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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.

Rubicon Genomics grows to 25 staff, plans to hire 9 more

When James Kozairz joined Rubicon Genomics as its president & CEO in 2008 it was a fledgling life sciences startup with a small staff of four people in need of some veteran leadership.

Today, the Ann Arbor-based company is watching its sales spike and its staff has grown to 25 employees. It is currently looking for interns and more employees.

"Our 2014 plan calls for us to add nine more employees," Koziarz says.

Rubicon Genomics got its start when a pair of University of Michigan professors began working to find a way to bring human genetics laboratory knowledge to everyday medical applications. It's making that happen by developing and selling sample-specific nucleic acid library preparation products used in research and clinical testing. These molecular biology tools help facilitate gene-based research, drug development and diagnostics.

Sales of Rubicon Genomics' nucleic acid library preparation products, ThruPLEX®-FD Prep Kits and PicoPLEX™ WGA Kits, spiked 85 percent in 2013. Part of the credit goes toward the startup’s innovative new technologies and another part go toward the healthcare industry's shift to using more genetic testing.

"It's kind of being in the right place at the right time with the right technology," Koziarz says.

He adds that Rubicon Genomics has signed a lease to move to a bigger facility on the south side of Ann Arbor later this year. The new space will help accommodate the company's growth by providing more room for new employees, research and development space, and an area to manufacture its kits.

Source: James Koziarz, president & CEO of Rubicon Genomics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor State Bank adds positions as it increases lending

Ann Arbor State Bank is growing both in the money its lending and the staff its employing.

The 5-year-old bank, located n downtown Ann Arbor, has added employees in the last year, including positions in commercial lending and mortgage underwriting and operations, among others. The bank currently has a staff of 37 employees and the occasional intern.

"We had a pretty good growth year staff-wise," says Peter Schork, president & CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank.

Ann Arbor State Bank now has $174 million in deposits, which is up from $153 million last year.  It's grown its revenues by 25 percent in 2013 and increased its profitability by 15 percent.

Driving that growth is Ann Arbor State Bank's loan portfolio. The bank has watched its loans jump from $98 million last year to $116 million to kick off 2014. Part of that is the bank’s hire of a mortgage originator in 2012 that has aggressively grown the bank’s portfolio.

"We're doing a lot of (mortgages for) existing houses," Schork says. "Last year we did $7 million in construction loans. That’s equal to the total we had in our first three years."

Schork expects that trend to continue as the economy improves and Ann Arbor State Bank adds more employees to facilitate more revenue growth.

Source: Peter Schork, president & CEO of Ann Arbor State Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Betty Brigade hires 5, preps to expand across state

Sharon McRill's path to entrepreneurship was fairly typical. She got laid off from her project management job at Borders in 2004 and then started her own company, Betty Brigade, to pay her bills. Before she knew it, Betty Brigade grew into her full-time job.

"I took the project management skill set and applied it to residential," McRill says. "We started managing people's lives. I created a company I would have liked to use when I was in the corporate life."

The Ann Arbor-based business is a concierge service that now employs 15 people after hiring five in the last year. It specializes in everything from help smooth corporate relocation of top talent into the region to managing Michigan’s growing fleets of Zipcars.

The company has grown its revenues 28 percent over the last year and has averaged 25 percent revenue growth over the last five years. One of the primary drivers of that growth over the last year was helping local corporate human resources directors recruit and relocate talent from outside of Michigan by making them feel comfortable in the Great Lakes State.

"It's about their spouse," McRill says. "It's about the schools. It's about the environment they will be living in."

Betty Brigade has enjoyed such a steady growth in recent years that McRill is looking into franchising the business across Michigan. In the meantime, she is refining her business model so its a simpler, turn-key operation.

"We're looking to perfect the system in 2014," McRill says.

Source: Sharon McRill, president of Betty Brigade
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Another Rinse turns old golf clubs into new tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HealPay partners with Commercial Legal Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreign sales spur growth at kSpace Associates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biovigil Hygiene Technologies adds 8, looks to hire 2 more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Estrakon hires 4 as it expands LED signage offerings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epsilon Imaging closes in on $4M Series B round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applied Engineering scores grant for wastewater tech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure Visibility finds inspiration in new, innovative clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FamilyMint grows reach of financial literacy workbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xoran Technologies hires 12, aims to add 5 more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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