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Universal Marketing Group plans to hire 150 in Ann Arbor

Universal Marketing Group is opening a new call center in Ann Arbor this month, an investment that is expected to created 150 new jobs much sooner rather than later.

"We're planning to have that staffed with 150 people by the end of the year," says Jason Birch, partner & CFO of Universal Marketing Group.

The 10-year-old company has grown at its Toledo headquarters each time it has needed to expand. This time it the company decided it needed a second location to help supplement its growth. Its founders spend a lot of time in Ann Arbor. They like its proximity to the company's headquarters and the depth of Tree Town's talent pool.

"We needed scalability and a community of Ann Arbor's size and diversity gives us that option," Birch says. He adds that all 150 jobs are open now and that they range from call center operators to supervisors to administrative. Interviewing for these jobs is expected to begin before the end of the month.

Universal Marketing Group will occupy the former Borders headquarters in a deal brokered with the help of Ann Arbor SPARK. It received $600,000 in incentives from the Michigan Economic Development Corp to make the $575,000 investment to create the call center. The project could expand to 400 new jobs by 2016.

Source: Jason Birch, partner & CFO of Universal Marketing Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor's re:group hires 4, looks to add 6 more

Digital marketing agency re:group is quickly reaching the point where it needs to make a decision. Add more office space or start thinking of innovative ways to accommodate its new employees, like stacking desks on top of each other.

Actually, that last option probably isn't feasible. Look for re:group to handle its growth in a more traditional manner.

"We're looking at adding space because we're running out of places to put people," Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company has hired four people over the last year, expanding its staff to 25 people. It is also looking to make six hires, specifically for positions in computer programming, account executive and social media, among others. It is also looking for an intern.

Behind re:group's growth is a jump in its overall workload. The 10-year-old company has kept its existing clients, like DTE Energy and Health Plus, while also adding a number of new customers. Its new clients include Tutor Doctor and Community Bank & Trust of Florida.

"We tripled our revenue last year," Jernigan says. "It's a combination of hard work and bringing in new clients."

Jernigan expect this growth curve to continue through as re:group keeps focusing on grow its business in the normal sectors it serves, such as bio-tech, financial services and franchising.

"This is where we continue to grow and attract clients," Jernigan says.

Source: Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Human Element expands office space (twice) to grow

Ben Lorenz and his partners started Human Element a decade ago with the idea of working for themselves and doing less work overall. Their tech company didn't exactly provide for a leisurely work week but the co-founders are more than happy with the bottom line.

"We started this company so we didn’t have to work 80 hours a week," says Ben Lorenz, managing partner with Human Element. "It started off as a lifestyle-change decision. People really liked our company so we ended up working even more."

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company specializes in tech services and e-commerce platforms, specifically the Magento e-commerce platform. It has grown its sales 50 percent each year over the last few years and Lorenz is optimistic his firm will surpass that mark again.

"We will eclipse that by the end of this year," Lorenz says.

That growth has allowed Human Element to make three hires, including software engineers and project managers. It is also looking to hire a software engineer. The company currently employs a dozen employees and six independent contractors. Human Element has had to expand its office space twice in the last two years to accommodate its employee growth.

Source: Ben Lorenz, managing partner with Human Element
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Arborlight creates LED lights that mimic natural light

Miss sunshine on a cloudy day? Or perhaps in a room with no windows and wish you had a sunbeam? Arborlight thinks it has an solution for you.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up is creating a "daylight emulation systems," which is basically an LED light that does a convincing impression of a skylight. The light it emits mimics the color, a and temperature of natural sunlight, along with other subtle details. For instance, the technology has an algorithm that is connected to a weather forecast, allowing the LED to behave in the same way as the outside lighting.

"It looks, acts and feels like a real skylight," says Mike Forbis, CEO of Arborlight.

The start-up has developed a prototype at the University of Michigan North Campus Research Complex and is currently working on its first demonstration units. Arborlight has also assembled a team of five people and is in the process of bringing No. 6 onboard. The company has raised its first $500,000 in seed capital and is looking to raise a Series A next year.

"We expect to begin making sales in early 2014," Forbis says.

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

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

Avegant works on next generation of night-vision gear

Avegant believe it is building a better night-vision goggle, which the downtown Ann Arbor start-up hopes to begin selling next year.

The 1-year-old firm got its start when it co-founders were approached by military contractors while working in a government lab. The need was for a better night-vision equipment for military drivers during wartime. Soldiers were experiencing better results using thermal night vision while driving. The problem was the display was in their vehicle’s dash instead of over their eyes.

"It's fairly difficult to drive a car like that, staring down at a monitor in the center dash while driving through a combat zone," says Edward Tang, CEO of Avegant.

So Avegant has created a head-mounted virtual retina display, so it can give its users the same sort of freedom of movement when using it. The company and its team of half a dozen people are currently “heavily engaged in product development” while working on prototypes, according to Tang. Tang hopes to begin making sales of the technology on the consumer market in early 2014.

"It's a pretty interesting technology and a pretty interesting idea," Tang says.

Source: Edward Tang, CEO of Avegant
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BizeeBox creates more sustainable to-go box

Rich Grousset and Raphael Meyer enjoyed eating out while going to college at the University of Michigan. However, the recent grads didn’t feel right about the disposable take-home containers that their food came in. That's what turned on the CFL above their heads.

"We both really liked going out to restaurants but we both really disliked the waste," Grousset says.

The partners started BizeeBox last summer with the idea of supplying reusable plastic container to local restaurants for take-out meals. The idea is the eateries would supply it to their customers who would then send it back, for a small fee, and eliminate more landfill waste. The customers can drop off the empty containers at a central location for cleaning within a certain time period.

"As long as you get it back to us within 30 days we won’t charge you," Grousset says.

The business started as Go Blue Box at the tail end of their college careers and has taken off as they begin their professional careers as entrepreneurs.

"After graduating we decided we wanted to do this after school," says Rich Grousset, co-founder of BizeeBox.

The partners are now ironing out the wrinkles in their business plan, such specifically what reusable container to use or how to set up a rewards program to coincide with restaurant patronage. The company plans to running a crowd-funding campaign to launch a small pilot program in Ann Arbor early next year.

Source: Rich Grousset, co-founder of BizeeBox
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Liberty Title hires 25 as it grows into new markets

Liberty Title hasn't wasted any time over the last year expanding into new markets and adding a couple dozen new employees.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company entered into the Lansing area last summer. It also moved its Troy office to Birmingham and doubled it in size and relocated its Rochester office to a larger space. The company recently opened a new office in Novi, too. It all adds up 25 new hires, expanding the company's staff to 114 employees and one intern.

"We have been having a very good year as the housing market has been rebounding across the region," says Tom Richardson, general counsel for Liberty Title.

That has allowed the company to increase its revenue by 16 percent over the last year. It's revenue is up 63 percent since 2011. Part of that is thanks to new construction starting to peak its head out of the woodchuck hole in the last year. Richardson also credits new regulations that are coming down the pike that should help bump up the business of medium-to-large title companies.

"We're going to be pretty busy," Richardson says.

Source: Tom Richardson, general counsel for Liberty Title
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor software start-up Coherix adds 5 new employees

Coherix is finding its niche in Asia, helping more manufacturers on that side of the world streamline their production capability.

The Ann Arbor-based business is a supplier of high-speed, high-definition 3D measurement and inspection solutions. It creates software designed to improve the management of manufacturing processes. Its high-tech optical-based measurement and inspection products help find efficiencies in the automotive and semiconductor industries.

The 9-year-old company is finding a lot of demand for its technology with manufacturers of semi-conductors and other electronics. It has also recently inked a deal to do a joint venture in China, which the company expects to become the its biggest geographic market in the near future.

This growth has allowed the company to hire five more people in Ann Arbor. It now employs 50 people worldwide and expects to keep growing.

"Next year will be huge," says Dwight Carlson, chairman & CEO of Coherix. "We have a big customer we just finished a three-year production contract with."

Carlson explains that the client, whom he declined to name, has part of Coherix's technology imbedded in its product. That will produce a handsome royalty for Coherix when its begins making sales next year.

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

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

Control Gaging begins work on new HQ in Ann Arbor

Ground has broken for the new headquarters for Control Gaging in Ann Arbor. The investment is expected to help the 41-year-old company take advantage of the growing manufacturing sector.

The Ann Arbor-based company engineer, design and manufacture precision gauges for machine tools. It got hit hard in the recent recession but found a way to survive while many of its peers went under. Since then Control Gaging's revenue is up 250 percent.

"There was a lot of demand pent up when that ended," says David Hayes, president of Control Gaging.

The new facility will measure in at 24,500 square feet. It will allow for more flexibility in the manufacturing process. "Our principal facility isn’t set up for lean manufacturing," Hayes says.

The new production plant will also have a number of green features, including green space for employees to relax in, a bike path around the facility and more than 200 trees on site. Hayes expects Control Gaging to move into its new home on July 1st of next year.

Control Gaging currently employs 33 people. It has hired two more employees in the last year that specializes in machining and shipping & receiving.

Source: David Hayes, president of Control Gaging
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Renovo Power Technology develops new electrical inverters

Renovo Power Technology has started to gain some traction with its alternative energy technology and is aiming to pick up speed next year.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company makes advanced inverters that help transition energy from solar panels to the electric grid. Its transformerless inverter technology gets rid of the copper coils of traditional transformers and replaces them with electronics that are both more efficient and cheaper to manufacture. Normal five kilowatt inverters weigh 150 pounds. Renovo Power Technology's inverters are less than 60 pounds.

"This is like going from your old tube TV to the your flat panel LCD, an analog device to a digital device," says Shane LaHousse, vice president of operations for Renovo Power Technology.

The company currently has a staff of four employees, three independent contractors and one intern. One-hundred-and-twenty-five projects across North America have used Renovo Power Technolgy's inverters over the last year.

"We expect that in 2014 to at least triple if not quadruple that number," LaHousse says.

Source: Shane LaHousse, vice president of operations for Renovo Power Technology
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Molecular Imaging looks to hire 10 as it scales biz

Molecular Imaging is on a bit of a hiring spree, looking to hire 10 people today as it looks to scale up its services.

The Ann Arbor-based company provides in vivo pre-clinical imaging services for pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies. A group of venture capital firms acquired Molecular Imaging 2.5 years ago. Farmington Hills-based Beringea led that group of investors making the acquisition.

"We plan to scale up our services and add some new services," says Patrick McConville, CSO & senior vice president of Molecular Imaging.

Molecular Imaging has already enjoyed some repeat business from its existing customer base. It has also been diversifying its client base to set the stage for growth. McConville expects the company to double in size over the next year so the company is looking to add 10 positions to its existing staff of about 30 people to facilitate that growth. The open positions include a director, accounts manager and eight scientists.

"These are scientists focused on executing our studies," McConville says.

Source: Patrick McConville, CSO & senior vice president of Molecular Imaging
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

New biz Spruced Up Spaces focuses on planning and organization

Nia Spongberg moved to Ann Arbor with her partner from Vermont last year. Back in New England, Spongberg had a career in non-profit development but was a jack of all trades, handling everything from grant writing to database management.

"I was constantly organizing things," Spongberg says.

When she made the move to Ann Arbor she knew she wanted to change directions and so she started her own business focused around organization, Spruced Up Spaces. The Ann Arbor-based company does everything from helping businesses reorganize how they do things at their facilities to helping families better organize their lives.

Spongberg likes the challenge in the work and enjoys being her own boss. The business started out slow but it didn't stay that way for long. "At the turn of the year things started to pick up for me," Spongberg says. "It has been growing steadily since then."

Spruced Up Spaces enjoys a client base made up mostly of local businesses and residential clients. For instance, Spongberg has helped a family to sort, purge, and reorganize the contents of their home in preparation for a significant renovation project, and she’s helped a massage therapy business to organize its filing system and improve the layout of its office space. Today, the company provides enough work for Spongberg to make a living and she hopes to continue growing.

Source: Nia Spongberg, owner & professional organizer of Spruced Up Spaces
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Creators Co-op launches for-students-by-students biz incubator

The co-founders of the Creators Co-op know there are a number of small business incubators and co-working spaces dedicated toward the tech industry in Ann Arbor. But they didn't see anything that really fits the needs of student entrepreneurs with an independent streak. That's why they are launching their venture just off the University of Michigan's campus this fall.

"We want to create a safe space for students, by students," says Nancy Xiao, general manager & co-founder of Creators Co-op. "It's a mixture of co-working space and a professional-style fraternity."

Xiao is a senior at the University of Michigan and a member of the university's MPowered student entrepreneurship program. She met former U-M football player Dhani Jones at a university event in Cincinnati a few years ago after speaking about the need for more entrepreneurial space for studentpreneurs. The pair hit it off and have since formed a core team of eight people to launch the Creators Co-op.

They have secured a brick, tudor-style house at 631 Oxford, which is right next to a bus stop for the university bus line that connects Central and North campuses. The space will be open to university students who want to launch any sort of business. It will differentiate itself from the like of Ann Arbor SPARK, Tech Brewery and Workantile because it will be student-oriented. It is different than TechArb, U-M tech incubator for students, because it is independent from the university and will help students build any sort of business that interests them.

Creators Co-op is sorting through applications for student entrepreneurs this fall and hopes to welcome its first class of about 30 people during the winter semester. The co-op will offer business-building and entrepreneurial mentoring services. It also hopes to work with a number of successful local business people to help the students matriculate into parts of the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"A lot of it is geared toward building great people," Xiao says.

Source: Nancy Xiao, general manager & co-founder of Creators Co-op
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lakeside Software fills out Ann Arbor office with new hires

Lakeside Software's new Ann Arbor office isn't bursting at the seams, but it's starting to get a bit snug.

The Bloomfield Hills-based company opened its Ann Arbor office as a way to satisfy its need to hire software engineers. It now employs about 20 people in Ann Arbor, according to Dan Salinas, vice president of business development for Lakeside Software. That’s up from a dozen people a year ago.

"That site is almost filled up," Salinas says. "We will be expanding our space there because we are running out of room."

Lakeside Software produces IT management software for corporate operating systems. Its SysTrack software combines comprehensive system monitoring capabilities with sophisticated analysis for applications and users to create a total management solution. The Ann Arbor office specializes in product design and development of that software.

The 13-year-old firm opened its software R&D office in Ann Arbor in 2011 after it received a $731,000 incentive from the state of Michigan. Lakeside Software agreed to hire 195 people in Ann Arbor over five years, starting in the fall of 2011, in exchange for the incentive.

Source: Dan Salinas, vice president of business development for Lakeside Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SchoolPictures.com adds to staff as it grows across Michigan

Ypsilanti-based SchoolPictures.com has traditionally grown across its home region but now it’s making a push to grow across the entire Great Lakes State.

"We're interested in spreading our mission across the state, not just southeast Michigan," says Skip Cerier, president of SchoolPictures.com.

The business provides portraits of students, using a formula that allows the school to create new revenue from annual student photo programs. Cerier claims his company has helped schools raise $5 million over its eight years and save another $3.5 million by out-competing other vendors.

"We did a study over what was saved from the prices of other vendors at each school," Cerier says. "I was able to quantify how much each school was saving."

SchoolPictures.com currently employs 41 people full-time and another 35 part-timers. It has hired four people over the last year, including sales, support and production professionals.

Source: Skip Cerier, president of SchoolPictures.com
Writer: Jon Zemke

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