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Saline-based DesignHub triples profitability on renewed growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann Arbor Seed Co expects business to blossom this spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esperion Therapeutics moves growing staff back to Ann Arbor

Esperion Therapeutics is moving its headquarters back to Ann Arbor, taking space in the Valley Ranch Business Park on the city’s south side.

Esperion Therapeutics relaunched out of Ann Arbor six years ago when Roger Newton and a group of investors bought it back from Pfizer. They moved the company to the Michigan Life Sciences Innovation Center in Plymouth a few years ago before bringing the company’s headquarters back to its roots in Ann Arbor this week.

"We're keeping our labs out there (in Plymouth)," says Tim Mayleben, CEO of Esperion Therapeutics. "We have added approximately 8,000 square feet in Ann Arbor."

Newton made his name in pharmaceuticals by co-discovering Lipitor at Pfizer before he went on to co-found Esperion Therapeutics, which was acquired by Pfizer. Esperion Therapeutics is now working on a new drug, ETC-1002, 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.

ETC-1002 completed a Phase 2a program which consisted of seven clinical trials for the drug last year. It is currently conducting a Phase 2b program of two clinical trials for the drug and is set to begin a Phase 3 program launch in 2015.

"We're in the middle of this large Phase 2b program, which totals approximately 500 patients across the country," Mayleben says.

Esperion Therapeutics has raised $110 million in seed capital over the last year to push its commercialization efforts forward. The firm raised $80 million in an IPO and another $30 million in mezzanine financing.

"We have money to take us through next year and into 2016," Mayleben says.

Esperion Therapeutics has hired 10 people in the last year and is looking to hire a clinical researcher right now. The staff currently stands at 18 employees and 10 independent contractors.

"We're really taking advantage of the wealth of talent and expertise here, especially after Pfizer closed (its Ann Arbor office)," Mayleben says.

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

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

Lyons Consulting Group adds 19 to Ann Arbor office

Lyons Consulting Group is well on its way of meeting its goal of creating new jobs one year into the expansion of its office in Ann Arbor.

The Chicago-based firm specializes in digital marketing and its Ann Arbor office focuses on e-commerce.  Last year it announced that it wanted to create 30 jobs at the office as part of a $1.1 million investment. Today Lyons Consulting Group employs 19 people in Ann Arbor, up from just five a year ago.

"We have been able to hire a core group of people and build around them," says Norman Alesi, COO & CFO of Lyons Consulting Group. He adds, "That office is scheduled to be at 24 people by the end of the year."

The Michigan Economic Development Corp struck a deal with Lyons Consulting Group last year, giving the company $300,000 in incentives in exchanges for the $1.1 million expansion. The Ann Arbor office now serves 40 customers from around the world.

Lyons Consulting Group choose Ann Arbor in part because of its deep talent pool. It has hired a number of recent graduates from the University of Michigan and other local universities, while also working with the state of Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK to fill out its staff.

"The state of Michigan has been very helpful for us getting set up there," Alesi says. "Ann Arbor SPARK has also been very helpful."

Source: Norman Alesi, COO & CFO of Lyons Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Enlighten hires 10 as it expands marketing work

Last year Enlighten started to make the transition from digital marketing to developing software. That change is still ongoing but the Ann Arbor-based business finds itself succeeding in both worlds.

"The focus has been a little bit more on developing software platforms," says Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten. "But our work is still marketing based."

Enlighten is growing its revenue at an average rate of 20 percent a year. The 30-year-old company has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 85 employees and five interns. The new hires include professionals specializing in interactive design, software development, project management, and IT infrastructure. It's also looking for five more people now in strategy, account management, engineering and IT architecture.

Enlighten has released two photo-oriented software products in 2012 , WhatWasThere.com and YearlyMe.com, along with OffersNow last year. OffersNow is a coupon and marketing software program aimed at helping small businesses.

"It's going well," Glauberman says. "We're still slowly introducing it into a few test markets. The reception has been great so far."

He adds that Enlighten's digital marketing work is moving toward catering to people who communicate on multiple devices. Think people who use laptops, tablets and smart phones.

"There is a lot of strategic work based around how to connect with these people," Glauberman says.

Source: Steve Glauberman, CEO of Enlighten
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Local Orbit hopes to sprout new food economy

Local Orbit is coming to a market near you soon, one way or another.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup’s local-food-ecosystem-software can now be found in a dozen states and Canada with plans to enter more later this year. It's also expanding its software platform to accommodate larger institutional buyers and offering retreats to help food entrepreneurs improve their business.

"We have really worked on refining our service offerings," says Erika Block, CEO of Local Orbit.

Local Orbit's technology helps connect buyers (think restaurants) with local food producers in, like Eastern Market in Detroit. The software platform provides a flexible, customizable suite of business tools that helps everything from farmer's markets to food co-ops streamline ordering, transaction processing, inventory management, logistics, integrated marketing and business analytics. It works for everything from fresh produce to craft food.

Local Orbit is also preparing to launch a version of this software platform for institutional buyers, like hospitals and universities. The new pilot project, set to launch later this year, helps these big buyers manage and streamline the local food procurement process.

"We can fill a lot of the needs larger institutions have," Block says.

Local Orbit also started offering Hub Camps, which are events that help local food entrepreneurs sharpen their business skills and grow their companies. Local Orbit has held two of these camps so far in Grand Rapids and Los Angeles. It is getting ready to host another one in California this spring.

"It's the nuts and bolts business tools to help people think through the best ways to run their business," Block says.

Local Orbit currently employs eight people and an intern. It has hired one person over the last year, a community manager, and is the process of hiring two more employees right now.

Source: Erika Block, CEO of Local Orbit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wolverine Venture Fund scores win with Silverpop exit

The Wolverine Venture Fund, an investment vehicle run by students at the University of Michigan, is celebrating a win now that it has recorded its fourth profitable exit with the IBM's acquisition of Silverpop.

Silverpop is a software company offering marketing automation and real-time personalization technology services. The Wolverine Venture Fund invested $200,000 in 2000. The size of the return hasn’t been released yet besides the managing director of the fund saying the exit "makes us very happy."

"What's nice about this one is that it's a company that was founded during the Dot Com boom," says Erik Gordon, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and managing director of the Wolverine Venture Fund. "Very few of these companies were standing three years later. This is one of the few Dot Com companies that was able to survive and pivot a few times."

The Wolverine Venture Fund got its start in 1997 with $2 million donated by supports of U-M’s business school. It has since grown to $6.5 million, recording four successful exits. The fund specializes in making early round investments in startups of around $100,000 to $200,000. The fund currently has about a dozen active portfolio companies.

The students who run the Wolverine Venture Fund number about 25 each year. About a dozen students sign up for a two-year stint of managing the fund each year. Most of those students are MBA students at the Ross School of Business but a few others are often graduate students in science and technology fields of the university.

"It's a huge commitment," Gordon says. "You come in and do it for two years, including through the summer. This is a real deep dive. They become real venture capitalists."

Some of the Wolverine Venture Fund’s recent alumni include Jake Cohen, a partner with Detroit Venture Partners, along with Michael Godwin and Jason Townsend, co-founders of Resonant Venture Partners.

"That's the fund's real accomplishment," Gordon says. "We are training our students to get up and make it happen."

Source: Erik Gordon, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

U-M researchers develop Entrain mobile app to reduce jet lag

A professor and graduate student at the University of Michigan, both mathematicians, have launched a mobile app focused on minimizing the effects of jet lag.

Entrain helps its travelers leverage shortcuts to getting their internal clocks on pace with their new time zones quickly and efficiently. The app is named for entrainment, which is the scientific term for synchronizing circadian rhythms with the outside hour. Entrain’s technology is based on new findings by U-M Matt Professor Daniel Forger and former U-M undergraduate student Kirill Serkh. Olivia Walch, a PhD student at U-M, created the mobile app, which launched last week.

"I took the results from the research paper and put it into app form," Walch says.

Forger and Serkh’s research focused on the impact of light on the average person. They identify it as the strongest signal to regulate circadian rhythms. Short disruptions to light exposure from things like jet lag can cause fatigue and lowered performance. Entrain provides shortcuts to eliminating these symptoms by providing custom schedules of light and darkness, boiling down to one block of time each day when the user should seek the brightest light possible and another when you should put yourself in the dark, or at least in dim light.

"Some of the schedules are pretty easy to follow," Walch says.

And the app has proved popular so far. "We have already had 50,000 downloads," Walch says.

Source: Olivia Walch, co-founder of Entrain
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

NeuMoDx Molecular scores $21M in Series B round

NeuMoDx Molecular has $21 million more in its coffers now that the Ann Arbor-based startup has secured a Series B round of financing.

The investment round in the diagnostics company was led by Pfizer Ventures. Other local venture capital investors included Baird Capital, Venture Investors, Arboretum Ventures and the Wolverine Venture Fund. The startup, helmed by veteran local CEO Jeff Williams, also secured $5 million in a Series A in 2012.

"It helps to have an experienced CEO," says Erik Gordon, a professor of entrepreneurship and strategy who oversees the student-run Wolverine Venture Fund at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. "We also did a lot of research in the molecular science space."

NeuMoDx Molecular is developing a new platform for high volume, low-cost molecular testing. The company’s patent-pending technology integrates magnetic particle affinity capture and real time polymerase chain reaction chemistry in a multi-sample microfluidic cartridge. That enables NeuMoDx Molecular’s platform to speed up molecular testing, processing about 500 samples every eight hours.

NeuMoDx Molecular is currently going through clinical trials and working to secure regulatory approval, which the new round of funding will make possible.

Source: Erik Gordon, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Arbormoon Software moves to new downtown office

Arbormoon Software has a new home that feels, well, more homey for the growing software firm.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm’s new office at 123 N Ashley is large,  to accommodate the company's growing staff, and a better place for them to collaborate and work together.

"It has a much better layout for us," says Dave Koziol, president of Arbormoon Software. "Our old space had two separate spaces that weren’t contiguous. This new space is contiguous. It’s also a nicer building with better management."

The 11-year-old software company has moved aggressively into the mobile space in recent years. It has hired three people in the last year (two mobile app developers and one design professional), growing its staff to a little more than a dozen employees. The company has also grown its revenue from an increased workload from existing clients and new customers. One of its more notable achievements in the last year was a a mobile app it created for Weather Underground that received some attention on social media.

"It's an app we’re particularly proud of," Koziol says. "It was nice to be noticed by someone."

Arbormoon Software's revenue has been growing significantly in recent years. It has won two Ann Arbor SPARK FasTrack Awards, which recognize firms with 20 percent revenue growth, and Kozoil is optimistic his team can do it again.

"We expect to keep growing at that healthy fastrack award rate," Koziol says.

Source: Dave Koziol, president of Arbormoon Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Business and staff is up at Motawi Tileworks

Motawi Tileworks acquired its clay supplier three years ago, an investment that is paying off in spades now.

"Rovin Ceramics at this point is growing by leaps and bounds," says Nawal Motawi, founder & artistic director of Motawi Tileworks. "The brand is totally reinvigorated."

The Ann Arbor-based company specializes in arts-and-craft ceramic tiles. Think the ceramic pieces of art people like to put on kitchen back splashes or around a fireplace. Motawi Tileworks acquired Rovin Ceramics when it was on its way to liquidation instead of letting the locally based company disappear.

Since then Motawi Tileworks has focused on improving the company's customer service and creating a shopping experience at its store. That enabled Rovin Ceramics and Motawi Tileworks to spike their revenues and make some hires over the last year. Both companies have each created one new job in the last 12 months.

"We have been focusing very much on corporate process and execution," Motawi says. "We're becoming very intentional in how we monitor our production."

Source: Nawal Motawi, founder & artistic director of Motawi Tileworks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SimuQuest expands as it leverages work with Ford

SimuQuest is accelerating its growth and the Ann Arbor-based company can thank a few major clients like Ford for it.

SimuQuest specializes in software and data management services. It has been working on its UniPhi for Ford for several years now, launching it earlier this year. UniPhi is a model-based development tool for centralized data management. It moves everything to the cloud and helps streamline the data management and analysis process for the user.

"This really changes the game for them," says John Mills, president & CEO of SimuQuest.

Another software platform SimuQuest is bringing to market is QuantiPhi, a chip configuration and driver integration tool. The tool provides a full complement of configurable low-level drivers that guides the user through the intricacies of successfully configuring the chip and driver settings.

Developing these platforms has prompted SimuQuest to hire two people in the last year. It has added a business development professional and an engineer to round its staff of eight people. It is also looking to add summer interns.

"We're expecting a pretty major growth in the company," Mills says. "There are no guarantees but I would be really surprised if we don’t double our revenue in the next year."

Source: John Mills, president & CEO of SimuQuest
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Damian Farrell Design Group adds to staff in Ann Arbor

Damian Farrell Design Group is riding the rebound of the architecture sector as the company attract more and more projects.

The Ann Arbor-based firm has experienced an increase in both commercial and residential projects, spiking its revenue by 20 percent The commercial projects have trended toward new construction while the residential projects are more renovations.

"It's all local right now," says Damian Farrell, owner of Damian Farrell Design Group. "We have one project in Pennsylvania but otherwise it’s all local."

That has allowed Damian Farrell Design Group to make a new hire over the last year. The new studio manager brings the firm's staff to four employees and one intern. Farrell expects his company to continue growing as more and more projects come up in 2014.

"People are getting more confident," Farrell says. "Money is a little bit more available right now."

Source: Damian Farrell, owner of Damian Farrell Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PWB Marketing Communications keeps growth streak going

PWB Marketing Communications isn't measuring its growth over the last year in terms of new hires. It is looking at how much it has built out its network of partners and independent contractors.

"I'm cautious about that (hiring)," says Sean Hickey, COO of PWB Marketing Communications. "We have a core group of (six) people that are pretty flexible and knowledgeable."

The Ann Arbor-based firm now has a dependable stable of contractors it can tap for the growing number of projects its handling. The network of partners handles everything from market research to salesforce automation. The network allows PWB Marketing Communications to stay flexible and ready to take on more work.

"The nature of what clients want us to do is evolving," Hickey says. "I want to be able to say yes to that."

Hickey adds that most of the firm's work has turned digital over the last few years. It's reached the point that customers that want brochures only want them for emerging markets. They don't even take them to make pitches in the First World.

"Even the traditional work is done with an eye toward digital," Hickey says. "We don't do six-page brochures anymore because how are you going to fit six pages into a PDF?"

Source: Sean Hickey, COO of PWB Marketing Communications
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Avegant raises $1.9M in investment, $1.5M in crowdfunding

Most startups are excited to have seven figures worth of seed capital coming in. Avegant has managed to score two in its first year.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has raised $1.9 million in a Seed Round. It also raised $1.5 million from a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year. And all of these people willing to throw money at the company can’t wait to see its night-vision technology.

"We smashed our (crowdfunding) goal (of $250,000) in a matter of three hours," says Edward Tang, CEO of Avegant.

Avegant co-founders Tang and Allan Evans met at the University of Michigan. They were approached by military contractors about creating 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.

Tang and Evans found that the computer screen and eye fatigue often downgraded the viewing quality. In response they created a night-vision goggle that projected the image directly on the users eye, providing a big step forward in picture quality.

"It was a higher picture quality that I had ever seen before," Tang says.

Avegant's team of 11 employees and one intern has created three different evolutions of the prototype since landing the $1.9 million in a Seed Round last August. The Michigan Angel Fund, an angel investment group, led that investment round. Tang expects to ship the first commercial units of the night-vision goggles before the end of the year.

"We're considering doing pre-orders on the website," Tang says. "It's going really well."

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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