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Stout Systems rounds out big growth year with more hires

2013 turned out to be a banner year for Stout Systems as the technology consulting and staffing firm hit records for revenue and expanded its staff numbers.

"Last year was our best year ever in terms of revenue," says John W. Stout, CEO of Stout Systems. "That includes our best quarter ever."

Stout Systems specializes in providing consulting services in the software and IT sectors, along with staffing services for those places. The 21-year-old company helped fill 48 positions in other firms over the last year. Stout expects to repeat that stat again in 2014.

"We'd like to stay consistent at that 40-50 level of workers each year," Stout says.  "That is a good level for us."

That spike in business has allowed the company to has hired two people to its core team, specifically two senior business analysts. It expects to continue adding to that core team to keep up with its revenue increases.

"We have had a lot of good referral business," Stout says.

Source: John W. Stout, CEO of Stout Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Velesco Pharma expands into Boston with new office

Velesco Pharma is expanding its physical presence, opening a new office in Boston to complement its existing facilities in Michigan.

The new Boston office is meant to bring the company closer to that region’s booming pharmaceutical industry. Velesco Pharma continues to grow its satellite office in Kalamazoo and headquarters in the Ann Arbor area. It recently hired three people, expanding its staff to 15 people.

"We continue to grow and have the bulk of our operations in southern Michigan," says Gerry Cox, COO of Velesco Pharma.

Velesco Pharma, wich calls the Ann Arbor SPARK-managed Michigan Life Science Innovation Center home, specializes in pharmaceutical consulting and laboratory services. It also operates a plant in Kalamazoo that makes dosage forms for clinical trials.

It registered 30 percent revenue growth last year and is well on its way to repeat that. Cox also expects to hire another 2-3 people before the end of the year to keep up with revenue growth.

"We are continuing the same growth rate in the first quarter of 2014," Cox says. "We have been concentrating on what we’re good at and growing that."

Source: Gerry Cox, COO of Velesco Pharma
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ACA leads to increased business and staff for Clarity Quest Marketing

Clarity Quest Marketing is enjoying a banner year, and one thing stands out as a reason why: the Affordable Care Act.

"This year in Q1 we have had our best quarter ever in the company," says Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing. "We are on track to have our best revenue ever this year."

The Ann Arbor-based firm has traditionally served the marketing needs of tech firms over many of its 13 years. It started to take on more and more work from healthcare firms, such as Vocollect Health Systems, the Pittsburgh-based business is the maker of AccuNurse. A few years ago the company’s portfolio was split evenly between tech and healthcare firms. Now about 75 percent of Clarity Quest Marketing's clients are healthcare based.

"That whole industry is booming," Slocumb says. "A  lot of it is being done by the Affordable Care Act."

That has allowed Clarity Quest Marketing to hire two people (senior-level consultants) in the last year, expanding its staff to 17 employees and two interns. Slocumb expects to hire more as Clarity Quest Marketing increases its visibility in the healthcare sector.

"We're working a lot on visibility," Slocumb says. "We are working with a lot of thought leaders in this space."

Source: Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pinoccio ships first orders of microcontroller technology

There is a saying about electronic startups that deal more in hardware than software and the difficulty of the task. One Ann Arbor-based venture is learning about that right now.

"The cliche is hardware is hard," says Sally Carson, co-founder & CEO of Pinoccio. "That's definitely true."

But it's far from impossible. That's something that Pinoccio is proving right now. The startup is shipping the first units of its wireless, web-ready microcontroller, which is about the size of your thumb. The technology comes equiped with WiFi, a LiPo battery and a built-in radio, which allows users to send commands to the microcontroller over the Internet from their laptop. Check out a video about it here.

Carson and Eric Jennings began developing this technology a little more than a year ago. They launched a crowdfunding campaign with a goal to raise $60,000. They raised $105,000, which allowed them to ship 2,500 microcontrollers to 700 funders. The recepeints are mostly makers and hobbyists, but with a few other notable exceptions.

"We are also finding interest in other product designers and people who want to use Pinoccio in their hardware," Carson says.

That success has allowed Pinoccio to expand its staff to eight people after adding six in the last year. The company, which uses the tagline "Building the Internet of things," plans to take more orders for its microcontroller this spring and ship them later this summer.

Source: Sally Carson, co-founder & CEO of Pinoccio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

XanEdu aims to hire 50 in Ann Arbor, invest $1M

XanEdu is consolidating its operations in Michigan and Kentucky into its Ann Arbor facility, a move that is expected to bring another 50 hires in the next five years.

"Ann Arbor is such a great place to live and work," says Dianne Michalek, vice president of marketing for XanEdu. "With the University of Michigan in our backyard we have great access to top talent."

XanEdu got its start as a traditionally publishing company in 1999 making educational materials for schools, such as course packs for colleges. It has expanded into digital realm in recent years, bringing those educational materials to mobvile devices, such as iPads, with an app. It currently employs 30 people in Ann Arbor.

XanEdu, with help from Ann Arbor SPARK, is investing $1 million toward expanding its operations in Ann Arbor. The new hires will be primarily in management, sales and IT positions. Michalek expects the new jobs will be created steadily over the next five years as the company grows.

"We are trying to expand our technology operations into new markets," Michalek says.

Source: Dianne Michalek, vice president of marketing for XanEdu
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DeepField doubles staff as initial product gains traction

DeepField launched its first product six months ago and the IT startup is gaining traction with its customers as it prepares to launch more products in the coming weeks.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup's software that enables large corporations to adapt to the ever changing world of the Internet's back-end IT infrastructure. The technology, which is being branded as Cloud Genome, automatically identifies, tracks, and disambiguates the structure of all cloud-based services. DeepField's big-data platform analyzes and correlates telemetry from routers, switches, DNS, and more, decoding all of the morass of information. The end result is more visibility into all facets of the user's IT network.

DeepField launched this technology six months ago. It is now deployed at 25 large networks around the world. The company estimates its software is deployed along 20 percent of all online consumer traffic. The 2-year-old company plans to launch new products during the spring and summer of this year.

"The initial offering solved some big problems for our customers," says Craig Labovitz, co-founder of DeepField. "We're diving much deeper now."

DeepField recently made the move from its original home in the Tech Brewery to bigger officers in downtown Ann Arbor above the Michigan Theater. It has also opened satellite offices in Colorado, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C. With that growth has brought a doubling of the company’s staff to just under 20 hires. Labovitz expects the company to hit a staff size of 25-30 people by the end of the year to keep up with demand.

"We're basically doubling each year," Labovitz says.

Source: Craig Labovitz, co-founder of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Current Motor Co reaching for profitability in 2014

Current Motor Co is turning into the little electric scoot company that could as it continues to expand its sales domestically and overseas.

"We're a little company but we're growing and exporting," says Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co.

The Ann Arbor-based company makes electric scooter that can do everything that regular gas-powered scooters can do without the air pollution. Current Motor Co is aiming to sell its scooters in South America, think Brazil, where congestion is heavy and smog is thick because of it.

Current Motor Co continues to aggressively pursue this market and Flanagan expects to hit profitability this year thanks to increasing sales. "We came into this year with some additional contracts," Flanagan says. "We know we're going to have great growth this year."

Current Motor Co has expanded its staff to 10 full-time employees and half a dozen part-timers. It is also hiring interns this summer. The company has hired four people over the last year, including a new vice president of fleet sales.

Bob Mossing previously serves as business and fleet manager for Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office where he oversaw a $50 million budget. Mossing was also nominated as 2011 Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, and Received Honorable Mentions as one of 2011 100 Top Fleets of North America, and in 2013 as one of the Top Government Green Fleets.

"He's a great guy," Flanagan says.

Source: Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of Current Motor Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Whiplash expands footprint in Ann Arbor, San Francisco

Whiplash is growing its headcount in Ann Arbor and its footprint across America.

Whiplash is the merchandising arm of VGKids, handling logistics for its e-commerce activity. The 3-year-old company, which got its start in Ypsilanti but is now located in Ann Arbor, recently opened a new facility in San Francisco.

"That was a pretty big win for us," says James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash.

Whiplash pulled off the new facility last August by landing an anchor customer (BetaBrand) and then finding a building twice the square footage it would need to accommodate that client. The extra space is then taken up by business that is grown organically from within Whiplash. The facility now employs four people and Whiplash is looking at opening another in Los Angeles, New Jersey or Berlin.

Whiplash is also in the process of expanding its Ann Arbor location. The company has hired two people here, growing its Tree Town location to half a dozen employees. It is now building out that building to handle its growing workload.

"Originally we had half of the building we are in and then took all of the space," Marks says. "Now we're getting the building next door." He expects to complete the expansion by the end of this summer.

Source: James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hile Creative creates more work, jobs with biz model pivot

Hile Creative made a name for itself as Hile Design up until about nine months ago. That was when the Ann Arbor-based company pivoted its business plan away from project-oriented work and more toward branding, giving itself a new name in the process.

"Now we're more geared toward helping companies establish their brand," says Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative. "That was a good move for us."

The 30-year-old company has hired three people in the last year, expanding its staff to a dozen employees. It is looking at adding interns this summer.

The extra staff has allowed Hile Creative to capitalize on its growth. The firm has watched its animation work spike recently. Hile Creative handles all of its animation work internally so it means more and more work for the Ann Arbor-based creative agency.

"We're becoming increasingly visual as a people," Hile says. "If you can come up with creative concepts visually people will get it."

Source: Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Backyard Brains continues global expansion, adds staff

Backyard Brains has come a long way since its inception in 2010. Back then it was a side project of a couple of neuroscientists looking to sell a few insect neuroscience kits to teach grade-school students how the brain works. Today it is a multi-national corporation selling those kits on three continents.

The Ann Arbor-based company expanded into South America last year focusing on the Chilean education market. It has since cemented its presence there and is now expanding into Africa, making sales in Nigeria, Uganda, Morocco and Ethiopia, among other nations.

"We're now in 60 countries," says Tim Marzullo, co-founder of Backyard Brains. "That's pretty exciting."

Marzullo and Greg Gage launched Backyard Brains with its RoboRoach product. The testing kit enables students to control insects via antennas. Its flagship product is SpiderBox, a bioamplifier that allows users to hear and see spikes of neurons in invertebrates.

Backyard Brains sales of these products have increased an average of 5 percent a month over the last year. Revenue spiked to $70,000 last November (the business’ busy season and when it struck a partnership with Harvard) and reached $40,000 in February, which was still up considerably from a year. International sales, especially in Chile, are helping drive the company's growth.

"It (the Chilean market) is where Backyard Brains was three years ago," Marzullo says. "We're making sales there every month now."

The growth has allowed Backyard Brains to add staff. It has hired three people (an engineer, an accountant and a designer) in the U.S. over the last year, expanding its staff to six full-time employees and six part-timers. It also employs one full-time person and three part-timers in Chile.

Source: Tim Marzullo, co-founder of Backyard Brains
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

North Coast Technology Investors start off year with big exit

One of Ann Arbor's venture capital staples officially scored a big exit early this year, and chances are you haven't heard about it.

NTT Communications
, a Tokyo-based multinational corporation, acquired Denver-based Virtela Technology Services for $525 million. The deal was finalized in January, and Ann Arbor-based North Coast Technology Investors was one of the early investors in Virtela Technology Services.

"These don't happen everyday," says Hugo Braun, partner with North Coast Technology Investors. "We're pretty excited about it."

The 15-year-old venture capital firm is currently in the midst of deploying its third investment fund worth $30 million. North Coast Technology Investors' team of three people have made nine investments from the fund and recorded two exits. The other exit was Ford's acquisition of Ferndale-based Livio last fall.

"We're still in investment mode," Braun says. "We have half of our money left in our fund. Some of it is committed to other investments but we think we will make a few more this year."

One of its most recent investments is in VNN, formerly Varsity News Network, which recently raised a $3 million Series A round. The Grand Rapids-based startup is pushing forward a collaborative effort between traditional and community sports journalists to provide media coverage for every high school sport. It took first place and $500,000 in seed capital in last fall’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

Source: Hugo Braun, partner with North Coast Technology Investors
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Olark moves to bigger downtown Ann Arbor office

Olark is moving to bigger digs in downtown Ann Arbor as the spring officially begins in Michigan.

The software startup creates a messaging platform so businesses and their customers can connect online faster and with fewer headaches. It was launched in Ann Arbor and is upgrading its space from 1,000 square foot office to a 1,500-square-foot office with much better conference rooms at 205.5 S Main St.

"We were playing musical chairs with our conference rooms," says Zach Steindler, chief olarchitect at Olark. "One person would step out and another would go in."

Conference room space is critical to Olark because the startup's employee base is becoming more remote-based. Olark has gone from a staff of 12 people at the beginning of 2013 to 25 today. It has two primary offices in Ann Arbor and Silicon Valley where half of its employees work. The other half work remotely around the world.

Olark has hired three people so far this year. It also has four open positions in office administration, web development, senior UIX engineer and senior mobile engineer. More info about those openings can be found here.

"We're all excited to keep growing our organization," says Steindler, who is also one of the organizers of A2 New Tech Meetup. "We might slow down a little bit, but we're definitely excited to keep growing."

Olark has bootstrapped its way to this point. It hasn’t accepted any sort of seed capital from outside angel investors or venture capitalists and it doesn’t plan to anytime soon.

"All of our growth comes from our customers," Steindler says. "We're very happy to continue growing our company organically."

Source: Zach Steindler, chief olarchitect at Olark
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

H3D reinvents nuclear radiation detection technology

Zhong He has been working toward a better way to detect nuclear radiation for most of his academic career.

The University of Michigan professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences first started working on the technology in 1997 and has developed it through the years. Today it has been spun out of the university and is the principal product of H3D. The Ann Arbor-based startup launched almost two years ago after it saw an increased demand for it from government agencies and large corporations.

"We realized the technology is ready for market," says He, CEO of H3D.

H3D's Polaris H technology is a handheld radiation camera that helps nuclear plant operators find potentially dangerous hot spots and leaky fuel rods faster and more precisely. It accomplishes this by laying a gamma-ray map over an image of a room, allowing it to pinpoint radiation sources.

"We have developed a very sensitive technology readout system," He says.

H3D employs a staff of five employees and two independent contractors. It began marketing the product in earnest in early 2013 and has already taken orders for it. The Polaris H radiation camera is currently being used in four nuclear plants.

"We are doing demonstrations to show people how it works," He says. "That way people will know more and more about the technology."

Source: Zhong He, CEO of H3D
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IROA Technologies takes first test kits to market

IROA Technologies, formerly known as NextGen Metabolics, has sent its first test kits to market this year as the Ann Arbor-based firm hits few early milestones in 2014.

The life sciences startup released its first two testing kits for yeast and bacteria and is getting ready to release another testing kit this quarter. IROA Technologies testing kits help identify key metabolites that can be used to diagnose diseases, such as cancer in samples including blood and urine. The technology cuts through the clutter of information from the analysis of blood or other bodily fluids and tissues to find the critical metabolites that relate to disease and illness, making for shorter diagnosis times.

"Folks can use them to study any sort of mammalian system," says Felice de Jonge, CEO of IROA Technologies. "You can use them to diagnose disease so you can see if a disease is metabolically different from a control sample."

IROA Technologies landed a Series A worth more than $1 million last year. Its core team of two people have used that seed capital to finish development of the test kits and plans to market them aggressively throughout this year.

IROA Technologies has also brought on Nicolas Barthelemy as a member of the startup's board of directors. Barthelemy held various executive positions at Life Technologies for nine years, including serving as President of the $850 million Cell Systems Division and finally Chief Commercial Officer.

"He has a lot of commercial expertise on cell manufacturing and life sciences in general," de Jonge says. "He knows how to grow life sciences companies."

Source: Felice de Jonge, CEO of IROA Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ghostly International leverages partnerships for growth

Ghostly International, the ambient music label, has taken advantage of its growth opportunities this year through a number of partnerships with other creative-based firms.

The Ann Arbor-based firm, it calls the Tech Brewery home, has hired one full-time employee and another part-timer over the last year. It currently has a staff of 11 employees across the company’s five divisions and in other cities, such as New York City and Los Angeles.

Driving the growth for the firm has been partnerships on a variety of projects. For instance, Ghostly International teamed up with Warby Parker to create a Ghostly International brand of sunglasses. You can check out a video about the partnership here.

Ghostly International is also partnering with Honeyslug Games to create the soundtrack for the Hohokum video game for PlayStation. The team at Honeyslug Games approached Ghostly International with a music playlist in mind for the video game and it turned out to be all Ghostly International songs.

"We will have an entire soundtrack for that surrounding the release," says Jeremy Peters, director of creative licensing & business affairs for Ghostly Songs, a division of Ghostly International. "They have been awesome to work with."

Ghostly International is also still releasing electronic music. It is release the new album for Tyco, Awake, this week. You can more information on the new album here, including its first single Spectre.

Source: Jeremy Peters, director of creative licensing & business affairs for Ghostly International
Writer: Jon Zemke

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