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Innovation & Job News

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Wolverine State Brewing Co expands staff, adds rental hall in Ann Arbor

Wolverine State Brewing Co made a major expansion last year, both in its production facility and its tap room.

The Ann Arbor-based craft brewer that specializes in lagers added a rental hall to its tap room on West Stadium Boulevard in the old Big George's space. The Gulo Room, named after its signature pale ale lager, has proven quite popular for a broad range of local clientele.

"I have rented it out for baby showers and birthday parties," says E.T. Crowe, co-owner & marketing director of Wolverine State Brewing Co. "Groups seek it out and hold presentations there."

Wolverine State Brewing Co specializes in lagers, a light-specialty beer that often takes a month longer to brew than the average ale. The company got its start in 2006 contracting its brewing out to a larger brewery. It opened its current location on the west side of Ann Arbor in 2010, which currently houses its tap room and production facility.

The brewery installed three new fermentation vessels late last year, allowing the firm to up its production. It sold 1,100 barrels of lager last year and is on track to hit 1,500 barrels in 2013. The overall production numbers are lower than other breweries because lagers are more difficult to brew.

"Lager yeast moves slower and has to be much colder," Crowe says. "Our infrastructure has to be much more intense."

Wolverine State Brewing Co has hired three people over the last year, including a brewer, a brewery worker and a bartender. It now has a staff of 12 people and is looking to capitalize on its most recent gains.

"This was a huge leap to make inside of a year," Crowe says. "We are now sitting tight this year and catching up."

Source: E.T. Crowe, co-owner & marketing director of Wolverine State Brewing Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

NetWorks Group adds 3 jobs, looks to add 3 more

Ethical hacking is one of those terms that is both attention-grabbing and in some cases profitable, at least for one downtown Ann Arbor-based company.

NetWorks Group has enjoyed a significant surge in new business for its ethical hacking program. That section of the 15-year-old IT company has enjoyed double-digit growth over the last year and now makes up a quarter of the firm's bottom line.

"Our ethical hacking organization is designed to find those vulnerabilities (in an IT system) before they are exploited," says Steve Fuller, president of Networks Group.

The firm has also enjoyed double-digit growth in its managed services section, which makes up half of the company's revenue. That service is becoming more attractive because more and more organizations are looking for a comprehensive solution to their IT problems.

"A lot of places do a lot of project-based services," says Matthew Warner, creative director for NetWorks Group. "We make it easier to come in and handle all of it for you. You won't need to worry about any of it. This is becoming more alluring for organizations."

NetWorks Group has hired three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 18 employees and one intern. It is also looking to hire another three people right now, including a network engineer, security engineer and sales rep.

Source: Steve Fuller, president of Networks Group and Matthew Warner, creative director for NetWorks Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IROA Technologies scores $1M-plus in seed capital

IROA Technologies (formerly NextGen Metabolomics) has a new infusion of seed capital to go with its new name.

The Ann Arbor-based life sciences start-up recently landed a sizable Series A round of financing. Felice de Jong, the firm's CEO, declined to give a specific number of the amount beyond saying IROA Technologies closed a Series A worth "over $1 million." Bloomfield Hills-based O2 Investment Partners led the round with Ann Arbor SPARK and InvestDetroit also participating.

IROA Technologies is developing tools to identify key metabolites that can be used to diagnose diseases such as cancer in samples including blood and urine. The start-up's technology is unique because it can cut 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. That cuts the diagnosis time from hours to minutes.

"Our tools make it easier to measure all of the metabolites in a person or any organism," de Jong says.

IROA Technologies plans to use its new seed capital to continue development of its software, expand its sales and marketing and add to its team. The firm currently employs two people and is looking to hire two more now to push forward the commercialization of its technology.

"We're hoping that within the year we will be able to launch our products," de Jong says.

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

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

Retinal therapy developer ONL Therapeutics expands executive team

ONL Therapeutics is growing and the most visible sign of that is the expansion of its leadership team.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up recently hired a vice president of research and development, bringing its headcount to four employees and a few independent contractors. The 2-year-old firm recently completed its pharmacology study and is developing the plan and design for its clinical trials.

"We will complete the formulation of the product and manufacture the supplies to conduct the final, formal safety study and supplies for the clinical trial," says Raili Kerppola, CEO of ONL Therapeutics.

ONL Therapeutics is developing a new retinal therapy to help prevent retina detachment and blindness in some cases. It spun out of the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center and is working with the university's Office of Technology Transfer.

ONL Therapeutics recently obtained an orphan drug designation because it treats a rare affliction. The designation is expected to help clear the path to the market. Kerppola expects the clinical trial for the therapy to begin next year. Commercialization is expected to take about five years.

Source: Raili Kerppola, CEO of ONL Therapeutics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Locavorious thrives on fresh frozen foods

Locavorious has enjoyed some solid growth in the last year and is preparing to staff up for the 2013 growing season with half a dozen new hires.

The Ann Arbor-based business preserves the produce created at local farms by freezing it in a community freezer. That food is then sold on a subscription basis so customers can capture local food at its peak freshness. More money stays in the local economy and less food is trucked in from the other side of the continent.

Locavorious' subscriptions were up 12 percent to 265 over the last year, and the 6-year-old firm's goal is to cross the 300 threshold by next spring. Last year it faciliated the sale of 14,000 pounds of food and it's looking to do even more this year by widening more channels to supply fresh local food to the Ann Arbor area.

"We are doing a lot more retail on top of our subscriptions," says Rena Basch, owner of Locavorious. The company became a Whole Foods-certified seller last year and the store near the Ann Arbor-Saline Road is carrying six of its products.

"I am talking to two other stores," Basch says. "We will hopefully put more products into our retail channel."

Basch also wants to expand Locavorious' coverage area beyond the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. The Plymouth area appears to be a likely candidate for expansion.

Source: Rena Basch, owner of Locavorious
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Environmentalist grows passion into Ann Arbor Seed Co.

Eric Kampe has a couple of passions and two are taking priority in his life right now. The Ann Arbor resident is an environmentalist and seed-saving enthusiast.

Seed savers will save and collect seeds for farming. The idea is to keep local ecosystems fresh and diverse through using local, organic and native seeds. That hobby got Kampe started on creating his own business, Ann Arbor Seed Co.

"I am very passionate about growing food in a healthy and organic way," Kampe says. "I am also passionate about seed saving."

Ann Arbor Seed Co. sells 10 varieties of fruits and vegetables, such as an heirloom tomato called Cherokee Purple and a sunflower called Tigers Eye. The 1-year-old business sells its seeds at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Growing Hope in Ypsilanti and The Garden Mill in Chelsea. It recently sold out of its line of spinach seeds.

Kampe splits his time between the two full-time jobs of running Ann Arbor Seed Co. and driving a delivery truck. He hopes to make Ann Arbor Seed Co his only job by tripling or even quadrupling his product portfolio this year. It would allow him to follow his passion in agriculture and keep working his hands.

"It's a rewarding lifestyle," Kampe says.

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

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

DesignHub grows workload in Saline

DesignHub's steady growth curve is continuing in Saline as the design firm expands its revenue, client base and service offerings.

"It has been modest growth," says Chris Kochmanski, partner at DesignHub. "The way we have grown is by adding some signature clients and getting into some new things."

The 14-year-old website design firm has watched its revenue grow by five percent over the last year, taking on some new clients like Inmatech, a tech firm based in Ann Arbor. DesignHub is also working to become 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.

"We're seeing a lot of that," Kochmanski says. "We're working on things like that for a few people."

He estimates DesignHub has launched about a dozen new websites over the last year and is handling work for some big names, such as Ann Arbor SPARK and MASCO Cabinetry.

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

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

Covaron Advanced Materials lands $300K in seed capital

The winner of the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is now a venture-backed start-up, landing six figures in seed capital.

Covaron Advanced Materials (formerly Kymeira) scored $300,000 in a seed capital round, which was led by the Mercury Fund. The First Step Fund, Huron River Ventures and Two Seven Ventures are also participating in the round. The Ann Arbor-based firm is developing a new chemistry for ceramics, which brings the benefits of existing advanced ceramics to new parts and markets.

"It's going to help further the development of the technology and the intellectual property," says Dave Hatfield, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials. "It will also generate the initial sales in the mold and pattern market."

The 1-year-old business employs four people and a few independent contractors. The team consists of founder Vince Alessi, co-founders Cam Smith and Reed Shick, along with Hatfield. That team took home first place in the student division of last fall's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, a prize worth $25,000.

That prize usually goes to raw start-ups but Hatfield believes Covaron Advanced Materials' technology is far enough along that it can begin making sales in the molds and patterns market (think durable goods like those used by the automotive sector) this year. An expansion into the oil and gas industry and a Series A round of funding could also be in line next year.

"We're hoping to commercialize this as soon as possible," Hatfield says.

Source: Dave Hatfield, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Arotech defense firm hires 40, doubles Ann Arbor space

Arotech is growing its staff and footprint in Ann Arbor, doubling its commercial space with another 40,000 square feet and hiring 40 people over the last year.

That growth is coming from the Ann Arbor-based defense firm's training and simulation division. That division, which employs 168 people, has watched its revenue jump 39 percent last year and expects another healthy year in 2013.

Spearheading that growth are a couple of large contracts with the U.S. military. The largest is providing a simulation suite to the U.S. Army that helps soldiers train to find and disarm improvised explosive devices, commonly known as IEDs. The suite helps teach soldiers how to use equipment that finds and disarms IEDs, along with the vehicles that protect the disarming operation.

"We're in the process of delivering our 15th suite out of 28," says Kurt Flosky, executive vice president of Arotech's training and simulation division. "We're delivering one per month."

Arotech's training and simulation division has also enjoyed more business from the law enforcement and homeland security sectors. It has a contract with the U.S. Airforce to provide simulation technology to train soldiers how to operate mid-flight refueling booms and several contracts with municipal law enforcement agencies for training and use-of-force simulation.

Source: Kurt Flosky, executive vice president of Arotech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

VC Web Design nearly doubles staff, plans to add interns

VC Web Design has grown to the point it's having a hard time finding space for its new hires, leading the downtown Ypsilanti-based business to start looking for a bigger home.

"We can't fit any more people in here," says Vince Chmielewski, president of VC Web Design. "We would like to stay in downtown if possible."

The 3-year-old business was the first to spin out of Ann Arbor SPARK's downtown Ypsilanti incubator. It specializes in website construction and video work. Its revenue has doubled in the last year, allowing it to hire three people. Those new hires include a videographer and website developer.

The company now has a team of seven employees and is planning to add more interns this summer. That staff has been doing work with the Barwis Methods and Ann Arbor SPARK. Chmielewski expects the current rate of growth to continue for the rest of this year.

"So far we're on track to double again," Chmielewski says. "It's why we might not be able to be where we are for much longer."

Also helping accelerate VC Web Design is its recent switch to agile software development methodology. This new system emphasizes website developers showing updated versions of sites in the progress of development so changes can be made quickly and efficiently.

"You can change direction very easily without waiting until the end," Chmielewski says. "It changes our output because we have to do less rework."

Source: Vince Chmielewski, president of VC Web Design
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MedImmune acquires Ann Arbor start-up AlphaCore Pharma

MedImmune has acquired Ann Arbor-based AlphaCore Pharma, creating another exit for a local up-and-coming start-up.

MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, has not disclosed the acquisition price nor its intentions on whether to keep the start-up in Tree Town. Tracy Rossin, director of corporate public relations for MedImmune, did write in an email that the company does "not have plans to expand its operations/workforce in Ann Arbor." She does add that her firm is "planning to incorporate AlphaCore Pharma into the larger AstraZeneca organization."

The 5-year-old biotechnology company is developing a recombinant human lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase enzyme. The enzyme in the bloodstream is a key component in the reverse cholesterol transport system, which is thought to play a major role in driving the removal of cholesterol from the body and may be critical in the management of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.

AlphaCore Pharma completed a clinical study last year with encouraging results, Brinkeroff says. That made the start-up and its eight-person team an attractive acquisition target, and Brinkeroff says MedImmune is a great partner to continue the development of the enzyme.

"They have a deep experience in developing biological products," Brinkeroff says. "They're an ideal partner to hand off to."

Source: Bill Brinkeroff, president of AlphaCore Pharma and Tracy Rossin, director of corporate public relations for MedImmune
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Qlovi aims to bring digital education into 21st Century

The trio of U-M graduates behind the education start-up Qlovi see their venture not only as a business but as a social entrepreneurial experience.

"We're really passionate about education," says Harlyn Pacheco, CEO & co-founder of Qlovi. "We have been educated in Michigan and have 5-6 degrees between us from the University of Michigan. We want to pay it forward as much as we can."

The Ann Arbor-based start-up is developing a suite of literacy instruction and publishing platforms for the K-12 and digital publishing markets. Think digital educational content that is both instructive, engaging and easy to access from a computer or a mobile device. That's what Qlovi is aiming for.

The 1-year-old start-up recently landed five figures' worth of financing from the Michigan Microloan Fund, which it is using to put the finishing touches on its platform. The company has 20 K-12 schools using the platform and plans to launch it nationally late this year.

Source: Harlyn Pacheco, CEO & co-founder of Qlovi
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Language Link leverages corporate work for 3 new hires

The Language Link Institute is witnessing the comeback of the corporate American internationalist, mostly in its bottom line.

The Ann Arbor-based business has watched its revenue jump 20 percent in the last year on the strength of more business in the corporate language training sector. It has also seen more executives seek out tutoring in learning another language.

"Corporate training seems to be back," says Caroline Wojan, owner & director of the Language Link Institute. "We have a good number of interested parties and we have signed a number of new contracts."

The Language Link Institute primarily helps people either learn foreign languages or master English. It also offers tutoring services for students, and cultural and language training for foreign nationals in local businesses. It has also seen an increase in its test prep and student tutoring work and is branching out into hosting foreign language summer camps this year.

That uptick in business has allowed the Language Link Institute to hire three people over the last year. Its staff now stands at 11 employees and a summer intern.

"We're hopeful the corporate work will continue to grow," Wojan says. "It has been good the last three months and we're hopeful it will continue through the rest of the year."

Source: Caroline Wojan, owner & director of Language Link Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tree Fort Bikes renews focus on customer service, adds 5 jobs

Tree Fort Bikes is in an interesting position, where even though its sales volume hasn't spiked, it has found a way to improve its profit margins, allowing the company to hire more staff.

Over the last year, the Ypsilanti-based retailer has turned to doing more high-end bicycle business. That change means a lower volume of bikes sold, which allows the firm to focus more on customer service. That has led to better profit margins and a happier customer base.

"We're always focused on customer service but now we have the extra time to take of each customer," says Scott Mulder, president of Tree Fort Bikes.

It has also allowed Tree Fort Bikes to hire five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 people. Among those hires are sales and customer service professionals and a videographer. The videographer has let the company expand its YouTube channel with videos, such as instructional videos on maintaining a bike or overviews of certain brands.

That sort of extra is part of the customer-service-oriented plan to broaden the company's bottom line.

"We're growing but at the same time we're not Wal-Marting out our service," Mulder says.

Source: Scott Mulder, president of Tree Fort Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Akervall Technologies hires 3, expands product portfolio

Change was an important word for Akervall Technologies over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based business has rebranded, expanded its product portfolio, added to its staff and begun work on a bigger and better product.

The 3-year-old company's first product is a thin-yet-tough mouthguard made of non-compressible, perforated material, and is 30 percent stronger than conventional mouth guards. The creation of Dr. Jan Akervall -- a local ear, nose and throat specialist -- was originally branded as Protech Dent. Akervall Technologies rebranded it as SISU Mouth Guards because the former brand was often confused with other non-related firms, such as a gun company, with similar names.

Akervall Technologies also expanded its product portfolio, adding a flavor spray to put on mouth guards called SISU Lyst. It is currently in mint flavor with plans to expand the taste options soon. "Eventually we're going to have to have some more flavors," says Sassa Akervall, COO & president of Akervall Technologies and wife of Dr. Jan Akervall.

Akervall Technologies has also hired three people over the last year, expanding its staff to seven employees. It is currently looking for a summer intern or two. One of its recent hires, made possible by a federal Small Business Innovation Resarch grant, was a scientist who is developing a new material for an improved mouthguard set to launch next year.

"Testing shows it can take impact 50 percent better than existing mouth guards," Akervall says. "The original can take impact 30 percent better."

Source: Sassa Akervall, COO & president of Akervall Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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