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RetroSense Therapeutics scores FDA orphan status

RetroSense Therapeutics hit a significant milestone when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted the Ann Arbor-based startup an orphan designation for its lead technology.

Orphan status for a biopharmaceutical company is actually much better than it sounds. It gives the company bureaucratic cover to continue keep pushing forward its commercialization efforts by helping protect its rights to its research.

"It's a form of intellectual property identification," says Sean Ainsworth, CEO of RetroSense Therapeutics. "That's a key part of it."

The 4-year-old startup is developing a novel gene therapy to restore vision in retinal degenerative diseases, using technology licensed from Wayne State University. RetroSense Therapeutics' platform extracts a new gene from blue-green algae that helps make cells more photo sensitive. The company plans to apply this gene to human cells to regenerate photo receptors in the retina.

The FDA Orphan designation is intended to support the development of medicines and technologies that diagnose, treat or prevent rare diseases and conditions that impact 200,000 people or fewer in the U.S. It serves as an incentive for their development by designating a seven-year period of market exclusivity following FDA approval, along with certain tax credits for clinical testing expenses.

"It gives us the chance to demonstrate efficacy," Ainsworth says. "We expect to see that in our stage one clinical study."

RetroSense Therapeutics employs four people. It is in the process of wrapping up some of its pre-clinical testing and plans to launch clinical tests in 2015.

Source: Sean Ainsworth, CEO of RetroSense Therapeutics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DotMine Day Planners relaunches on consumer demand

Sarah Nicoli left the corporate world more than a decade ago to start her own firm, DotMine Day Planners.

These days she is relaunching the company after realizing there is demand for good, old-fashioned, paper-and-pen day planners from a core group of her old customers.

"I just got an email today from a woman who placed an order," Nicoli says.

The Ann Arbor resident worked in product development at Proctor & Gamble before launching DotMine Day Planners in 1999. She built up the company until last year when she choose to focus on digital versions. That's when she realized her core customer group still really liked the feel of in-hand planner.

"People emailed us saying last year was the worst year for them without their paper planner," Nicoli says.

Now DotMine Day Planners is relaunching its product and rebuilding its relationships with retailers. It has rebuilt its team to seven people and has added a marketing person recently. Nicoli plans to keep rebuilding her good business through the rest of next year.

Source: Sarah Nicoli, president of DotMine Day Planners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Clean Energy Coalition begins consulting across U.S.

The Clean Energy Coalition wrapped up a number of sustainability projects over the last year, and got started on a few more. All of them added up to a broader reach for the Ann Arbor-based non-profit.

The Clean Energy Coalition got its start in 2005 with the idea of helping spreading green practices across Michigan. Those have ranged from improving fuel-efficiency to making homes more energy efficient to promoting alternative methods of transportation.

For instance, it teamed up with the city of Ann Arbor and Zingerman's on a pilot program to help make the employees of those organizations implement more energy efficient practices. That program wrapped up earlier this year but was not renewed by DTE Energy. The Clean Energy Coalition also wrapped up its Michigan Greenfleets program. The four-year, $42 million initiative worked to bring better fuel efficiencies to local government vehicles, such as introducing vehicles that run on natural gas or hybrid technology or installing electric charging stations.

"We saw about 1.5 million gallon reduction of petroleum usage each year since we implemented the program," says Sean Reed, executive director of the Clean Energy Coalition.

The Clean Energy Coalition also launched ArborBike this year. The bike-share program has locations across downtown Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan’s campus. ArborBike will have 14 stations with 125 bikes when it's fully deployed next spring.

"Right now the system is at about half capacity," Reed says.

All of these wins have led to a demand for the Clean Energy Coalition’s consulting services. It's working with the EPA's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and targeting other similar opportunities across the U.S. this year and in 2015. The Clean Energy Coalition currently employs 15 employees and a handful of interns. It has made a couple of replacement hires over the last year.

Source: Sean Reed, executive director of the Clean Energy Coalition
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DeNovo Sciences secures $2M Series A investment round

DeNovo Sciences has closed on a Series A round of investment worth $2 million earlier this month, allowing the life sciences startup to start fundraising for a Series B in 2015.

"We are in very good shape (from a monetary standpoint)," says Kalyan Handique, president & CEO of DeNovo Sciences.

The Plymouth-based startup, it calls the Michigan Life Sciences and Innovation Center home, got its start in Ypsilanti in 2011 developing a platform for early detection of cancer from blood samples. The idea is to create an less-invasive method than the traditionally painful route of biopsies. It won the top prize worth $500,000 in the 2012 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The Series A consists of all new money from angel investors and pre-seed funds.

DeNovo Sciences has developed a fully automated system to detect cancer, primarily breast and colon cancers. Two of those systems are currently in use in medical centers in the Middle East and Asia. The startup also has purchase orders for two more locations, including one in the U.S.

"We are actively engaged with more customers around the world," Handique says. "We hope to see more orders next year."

DeNovo Sciences has a staff of nine employees, nine independent contractors and one intern. It has hired three people over the last year, including software developers and clinical researchers.

Source: Kalyan Handique, president & CEO of DeNovo Sciences
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Human Element creates 3 jobs as it hits double-digit growth

Human Element has grown in a number of ways over the last year. It has watched its revenue spike by double-digits, its staff is on the rise, and its office expand by a few thousand square feet.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based e-commerce company (it specializes in the Magento e-commerce platform) has watched its revenue jump by 40 percent since 2011. That has allowed it to hire three people, a software engineer and project manager over the last year, and it's looking to add a software developer now to its team of 13 employees and six independent contractors.

"Growing that quickly has its challenges," says Ben Lorenz, managing partner of Human Element. "We're targeting 30 percent growth right now. We feel that is a manageable way to grow the team."

Which has prompted the 9-year-old company to expand its office. The company added 2,000 square feet earlier this year. Another addition of a few thousand square feet of office space seems like its in the card considering the company’s current growth curve.

"If we can stay on track of our growth plan we will need more space next year," Lorenz says.

He adds that a rebound in demand for e-commerce work, specifically the Magento platform, has driven the growth. Lorenz is quick to add that his company is controlling the growth because it takes a long timeline (typically closer to a year than just a few months) to get new hires up to speed with the rest of the team.

Another factor is Ann Arbor SPARK giving a Phase 4 grant to Human Element last year. The $12,000 grant helped the company form some strategic planning for its growth so it can lessen the learning the curve to getting bigger.

"SPARK has been helping us quite a bit," Lorenz says.

Source: Ben Lorenz, managing partner of Human Element
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Spry Publishing almost doubles staff with acquisition

Ann Arbor-based Spry Publishing has acquired Farmington Hills-based The Word Baron, a move that nearly doubles Spry Publishing's staff.

Spry Publishing is a health-and-wellness publisher and a member of the Edwards Brothers Malloy family of businesses. Most of Spry Publishing’s work is focused on the pharmaceutical industry. The Word Baron specializes in digital marketing, ranging from graphic design to building training manuals.

"It (acquiring The Word Baron) expands our creative services that we can offer our clients," says Jeremy Sterling, director of sales & marketing for Spry Publishing.

He adds the two firms have partnered on projects before and there is a good synergy between them thanks to how the services they provide complement each other so well. The Word Baron's three employees have moved into Spry Publishing’s offices in Ann Arbor, expanding the staff to eight employees.

The Word Baron has a number of clients in the automotive industry. Sterling expects the combination of the two firms will allow them to offer a more comprehensive publishing and marketing package to their respective clients.

"We should grow well across both of our businesses," Sterling says.

Source: Jeremy Sterling, director of sales & marketing for Spry Publishing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Vivergy software bridges sustainability and public health

A couple of tech entrepreneurs in Ann Arbor are working to bridge the gap between living a sustainable lifestyle and improving the public health with their new startup, Vivergy.

Kevin Kononenko and Dom Parise's are releasing the digital platform this week. Vivergy enables individuals to score their impact on local health due to their energy consumption and air pollution. That way they can see if the tweak their everyday behavior they can see how it can have a real-world impact on lessening things, like childhood asthma.

"Children in Ann Arbor inhale on average seven cigarettes each year," Kononenko says. "That is the equivalent of living with a smoker for three months."

Kononenko and Parise were inspired by the frustrating conventional wisdom that comes with sustainability -ie. the problems seem too enormous, things are slow to change, and that the positive actions of one person are often negligible.

"It always feels very negative, overwhelming, and sad," Kononenko says. "I wanted to do something about it that encourages people to think about it in a different way."

Vivergy is launching this week and the two partners are planning to focus on generating local usership at first. However, the platform can be used anywhere in the world.

Source: Kevin Kononenko and Dom Parise, co-founders of Vivergy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Seelio adds 14 people to downtown Ann Arbor office

Startups launched and grown in Ann Arbor can sometimes end up in new homes after they are acquired. That’s not the case with Seelio. The 3-year-old startup is doubling down on Tree Town with a small spike in hiring.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based higher education software startup has hired 14 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 22 employees and an intern. It is currently looking to hire four more people in software development, educational services, and a director of a university partnership development. Check out the openings here.

"We have been hiring at a rapid pace," says Emily Keller-Logan, director of marketing & communications for Seelio. "We have brought on a lot of talented people."

Seelio's platform enables college students to showcase their portfolio of work. The software documents how their college projects came to fruition and presents them for employers in job interviews. Check out a video about the platform here.

"We're providing student lifecycle portfolios to institutions so that students can begin preparing for their careers from orientation to graduation," Keller-Logan says.

Seelio raised a $1.5 million seed capital round in 2013. It was acquired by Kansas City-based PlattForm last summer.

Source: Emily Keller-Logan, director of marketing & communications for Seelio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Underground Printing leverages revenue spike for 52 hires

Underground Printing spent most of the last year building up the business infrastructure it had laid the groundwork for in previous years, and is starting to reap some significant rewards.

The Ann Arbor-based clothing printer is projecting that it will hit $16 million in revenues this year. That's up from $13.8 million last year, a jump of nearly 15 percent. As a result Underground Printing has hired 52 people in a wide variety of positions. It now has a staff of 190 people with 133 based in Ann Arbor.

"It (the new hires) are across the board," says Rishi Narayan, co-owner of Underground Printing. "The new employees are all over the company."

The 13-year-old company makes custom printed apparel, like t-shirts and embroidered clothing. It has 19 stores across North America, including four in Ann Arbor. It production facility is also in Ann Arbor.

Underground Printing opened a handful of new stores a few years ago. Since then it has focused on building up sales for those locations, along with its production capabilities. The firm has added two automatic presses and other parts of screen prep equipment.

"Our improvements have been focused on the backend," Narayan says.

Source: Rishi Narayan, co-owner of Underground Printing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Renovo Power Technology expands product lineup, staff

Renovo Power Technology has a growing staff to go with its expanding product portfolio in alternative energy.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company has doubled it staff with three hires in sales, marketing and government affairs. That employment growth is thanks to more sales from a wider variety of products.

Renovo Power Technology makes advanced inverters that help transition energy from solar panels to the electric grid. The transformerless inverter technology gets rid of the copper coils of traditional transformers and replaces them with electronics that are both more efficient and cheaper to manufacture. Normal five kilowatt inverters weigh 150 pounds. Renovo Power Technology's inverters are less than 60 pounds.

It recently launched a micro inverter that allows an inverter/solar panel ratio to be as low as 1/1. Often an inverter will service an array of solar panels that can number a dozen or more.

"It offers more flexibility when it comes to installations where shading might come into effect," says Shane LaHouse, managing partner of Renovo Power Technology. "It also allows for smaller installations."

Renovo Power Technology currently has its technology being used in two large installments in Michigan with a third being lined up in Traverse City. It also looking to use its technology in a 166-panel array on 416 W Huron in Ann Arbor next year. The company is also looking to land more orders from governments, such as municipalities, in 2015.

"Our primary focus is on the Midwest," LaHouse says.

Source: Shane LaHouse, managing partner of Renovo Power Technology
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

OcuSciences enlists Adams Fellow to grow startup

OcuSciences hired two people over the last year, expanding the bio-tech startup’s staff to five. One of those hires was a new CTO (coming Accuri Cytometers) and another is from the Adams Entrepreneur Fellowship program.

The Automation Alley-managed program pairs recent college graduates with locally based startups. The idea is to get more talented young people involved in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Erich Heise joins OcuSciences as its business manager, specializing in business development.

"It's a chance for Erich to get his feet wet in a company," says Kurt Riegger, COO of OcuSciences. "OcuSciences is doing a lot of business development and Erich has a chance to do a lot of it."

OcuSciences spun out of the University of Michigan six years ago developing a new way to diagnose diseases like diabetes with eye scans. Its ocular diagnostic technology for metabolomic diseases that allows doctors to diagnose patients earlier and with higher accuracy. It's the type of new technology in an emerging area that attracted Heise back to Ann Arbor after he graduated from Case Western University.

"Ann Arbor is really an area of opportunity when it comes to entrepreneurship," Heise says. "Most people run to the coasts but I think this area is really blossoming."

OcuSciences’ technology is being used in two clinical centers, and the startup is working to bring two more online in the coming months.

"The need is high," Riegger says. "The challenge is can we get ahead of the need?"

Source: Kurt Riegger, COO of OcuSciences
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Customer Discovery Ninja platform helps gauge customer demand

Customer Discovery Ninja isn't Steven Sherman's first startup, but his first startup served as the inspiration for Customer Discovery Ninja.

The Ann Arborite spent a large part of last year trying to build up YouKnowWatt, a technology platform that brings real-time information to home energy audits with an eye for making more houses energy-efficient. That startup didn't pan out, but Sherman and his co-founder did stumble upon a market need when trying to determine their customer base.

They were doing customer research with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform when they realized the technology wasn’t doing everything they wanted. So they decided to make their own to facilitate more comprehensive interviews with potential customer.

"You're not pitching a solution," Sherman says. "You're trying to understand the core of their problem."

Customer Discovery Ninja is currently in private Beta with a handful of paying customers. The platform works to gauge customer demand for a new product. For now the new service is limiting its focus as it building up its platform.

"It's for general U.S. consumers," Sherman says. "You won't find an B2B on there."

Sherman and his partner would like to hire 100 paying customers (think businesses and entrepreneurs) paying $5 per interview by the end of this year.

Source: Steven Sherman, co-founder of Customer Discovery Ninja
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ann Arborís re:group makes 6 hires in 6 months

Downtown Ann Arbor-based re:group scored a bigger home and larger staff in 2014.

The digital marketing agency has hired six people in the last six months, expanding its staff to 33 employees and the occasional intern. The new jobs include an art director, copy director, and social media professionals, among others. It's also looking to hire another three people now.

To accommodate that staff growth, re:group has expanded its space in the Schlenker Building on Liberty Street. It now occupies in excess of 10,000 square feet in the structure.

"We took another floor in our building," says Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group.

She adds that re:group is growing so fast that it’s writing a new work proposal each work. It has landed new clients, such as Molly Maid and Pet Supplies Plus. Jernigan believes it is landing all of this new work because it offers a comprehensive marketing package that includes both new and traditional aspects of marketing.

"We do all of it under one roof," Jernigan says. "We always offer an integrated plan that includes traditional because it works better."

Source: Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ISSYS wins patent for sensor tech in Ypsilanti, adding positions

Integrated Sensing Systems, AKA ISSYS, recently received a patent for one of its minimally-invasive procedures used to insert its sensing technology,

The Ypsilanti-based tech firm designs and develops microelectromechanical systems for medical and scientific sensors. Its technology (miniature, wireless, batteryless, sensing implants) can be used in a variety of ways, such as wirelessly monitoring a heart or as fluid sensors in industrial manufacturing. The new patent is part of Integrated Sensing Systems’ sensor implementation as part of a minimally-invasive procedure, such as arthroscopic surgery.

"The patent covers how you do the actual implementation," says Nader Najafi, president & CEO of Integrated Sensing Systems.

The 19-year-old company has hired four people over the last year, including three engineers and an administrative person. It now has a staff of close to 30 people and is looking to hire another three people in engineering and quality control.

Integrated Sensing Systems has experienced incremental growth over the last year, but Najafi is optimistic that 2015 should bring double-digit revenue gains. He points out that Integrated Sensing Systems technology has received government approval for a few countries in Europe, which should clear the way for more sales.

"The potential for expansion has improved dramatically for 2015," Najafi says.

Source: Nader Najafi, president & CEO of Integrated Sensing Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Molecular Imaging adds staff, opens San Diego office

Molecular is growing its business in a couple of different ways.

The Ann Arbor-based tech firm has opened a new office in San Diego and made a number of hires over the last year, adding five people in Ann Arbor over the last year, including a couple of PhD scientists and experts in oncology.

"We have done quite a bit hiring," says Patrick McConville, CSO & senior vice president at Molecular Imaging. "We have filled a few key positions."

Molecular Imaging provides in vivo pre-clinical imaging services for pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies. A group of venture capital firms, led by Farmington Hills-based Beringea, acquired the tech firm three years ago. Molecular Imaging opened a satellite office in San Diego in January. It hired two people for that office.

"There is a very big pharmaceutical and biotechnology community on the west coast, particularly in San Diego," McConville says. "We thought proximity would be important."

McConville notes that Molecular Imaging has experienced solid growth over the last year. He adds that is has doubled in size over the last three years and plans to maintain that growth curve.

"Now we're targeting the next doubling," McConville says.

Source: Patrick McConville, CSO & senior vice president at Molecular Imaging
Writer: Jon Zemke

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