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Innovation & Job News

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WellSpringboard imagines new way of crowd-sourcing research ideas

Finding new research ideas and creating new ways to fund them, that's the idea behind a new local start-up, WellSpringboard.

The Ann Arbor-based company is creating a software platform that enables patients and other members of health-care community to come up with research ideas. It also provides a facility to support crowd-funding to get the projects underway.

"The current model in the U.S. and around the world is for scientists to have the ideas and carry them out," says Matthew Davis, associate professor of pediatrics & internal medicine & public policy at the University of Michigan and co-founder of WellSpringboard. "We wanted to see if we could find a new way to bring research ideas forward."

Davis is a member of the three-person team that has been developing the technology since January at the University of Michigan. That effort birthed WellSpringboard, which recently won the prototype category worth $40,000 from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Challenge.

Davis and his team are currently working on further developing the prototype and raising money for the launch of their technology.

"Our timeline is to launch a Beta version in 2014 depending on further funding," Davis says.

Source: Matthew Davis, associate professor of pediatrics & internal medicine & public policy at the University of Michigan and co-founder of WellSpringboard
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Huron River Ventures closes on $11M fund

Huron River Ventures has closed on its first investment fund worth $11 million.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm specializes in clean-tech investments in the energy, transportation infrastructure and agricultural fields. Tim Streit and Ryan Waddington launched the venture capital firm in 2011. The pair have raised $6 million from the state of Michigan, a couple of local institutions including DTE Energy and fewer than 50 private investors.

"We are less than 30 percent deployed," says Streit, managing partner of Huron River Ventures. "We have significant capital resources from our existing portfolio to help them with their growth."

Among Huron River Ventures' initial investments are include SideCar Technologies, University of Michigan spin-out Ambiq Micro, Ann Arbor-based OptoAtmospherics, Ann Arbor-based FarmLogs, Root3 Technologies and Ann Arbor-based Covaron Advanced Materials. The firm has closed one deal last week, which is plans to announce soon. Streit expects to close on another 1-2 more deals before the end of the year.

Huron River Ventures has a staff of two people and a stable of independent contractors and interns. It has offices in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.

Source: Tim Streit, managing partner of Huron River Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Online Tech adds 9 staffers as it expands in the Midwest

Online Tech is on the brink of turning its plans for midwestern expansion into a reality this summer.

The Ann Arbor-based data center firm received a $20 million investment last year to expand its operations across middle America. It has identified two target markets where it has seen high demand for its data center and cloud-computing services and is close to making those plans public.

"We are not more than 90 days away from telling that story," says Yan Ness, Co-CEO of Online Tech.

The 10-year-old firm has been staffing up for the last year to prepare for the expansion. It has hired nine people, including three executive level personnel. The company currently employs 47 people and a handful of interns. It is also looking for a new director of infrastructure management to help the company with its pending expansion plans.

"It's one of the coolest tech jobs in the Midwest," Ness says.

Online Tech is looking to expand its footprint within a 200-500 mile radius around its Ann Arbor home. Ness expects to have his company solidly positioned in two new markets by the next year and two more on top of that by 2017. He means being the No 1 or No 2 player in the market when he says solidly positioned.

Source: Yan Ness, Co-CEO of Online Tech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor SPARK helps create 628 jobs, retain 1,135 more

Ann Arbor SPARK is parading around some impressive job-creation numbers after its annual meeting last week. Among the statistics it is reporting are that the 63 companies is has worked with over the last year have:

- Created 628 new jobs.
- Retained 1,135 jobs.
- Invested $148 million in the region's economy.

Those jobs and investment are not from Ann Arbor SPARK's work with start-ups. Those numbers come from its work with established companies making multi-million-dollar investments in the region, such as Hyundia's $50 million investment to create 50 engineering jobs in Superior Township or Barracuda Networks move into the former Borders store in downtown Ann Arbor.

"They (Barracuda Networks) are hiring at a pretty rapid rate," says Paul Krutko, president & CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK. "This is a project that will create as many as 200 jobs."

The annual meeting also gave out three awards to local entrepreneurs and businesses. Those include:

Bhushan Kulkarni, chairman of GDI Infotech and CEO InfoReady Corp, won the Volunteer Leader of the Year award, which recognizes his passion for economic development and efforts to grow the local economy.
Faurecia, an automotive supplier, received the Project of the Year for its new Saline facility.
Compendia Bioscience, acquired last year by Life Technologies, won entrepreneurial company of the year for its use of Ann Arbor SPARK’s services to grow from start-up to successful exit.

Source: Paul Krutko, president & CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Protean Payment adds Detroit Labs co-founder to exec team

Protean Payment landed a big fish in Michigan's mobile technology pond last week when the mobile payment start-up announced that Detroit Labs co-founder Henry Balanon is joining Protean Payment's executive ranks as its chief technology officer.

Detroit Labs
has emerged as one of the biggest mobile app companies in Michigan since it was launched in 2011, handling mobile work for Quicken Loans, Stryker and Domino's among other larger corporate clients. It is now one of the fastest-growing companies based in the M@dison Building in downtown Detroit.

Enticing the likes of Balanon, one of Metro Detroit's early mobile app developers, is not a new thing for Protean Payment. The Ann Arbor-based start-up also has Dug Song serving as a key advisor. Song is a serial tech entrepreneur and current co-founder of Duo Security, a venture-backed Internet security start-up based in Ann Arbor.

Protean Payment is developing technology called "Echo" that will serve as a "skeleton key for the wallet" by combining all of the user's credit, debit, loyalty and ID cards into the Echo card. Echo comes equipped with a tiny computer that syncs with the user's mobile phone. The accompanying mobile app allows the user to convert Echo into the card of his or her choice, allowing them to swipe it as they would their normal credit card.

"It is in essence a virtual wallet," says Chris Bartenstein, co-founder of Protean Payment. "The card can become any of your cards for payment."

Barnestein co-founded Protean Payment with Thiago Olson a year ago. The original technology was developed by the pair when they went to school in Vanderbilt University. Olson was working at TARDEC in Warren when he and Barnestein, who had a brother attending the University of Michigan School of Law, moved to Ann Arbor and launched Protean Payment out of the Tech Brewery. It is now looking at moving into space at the former home of Bay Design in Kerrytown, which is the home of Duo Security and a couple of other start-ups that launched out of the Tech Brewery.

Protean Payment has begun raising angel investment money. Bartenstein declined to say how much specifically but said it has raised six-figures so far and plans to put together a formal seed-round of funding later this year.

Source: Chris Bartenstein, co-founder of Protean Payment
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TECAT Sensors makes new CEO key part of growth plan

Fresh leadership is helping guide TECAT Performance Sensors in a new direction. The Ann Arbor-based start-up has hired two executives over the last year, including a new CEO.

The new leadership has allowed the nearly 2-year-old company to refocus its efforts and improve its sales. Revenues for the company are up 10 percent mainly on the strength of word-of-mouth references. The firm's leadership expects those numbers to improve.

"We expect the second half of this year to be stronger than the second half of last year," says Don Keating, vice president of business development for TECAT Performance Sensors.

TECAT Performance Sensors, a spin-off of TECAT Engineering, is developing wireless sensor technology. These sensors gather environmental, motion and mechanical information then wirelessly send these parameters to a central control unit or direct to a control or viewing device. Its sensors, WISE and POINT Telemetry Systems, allow for transmission, monitoring and recording of live torque data and more from any rotating shaft. It especially designed to be used in confined spaces.

TECAT Performance Sensors currently employs six people and the occasional intern. Keating expects those numbers to go up as sales rise, which he projects to increase by 25-30 percent over the next year.

Source: Don Keating, vice president of business development for TECAT Performance Sensors
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Michigrow develops new LED grow-light technology

An Ann Arbor-based start-up believes it has the developed the next generation of technology for grow lights.

Grow lights are large lights that are used for a number of purposes, ranging from providing artificial light for growing organic vegetables year round to medical marijuana. Those lights have traditionally used incandescent lights.

Michigrow's technology utilizes LED lights, which consume far less energy than incandescent bulbs and run much cooler. The use of LED lights and Michigrow's technology allows for not only more energy-efficient operations but helps accelerate the grow cycle of the plants it provides light for by altering its night-and-day biorhythm.

"Think of it as a factory that needs to be shut off 12 hours a day," says Jim Beyer, president of Michigrow. "If you can make the factory run 24 hours a day it is much more efficient."

Beyer works as a software engineer for his day job but has already begun selling some of the prototypes of his patent-pending technology. He acknowledges that selling his technology to medical marijuana growers would allow for most direct path for rapid start-up. However, he adds that Michigrow's has a number of different potential revenue stream, especially for people in traditional agriculture.

"It would allow people to do more of their own food growing in a more economical way," Beyer says.

Source: Jim Beyer, president of Michigrow
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Augment Ventures expands portfolio with latest investment

Augment Ventures made its third investment last week since launching out of Ann Arbor nearly two years ago.

The venture capital firm participated in the $2 million Series A investment in Mercatus. The California-based start-up offers origination and syndication management technology for the energy project finance industry, helping investors make asset-class portfolio decisions. Mercatus, formerly SCS Renewables, has assessed over 3.2 GW of solar projects, while enabling $250 million in investments and transactions. It currently serves more than 40 percent of the U.S. commercial and utility solar markets.

"It's solving a pain point in energy generation solutions across the board," says Sonali Vijayavargiya, founder & managing director of Augment Ventures.

Augment Ventures and its team of three people specialize in making investments in start-ups in the clean-tech/sustainability sector. It has made three investments so far, including in downtown Ann Arbor-based LLamasoft last year.

"We anticipate making two more investments this year," Vijayavargiya says. "We are evaluating a number of opportunities from Michigan.

Source: Sonali Vijayavargiya, founder & managing director of Augment Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MyBuys hires 30 people in downtown Ann Arbor

MyBuys is continuing its hiring march in downtown Ann Arbor, adding 30 new employees over the last year and expanding the physical footprint of its office.

The California-based software company expanded its office in the Comerica Building, taking over the 6th floor of the structure at Main and Huron. That new space can accommodate up to 150 people, a number the company expects to hit by late this year. The company currently has a staff of a little more than 100 employees and eight interns. It has hired 30 new employees over the last year and promoted 10 of its interns to full-time status over the last five years.

"We have been hiring a lot of recent college grads and experienced folks," says Drew Stirton, vice president and general manager of the Ann Arbor office for MyBuys. "Our staff is up 25 percent year over year."

MyBuys makes personalized product recommendations for online retailers. It has launched a number of unique advertising display services over the last year, which has helped drive the company's growth. It has also been expanding its digital media advertising work.

MyBuys opened an office in downtown Ann Arbor five years ago. It currently has 10 job openings.

Source: Drew Stirton, vice president and general manager of the Ann Arbor office for MyBuys
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Internet2 expands staff, partners with Microsoft

Internet2 is expanding both its staff and its partnership base by more than 20 people, as well as striking a deal with tech-giant Microsoft.

The Ann Arbor-based member-owned technology community provides a collaborative environment for U.S. research and education organizations to solve common technology challenges, and to develop innovative solutions. Last month it struck a deal with Microsoft to access the company's cloud services that should enable university researchers faster and more robust computing options for big-data projects.

Students, staff and researchers at college campuses throughout the nation are expected to have faster and more secure connections from the partnership's new peering arrangement between Microsoft and Internet2. It will enable improved access to infrastructure and application services that support virtual learning environments and large-scale data intensive research projects.

"As we start doing this on a broader basis, that opens the door to a lot of opportunities," says Khalil Yazdi, CIO in residence at Internet2. He adds, "It's more than just making effective and better connections. It's about the capacity to do more and how we expand that platform."

Internet2 has also been expanding its staff. The organization now employs 90 people, including 43 in Ann Arbor. It has hired 22 people over the last year, with seven of those in Ann Arbor. It currently has 10 open positions, which can be found here.

Source: Khalil Yazdi, CIO in residence at Internet2
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Message Blocks wins Entrepreneur Boot Camp

Message Blocks recently took home the Best of Boot Camp award from Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp, putting another feather in the start-up's cap.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company is making waves with its comprehensive event-planning software. The online platform streamlines the event-planning process by focusing on the event planner's experience, allowing users to share documents and presenters to use plug-in presentations. It has been used by a number of marquee events, including ACE and Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

"I thought there has to be a better way to do this," says Len Gauger, founder & CEO of Message Blocks and a former event planner. "There were a number of tools out there but not an end-to-end comprehensive solution."

Gauger and his two employees recently launched the public Beta version of the software. They are working to launch a Version 1 later this summer. They know they have some hard work to put in to get there after participating in Entrepreneur Boot Camp, a comprehensive course that helps aspiring entrepreneurs learn the ropes of running a business and fine-tuning their business plan.

"It was an eye-opening experience that took us away from the day-to-day stuff we were focusing on," Gauger says. "It helped us focus on the pain conference planners experience."

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

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

SmartBars app turns bar codes into price-shopping weapon

Gary Guo thinks finding the best price for an item should be as easy as scanning a bar code. He is making that a reality with his new start-up, SmartBars.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up has created a mobile app for Apple and Andriod devices. The technology allows users to scan barcodes of items while shopping. The app then tells the user what seller is offering the best deal for that item.

"If you have a smart bar you can scan a barcode anywhere and find the best price," says Guo, the owner of SmartBars.

The 1-year-old start-up released the free app earlier this year. The team of three people is working on offering more features to the app and increasing usage. The plan is to have it gain traction in time for this year's holiday shopping season.

"We have a few thousand downloads now," Guo says.

Source: Gary Guo, owner of SmartBars
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RateMyStudentRental gives voices to tenants, landlords

Rental housing for college students is one of those things that are habitually hard to keep track of. What homes are coming onto the market, the quality of units, landlords and tenants are all things that are difficult to quantify because of the high turnover of the market.

RateMyStudentRental solves that by creating a Yelp-like database  of student housing that allows users to see what's available at schools like the University of Michigan and Kettering University.

"All of the properties always stay listed on the site," says Steve Schwartz, co-founder of RateMyStudentRental. "They accumulate reviews from the students who live there."

They also allow landlords to give reviews of their tenants. Schwartz says the idea is to make sure the site isn't dragged down by one-sided reviews. It accomplishes that with the average user giving three out of four stars in a review.

The Ann Arbor-based company that calls the Tech Brewery home makes money from selling premium services to landlords and universities that are looking to have greater control of their off-campus housing. The website's services are always free to students, and that's not an accident.

"Students are in enough debt as it is," Schwartz says.

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

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

URC report highlights need for talent retention

Talent retention is one of Michigan's traditional economic development goals. A new report from the University Research Corridor drives home the importance of that goal.

The recently released report shows that 19 percent of graduates from Michigan's three research universities (University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University) go onto start a business.

"It was a larger number than we thought," says Jeff Mason, executive director of the University Research Corridor, a non-profit advocate for Michigan's three research universities. "We were hopeful it would be 10 percent. Nearly 20 percent is pretty significant."

The rate of those graduates from the mid '90s to today that pursue entrepreneurship is about twice the national average of college graduates. More than half of those businesses are in fields different than the graduates' degree.

The good news is that nearly half of those companies are based in Michigan. Also, the success rate of those business hovers around 70 percent, which is significantly higher than the national average of 45 percent.

"It shows the education they are receiving at these institutions is broad," Mason says. "It helps them start companies and do amazing things."

Source: Jeff Mason, executive director of the University Research Corridor
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Esperion Therapeutics adds 5 staff, preps for IPO

Esperion Therapeutics is adding staff, closing on a round of seed capital and prepping for an initial public offering of stock later this year.

The pharmaceutical firm's staff recently jumped to 13 people after making five hires over the last year. It also has a job opening for a senior director of clinical & PT staff. Helping make that expansion possible is the recent securing of $33 million in preferred stock financing. The seed capital round was led by Longitude Capital with Aisling Capital, Alta Partners, Domain Associates, Arboretum Ventures and Asset Management also participating.

Tim Mayleben, Esperion Therapeutics' CEO, declined to comment on the company's growth because it recently filed for an IPO. IPOs come with quiet periods where company representatives are not allowed to promote the upcoming IPO, often leading them to decline speaking about the company altogether to be safe.

Esperion Therapeutics
has historically been an Ann Arbor-based company, scoring a $1.3 billion exit when Pfizer acquired it in 2004. Company founder Roger Newton reacquired the firm in 2008 and eventually moved to the Michigan Life Sciences Innovation Center in Plymouth, which is managed by Ann Arbor SPARK.

Esperion Therapeutic's most advanced product candidate, ETC-1002, is being developed for patients with hypercholesterolemia and other cardiometabolic risk factors. ETC-1002 is a small-molecule metabolic regulator of imbalances in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism and inflammation. It is being developed to address the underlying causes of metabolic diseases and reduce multiple risk factors associated with them.

Source: Tim Mayleben, CEO of Esperion Therapeutics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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