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Atomic Object acquires SRT Solutions, plans to expand staff

Atomic Object has acquired SRT Solutions for an undisclosed sum. The Grand Rapids-based software firm plans to not only retain SRT Solutions’ staff in downtown Ann Arbor but is looking to nearly double it over the next year as Atomic Object’s Ann Arbor office.

“You can’t underestimate how valuable a highly functioning, cohesive group of talented developers is right now in software,” says Carl Erickson, president of Atomic Object. He adds, “I expect we will have our first job offer (for the Ann Arbor office) out next week.”

SRT Solutions has become a household name in Ann Arbor’s tech circles since its founding in 1999, doing work for the likes of Domino’s Pizza, General Motors and the University of Michigan. The company’s co-founders, Bill Wagner and Dianne Marsh, will not be staying on and are choosing to pursue new opportunities. Wagner will continue to work from Ann Arbor for Pluralsight. Marsh has taken a job for Netflix. The former partners reached out to Erickson this spring about a potential acquisition because of the striking similarities between their company cultures that focus on innovation and staying ahead of the tech curve.

“This is a really good match because of Bill and Dianne’s employees and business practices,” Erickson says. “All of that lined up pretty well with Atomic Object.”

Erickson started Atomic Object in 2001 and has grown his company’s client list into a diverse collage of brand names, including Whirlpool, Gentex and Amway. Atomic Object has a staff of 45 employees and four summer interns, including about a dozen people in its recently opened downtown Detroit office.

SRT Solutions' downtown Ann Arbor office will now serve as Atomic Object’s Ann Arbor satellite office. The five employees at SRT Solutions will stay on. Erickson is actively recruiting for a number of software programming and design position and expects to hire another five people in Ann Arbor over the next year.

Source: Carl Erickson, president of Atomic Object; Bill Wagner co-founder of SRT Solutions; Dianne Marsh, co-founder of SRT Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

SRT Solutions co-founders execute smooth transition

Entrepreneurs often start businesses to try something new. But what do they do when that business becomes established and they want to walk through the next door in life? For Bill Wagner and Dianne Marsh, that meant finding a soft landing spot for not only themselves, but their business (SRT Solutions) and the people who work for it.

“It’s not like leaving a job,” Marsh says. “There is a responsibility there.”

The pair of seasoned software entrepreneurs made a call to a friend earlier this year and a few months later they were able to work out an acquisition of SRT Solutions to Grand Rapids-based Atomic Object. The software firm plans to keep on SRT Solutions’ staff (five employees) as the foundation of Atomic Object's new downtown Ann Arbor office. Marsh and Wagner are now going off to take on new opportunities.

“It has been a lot of fun but it’s definitely time to do something different,” Wagner says.

Wagner is going to start creating course content for Pluralsight and developing the Humanitarian Toolbox. The toolbox will be an open-source project that leverages software to help first responders better prepare for disasters.

“It’s creative software that has a very big, positive impact on the world,” Wagner says.

Marsh will become the director of engineering for cloud tools at Netflix in Silicon Valley. She had no intention of taking a corporate job when she started down this new path, but Netflix was able to make a convincing argument to do so thanks to the company’s innovative culture and flat management system.

“When I announced I was going to make a change a bunch of opportunities emerged,” Marsh says. “Netflix reached out to me.”

Wagner plans to stay in Ann Arbor, working remotely for his new employer. He also planned to stay involved in the local tech/entrepreneurial scene.

“It has a lot of potential,” Wagner says. “There are a lot of great ideas coming out of a lot of young companies. We need some more hits.”

Source: Dianne Marsh and Bill Wagner, co-founders of SRT Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Deque doubles Ann Arbor headcount, eyes bigger office space

Deque has doubled the size of its office in Ann Arbor over the last year and plans to keep hiring at that pace over the next year.

Deque creates software that helps make websites more accessible to people with disabilities. A growing number of companies are working to enhance their websites in this way to open up their products to bigger markets. That’s where Deque is carving out its niche.

“A billion pages are being developed everyday and most of them are inaccessible,” says Preety Kumar, founder & CEO of Deque.

The Virginia-based company’s CTO lives in Ann Arbor and works remotely from Tree Town. The start-up has steadily built up its presence in Michigan, at first with a few hires through the CTO and then by opening its development center in downtown Ann Arbor in 2010. Today the office has a staff of 12 employees, which is up from six a year ago. The company is currently looking to fill six more positions.

“We have many open positions for talented software developers,” Kumar says.

Deque’s decision to grow in Ann Arbor made sense because of its ability to recruit computer science graduates from the University of Michigan and otherwise draw from the region’s talent pool. Kumar calls the company’s presence a “natural fit” with the firm’s culture and choose to set up shop in downtown Ann Arbor because of its vibrancy.

“It’s just a more accessible location for people living in Ann Arbor and for graduates from the University of Michigan,” Kumar says. She says the company’s growth is pushing the limits on its 2,500-square-foot office, prompting it to look for a bigger space to accommodate its new hires.

Source: Preety Kumar, founder & CEO of Deque
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Covaron Advanced Materials scores $550K in seed capital

Covaron Advanced Materials has locked down another $250,000 in seed capital, bringing the total for the downtown Ann Arbor-based start-up’s initial seed round to $550,000.

The $250,000 comes from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, which is run by Ann Arbor SPARK. It serves as matching funds for the $300,000 in venture capital it raised earlier this year, and is the precursor to the next round of funding the start-up plans to being raising soon.

“We expect we will be looking for A-round funding in the first quarter of next year,” says Dave Hatfield, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials.

The 1-year-old start-up, formerly Kymeira, is developing a new chemistry for ceramics, which brings the benefits of existing advanced ceramics to new parts and markets. Vince Alessi, a University of Michigan graduate, developed the technology, which is in the final stages of commercialization. The seed capital will go toward finishing that process so it can start to make its first sales this fall.

“It (the seed capital) is going toward several things, like securing our intellectual property position, and replicating and validating the basic chemistry,” Hatfield says. “We are moving very rapidly to create the capability and the customers for the initial sales.”

Those initial sales will be in the mold, tool-and-dye industry. Covaron Advanced Materials' team of six people is also eyeing sales in the oil-and-gas industry further down the line.

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

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

Hile Creative adds 3 new hires as it rebrands itself

Hile Creative has made its share of business-plan pivots in its 29 years, making the switch from a design firm to an advertising agency, among others.

Now the Ann Arbor-based company rebranded itself again earlier this year, focusing on its strengths in branding and web development. It has also hired three people over the last year, expanding its team to 11 employees.

“I’m really happy to have a team now that I feel is the best we have had in our 29 years,” says Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative.

Some parts of Hile Creative are the same. It still does a lot of work with toy companies and local start-ups working with Ann Arbor SPARK. And some larger local bio-tech companies such as Esperion Therapeutics and Aastrom Biosciences are among its clientele. The firm also works with the University of Michigan.

“We love having an eclectic client base,” Hile says.

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

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

Interleaved Magnetic lands microloan for loudspeaker development

Interleaved Magnetic Products isn’t a start-up building a better mousetrap, but a much more efficient loudspeaker.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company that calls Ann Arbor SPARK’s incubator home is developing technology that should make loudspeakers more energy efficient by a magnitude of 10.

“The goal is to make the loudspeaker many times more efficient,” says Tom Heed, president of Interleaved Magnetic Products. “It’s maybe one-percent efficient now. We would like to get it up to 10-percent efficient.”

Heed has made a career as an audio engineer, working for the likes of Harman before striking out on his own. He started Interleaved Magnetic Products in late 2011 and just led a team of four employees and a couple of independent contractors to score a Michigan Microloan Fund microloan, which is usually worth about $50,000.

Interleaved Magnetic Products is currently prototyping its technology, using the microloan to buy parts for the newest version. Heed expects to have a Beta version ready by early next year and secure a round of seed funding not long after that.

Source: Tom Heed, president of Interleaved Magnetic Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HookLogic hires 10 in Ann Arbor, plans to hire 10-15 more

HookLogic continues to fill out its new office space in downtown Ann Arbor.

The tech firm moved into the former home of Leopold Brothers Brewery on South Main Street a little more than a year ago. The facility now houses a staff of 45 employees and half a dozen interns. HookLogic has hired 10 people in Ann Arbor over the last year and plans to hire another 10-15 over the next six months. It currently has openings for five positions, including software engineers and business development professionals.

"We're filling them as fast as we can," says Jonathan Opdyke, CEO of HookLogic. "It's a matter of getting qualified applicants."

HookLogic specializes in creating web-based software that deals with the delivery, management and measurement of customer incentives and promotional messaging for companies. "We have greatly expanded our client base to include a number of e-commerce sites," Opdyke says.

One of its newest products is its Retail Search Exchange software. The platform targets web-savvy shoppers who know how to turn traditional online advertising into easily ignored white noise. Retail Search Exchange allows customers to advertise their products on retail site search engines in a Google AdWords fashion. Check out a video explaining it here.

The platform launched in February and has signed up seven retailers. Opdyke says another 15 retailers are in the pipeline to sign on for the technology.

"It's growing very, very fast," Opdyke says.

Source: Jonathan Opdyke, CEO of HookLogic
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Coyote Logistics to open 125-person Ann Arbor office

Coyote Logistics is opening a new office in Ann Arbor, an investment worth $1.2 million that is expected to create up to 125 new jobs.

"Ann Arbor is an amazing place," says Jodi Navta, vice president of marketing & communications for Coyote Logistics. "There is an amazing school there in the University of Michigan. ... Ann Arbor is a town that fits in well with our culture and we think we will fit in well there."

The Chicago-based company specializes in providing third-party logistics and transportation services for North American shippers. The significant number of the company's employees are graduates from Michigan universities, including Navta and the company's CEO, both alumni from the University of Michigan.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp is providing Coyote Logistics a $1 million Michigan Business Development Program incentive to set up the facility. The City of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor SPARK are also expected to offer financial support to assist with recruitment efforts.

Coyote Logistics expects to finish the build out of its new office in Ann Arbor this fall. It will be staffed with transfers from its Chicago operations and new hires. The company expects to hit the 125 employee number within three years.

Source: Jodi Navta, vice president of marketing & communications for Coyote Logistics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WorkForce Software doubles Ann Arbor office staff

WorkForce Software has hired six people for its downtown Ann Arbor office over the last year, doubling the size of its staff and prompting it to look for bigger digs.

"We are at capacity there right now," says Kevin Choksi, co-founder & CEO of WorkForce Software. "We're looking at expanding into more real-estate."

The Livonia-based tech firm specializes in management software for large employers. It opened an office in Ann Arbor a little more than a year ago so it could attract more software talent. The new office specialized only in software and has been a hit at the company ever since its opening, mainly because of its location in the center of the city.

"We wanted to give our employees the benefit of working downtown whether its access to the bus system or biking amenities," Choksi says. We want to give them the ability to go to the hot spots downtown. It's also easier to bring in interns downtown."

WorkForce Software has experienced significant growth overall in the last year, expanding its workforce to more than 300 people after making dozens of new hires. Driving this growth has been expansion of its sales by 50 percent, primarily through international business in places like Australia and Europe.

Source: Kevin Choksi, co-founder & CEO of WorkForce Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Chelsea-based Hoola takes jewelry line national

A small jewelry-making company is starting to go national from its home in Chelsea.

Hoola makes small kits of jewelry that allow its users to make their own custom-set of earrings by adding gemstones or precious metals to the hoop. The company started out as a one-woman operation selling jewelry at art fairs and private parties. It is now growing into a national operation where sales people sell the kits at parties of their own.

"A woman does the design on her own," says Ginger Sissom, vice president of operations for Hoola. "You put them together in all these different ways so you can make your own new earrings."

Hoola now employs a core team of six people and another eight part-time artisans in Chelsea. It is expanding to a team of 50 sales reps across the middle of the U.S. in states like Michigan, Ohio and Texas, among other states in the Midwest and South of the country. The company hopes to expand to more territory across North America over the rest of this year and next.

"We've grown pretty quickly pretty fast," Sissom says. "Everything just fell into place. We got the product line right and made it affordable to sell the kit to a single sales rep."

Source: Ginger Sissom, vice president of operations for Hoola
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Whole Brain Group focuses on keeping double-digit growth

The Whole Brain Group likes the idea of controlled growth.

The Ann Arbor-based digital marketing firm has grown quickly at times in its 11 years. That accelerated growth came at a cost. So much so that Marisa Smith, the company's CEO, is just fine with the 20 percent revenue growth it has notched over the last year.

"We're hoping to keep going at that same pace," Smith says. "I am hoping to add a few more people next year.

The Whole Brain Group has hired one person over the last year, expanding its staff to 10 employees and two interns. The recent hire is a University of Michigan graduate who was working part-time and is now full-time. Smith is also looking to hire one more.

The Whole Brain Group got its start providing software services, think building websites, before expanding into more digital marketing services. It is now focusing more on inbound marketing and generating sales leads for it customers, such as helping their employees with phone skills and customer service.

"We are becoming more and more focused on the sales process and helping make sure more sales are successful," Smith says.

Source: Marisa Smith, CEO of The Whole Brain Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HealPay expands into rent collection with new app

HealPay has made a name for itself for its accounts-receivable software and mobile apps. Now the downtown Ann Arbor-based start-up is expanding into rent collection with a new app, Rent Roll.

"We're trying to streamline the accounts receivable part of accounting," says Erick Bzovi, co-founder & CEO of HealPay.

The 2-year-old start-up was looking to get more into merchant services and transaction services so it could harness a more consistent revenue stream. Helping facilitate payments meant they could be paid back within three to six months. Helping landlords collect rents means it can collect money every month.

"We're really into recurring revenue and payments," Bzovi says.

HealPay launched Rent Roll early this spring and already has about half a dozen landlords with at least 50 units each signed up. The rentals include multi-units in Sterling Heights and Ann Arbor and accounts for hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions each month.

It also opened up an opportunity for HealPay's original accounts-receivable software. Now when renters fall behind on their rent their landlords can switch them over to HealPay's settlement app to make sure they collect.

Source: Erick Bzovi, co-founder & CEO of HealPay
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Arbor Networks hires 40-plus, looks to add 20 more

Arbor Networks began a hiring spree of dozens of new software engineers in the last couple of years, and those new workers are filling up a growing office space on the south side of Ann Arbor.

The IT security software firm hired 45 software engineers in 2012 with 40 of those jobs ending up in Ann Arbor. It started this year with 22 jobs openings and has filled a majority of them. It recently opened up 20 more software engineer positions locally.

"We are still experiencing high growth as a company, particularly at our R&D headquarters in Ann Arbor," says Kris Lamb, vice president of engineering for Arbor Networks.

The University of Michigan spin-out specializes in providing network security solutions. It has recently expanded its sales for commercial security solutions, recording rampant growth in North America and a high-degree of interest internationally.

Arbor Networks now employs close to 400 people, including 127 employees in Ann Arbor. To help accommodate this growth streak, the company added 10,000 square feet of office space and 1,200 square feet of lab space to its Ann Arbor facility.

"We have filled it all," Lamb says. "We are about to assume the rest of the State Street office space. There was another 5,000 square feet occupied by our landlord. We will be building out that space this year."

Source: Kris Lamb, vice president of engineering for Arbor Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Amplifinity grows staff by 8, preps to raise a Series B round

Amplifinity is starting to hit its growth streak stride this year as it preps to land more seed capital in 2014.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based start-up specializes in generating Internet referrals through social media. Its Advocacy Management Platform software allows people to advocate for brands by referring new prospects, endorsing products, and amplifying marketing messages.

The 5-year-old company currently has a staff of 25 employees and an intern. It has hired eight people over the last year and is looking to hire one more person now. The firm expects to continue adding new people at that rate well into 2014. The start-up expects to double in size this year and triple in size the next year. It has experience significant growth on both the business-to-business and business-to-customer markets.

"We have grown quite a bit over the last year and we anticipate growing more this year," says Dick Beedon, CEO of Amplifinity.

Amplifinity raised a $3.5 million Series A round of funding last year, which has allowed it to grow at this rate. Beedon says his firm is preparing to begin raising a Series B round of seed capital in 2014 worth somewhere between $4 million and $6 million.

Source: Dick Beedon, CEO of Amplifinity
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

300 Decisions finds footing in Detroit, Chicago in 1st year

Helen Davis launched 300 Decisions a year ago, her latest venture into starting a relocation-services business. Today, it has established itself in Metro Detroit and Chicago while it is entertaining prospects of expanding to the east coast.

"We have clients. We're making money," says Helen Dennis, president of 300 Decisions. "We have been able to accomplish the completion of a lot of innovative services."

The Ann Arbor-based company is named for Dennis' guesstimate of how many questions a company must ask itself when executing an office move. This is the second business relocation firm Dennis has built. The first was acquired in 2006.

300 Decisions' local clients include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Rossetti, an architecture firm. It's Chicago clients include the city of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools and U.S. Cellular, among others

Dennis's firm currently employs six people after launching with just Dennis and her son. It has its office in Chicago and is looking at opening offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., if its contract proposals are confirmed.

"The first year is really about cultivating and laying the groundwork," Dennis says. "It sets the stage for the second year. That is exactly what is happening."

Source: Helen Dennis, president of 300 Decisions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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