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Qlovi doubles staff as it adds publishing partners

Qlovi is growing in both staff and clientele, as the Ann Arbor-based education startup gains traction after its first full year of operation.

"We have grown as a team and we reach more markets," says Harlyn Pacheco, CEO & co-founder of Qlovi. "We have 20 publishing partners and HarperCollins just came onboard."

Thats up from a half dozen publishing partners a year ago. A trio of University of Michigan graduates launched the startup nearly two years, focusing on creating a suite of literacy instruction and publishing platforms for the K-12 and digital publishing markets. The courses are digital and easy to access from mobile devices.

Qlovi has also been hosting more virtual Q+A sessions between classes and the authors to help create more a connection between the teachers and the students. “That allows us to create an on-going relationship with them,” Pacheco says.

The seven-person staff, up from three people as of September, is working to grow the reach of its product. That means more efforts to grow its clientele and increase the number of publishing partners.

"We want to reach more schools and more districts," Pacheco says. "Doing it in Michigan would be great."

Source: Harlyn Pacheco, CEO & co-founder of Qlovi
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AlumaBridge brings lighter, sustainable solution to bridge repair

When a bridge collapses, hand-wringing and fear become the rule of the day. And yet attention to infrastructure never seems to be a priority until it’s too late. A new Ann Arbor-based startup is working to get ahead of that problem before the worst happens.

AlumaBridge uses aluminum as its principal material for prefabricated pieces of bridging in order to extend the life of aging bridges. The aluminum bridge deck panels are made using friction stir welding and have a non-skid surface. They can easily be applied to the steel girders on existing bridges, giving many more years of service.

"I would like to address some of the nation's most deficient structures,” says Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge. "It's a matter of getting the technology out there and commercializing it."

Osberg worked at Sopa Extrusions studying new ways to extend the life of the countries aging infrastructure. His work focused on aluminum bridge options and he spun out AlumaBridge last fall. The company is now working to install its first bridge in Quebec and is working on test panels for bridges in Florida. Check out a video describing AlumaBridge’s product and installation here.

"It mirrors the strength of concrete but is one fifth of the weight," Osberg says.

Stories of the country’s aging bridges have grown more numerous in recent years. Last year "an Associated Press analysis of 607,380 bridges in the most recent federal National Bridge Inventory showed that 65,605 were classified as "structurally deficient" and 20,808 as "fracture critical." Of those, 7,795 were both — a combination of red flags that experts say indicate significant disrepair and similar risk of collapse," according to a story in USA Today.

"This (AlumaBridge’s product) offers them an option," Osberg says. "It offers them a longer bridge life with a recyclable product."

Source: Greg Osberg, president & CEO of AlumaBridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Blaze Medical Devices aims to begin commercialization in 2015

Blaze Medical Devices is so close to generating its first revenues it can taste them.

The Ann Arbor-based life sciences firm is developing a new technology that helps maximize existing blood supplies in medical uses. The 8-year-old startup is aiming to make its first sales early next year.

"Now we have a fully operational prototype, or a Alpha unit, done," says David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices.

Blaze Medical Devices has developed blood transfusion technology that enables medical professionals to optimize blood banking and transfusions through testing. Its tests assess the quality of stored blood and its laboratory instruments help facilitate blood research.

"Our competition for the most part is the status quo," Weaver says. "First in first out, depending on age."

Blaze Medical Devices now employs a team of five people, including three co-founders and two researchers. It has added a new researcher over the last year. Weaver expects to receive initial UL approval for a research iteration of the technology by the end of this year, setting the stage for the company’s first sales in early 2015.

"We're forecasting sales in the first quarter of next year for the R&D device," Weaver says.

Source: David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Liquid Web aims to hire 20 for new downtown Ann Arbor office

Liquid Web is building out a new office in downtown Ann Arbor, which the Lansing-based web-hosting firm expects to fill with 20 people as soon as possible.

"As soon as we find qualified candidates we will be hiring them," says Cale Sauter, public relations specialist at Liquid Web.

The 17-year-old firm's new office consists of 4,000 square feet at 315 W Huron St, which is across the railroad tracks from the Ann Arbor YMCA. It is set to open by July. For information on the job openings, click here.

"We have been looking at Ann Arbor for quite a while," Sauter says. "It has grown as a tech hub. there is a lot of talent over there. We have a handful of employees who commute from there."

Liquid Web has opened an office in Pheonix and is opening another office in Europe this spring. The company has hired 75 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 404 employees. Most of the new hires and a vast majority of its staff (384) are based in Michigan.

"We are headquartered here and we will always be headquartered here," Sauter says. "This is where the bulk of our growth will be."

Source: Cale Sauter, public relations specialist at Liquid Web
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Akervall Technologies adds 4, moves to bigger space in Saline

Akervall Technologies is becoming a Saline-based company this week, making the move from Ann Arbor to a bigger space that should allow the mouthguard maker to do more of its own production.

"First, we're going to do packaging," says Sassa Akervall, president & COO of Akervall Technologies. "Eventually we will do manufacturing, which we currently outsource."

The 7-year-old company makes a thin-yet-tough mouthguard made of non-compressible, perforated material, and is 30 percent stronger than conventional mouthguards. The SISU Mouth Guard is the creation of Dr. Jan Akervall, a local ear, nose and throat specialist and Sassa Akervall's husband.

Akervall Technologies has grown its sales by 45 percent last year and is projecting another revenue spike of 50 percent in 2014. It as also hired four people over the last year, expanding its staff to eight employees.

"We're hoping to be at least 15 people by the end of the year," Akervall says.

Akervall Technology’s new facility measures out to 15,000 square feet, but the firm will only occupy 9,000 square feet to start. "We're looking for tenants right now," Akervall says. "Our plan is to fill that space within two years."

Source: Sassa Akervall, president & COO of Akervall Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WorkForce Software takes big drink from Ann Arbor talent pool

Two years ago, WorkForce Software opened up a satellite office in downtown Ann Arbor with an idea of using it as a talent magnet.

Today it employs 17 people and is moving to a bigger office in the center of Tree Town. It has hired nine people, all software development jobs, over the last year for its Ann Arbor office.

"We've done a very good job of finding talent," says Ken Olson, vice president of product development for WorkForce Software.

WorkForce Software makes management software for large-scale employers. The Livonia-based company added the Ann Arbor office because of the city’s depth of existing talent and the production of new talent that comes from the University of Michigan. The urban atmosphere also opened up the company to a new world of talent it needed to tap.

"It's really important to have an office that is walkable and accessible by buses and bikes," Olson says. "As soon as we opened the downtown Ann Arbor office we got a flood of interest."

WorkForce Software is taking the seventh floor of the Key Bank building at the corner of Main and Huron streets. The 3,400 square feet is roughly double the size of its original downtown Ann Arbor office.

"The view is nice," Olson says. "We have the entire top floor."

Source: Ken Olson, vice president of product development for Workforce Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Solartonic lands 3 new clients for solar technology

Solartonic has landed three new partnerships that the Ann Arbor-based solar company expects will help it bring its product, solarap, to new customers in Texas, Africa and the Middle East.

"They're market channels to get us to the customers in those markets," says Brian Tell, managing partner of Solartonic.

The 3-year-old company is commercializing solar panel technology, solarap, that is flexible and able to attach to non-traditional surfaces, such as wrapping around the pole of a street lamp. The idea is to generate power during the day to power the light at night. Solartonic is aiming to install these in places, like in light poles in parking lots, along walking paths and other remote places.

"Places that are inaccessible where it would be too expensive to build out the infrastructure," says Harry Giles, managing partner of Solartonic.

Solartonic employs a team of 10 after adding three people over the last year. That staff is currently working to open new markets in North America, including one in Detroit.

"We're trying to ramp up our sales," Tell says. "We're working on a demonstration project at NextEnergy Detroit we will debut in the fall."

Source: Brian Tell and Harry Giles, managing partners of Solartonic
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ocunelis invents better way to apply eye drops

David Lorch and Marius Tijunelis were working through an entrepreneurial apprenticeship out of the Medical Innovation Center at the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center, and they knew they wanted to start a business. They just didn’t know what kind.

The pair made a list of potential business that would fill unmet needs and began eliminating the weakest, one by one. At the end of the day they came up with Ocunelis and its eye-drop assist technology called DROPin.

"It's designed to help people aim their eye drops safely and accurately," Lorch says. "It helps you line up the bottle tip with your eyes so it gets the drop in the right part of your eye."

Lorch and Tijunelis launched Ocunelis last July and filed for a patent on their innovation shortly after. The two-person team is now working to ramp up sales starting in their own backyard.

"It can be bought at a few pharmacies in Ann Arbor and on Amazon," Lorch says. "We would like to see it out there helping as many people as we can reach."

Source: David Lorch, CTO of Ocunelis
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Virta Labs wins SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp

Cyber attacks are becoming more and more ubiquitous, and one new startup in Ann Arbor is capitalizing on it, Virta Labs.

The 7-month-old startup helps defend medical devices from malware attacks. It recently won the Best of Boot Camp award at Ann Arbor SPARK’s most recent Entrepreneur Boot Camp.

"Malware is everywhere today," says Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs. "Medical devices are more susceptible to malware than most devices because there may not be much protection out there for them."

Virta Labs got its start with the research from a University of Massachusetts PhD student on the subject, and his advisor who is now a professor at the University of Michigan. The six-person team behind the startup is working on a detection technology for malware and other software anomalies on medical devices and process control systems. It accomplishes this by measuring the power consumption patterns of the machines it is protecting.

Because most medical devices rely on commodity operating systems, leaving them vulnerable to a garden variety of malware. Virta Labs' technology helps keep these at bay through early detection.

"We're going to be starting our Beta test very soon," says Michael Holt, business strategist of Virta Labs.

Source: Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs and Michael Holt, business strategist of Virta Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Greenview Data email encryption services spur more hires

Greenview Data's services have evolved over its 24 years, enabling it to keep growing.

The Ann Arbor-based business has generally focused on digital security, which has meant developing spam prevention software such as SpamStopsHere. Today, it means moving into email encryption and archiving services.

"That is what has been driving our business," says Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data.

This new focus has allowed Greenview Data to spike it revenue 15 percent in the last year. It has also hired two more people in sales and support over the last year, expanding its staff to about 20 people. Green is also looking to hire two more software developers this spring/summer to help it build out more software products.

Greenview Data plans to add more software products to its portfolio, but it's still focused on providing digital security services, primarily through email encryption, to its base of core customers. While Greenview Data was able to grow some of the work with its existing customer base it was able to leverage its reputation in the workplace to attract new clients to sustain its growth.

"Most of our new business comes from new customers," Green says.

Source: Ted Green, CEO of Greenview Data
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

A2B Bikeshare signs first contract for bike-sharing service

Last year, A2B Bikeshare focused on getting its first pilot program off the ground. This year, the Ann Arbor-based startup is signing its first contract to provide bike-sharing services.

The 1-year-old startup creates bike-sharing programs for cities where the fleet of bikes is outfitted with touch screens that enable the user (think everyone from local residents to tourists) to use the program and pay for it with the swipe of a credit card. It recently signed a deal with the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, to provided 100 bikes this year.

"We will be delivering that at the end of June," says Ansgar Strother, co-founder & CEO of A2B Bikeshare.

That’s A2B Bikeshare's first large contract. The company, which launched out of the TechArb, got its start with a pilot program in Lansing last year, providing 10 bikes. This year it will continue the program in Lansing by doubling the number of bicycles to 20.

"We will be looking to switch that to a full-service program this fall, too," Strother says.

A2B Bikeshare expanded its team to six people, making them all full-time earlier this year. The company is also looking to raise $300,000 in seed capital by the end of this spring to help support its expansion plans.

Source: Ansgar Strother, co-founder & CEO of A2B Bikeshare
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Locavorious moves to bigger home on Ann Arbor's north side

Locavorious is moving up in the world. By "up" I mean north, and by "moving" I mean to the Washtenaw Food Hub, a hub for triple-bottom-line local farm and food producers, on 4175 Whitmore Lake Road, just north of the Ann Arbor city limits.

"We needed more space," says Rena Basch, owner of Locavorious. "It was a perfect fit for us."

The 7-year-old business freezes produce harvested at local farms to preserve it. That food is then sold on a subscription basis so customers can capture local food at its peak freshness. More money stays in the local economy and less food is trucked in from the other side of the continent.

Locavorious has stayed steady at just under 300 subscriptions (up slightly from last year) and selling 14,000 pounds of food. Basch and her team of six hope to cross the 300 subscription and 15,000 pounds of food barriers this year.

Locavorious has refined its products over the last year. Now customers can buy a vegetable-only subscription or a fruit-only subscription of a couple of other similar custom subscriptions. It has also upped its sales at Whole Foods, now providing food for both of Ann Arbor's stores. It also added some lightly prepared foods, such as soups and jam, to its offerings.

"We're going to look at adding some more this year," Basch says.

Locavorious primarily serves the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area. It started to expand into Plymouth last year. Basch hopes to further expand into Plymouth this summer and continue to strengthen its market share in Ypsilanti.

"We have always had a loyal following in Ypsilanti," Basch says. "I would like to grow that."

Source: Rena Basch, owner of Locavorious
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Message Blocks doubles team as it expands product offerings

To say Message Blocks gained traction with its event-planning software platform in its first year might be understating things a bit.

"We have doubled the revenue of last year in the first quarter of this year," says Len Gauger, founder & CEO of Message Blocks. "We're doing really well."

The Ann Arbor-based startup has developed a comprehensive event-planning software platform that streamlines the event-planning process. It accomplished this by focusing on the event planner's experience, allowing users to share documents and presenters to use plug-in presentations.

Message Blocks released its commercial version last fall and has been lining up customers from across the country ever since. It also just landed its first international customer this month and Gauger plans to keep expanding his startup’s client base beyond Michigan's borders for the rest of the year.

"We're not just an event-registration system," Gauger says. "It's focused on a team. How the team operates and puts on events."

The success so far has allowed Message Blocks to expand its staff to six employees and a few summer interns. It is in the midst of hiring a new software developer right now. The newly expanded team will help Message Blocks to continually build out its product, adding new features like a digital document binder for users.

Source: Len Gauger, founder & CEO of Message Blocks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Saline-based DesignHub triples profitability on renewed growth

DesignHub grew a little bit over the last year but where the Saline-based firm saw its biggest gains was in its bottom line.

The website design firm watched its revenue jump 7 percent, which was in line with its growth from the year before. What made this past year different is that jump in revenue led the firm to becoming about three times more profitable.

"The increase in sales was mostly profit," says Chris Kochmanski, partner at DesignHub. He adds that the 15-year-old firm kept the same size of staff (five people) but found ways to make their work more efficient. "We do as much as we possibly can with our core team," Kochmanski says.

DesignHub focuses on serving as a one-stop shop for digital marketing for its clients, handling more work in mobile and designing several different versions of websites for its customers. It clients include some big names, such as MASCO Cabinetry.

Over the last year, DesignHub produced a wide range of sales channel support materials for KraftMaid Cabinetry, a division of Masco Cabinetry, in Ann Arbor. The materials have included everything from brochures and newsletters to interactive e-books, presentations and hand-outs, social media content, and messaging platforms.

DesignHub also launched new websites for Adashi Systems, Dexter Health & Wellness Center, Electrocon International, Hartman Insurance, Quality Hardware Corporation, Russell Video Services, Saline Area Social Services, SkyManager Flight Scheduling System, Student Advocacy Center of Michigan, Sullivan Healthcare Consulting, and Valley Baptist Health & Fitness Center.

Kochmanski hopes 2014 will prove to be as fruitful as last year, and he is growing increasingly optimistic that will happen.

"We'd like to continue growing," Kochmanski says.

Source: Chris Kochmanski, partner at DesignHub
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor Seed Co expects business to blossom this spring

Ann Arbor Seed Co is in that part of the learning curve where things accelerate; specifically the growth of this fledgling agriculture company's business.

The Ann Arbor-based startup has gone from 10 varieties of produce for gardening last year to 27 this spring. It has more offerings for fruits, greens and root vegetables.

"We have a lot more seeds for sale," says Eric Kampe, founder of Ann Arbor Seed Co. "A lot more variety to offer."

Kampe is an environmentalist and seed-saving enthusiast with an eye for helping keep local ecosystems fresh and diverse with organic, native offerings. Seed savers will save and collect seeds for farming. That prompted him to start Ann Arbor Seed Co two years ago while he was also working a delivery truck. Now he is working on growing Ann Arbor Seed Co as his full-time job with the help of his wife, Meredith Kahn.

"This is my busiest time of the year," Kampe says.

Ann Arbor Seed Co sells its seeds at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Growing Hope in Ypsilanti and The Garden Mill in Chelsea. Kampe is also working to bring on a third piece of land to help him grow more fruits and vegetables so he can continue to expand his company’s product offerings.

"When you're saving seeds you're a steward of that variety," Kampe says.

Source: Eric Kampe, founder of Ann Arbor Seed Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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