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CentriCycle grows team, works on product in India

CentriCycle is expanding its team and starting to test its innovative centrifuge technology in India.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing a sustainable, portable medical centrifuge that runs without electricity. The idea is to help medical professionals in rural areas of the third world perform diagnostic tests in places where electricity isn't consistently or even readily available. The two-person team is currently testing the technology in India. Check out a detailed explanation of the centrifuge here.

"We are in the midst of doing some informal field testing," says Katherine Kirsch, business operations manager for CentriCycle. "We plan to come back to Michigan to do more testing."

Kirsch came on board with the startup in October. The Fulbright Scholarship recipient had been teaching English in Rawanda and taking an interest in the startup culture that was developing in Africa. Then opportunity to join CentriCycle came up and she jumped.

"I'd be able to do a startup and use my education background," Kirsch says.

CentriCycle is looking at returning to Michigan early next year. It is looking at moving to Grand Rapids or Detroit as it continues testing its technology and working toward raising $500,000 in seed capital. Earlier this year it won a University of Michigan Dare to Dream grant worth $7,500 from the Erb Award for Sustainability.

Source: Katherine Kirsch, business operations manager for CentriCycle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Clean-tech startup picoSpray lines up potential customers

Clean-tech startup picoSpray is putting together a lengthy list of customers for its small-engine technology and is well on its way to proving the viability of its concept.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up's technology is basically a low-cost electronic fuel injection system for small engines. The product will help make small engines (think lawn mowers or chainsaws or go-carts) more energy efficient and help reduce their emissions. Check out a video on the technology here. The technology can reduce fuel consumption by 10-15 percent, depending on the type of engine, calibration, and the speed it runs at.

"For different customers there are different valuations," says Lihang Nong, founder of picoSpray.

He adds that picoSpray has already proven the concept behind its technology to one large manufacturer of small engines. He declined to identify the firm. He did say that his firm continues to test its technology in 2014 and is lining up potential customers.

The startup is one year away from commercializing its technology. It is currently working to raise some seed capital to help push the commercialization process forward faster.

"We're in the process of raising a seed round in the area of $1 million," Nong says. "We plan to prove the technology in 2014."

Nong and his team of seven people are all recent engineering graduates of the University of Michigan. They started working on picoSpray at a business plan competition. It eventually moved into the TechArb, a startup incubator for U-M students in downtown Ann Arbor, and landed a microloan from the Michigan Microloan Fund last year. It is now working independently of the University of Michigan.

Source: Lihang Nong, founder of picoSpray
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BBC keeps slow, steady pace of growth going

Slow and steady wins the proverbial race but it's not a phrase that is mentioned too often in today's business world. Except in the case of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting.

The near-downtown-Ann Arbor-based firm, formerly Biotechnology Business Consultants, has carved out a niche for itself in the life sciences/bio-tech consulting world with is tortoise-like growth over 23 years. The company experienced another small bump in revenue in 2013, which is exactly what it was aiming for.

"We like what we do and we’re happy to keep doing it," Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting.

Part of that is the nature of the work the company performs. It specializes in helping bio-tech startups develop their technologies and nurture their business, a process that often takes several years and millions of dollars worth of investment. There are no quick-flip startups that come to Kurek and her staff of seven people (it added a new employee about a year ago) looking for help.

But it does mean that governments come calling. It has contracts with agencies in the federal, state of Michigan and municipal governments. It recently renewed its contract with the New York City Economic Development Corp to run a similar, but smaller, program that it does for the state of Michigan. BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting also breathed a sign of relief a little more than a year ago when the federal government renewed its committment to the SBIR and STTR programs.

"That gave us a little bit of stability," Kurek says. "That reassured our clients."

Source: Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Covaron takes 2nd place, $100K at Accelerate Michigan

Covaron Advanced Materials took second place in the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last month, a win that put $100,000 in cash into the startup's kitty.

That money will go toward its seed capital round. The firm raised a total of $300,000 in seed capital and also landed a $250,000 loan from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund prior to the win last month. Covaron Advanced Materials is also looking to raise a $5 million Series A.

"We're just starting to solicit that now," says Dave Hatfield, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials.?

The Ann Arbor-based start-up, formerly Kymeira Advanced Materials, is developing a new chemistry for ceramics, which brings the benefits of existing advanced ceramics to new parts and markets. The 1-year-old company won the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan competition last year. This year the startup and its team of six people (it just hired one of its interns) leveraged that experience to turn in another winning effort.

"We had a good story," Hatfield says. "To win both of those competitions and through the vetting for the business loan from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund means you have a pretty good business plan. It’s a great confirmation for us."

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

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

Oxford Companies doubles size with Arch Realty acquisition

Oxford Companies made a big acquisition over the last year, buying Arch Realty.

The two Ann Arbor-based companies were well-known quantities in local real-estate circles. Oxford for commercial realty and Arch Realty for off-campus student housing in Ann Arbor. Oxford rebranded Arch Realty to Oxford Property Management with the acquisition.

"We essentially doubled in size when we acquired Arch Realty," says Deborah Pearson, director of marketing for Oxford Companies.

The 15-year-old firm now employs 50 people, adding up to 10 people over the last year for administrative and property management work. The company is also looking to hire a COO within the next few weeks.

Oxford Companies has also raised a $4 million investment fund over the last year. The company expects to use it as an "opportunity fund" to acquire local properties or businesses in the Ann Arbor area in 2014.

"The money we have available right now is available for residential or commercial properties," says Andrew Selinger, investment analyst for Oxford Companies.

Selinger and Pearson says Oxford Companies admired the Zingerman's philosophy of doing business, i.e. staying locally focused by creating side businesses under one large brand. They would like to do the same thing with real-estate in the Washtenaw County area, focusing on quality work instead of growth for growth’s sake.

That point of view allowed Oxford Companies to be named as one of Ann Arbor SPARK's Fast Track award winners this year. Winning companies receive the awards for its consistent growth. FastTrack companies need to have revenue of at least $100,000 in 2009, with a verified annual growth of 20 percent for the following three years.

Source: Deborah Pearson, director of marketing for Oxford Companies and Andrew Selinger, investment analyst for Oxford Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TurtleCell aims to release 1st iPhone cases in early 2014

TurtleCell is quickly becoming a popular startup in Michigan and the proof is in the pudding at business plan competitions.

The iPhone accessory startup made the semifinals of this year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and then scored the People's Choice award and $10,000 in seed capital at the competition in Detroit last month. The Ann Arbor-based firm is using that cash along with some other seed capital it has raised to make a few hundred prototypes of its iPhone cases this winter.

TurtleCell has created an iPhone case that comes with retractable earbuds. The case would allow full access to the smartphone’s buttons and have a four-foot-long headphone that easily retracts back into the case when not being used. The earbuds will be higher-quality, comparable to Beats by Dre.

"We have pretty much completed the prototype stage," says Paul Schrems, CTO of TurtleCell. "We’re getting ready to start our Beta testing with 500 users."

TurleCell's team of five people will put out those first prototypes will go out in early 2014. It will then take that experience to help spearhead a crowdfunding campaign next spring. The company tried to crowdfund $50,000 earlier this year. It only hit $20,000 but the startup’s team took a lot away from the experience.

"That was the best thing for us," says Nick Turnbull, CEO of TurtleCell. "We used that time we would have used to ship orders to finalize the product’s design and do some fundraising."

Source: Paul Schrems, CTO of TurtleCell and Nick Turnbull, CEO of TurtleCell
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ex-HandyLab exec launches own startup, PlanReaction

When BD acquired HandyLab in 2009, Michael Kaye was in the thick of it, serving as the Ann Arbor-based startup’s chief engineer. So much so that a number of HandyLab executives advised him to start his own firm.

The Ann Arbor resident liked the idea but was much more familiar with engineering that running a business. So Kaye bumped around Ann Arbor SPARK's Central Incubator in downtown Ann Arbor for a few years after the HandyLab acquisition figuring out what the best startup would be for him. The result is PlanReaction, a software platform that automatically generates building floor plans and furniture layouts.

"I used to say I have no business being in a business because I have no business background," Kaye says. "I jokingly refer to my business as a multi-hundred-dollar company."

Those characterization no longer apply. PlanReaction made the semifinals of this year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and then won the business-plan competition's IT award and the $25,000 in seed capital that came with it. Kaye credits the competition with giving him the basic tools to pitch his startup, such as a pitch deck and a tighter business plan.

PlanReaction is developing software that help completes the initial design phase of building out commercial real estate spaces. Think generating floor plans and designs for office spaces. PlanReaction streamlines the process of bringing those plans to reality. Kaye has finished the initial development of the software and is looking for a software developer to put the finishing touches on the program.

"I am looking to expand right away," Kaye says. "I am looking to bring on a developer so we can produce a minimum-viable product so we can get to the pilot stage."

Source: Michael Kaye, founder & CEO of PlanReaction
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pillar hires 12 in Ann Arbor, plans to add 20-25 more

Pillar Technology Group has hired dozen people in Ann Arbor over 2013 and the software firm expects to double that number in the next year.

"We have a big backlog of work and we're looking to grow the team here," says Charles Fry, Great Lakes Regional Vice President of Pillar Technology Group.

The 19-year-old company provides software and consulting services for a broad range of companies in the automotive, financial, insurance, agriculture machinery, manufacturing, telecommunications, food service, banking and publishing. Those firms are mainly located in the in major metro areas in the Great Lakes Region, such as Toronto and Chicago.

Pillar Technology Group currently has a staff of 150 employees and six interns. It currently has six open positions for experience software developers that specialize in Java and .NET programing. The company expects to hire another 20-25 people in 2014.

The company has an office in Tech Brewery on the city's near north side. Earlier this fall, it received a $350,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant from the state of Michigan. The firm plans to invest $1.43 million and create 45 jobs.

"The Tech Brewery is a great location to organize and launch a dedicated group of people," Fry says.

Pillar Technology Group expects to outgrow its digs in Tech Brewery within the next few years. Fry expects to move to a bigger office in downtown Ann Arbor in either the second or third quarter of 2014.

Source: Charles Fry, Great Lakes Regional Vice President of Pillar Technology Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Blaze Medical Devices raises $1.1M of $2M VC round

Blaze Medical Devices is more than halfway to its goal of raising $2 million worth of seed capital, raking in $1.1 million as of this fall.

"My goal is to close on all of that before the end of the year," says David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices, adding it might take until early 2014 to hit the target. The 7-year-old company originally had a goal of raising $1.5 million in seed capital but bumped that number up to $2 million after encountering higher demand from investors than expected.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, which made the semi-finals of this year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, is developing blood transfusion technology that will enable medical professionals to better control and optimize blood banking and transfusions. Its clinical tests help assess the quality of stored blood and its laboratory instruments help facilitate blood research. The company has finalized the design of its product this year and hopes to begin sales early next year.

"We have a queue of people who are interested in the product for research," Weaver says. "We expect to roll it out next year."

Blaze Medical Devices has hired three people over the last year, expanding its staff to six employees. Weaver expects to make a couple more hires in 2014.

Source: David Weaver, CEO of Blaze Medical Devices
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Eco-Fueling makes first sales, plans to raise $1M

Eco-Fueling has made its first sales and its diesel fuel technology is on the road and helping make commercial trucks more efficient.

The Saline-based startup has spent the last year field testing its technology and has finalized the specs on the software and hardware for its products. There is currently a pilot project of the prototype on recycling trucks in Australia, and Eco-Fueling is aiming to scale up its production and sales in 2014.

"We'd like to have six fleets in production and $3 million to $4 million in sales," says Paul Chandler, CEO of Eco-Fueling.

The 3-year-old company's technology optimizes combustion in diesel engines that improves fuel consumption and lowers emissions. The firm has hired two people over the last year, including positions in business development and strategic planning. It now employs four people.

Eco-Fueling, a semifinalist at this year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, is also looking to cap off fundraising for a seed capital round within the next few months. Chandler is aiming to close on $1 million by the first quarter of next year to help further development of the technology and scale its production.

"I have resisted raising money until we have made a production-ready system, which we do now," Chandler says.

Source: Paul Chandler, CEO of Eco-Fueling
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Inmatech aims to reinvent batteries with supercapicitor

If the conventional wisdom about technology is correct and future change is more likely to be found through incremental improvements instead of great leaps forward, then Inmatech might have the next step forward in battery technology.

The Ann Arbor-based startup's technology takes advanced, customized supercapacitors and inserts them in batteries for electronics. The supercapacitors enable the batteries to improve the delivery of energy and up energy density.

"That way the battery is just handling the energy storage," says Saemin Choi, CTO of Inmatech.

The startup and its team of four people, which calls the University of Michigan's Venture Accelerator home, is currently in the prototype phase and looking to sell its first units in 2015 or 2016. Inmatech also won the DTE Energy Alternative Energy prize (worth $25,000 in seed capital cash) at this fall’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The money will go towards the startup’s efforts to close on a seven-figure seed capital round in the coming months.

"We have raised close to $1 million," Choi says. "We need to raise $1.5 million in 2014."

Source: Saemin Choi, CTO of Inmatech
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PHASIQ works to commercialize lab tool tech

University of Michigan spin-out PHASIQ is looking to bring its new research instrument to a life sciences lab near you in the not-too-distant future.

The Ann Arbor-based startup's technology genesis came from research developed by Shuichi Takayama and Arlyne Simon at U-M. The 1-year-old company instrument "provides an ultra-specific diagnostic platform for detecting protein biomarkers in biological samples," according to its company description at this fall's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, where the startup made the semifinals. It offers "the most stringent quality custom assays to pharmaceutical companies for drug and biomarker discovery, advancing personalized medicine."

PHASIQ's instruments are currently being used by clinical researchers at the University of Michigan. The company is still tweaking the instrument’s design to streamline its operation.

"We're trying to change it so anyone can use it," Takayama says. "We want to make it simple."

A $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant is currently funding the development of PHASIQ's technology by the startup's core team of four people. The company is aiming to commercialize the instrument midway through next year and is currently working to raise a round of seed capital to make that happen.

"We anticipate we will need at least $2 million by 2014," Simon says.

Source: Arlyne Simon and Shuichi Takayama, co-founders of PHASIQ
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SkySpecs creates buzz around drone inspection tech

SkySpecs is aiming to commercialize its drone inspection technology next year and has reached a number of milestones toward achieving that goal.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing aerial drones that use artificial intelligence to inspect infrastructure in dangerous locations, such as the blade of wind turbines. They are not remote controlled so they wouldn’t require the user to be onsite to operate the vehicles.

The 1-year-old company's team of nine people have an operational prototype and have applied for one provisional patent for their technology. They have raised $470,000 in seed capital amnd hope to hit their target of $700,000 by the end of this year or early next year.

"The goal is to start a pilot project in quarter one of 2014," says Danny Ellis, co-founder of SkySpecs. "By quarter two, we hope to have it in our partners' hands without us being on site."

SkySpecs made the semifinals of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week. The startup, which was launched by University of Michigan students, took third place in last year's Accelerate Michigan student competition. You can check out a video of its elevator pitch, here.

Source: Tom Brady and Danny Ellis, co-founders of SkySpecs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arbor startups set growth curve at Accelerate Michigan

If the student competition at this fall's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is supposed to be a stepping stone to bigger prizes in the main event of the business plan competition, then startups from Ann Arbor are proving the theory true.

Accelerate Michigan got its start in 2010 as an event to provide access to seed capital, resources and investors to fledgling tech startups based in Michigan or those looking to move to the Great Lakes State. This year the organic growth of Michigan's startups started to show.

Covaron Advanced Materials won the student portion of Accelerate Michigan last year under the name Kymeira Advanced Materials, taking home $25,000 in seed capital. Last week the Ann Arbor-based company took second place in the overall competition, which comes with a $100,000 check. It was the most prominent example of a young, up-and-coming startup setting the growth curve at Accelerate Michigan.

Ann Arbor-based SkySpecs took third place (with a prize of $10,000) in last year's Accelerate Michigan student competition. The 1-year-old startup is developing aerial drones that use artificial intelligence to inspect infrastructure in dangerous locations, such as the blade of wind turbines.

This year it made the semifinals of the overall competition, going against older, more developed startups. Tom Brady, one of the startup’s co-founders, says "the competition is stiff" when talking about the other startups pitching at Accelerate Michigan. He and his co-founders felt much more confident about their pitch because of their previous experience in the student competition.

"If we had gone straight from an idea to the business plan competition we wouldn't have done well," says Danny Ellis, co-founder of SkySpecs.

Source: Tom Brady and Danny Ellis, co-founders of SkySpecs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ForeSee creates 60 new jobs, wants to hire 30 more

One of the constants of ForeSee, formerly ForeSee Results, has been its growth. The Ann Arbor-based firm has enjoyed double-digit gains in each of its 12 years and has been expanding its staff at a similar rate.

"We are a company that has had really consistent growth every quarter of every year," says Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee.

The user-satisfaction business has been on a bit of a hiring binge over the last year. It has hired 80 people over the last year, including creating 60 new positions. It is also looking to fill 30 more positions across the board right now. The company now has a staff of 330 employees and six interns, including 250 people in Ann Arbor.

"I think we have hired in just about every team this year," Freed says.

ForeSee provides user-satisfaction surveys for business both online and in the real world. Its secret sauce utilized the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index to measure results. The company got its starts offering these surveys online, which formed the foundation for the firm’s growth. ForeSee has expanded the reach of these surveys, offering them in social media, mobile, call centers, and in brick-and-mortar stores.

"The web business is growing really, really nicely," Freed says. "The other areas are growing as well."

Source: Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee
Writer: Jon Zemke

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