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Visualization Network on track to double biz in 2014

Visualization Network has been around for five years making mobile apps, and the Ann Arbor-based company is now starting to hit its stride.

"Business is great," says Tom Crawford, owner & founder of Visualization Network. "Last year was the best year of the five years we have been doing this."

Visualization network makes custom apps and normal retail apps. Its custom and consulting work has doubled over the last year as the firm helps other businesses with strategic planning.

It also has its own apps for sale. They include Happy Hour Deals, which tells the user what the happy hour specials are at bars near them. It was launched on iPhone a year ago and for Andriod recently. It now covers bars all across southeast Michigan and other major cities in Michigan, like Grand Rapids and Grand Haven.

"It's starting to grow outside of Michigan," Crawford says, adding its is appearing in big cities like Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Crawford is looking to hire a sale professional now to help deal with the demand created by the app.

Another app is Return2Play. The app is used by coaches and athletes dealing with concussions. “If you have any symptom at all it tells you to take a step back,” Crawford says.

Visualization Network it core team of four people (it’s also looking for an intern) is currently fully booked for the first quarter of this year and nearly booked for the second quarter.

"If this continues this year we should double last year," Crawford says. "I don't see anything that indicates it will change."

Source: Tom Crawford, owner & founder of Visualization Network
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

3D Biomatrix expands product portfolio, sales

The University of Michigan spun out 3D Biomatrix three years ago but the bio-tech startup is starting to show some significant gains for its expanding product portfolio.

"We have a lot of repeat customers around the world," says Laura Schrader, CEO of 3D Biomatrix. "That's a good indicator of a viable product."

The Ann Arbor-based company, it calls U-M’s Venture Accelerator home, develops 3D cell culture Hanging Drop Plates for lab research in cancer treatments or stem cells. These plates allow cells to grow in 3D like they do in the body. Most current methods offer flat surfaces, similar to slides or petri dishes. The 96-well plates sell well for users using manual lab methods. The 384-well plates are growing in use as they work well with automated lab equipment, spiking sales for it and the firm’s revenues.

"We're not only adding new products to our portfolio but our products are becoming more widespread," Schrader says.

3D Biomatrix
and its team of four employees and the occasional intern are looking at expanding the startup’s product portfolio further with more testing equipment for personalized medicine uses.

"That's a space that has great possibilities," Schrader says.

Source: Laura Schrader, CEO of 3D Biomatrix
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Flagship Ventures invests in local startup, plans to do it again

Flagship Ventures opened an office in downtown Ann Arbor a year ago and it has already starting to make some moves.

The Massachusetts-based venture capital firm participated in a Series B round for Tangent Medical Technologies about a year ago. It co-led the $8.6 million round of investment with Arboretum Ventures.

Tangent Medical Technologies is developing its NovaCath Integrated IV Catheter System, which is designed to address IV therapy challenges including catheter stabilization, healthcare worker safety, tubing management and patient comfort. NovaCath's passive needle shielding technology and closed system design is meant to minimize risk of needlestick injuries and occupational exposure to blood to the lowest feasible extent. The startup is led by Jeff Williams who also served as the CEO of bio-tech startups HandyLab and Accuri Cytometers, which were both acquired.

"Tangent has a great team," says Mike Johnson, associate with Flagship Ventures. "Its IV catheter is a novel technology with FDA clearance."

Johnson is optimistic that Flagship Ventures will make another one or two similar investments this year.

"We're enthusiastic about the opportunities in Michigan," Johnson says. "We are evaluating a number of different companies."

Source: Mike Johnson, associate with Flagship Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

FarmLogs scores $4M in VC, looks to add 6 positions immediately

First FarmLogs developed its agriculture technology. Then the Ann Arbor-based startup landed the seed capital. Now the up-and-coming firm is starting to hire.

FarmLogs recently landed $4 million in venture capital. The Series A round was led by Drive Capital, a Columbus-based venture capital firm with roots in Silicon Valley VC titan Sequoia Capital. A couple of local investment organizations also participated in the round, including Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures and Detroit-based First Step Fund.

That cash infusion, along with a $1 million seed round it raised last year, has allowed FarmLogs to exponentially grow its staff. The firm has hired five people over the last year, hires that consisted of software engineers and designers. It now employs nine people and is looking to add interns this summer. FarmLogs is also in the process of trying to hire another six people, primarily software engineers.

"We will double the team this year," says Jesse Vollmar, CEO of FarmLogs.

FarmLogs makes online-based, farm-management software that enables farmers make better business decisions by providing real-time analytics and other strategic information. Vollmar and Brad Koch, who grew up in rural areas in Michigan's thumb region, came up with the idea in Silicon Valley's Y Combinator but moved the startup to Ann Arbor. The idea behind the move was to be closer to agriculture business while also calling an emerging tech hub like Ann Arbor home.

The startup has taken off in its first year since it launched its product. Today farms in each of the U.S. 50 states and 130 other countries are using it. Vollmar says that 5 percent of row-crop farms (think traditional crops like corn) in the U.S. are using FarmLogs big-data technology and that number is growing rapidly.

"It all boils down to delivering more value to our customers," Vollmar says.

Source: Jesse Vollmar, CEO of FarmLogs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Portal Architects leverages cloud tech to create 5 jobs

To the folks behind Portal Architects the cloud is a destination. But getting businesses and organizations to it is where the money is.

The Ann Arbor-based company’s software, SkySync, helps companies connect their IT to the cloud through a Windows app. That technology enables organizations to synchronize and move files across storage systems including most cloud storage services.

"It's right in our wheelhouse," says Mark Brazeau, co-founder of Portal Architects. "We saw the explosion of the cloud and we saw the need for companies to get to the cloud."

This isn't Brazeau's first trip to the tech startup rodeo. The serial entrepreneur has helped grow four software companies over the years. His last one, Blue Thread Technologies, was acquired by a venture capital firm. After that happened, he and his co-founders saw a golden opportunity in creating a startup that connects businesses to the cloud.

"It's in my nature I guess," Brazeau says.

Brazeau and his co-founders started Portal Architects two years ago. The launched SkySync last summer and have worked to flesh out the technology after that. Portal Architects has hired five people over the last year (primarily software developers) and is looking to hire another four today. The company currently employs 11 people and Brazeau expects to keep it up so his firm can keep up with the demand for SkySync.

"The market need for our product is there," Brazeau says.

Source: Mark Brazeau, co-founder of Portal Architects
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Sight Machine hires 6 at Ann Arbor's Maker Works

The team behind Sight Machine saw an opportunity when it noticed that  most cutting edge manufacturing inspection technology ran on 1990s-era software.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, which calls Maker Works home, decided to bring that software up to date (and speed) with its new inspection technology.

"We wanted to make a product that filled the inspection service but took advantage of modern software," says Nathan Oostendrop, chief product officer of Sight Machine.

The 3-year-old company began selling its first products a year ago. That technology could do everything from measure tool integrity to whether a certain finish was added to a product as it rumbled down the line.

"As we have done more we have solidified how we do things," Oostendrop says.

That experience has allowed Sight Machine to add six new employees. The new positions include graphic design, product management and software developers. The firm currently employs 15 people.

Sight Machine has focused on manufacturing in the automotive sector but its leadership is looking to expand its reach in 2014.

"I'd like to branch out beyond automotive, like medical devices or alternative energy," Oostendrop says.

Source: Nathan Oostendrop, chief product officer of Sight Machine
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

1000 Tools brings sharing economy to pricey tools

The inspiration for 1000 Tools, a startup based on the idea of a sharing economy, came from an unlikely source: a Ford Probe.

Alan Mond used to own a Ford Probe. Like most other student-owned automobiles it eventually needed repairs. And like most college students, it made more financial sense for Mond to fix it himself than go to an auto repair shop. The only problem is he didn't have the tools he needed to do it.

"I could have bought the tools outright or I could have borrowed them from my friends but they didn't have all the tools I needed," Mond says. He adds that borrowing tools isn't a practice that strengthens friendships as much as it wears them thin.

So he came up with the idea of creating a website where people could put their expensive and niche tools up for rent. That became 1000 Tools about six months ago, when Mond teamed up with Julien Vanier (a software developer) to bring the idea to fruition.

1000 Tools is based on the idea of the sharing economy. Think Airbnb (where people can put homes or rooms up for rent online) but with tools. 1000 Tools and its team of three people have so far attracted 270 users who have put everything from a bread maker to an excavator up for rent online.

"We're going to grow it first in Ann Arbor and spread it to other cities," Mond says. "We'd like to have 1,000 tools by the end of the year."

Source: Alan Mond, co-founder & CEO of 1000 Tools
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MuniRent aims to help local cities share equipment

Alan Mond was on his way to Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneurs Boot Camp when serendipity hit him. Actually, it drove by him.

Mond was working on growing his other startup, 1000 Tools, at the boot camp. 1000 Tools is based in the sharing economy where people who own expensive or niche tools can put them up as rentable online. Mond was trying to think of other market segments he could grow 1000 Tools when a municipal heavy truck rumbled by hauling a big piece of machinery.

"It just popped into my head," Mond says. "What about municipalities? They have a lot of unused equipment."

That’s how MuniRent got its start three months ago. The Ann Arbor-based startup helps local municipalities put their heavy or niche equipment up for rent to other nearby municipalities. Mond recently signed up the city of Milan to the service and is working on getting another 20 municipalities in the Ann Arbor area and Oakland County to sign on.

Mond points out that large cities like Ann Arbor often have a fleet of heavy construction equipment that spend large amounts of time sitting idle in work yards and warehouses. He adds that small municipalities often can’t afford to own a fleet of heavy equipment and have to rent it at a premium from traditional commercial rental houses.

"We thought why don't we fill the gap for these municipalities," Mond says. "The idea is to have every municipality in Michigan to have access to this large pool of equipment we have paid for as taxpayers."

Mond currently has one city signed up. He aims to have half a dozen using the service by July and 20 by the end of the year.

Source: Alan Mond, co-founder of MuniRent
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Anonymous incubator space quietly makes a name for itself

Mark Smith never intended to start a small business incubator focused on growing new economy startups. The idea is still foreign enough to him that he hasn’t even named the one he grew by accident over the last decade.

Smith ended up with an commercial building at 333 Parkland Plaza, just off Jackson Road on Ann Arbor's west side, after a bio-tech company he invested in went belly up in the early 2000s. Since an empty building is a rarely a profitable one, he did something about.

"We had extra space so we brought in other companies," Smith says.

Smith brought in biotech and medical device firms. He made the rental rate all-inclusive and kept overhead expenses low. He also offered mentoring and other professional services to help grow the firms. More importantly he brought together startups from the drug discovery, alternative energy and life sciences, among others, under the same roof to solve problems.

"We see people come together from totally different sectors and out of it comes solutions and new intellectual property," Smith says.

Today, seven companies occupy the 7,500-square-foot building and its wet- and dry-lab spaces. Some of those firms who have called it home and are currently doing business there include Evigia, ePack and AVAcore Technologies. Smith is looking at adding a couple of off-site facilities to help enable the startups to do small manufacturing and other functions. That’s take a priority over finding a name.

"We have been trying to keep a low-profile," Smith says. "Ann Arbor SPARK has been generous in sending people to us."

Source: Mark Smith, owner of 333 Parkland Plaza
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IT firm Systems in Motion hires 65, aims to hire 110 more

Systems in Motion is an IT services firm that doesn't do off-shoring. In fact, it doesn't even have an off-shore presence. The California-based company is focused on performing IT work in the good, old USA.

"The IT industry is starting to get focused on domestic sourcing," says Colin Chapman, vice president & general manager of Systems in Motion. "The easy stuff to take off shore has been taken off shore."

And Systems in Motion's growing delivery center in Ann Arbor is the main beneficiary. The satellite office opened in 2009 and has grown to a 200-person outfit with the help of Ann Arbor SPARK. A total of 300 people work at Systems in Motion.

The firm has hired 65 people in Ann Arbor over the last year for a broad range of positions, such as software engineers, data developers and project managers. It currently has 35 open jobs. The company expects to hire 150 overall in 2014, including 110 in Ann Arbor.

Systems in Motion specializes in application development, information management and testing services. It uses an Agile software development methodology, which makes the creation of software viable through a system of incremental improvements.

"We understand the industry well," Chapman says. "We're well-prepared to take advantage of the industry's growth overall."

Source: Colin Chapman, vice president & general manager of Systems in Motion
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Logic Solutions hires 6 as it builds out software products

Logic Solutions likes to find interns at the University of Michigan. The tech firm currently has four U-M student interns who are pursuing environmental and computer engineering degrees.

"My goal is to hire at least two of these interns," says Bruce Richardson, president of Logic Solutions.

That would go with the six people Logic Solutions has hired over the last year. Those hires include a senior-level technical architect, product manager and a marketing director. Logic Solutions is leveraging that new talent to continue the build out of its software.

The Ann Arbor-based firm makes custom software programs and mobile apps. It has also been working on developing its own software platforms, such as its Showcase mobile sales app for iPads. Richardson expects sales of that to gain significantly in 2014.

He also has some big expectations for its Quantum Compliance software platform. The software helps businesses implement and maintain compliance with Environmental Health & Safety standards. Logic Solutions acquired the company that created the Quantum Compliance software a couple of years ago and Richardson is looking for it to play a major part in Logic Solutions’ growth this year.

"We anticipate the revenue from that will triple in 2014," Richardson says. "If I am a betting man, I would bet that this is where the bulk of our growth will come from in 2014."

Source: Bruce Richardson, president of Logic Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Weinreich Labs aims to release app for violin musicians

Weinreich Labs got its start creating a violin that produces heirloom quality music when amplified or recorded. The Ann Arbor-based firm is still working on that technology but is pivoting into the mobile app space to help grow the business faster.

Weinreich Labs plans to release a mobile app by the end of this month. The app aims to work as a digital museum for fine violins. It will provide a history of a wide range of stringed instruments and in-depth photo galleries with pictures of such high resolutions that the user can tell what type of varnish is on the instrument.

"Choosing an instrument is a huge thing for a classical violinist," says Alex Sobolev, CEO of Weinreich Labs. "Some people will choose one violin and use it for the rest of their life. Some people will change violins often to find different sounds."

The 3-year-old firm is producing the mobile app as a way to start generating revenue. The app will retail for $0.99 for its simplest version and a $15 annual subscription for its most detailed version.

"We see this as a better avenue for generating some revenue immediately," Sobolev says.

Weinreich Labs still is working on its original technology. That technology gives a violin the ability to amplify an acoustic sound (think stereo speakers) without feedback or loss of tonal character, problems that have long plagued the music industry. Sobolev says the firm is working on a version that comes with a foot pedal and an iPad component so musicians and producers can work with the music in a more detailed manner.

The firm has hired one person (a mbile app developer) over the last year. It currently employs five people.

Source: Alex Sobolev, CEO of Weinreich Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

VC Web Design rebrands, hires and moves to new home

It's been a busy year for VC Web Design. The Ypsilanti-based website development company has hired a handful of new employees and moved to a newer and bigger office. It is also gearing up to rebrand itself in the next month as Visual Compass Web Design.

VC Web Design got its start four years ago and was the first graduate of Ann Arbor SPARK's East Incubator. Its first projects consisted of building up the online presence for local companies and organizations. It has grown to a staff of 14 people after hiring four employees over the last year. Those new positions include graphic designers, sales/business development and marketing.

VC Web Design first real office was a retail space in downtown Ypsilanti shortly after it graduated from Ann Arbor SPARK East. Last summer it moved to a larger office (700 square feet to 1,000 square feet) in Depot Town a few doors down from Aubree's. The firm made the move to help accommodate its growth and choose a ground floor retail space to help further its business.

"The move was as much for the location as it was for the space," says Vince Chmielewski, president of VC Web Design, adding the increased foot traffic and visibility helps drive up business. "Having a presence helps us," he adds.

VC Web Design is growing thanks to its expanding portfolio of work developing websites, videos and web applications. It has been doing videos for Eastern Michigan University about the university’s research efforts. Much of VC Web Design’s web applications work is creating apps for businesses to use in-house, such as new websites and web applications for Knights Steakhouse in Ann Arbor.

"We're doing a lot more projects like that," Chmielewski says. "Part of it is the Agile process we use. People seem to like that."

Source: Vince Chmielewski, president of VC Web Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor-based 3.7 Designs absorbs Meadow Fete

Ann Arbor-based 3.7 Designs recently acquired another firm but not in the way these sorts of transaction usually happen.

The 9-year-old website development firm absorbed Meadow Fete last September after 3.7 Designs founder, Ross Johnson, married Meadow Fete’s founder, Lyndsay Johnson. The newly combined firms are now working under the 3.7 Designs banner in downtown Ann Arbor.

The company now employs three people, a couple of independent contractors and the occasional intern. The firm is also looking to hire two developers to handle the front-end and back-end of web development so the Johnsons can handle more managerial tasks.

"We're doing a lot of the work these days," Ross Johnson says. "We want to work on the product side of the company."

3.7 Designs started out building websites and evolved to offering marketing and upkeep services for its websites. Recently it has moved to building out software for things like training modules. The firm is looking to move away from the marketing aspect of the business and more toward the software creation.

The firm has two software projects in the works for 2014. The first is a project management tool that helps users track the progress of a project. The Johnsons are keeping the second one under wraps.

Source: Ross Johnson, web strategist of 3.7 Designs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

FlexSys adds to staff to develop new tech in Ann Arbor

FlexSys thinks it can save as much as 5 percent on your plane's jet fuel with its new technology.

The Ann Arbor-based tech firm is launching its FlexFoil, a variable geometry airfoil. That technology would replace the wing flaps on a jet by making the wings one piece of metal. FlexFoil is a deformable, seamless surface that changes shape for optimized performance throughout the flight regime saving jet fuel. You can watch a video about the technology here.

"We can get at least 5 percent fuel savings," says Sridhar Kota, founder of FlexSys. "It is easy to implement and you can have a payback (in jet fuel savings) in two years."

Kota is a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan. He started FlexSys in 2001 after noticing how many man-made objects are strong and rigid, but how most things in nature are strong and flexible.

FlexSys' products have included from helicopters windshield wipers blades and wind turbine technology. FlexSys currently employs a dozen people. It hired a University of Michigan engineering graduate last year to help round out its staff.

Source: Sridhar Kota, founder of FlexSys
Writer: Jon Zemke

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