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Underground Printing hires 55 as it grows nationally

Underground Printing has consolidated some of its gains over the last year and made some more inroads as part of its expansion plan.

The Ann Arbor-based business has watched its revenue jump by $2 million, or 17 percent, over the last year. It has added one new store in Oklahoma after opening four the year before that.

"Those stores have really come into their own," says Rishi Narayan, owner of Underground Printing. "That's where a lot of growth has come from."

Underground Printing specializes in making custom printed apparel, such as t-shirts and embroidered clothing. It has 19 stores across North America, including four in Ann Arbor. It also has one production facility in Ann Arbor.

The 12-year-old business employs 101 people after hiring 55 people over the last year. About 30 of those 55 hires are newly created positions. Narayan expects that hiring pace to continue over the next year or two as his firm keeps growing.

"We have plans to open between two and four stores within the next 12-18 months," Narayan says. "We expect our existing stores to dig in and grow, too."

Source: Rishi Narayan, owner of Underground Printing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

RheTech adds staff as it expands Whitmore Lake facility

RheTech is riding the wave of a growing economy and a resurgent automotive industry.

The Whitmore Lake-based plastics firm has hired a number of new employees in operations, accounting and customer service. A company spokesman described the number of new hires as “less than 15” but did say it now employs 200 people and a few interns companywide.

"Business is really good," says Kevin Seitz, vice president of sales & marketing for RheTech. "We have been growing."

Seitz says the company’s growth is being spurred by a combination of a rebounding economy and automotive industry, along with new sales of the firm’s newest product, RheVision. The green product is a fiber-reinforced polypropylene that replaces traditional minerals with renewable bio waste that are traditionally burned or buried.

RheTech has production facilities across the U.S. and two plants at Ann Arbor and Fowlerville. The 44-year-old company has added warehouse space and plant capacity between those two Michigan-based facilities to meet the rising demand for its products.

"We're optimistic about the future," Seitz says.

Source: Kevin Seitz, vice president of sales & marketing for RheTech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Coval Fitness & Sports Performance grows staff to 4 in Ann Arbor

Mike Coval doesn't believe personal fitness has a one-size-fits-all solution. That's why his business, Coval Fitness & Sports Performance, treats each customer individually.

That means designing programs to help people lose weight, or gain strength to better compete athletically or build up endurance to overcome illness and injury so they can live an everyday life. It also means the Ann Arbor-based business isn't a sea of cardio and weight machines.

"We are much more specific to the individual and what their goal," Coval says. "We try to make it the Rolls Royce of personal training."

Coval Fitness & Sports Performance has used this philosophy to expand its client base and add staff. The company has hired four people over the last year, that includes a few replacement hires, so the 4-person firm can meet its demand.

Source: Mike Coval, owner of Coval Fitness & Sports Performance
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Student start-ups continue evolution at Accelerate Michigan

There will be some familiar start-up names in this year’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Not because it's the same entrepreneurs pushing the same ideas. It's because a number of former studentpreneurs are now pushing their start-ups as professionals.

A number of businesses that were launched from Michigan-based student housing are among the 51 semifinalists in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Among those are Covaron Advanced Materials (which won Accelerate Michigan's student competition last year under the name Kymeria Advance Materials), AutoBike (a product of U-M Ross School of Business grads), TurtleCell (founded by two U-M students) and SkySpecs (launched by four U-M students).

"We want to make sure we have a staircase of opportunities for students and their companies," says Lauren Bigelow, executive director of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is in its fourth year. It has made a name for itself for awarding $1 million in prizes over the three-day business plan competition, including a $500,000 top prize for the top finisher. The prizes go to Michigan-based startups rooted in the new economy or startups that are looking to move to the Great Lakes State.

The competition is held annually in mid November. It was held at the University of Michigan its first two years and moved to downtown Detroit last year. This year's event will also be held in downtown Detroit on Nov 12-14, primarily at the Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel. For information, click here.

Source: Lauren Bigelow, executive director of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Navitas Systems to create 125 jobs with $9.3M investment

Navitas Advanced Solutions Group, a subsidiary of Navitas Systems, plans to invest $9.3 million into a new facility to manufacture battery storage technology in Ann Arbor, creating 125 new jobs.

Navitas Systems, which is based in Illinois, bought the government contract business from A123 Systems early this year and spun it off into Navitas Advanced Solutions Group. The company has since hired half a dozen people and now has a staff of 37 employees and one intern. Those sorts of roots played a major role in decision to invest further in Ann Arbor.

"Twenty five of 37 people were already in Ann Arbor," says Les Alexander, general manager of Navitas Advances Solutions Group. "We already have an established presence here. We have been here since 1996 (when the company was called TJ Technologies)."

Navitas Advances Solutions Group is currently working on some military and commercial products that are expected to hit production in the latter half of 2014. That should trigger the hiring for this current investment.

"The bulk of that hiring (the 125 jobs) will be done in 2014 and 2015," Alexander says.

Navitas Systems received a $1 million Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. It will also receive a property tax abatement.

Source: Les Alexander, general manager of Navitas Advances Solutions Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Perich Advertising & Design adds 5 in Ann Arbor

Perich Advertising & Design has developed a couple of strong revenue streams in recent years.

It's a development that has allowed the downtown Ann Arbor-based company to hire five people over the last year. Those new hires have been mostly in client services and creative. The 26-year-old business now has a staff of 30 employees and two interns and expects to continue to keep up with its growth.

"For us it has been two things," says Ernie Perich, president/creative director of Perich Advertising & Design. "It's steady as she goes with our existing customers. We have also branched out to some business-to-business work."

Some of Perich's existing customers include Bank of Ann Arbor, Walsh College and the Detroit Institute of Arts. It has also taken on some new business-to-business work from Plex Systems, Summit Health and Altair, among others.

"It has been a good run for us," Perich says.

He credits that run partly to the longevity of the company's staff. It has 12 employees who have been with the company for at least a dozen years. It also has eight or nine that have been here for 20 years or more.

"We have a solid team of people who have been working here for a long time," Perich says. He adds that his company is also looking for creative talent, and that hiring the next graphic designer or art director is at the top of his to-do list.

"Hiring the next creative people here is the most important thing I do," Perich says.

Source: Ernie Perich, president/creative director of Perich Advertising & Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wisely aims to leverage purchasing data

Wisely is looking for a few good consumers to help test out the Beta version of its new software that puts people reviews where their wallets are.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up takes data accumulated from purchases and uses that to show the popularity of a retail business. The idea is that fake reviews (both positive and negative) are posted all the time online on websites like Yelp. Wisely reveals the popularity of businesses and the items they sell by how often they are purchased creating a collection of reviews that are much harder to fake.

"We always thought purchasing data was interesting but it has never been democratized," says Mike Vichich, co-founder & CEO of Wisely. "Every other piece of information has been put under a microscope."

The 4-month-old start-up and its core team of five people take transaction data from consumers, which provides the basic ingredient for its secret software sauce. "We call it the first credible search engine for the physical world powered by transaction data," Vichich says. "Think credit card swipes."

Wisely is launching its public beta this week. It is looking for consumers to sign up to test out the software in Ann Arbor and New York City. For information on the beta test, click here. Vichich hopes to have 10,000 users in the Ann Arbor area by the end of the year. That would enable Wisely and his team to build out a merchant services program to help businesses maximize their sales.

"It's a better way for consumers and merchants to connect and establish relationships," Vichich says.

Source: Mike Vichich, co-founder & CEO of Wisely
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

YouKnowWatt brings tech to home energy audits

Ann Arbor-based YouKnowWatt is working on technology that helps bring real-time information to home energy audits and eventually make more houses energy efficient.

"We know that energy efficiency is something the U.S. can do now to improve our energy infrastructure and lessen our dependance on fossil fuels," says Steven Sherman, co-founder of YouKnowWatt.

The 6-month-old company is creating a digital portal that allows the people giving home energy audits more information so they can better engage and educate the homeowners. The portal will provide real-time energy consumption data, prior energy usage, and break down the numbers so homeowners can see where there energy dollars are going.

"It gives people more insight," Sherman says.

He also hopes it will enable them to make more informed decisions about what are the best options to making a building more energy efficient. It could potentially lay out a battle plan to retrofit a structure with better energy efficient features, such as when to install insulation or add alternative energy sources or simply replace an incandescent lightbulb with a CFL.

"It's a way to show how a home is performing and how a home audit can help it," Sherman says.

YouKnowWatt's team of four people (two full-time and two part-time) is preparing to launch a private beta with local contractors later this fall.

Source: Steven Sherman, co-founder of YouKnowWatt
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

All Out Fitness doubles staff at Avis Farms

Star Smith is always striving for self-improvement, which made sense because the owner of All Out Fitness has been a personal trainer for eight years.

That sort of drive got him started in physical fitness, led him to open his own business three years ago and double All Out Fitness’s staff over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based firm, it calls Avis Farms home, hired a personal trainer this year and has expanded its services to broad range of exercises, such as weight loss, strength training and sports performance.

"I try to stay well-rounded in most things," Smith says. "That helps me be the best all-around trainer I can be."

Smith started the business from scratch with just himself and few piece of work-out equipment. Now he has much more equipment, an employee and a growing client base that averages anywhere from 10-20 people a class. He says it's mostly from word-of-mouth referrals from clients and is quite proud of it.

"I would like to be locally known as one of the best studios in the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Metro Detroit area," Smith says.

Source: Star Smith, owner of All Out Fitness
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cayman Chemical grows in Ann Arbor with new hires

Cayman Chemical took a recent hit or two, but not of its own creation. Still, the Ann Arbor-based company has continued to grow and add to its staff.

The 33-year-old bio-tech firm provides researchers with bio-chemical tools. It has hired 19 people over the last year, including the creation of 11 new positions. Those hires include a broad range of professionals, such as IT workers, scientists and marketeers. The company now employs 218 people and had 21 interns this summer.

"We continue to invest in our facility and employees as we grow," says Christine Booher, vice president of human resources for Cayman Chemical.

That growth comes despite some hits from governmental tribulations, such as the sequester. That means Cayman Chemical has not been hiring as fast as it was last year, when it added 30 people. Recently it began filling out its newly acquired office buildings on the south side of Ann Arbor. Booher expects the two new buildings -Cayman Chemical controls four facilities- to accommodate the company’s growth for the next few years as they look to capitalize on 2014 growth prospects.

"We have seen a rebound slowly from some governmental issues," Booher says. "We are very optimistic and optimistic for our global growth."

Source: Christine Booher, vice president of human resources for Cayman Chemical
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.
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