manner. "It's a process-patent technology where we use different processes to treat storm water," says Saad Ghalib, president & founder of Applied Engineering Technologies.

Applied Engineering Technologies installed its first system in Dearborn a few years ago. It is now dealing with three cities and is fielding interest from government agencies in England and South Korea.

That interest has led the company to begin raising some seed capital. It hopes to closed on a $2 million Series A round next year. That money will help them to continue to develop the technology and add to their staff of four employees and two independent contractors. Ghalib is currently looking to add three people to the firm’s staff right now.

"We need several people," Ghalib says. "We need management and sales people and engineers."

Source: Saad Ghalib, president & founder of Applied Engineering Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pure Visibility finds inspiration in new, innovative clients

Pure Visibility doesn't just hold up its work with pride, but its clients, too.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm services a wide variety of businesses looking for more visibility on the Internet and social media. Among the newest is Novelis, which is developing new, innovative and more sustainable ways to use aluminum, such as in beverage cans.

"It's inspiring to work with them," says Linda Girard, president & CEO of Pure Visibility.

The 8-year-old company is also finding inspiration in its new office mates. Pure Visibility took over the old Menlo Innovations space in Kerrytown last year. Today it shares that space with software firms Blue Newt and Kontextual.

"They fit into our ecosystem quite nicely," Girard says. "It's just a great vibe."

Pure Visibility has hired three people over the last year, including professionals in search engine optimization, marketing and business development. It now has a staff of a dozen employees and one intern-turned-independent contractor.

Girard hopes to add more people in 2014 as her firm looks to create more original, compelling content. That could mean work for both writers and videographers.

"There is a big growth in content generation," Girard says. "Mobile is also a piece of the puzzle. I need the right people to pull off these social media-marketing strategies."

Source: Linda Girard, president & CEO of Pure Visibility
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

FamilyMint grows reach of financial literacy workbook

FamilyMint, a financial literacy startup, is gearing up to take its workbook for middle school kids national next year.

The 4-year-old company launched in Ann Arbor with a web tool that helps parents teach their children about the values of saving and financial planning. The company, which is a client of Ann Arbor SPARK, has evolved overtime, taking on clients in the credit union space. Those clients encouraged FamilyMint to make a workbook for its curriculum, which has taken off over the last year.

"That went over well," says Bob Masterson, president of FamilyMint. "It has been very well received in schools."

Bank of Ann Arbor
and Ann Arbor State Bank sponsored the rollout of the workbook in Ann Arbor Public Schools last summer. The Youth Financial Literacy Foundation also came on as a client and are looking at sponsoring a much bigger roll out in 2014.

"They are introducing it to schools across the country," Masterson says. "They're testing it right now and plan to do a national rollout next year."

Oddly, the workbook is proving to be a more effective tool in reaching kids. It is easy to used and there is a low barrier of entry because it can be held. Compare that to families that might have limited access to the Internet or don’t excel at keeping up with technology trends.

"It's more in-line with what the kids are doing and how they are learning," Masterson says. He adds that FamilyMint is looking at creating similar workbooks for elementary and high school students next year.

Source: Bob Masterson, president of FamilyMint
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Xoran Technologies hires 12, aims to add 5 more

Bio-tech firm Xoran Technologies has hired 12 people over the last year and is in the processing of bringing five more onboard right now.

The Ann Arbor-based firm has openings in software development, quality control and customer service. It has hired people who specialize in sales, operations, customer service, quality control and executive team.

"We hired in pretty every single department," says Rachel Gajda, marketing manager for Xoran Technologies. She adds that the firm expects to continuing hiring in 2014.

The portable CAT scan company's principal product is MiniCat, a which the company's website describes as "a compact, upright volume computed tomography system designed for high-resolution bone window imaging of the sinuses, temporal bones and skull base." Xoran Technologies has installed hundreds of these scanners around the world, which set the stage for the firm to make 2013 its best growth year since 2008.

The 12-year-old company is gearing up to launch its second product release, xCAT, a mobile, interoperative CT scanner this winter. The firm's website describes xCAT as "a fully integrated, mobile, cone beam computed tomography system designed to acquire a variety of high resolution, 3-dimensional images. The design of the xCAT allows clinicians the ability to very quickly and easily acquire and access images virtually anywhere."

"It's really going to expand our presence into new markets," Gajda says.

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

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

ArborWind to begin wind turbine production in 2014

Dilip Nigam believes his company, ArborWind, is ready to take alternative energy to the next level with its wind turbine design.

What makes the Ann Arbor-based firm's product unique is its design. While traditional wind turbines look like pinwheels on steroids, ArborWind's wind turbine resembles the shape of a balloon. Where traditional wind turbines have a horizontal-axis design that must face into the wind, ArborWind's product operates on a vertical-access design that allows it to generate power regardless of which way the wind is blowing. Check a video explaining the technology here.
 
"We have the best wind turbine in the world," Nigam says. "We can't wait to get it into production."

The alternative energy firm and its core team of four people have already erected a prototype of the wind turbine in Marshall. "It has proven everything we wanted it to," Nigam says.

ArborWind is aiming to begin production of its wind turbines next year. It is targeting customers in rural areas, such as farmers looking for a green power source for irrigation pumps in fields far away from utility lines.

"We have gotten a lot of inquiries from around the world," Nigam says. "We want to focus on that market to start."

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

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

Lavin Lift Strap expands staff in downtown Ypsilanti

The Lavin Lift Strap is a classic example of an invention born out of necessity that evolved into a growing small business based in downtown Ypsilanti.

Donna Gilkey-Lavin explains the company got its start when her father-in-law reached the end of his life. The family didn't want to put him into a nursing home and instead decided to take care of him at home. That meant overcoming some big challenges.

"This was developed out of need," Gilkey-Lavin says. "His father was a very large man with Alzheimer’s who had become incontinent."

It took three to four people to lift and clean him after a visit to the bathroom. The first version of the Lavin Lift Strap made it easy for a single person to perform the job. The technology acts as a mini crane that helps raise the patient's legs or entire lower half off the bed. The family turned the invention into a product and began selling it to people and companies specializing in elder care. Sales mostly came through word-of-mouth and the firm’s website.

Lavin Lift Strap
reached out to Ann Arbor SPARK a little more than a year ago. The small business accelerator helped the company improve its marketing strategy, overhaul its website to better facilitate sales, apply for patents and gave it an office in the SPARK East incubator in downtown Ypsilanti. SPARK East also helped it develop more iterations of the lift strap, including a disposable version. Check out videos of the different products here.

"The product has really morphed in the last year and a half," Gilkey-Lavin says.

That helped the company expand its customer base and spike its sales over the last year. It is on target for a 65 percent jump in revenues in 2013, and it has hired 10 people over the last 18 months. It now sells the Lavin Lift Strap to hospice centers, home healthcare centers and other sorts of medical facilities. The firm is looking to begin delivering its products to larger healthcare institutions next year.

Ann Arbor SPARK helped make that possible by showing the company how to mass market its product and establish a dealer network. The product has gained so much notice that Amazon.com came knocking, asking if it could sell the product through its website.

"They (Ann Arbor SPARK) were instrumental in giving a small company like us the resources we need," Gilkey-Lavin says.

Source: Donna Gilkey-Lavin, vice president of sales & marketing for Lavin Lift Strap
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CentriCycle grows team, works on product in India

CentriCycle is expanding its team and starting to test its innovative centrifuge technology in India.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing a sustainable, portable medical centrifuge that runs without electricity. The idea is to help medical professionals in rural areas of the third world perform diagnostic tests in places where electricity isn't consistently or even readily available. The two-person team is currently testing the technology in India. Check out a detailed explanation of the centrifuge here.

"We are in the midst of doing some informal field testing," says Katherine Kirsch, business operations manager for CentriCycle. "We plan to come back to Michigan to do more testing."

Kirsch came on board with the startup in October. The Fulbright Scholarship recipient had been teaching English in Rawanda and taking an interest in the startup culture that was developing in Africa. Then opportunity to join CentriCycle came up and she jumped.

"I'd be able to do a startup and use my education background," Kirsch says.

CentriCycle is looking at returning to Michigan early next year. It is looking at moving to Grand Rapids or Detroit as it continues testing its technology and working toward raising $500,000 in seed capital. Earlier this year it won a University of Michigan Dare to Dream grant worth $7,500 from the Erb Award for Sustainability.

Source: Katherine Kirsch, business operations manager for CentriCycle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Clean-tech startup picoSpray lines up potential customers

Clean-tech startup picoSpray is putting together a lengthy list of customers for its small-engine technology and is well on its way to proving the viability of its concept.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up's technology is basically a low-cost electronic fuel injection system for small engines. The product will help make small engines (think lawn mowers or chainsaws or go-carts) more energy efficient and help reduce their emissions. Check out a video on the technology here. The technology can reduce fuel consumption by 10-15 percent, depending on the type of engine, calibration, and the speed it runs at.

"For different customers there are different valuations," says Lihang Nong, founder of picoSpray.

He adds that picoSpray has already proven the concept behind its technology to one large manufacturer of small engines. He declined to identify the firm. He did say that his firm continues to test its technology in 2014 and is lining up potential customers.

The startup is one year away from commercializing its technology. It is currently working to raise some seed capital to help push the commercialization process forward faster.

"We're in the process of raising a seed round in the area of $1 million," Nong says. "We plan to prove the technology in 2014."

Nong and his team of seven people are all recent engineering graduates of the University of Michigan. They started working on picoSpray at a business plan competition. It eventually moved into the TechArb, a startup incubator for U-M students in downtown Ann Arbor, and landed a microloan from the Michigan Microloan Fund last year. It is now working independently of the University of Michigan.

Source: Lihang Nong, founder of picoSpray
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BBC keeps slow, steady pace of growth going

Slow and steady wins the proverbial race but it's not a phrase that is mentioned too often in today's business world. Except in the case of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting.

The near-downtown-Ann Arbor-based firm, formerly Biotechnology Business Consultants, has carved out a niche for itself in the life sciences/bio-tech consulting world with is tortoise-like growth over 23 years. The company experienced another small bump in revenue in 2013, which is exactly what it was aiming for.

"We like what we do and we’re happy to keep doing it," Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting.

Part of that is the nature of the work the company performs. It specializes in helping bio-tech startups develop their technologies and nurture their business, a process that often takes several years and millions of dollars worth of investment. There are no quick-flip startups that come to Kurek and her staff of seven people (it added a new employee about a year ago) looking for help.

But it does mean that governments come calling. It has contracts with agencies in the federal, state of Michigan and municipal governments. It recently renewed its contract with the New York City Economic Development Corp to run a similar, but smaller, program that it does for the state of Michigan. BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting also breathed a sign of relief a little more than a year ago when the federal government renewed its committment to the SBIR and STTR programs.

"That gave us a little bit of stability," Kurek says. "That reassured our clients."

Source: Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting
Writer: Jon Zemke

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