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Huron Valley Financial hires 12 as it eyes expansion

Huron Valley Financial has spent much of its first 17 years establishing its mortgage services in Michigan.

Today the Ann Arbor-based company has eight branches in Michigan, employing 75 people. That's after it opened two new branches in Clarkston and Kalamazoo over the last year, prompting it to hire a additional dozen people. Those new hires are mostly of loan officers and customer support professionals.

Now Huron Valley Financial is eyeing a bigger expansion across the U.S. this year. Indiana, Texas and Florida have licensed Huron Valley Financial to originate mortgages, and a few more states are in the works.

"We have Ohio and California in the works right now," says Casey Daniels, vice president of business development for Huron Valley Financial. "Our California application could be approved any day now."

Huron Valley Financial is working to expand to southern statements to help smooth out its business model. Its revenue usually spikes in the warmer months in the Midwest to correspond with housing sales. Warmer climates in southern states means a steadier sales volume, which creates a smoother revenue stream for Huron Valley Financial.

"We would like to be able to tap into the warmer states for when it gets cold up here," Daniels says.

Huron Valley Financial has continued to grow as the mortgage industry has shrunken over the last year, primarily thanks to rising interest rates and falling refinancing sales. Despite this, Huron Valley Financial kept on growing while other lenders were laying people off.

"We never grew too big too fast, even during the good times," Daniels says. He adds, "We haven't gone through any layoffs because we have a great business model."

Source: Casey Daniels, vice president of business development for Huron Valley Financial
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Accent Reduction Institute spins out Accents International

Judy Ravin and Barb Niemann are in the middle of a big shake up at the Accent Reduction Institute.

First off, it's not just the Accent Reduction Institute anymore. The Ann Arbor-based company is now working closely with Accents International, which spun out of Accent Reduction Institute three months ago.

The 8-year-old company made a name for itself providing accent reduction training programs. Those programs gave non-native English speakers the tools to communicate seamlessly. Think of software that helps people with English pronunciation.

"I felt that Accent Reduction Institute was up and running and doing great," Ravin says. "This year we converted all of our learning material to online and hosted in the cloud. It was a big milestone for us."

Today Accent Reduction Institute focuses on licensing those programs out to corporations and large institutions looking to help their employees overcome language barriers. It's primarily a product company.

Ravin, who is still a board member at Accent Reduction Institute, and Niemann launched Accents International to handle the service end of the business. The LLC focuses on providing educational training to people who speak English as a second language and want to do so with ease and clarity.

"We really missed the teaching side of this," Ravin says. "There is nothing more gratifying than working with people and helping them clarify their professional expertise."

Source: Judy Ravin, co-founder of Accents International
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Selocial bridges photos, music, and social media

Music, photos, and social media are three of the hottest trends in tech today. Lots of startups make their way specializing in one of those things. Selocial is making a name for itself by connecting all three.

The Ann Arbor-based startup likens itself to when Instagram meets Spotify or Pandora. The 1-year-old company’s software allows users to make a "Selomix," which is a 15-minute visual playlist that combines the users preferred music with a photo.

"When any song is played on Selocial instant news about that artist is activated," says David Baird, co-founder & CEO of Selocial. "It's a more social experience than Instagram or Pandora."

Baird considers himself an artist with published work as a songwriter and author. His songs have appeared in the movie "White Chicks" and TV show "House of Lies" on Showtime. His career over the last 15 years led him to believe that there had to be a better way for independent artists to attract attention, which served as the inspiration for Selocial.

"I thought artists weren’t being discovered the way they should be," Baird says. "How can I help artists like myself get discovered?"

Selocial launched the public Beta version of its platform in May. The team of six behind the startup is working to grow its user base to 5,000 to 10,000 people by the end of the summer. In the mean time, the Selocial team is working to better link user accounts and introduce real-time chat.

"We want to improve our sharing," Baird says.

Source: David Baird, co-founder & CEO of Selocial
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Internet2 adds staff as it expands higher-ed tech offerings

New technology agreements and a few new hires are on the radar for Internet2. The Ann Arbor-based, member-owned technology community is signing new agreements to increase technology sharing between universities and hiring a handful of people in Tree Town.

Internet2 is working on a special offering that could bring Amazon Web Services to its membership, a collaborative of U.S. research and education organizations. The deal is in process and could come to fruition as soon as this summer.

"Amazon Web Services are highly desired by higher education," says Todd Sedmak, PR & media relations manager with Internet2. "It's one of the most robust platforms to help our researchers."

Internet2 also launched the Unizin consortium, earlier this month with the University of Michigan serving as one of the co-founding partners. The four co-founding universities will provide a common technological platform, overseen by Internet2, that allows members to work locally and strengthen their traditional mission of education and research while using the most innovative digital technology available.

"They can leverage that for digital learning on their campus and the campuses that are participating," Sedmak says. He adds, "It all stays within the academic community."

Internet2 recently hired an associate vice president of community engagement in Ann Arbor. It also has three open positions for associate program managers and a community engagement manager. You can find those openings here, here and here.

Source: Todd Sedmak, PR & media relations manager with Internet2
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LLamasoft growth spurt includes 35 hires in 2014

The LLamasoft growth streak continues to spike unabated as the downtown Ann Arbor-based firm expands its footprint around the world.

The logistics firm spent its first decade establishing its software in the logistics marketplace, building up a customer base of bigger and bigger firms. LLamasoft landed $6 million in a Series A round of venture capital investment and has leveraged that to scale its business.

"We have had some really significant growth," says Ginger Stegmier, vice president of marketing for LLamasoft. "We increased our revenue by 80 percent over the last year."

And it has been adding staff, hiring 35 people since the start of this year. It now employs about 150 people in the U.S. and close to 200 people worldwide. After relying on a London office for European growth, LLamasoft has opened satellite in both France and Germany over the last year, and plans to keep expanding its presence in a similar fashion around the world.

It's all part of plan to keep doing all of the little things in its business plan to keep growing the company. LLamasoft has expanded its sales and marketing teams to better brand itself. It has also worked to make its logistics software more accessible to customers.

"It's not one thing we have done," Stegmier says. "It's a variety of things we have done to grow."

LLamasoft is also hosting its fourth annual logistics/supply chain design conference (SummerCon) in Ann Arbor next week. The conference, which features a keynote address by Bill Nye the Science guy, has attracted participants from more than 20 countries and some big names in U.S. logistics, including the senior vice president of logistics for Pepsi.

"We have a lot of industry heavy hitters participating this year, and a lot of local companies," Stegmier says. "We're pretty excited about that."

Source: Ginger Stegmier, vice president of marketing for LLamasoft
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Jolly Pumpkin fills out new production space in Dexter

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales moved into a bigger production facility a little more than a year ago, and that investments is starting to pay off for the Dexter-based craft brewery.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales doubled its sales last year when production could catchup with demand. Its revenue and production are trending higher again this year, as the brewery continues to up its production. It produced about 4,000 barrels of its brews last year, and another 5,000 barrels of North Peak Brewing Co's beers, to which Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales bought the distributions rights.

"This new facility is five times that size," says Ron Jeffries, founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. "We have lots of room to expand."

That includes another five acres of land adjacent to the brewery. That is enough space for Jolly Pumpkin to triple its current production. That has also meant more jobs. The craft brewery has hired five people at its production facility, which now has a staff of 15 people, over the last year.

"We're constantly adding people," Jeffries says. "We just added two people over the last two weeks."

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is also at full employment at its two restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor and Traverse City. That means 200 people working between the two locations. Jeffries adds that his company is looking at adding a third restaurant in the near future. It’s also looking to bump up its production to 10,000 barrels of beer next year and 15,000 barrels of booze by 2015.

Source: Ron Jeffries, founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HistoSonics adds 3 staff as it continues clinical trial

Clinical trials and venture capital. Those are major milestones the team at HistoSonics is working to hit before the end of this year.

The Ann Arbor-based life sciences startup is aiming to finish raising a Series B round of venture capital and finish its first clinical trial by the end of this year.

"Those are our two biggies," says Christine Gibbons, president & CEO of HistoSonics.

HistoSonics spun out of the University of Michigan four years ago. It's primary product is a medical device that uses tightly focused ultrasound pulses to treat prostate disease in a non-invasive manner with robotic precision. The technology helped inspire the company's name by combining histo (meaning tissue) and sonics (meaning sound waves).

HistoSonics has a team of 11 people after adding three new researchers over the last year. It is currently working on a completing a clinical study measuring the safety of their product. The startup is aiming to submit its technology to the FDA for approval in 2016.

HistoSonics also raised $11 million in Series A funding in 2009. It is seeking another $12 million to $15 million in a Series B round this year.

"We have gotten some interim funding from our investors so we haven't had to raise a Series B yet," Gibbons says. "We want to get that wrapped up by early fall."

Source: Christine Gibbons, president & CEO of HistoSonics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DavaRay leans on Ann Arbor SPARK as it scales up

DavaRay is getting more than a little bit of help from its friends these days as the medical device startup taps into local entrepreneurial resources to grow.

"We have been focusing on utilizing the MEDC groups, like Ann Arbor SPARK," says David Arndt, co-founder of DavaRay.

DavaRay has an office at Ann Arbor SPARK’s Central Incubator in downtown Ann Arbor. The 7-year-old company also graduated from Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp and is leveraging the coaching resources at the business accelerator. That has allowed DavaRay to nearly triple is sales over the last year and add two people to its current team of 25. It's also looking to export its products overseas in earnest later this year.

DavaRay's principal product is the Nanobeam 940, a proprietary heat dissipation technology that uses light to stimulate the healing process. Specifically its monochromatic LED ray helps soothe chronic pain.

Arndt and his co-founder, David Anderson, launched the business not long after Arndt created a new way to help him cope with chronic back pay. He found relieve in infrared therapy and started making his own products after the company he was using went out of business.

Nanobeam 940 is being used in home healthcare and professional sports team, including by the Detroit Tigers. Check out a video of the Tigers Athletic Trainer talking about the Nanobeam 940 here.

Source: David Arndt, co-founder of DavaRay
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

FlockTAG sticks to growth plan as it expands across Midwest

FlockTAG, the consumer loyalty startup, is starting to scale it business model across the Midwest this year.

The 2-year-old startup is working to reinvent the customer loyalty programs with creating one centralizes card users can use at a number of different retailers. That way technology can keep tabs on the loyalty rewards the user accumulates at local businesses without them carrying around a different card for each business.

FlockTAG has grown into seven markets across the Midwest, including Columbus, Indianapolis and Champaign. It is working to expand into more metro areas this year, focusing on high-volume retail locations, such as coffee shops.

"We're doing our plan," says David Lin, co-founder & CEO of FlockTAG. "We're growing these direct sales and relationships with franchise groups."

FlockTAG has grown its average transactions per day at a location to 30. It’s users per location is now up to 1,100. Both numbers are up 20 percent over the last year.

"We have several locations where there are more than 200 transactions per day," Lin says.

Lin adds that FlockTAG has been able to drive up those numbers because his team (which stands at 15 people after making seven hires over the last year) has gotten better at its job. Specifically helping keep new stores using the FlockTAG software.

"It's about helping the vendors when they need it," Lin says. "When you bring on a vendor you need to help them so they understand the platform."

Source: David Lin, co-founder & CEO of FlockTAG
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Kentaro aims to help smokers quit with new project

Kentaro has made a name for itself over the last four years building websites and creating its own sites.

Last year it created a lead-generation service for real-estate professionals called Real Estate Esspresso. Today the Ann Arbor-based firm is working on a new site to help people quit smoking.

"We're looking to diversify into a few different industries," says Kentaro Roy, founder & president of Kentaro.

Kentaro is currently building out an online smoking cessation program called QuitSmokingCommunity.org.

"We felt there was a void in the market," Roy says. "All of the smoking cessation websites were outdated."

Kentaro still continues to build on its custom website work for its clientele. The firm is adding more customers in the real-estate and manufacturing sectors. It is also adding more work from law firms. That bump in work has allowed Kentaro to add a new web developer over the last year, expanding its staff to five people.

Source: Kentaro Roy, founder & president of Kentaro
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pillar Tech moves downtown to accommodate growing staff

Pillar Technology Group is on the move in Ann Arbor and is hiring about as many people as it can find.

The Columbus-based technology firm specializes in software and consulting services. It customer base is spread across the Great Lakes region and features companies in a broad range of industries, such as automotive, financial, and telecommunications, among many others.

About a third of its workforce (45 people) is based in Ann Arbor. For a long time, the Ann Arbor office called Tech Brewery home but a recent spate of hires (15 software developers over last year) meant it had to find a bigger home quickly.

"It was a nice space but it was just too small," says Charles Fry, regional vice president of Pillar Technology Group. Tech Brewery has made a name for itself as a entrepreneurial collective for tech startups. Think a large collective of startup teams of six people or less.

Pillar Technology Group has just signed a lease to take the entire seventh floor (10,000 square feet) of the office building at 301 E Liberty St. The company expects to move into the space by this fall, at which point it should have filled a number of the 20 open positions it has right now.

"We will probably be at 50 or 60 people by the time we move in," Fry says. "As long as the economy doesn't do something stupid on us we could see being at 100 people over the next couple of years."

Pillar Technology Group also considered a number of other different locations for its new home. Some of them include offices outside of Ann Arbor, including Detroit.

"Our team really like Ann Arbor," Fry says. "Most of the people have made their life decisions to live in or near Ann Arbor."

Source: Charles Fry, regional vice president of Pillar Technology Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

All Media Network adds people to downtown Ann Arbor office

When All Media Network moved its Ann Arbor office from near the city's airport to a space above Cafe Felix on Main Street last fall it served both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes.

"We got a cool old space in an old building with high ceilings and big windows," says Zac Johnson, senior product manager of All Media Network.

The new office also worked out as the best commuting option for the startup’s Ann Arbor contingent. Of those five people (including two new hires in January), three of them live within walking or busing distance of the new office. The other two are driving distance but were able to snag convenient parking spaces. Most of the office utilizes Go Passes.

Cool factor, check. Utility factor, check.

"This is the place that fit us the best," Johnson says.

The Silicon Valley-based tech startup runs websites like AllMusic.com, which is a bit like the IMDB website for music. All Media Network’s Ann Arbor is currently working to launch an iOS mobile app for AllMusic.com. It is also working to help grow the company's website usership over the next year.

Source: Zac Johnson, senior product manager of All Media Network
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Arbor Teas finds innovative ways to stand out, thrive

Arbor Teas is a family business, and it has many of the stereotypical traits of one. It started by a husband-and-wife teams, was built from scratch, and has grown to a staff of seven today. But it also has its distinctive features.

First off, it got its initial start because said wife of the team, Aubrey Lopatin, realized she didn’t want to be an architect anymore.

"One day she woke up and said, 'Why am I going to architecture school when this is not what I want to do?'" says Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas. He adds they got the first website for their business shortly after that through a trade. They agreed to paint the living room of a friend in exchange for him building that website.

"While we were priming and painting he was working on his computer, building our website," Jeremy Lopatin says.

That was 10 years ago. Today the Ann Arbor-based business specializes is selling a broad variety of organic-certified teas from around the world. It recently added teas from Kenya, Korea, and Hawaii.

"We are responding to an incredibly growing demand for home-grown (made in the U.S.) tea," Jeremy Lopatin says.

Arbor Teas has also made sure it limits it packaging and that its packaging is compostable. It went so far to create packaging for the tea that is backyard compostable so it minimizes its carbon footprint. Most other packaging for teas is only compostable in commercial operations.

"You can dig a hole in your backyard, put our package in it, and a month or two later it will be gone," Jeremy Lopatin says.

Source: Jeremy Lopatin, co-founder of Arbor Teas
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MyoAlert develops tech for early detection of cardiac problems

Tragedy inspired Kabir Maiga to launch MyoAlert, a startup that produces technology that helps people self-diagnose potential cardiac arrest.

A close friend of Maiga's died of a heart attack last year while at work. The friend had felt symptoms but didn’t seek medical help for a few hours, missing a crucial window to help save his life.

"He delayed three hours before calling for help," Maiga says. "That was the difference between life or death for him."

This February, Maiga (a masters of entrepreneurship student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business) formed a team of four people to create MyoAlert. The TechArb-based startup is creating an undershirt with built-in sensors that can help people at risk of cardiac problems determine whether they are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or just everyday annoyances like heartburn.

"It gives people at high risk of a heart attack a tool they can use for detection," Maiga says.

MyoAlert has developed a pre-Alpha prototype of the technolog and is currently working on alpha prototypes. It has already raised a few thousand dollars from U-M's Center for Entrepreneurship and Ann Arbor SPARK to fund the initial development.

"Our hope is this July we will begin a clinical study," Maiga says.

Source: Kabir Maiga, founder of MyoAlert
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan expands Ann Arbor office

Revenue at Energy Alliance Group of Michigan made a big leap forward in its first year. The Ann Arbor-based sustainability company launched early last year with $50,000 in revenue booked. Today it clocks more than $1 million in sales.

"It was a lot of work," says Scott Ringlein, founder & president of Energy Alliance Group of Michigan. "We went out there and publicize who we are and what we offer. I am also a huge networker."

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan is a division of the Energy Alliance Group of North America. The Michigan-based firm, it also has an office in Grand Rapids, focuses on helping companies and organizations find energy-efficient solutions through new technologies and practices. For instance, Energy Alliance Group of Michigan has formed a partnership with Novi-based Srinergy to provide solar energy installations.

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan currently has a staff of seven employees and eight independent contractors. It has hired four employees over the last year, including a director of corporate communications, a social media professional and two account managers. It is also looking to hire two more account managers.

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan has also extensively leveraged entry-level talent through its internship program. The firm has facilitated 15 interns through the last year, including five in the last year. Its interns have come from places like the University of Michigan and the Michigan Shifting Gears program.

Ringlein plans to continue cementing his company’s presence in Michigan over the next year. It has also started to take work outside of the Great Lakes State, which he hopes to do more of in the near future.

"We want to continue publicizing who we are and what we do," Ringlein says.

Source: Scott Ringlein, founder & president of Energy Alliance Group of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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