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M Den's flagship State St store expands to XL size

M Den's flagship store, adjacent to the University of Michigan's campus, is taking over the retail space once occupied by La Mersa Meditterean Cuisine. The store already occupied most of the building at the 300 block of South State Street. Taking over the former restaurant space, 301 S State, will complete its occupation of the entire structure.

"The only thing we didn’t have is the downstairs of 301," says Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den.

The boutique retailer that specializes in University of Michigan apparel will turn 40 years old next year. It currently employs 125 people (which doubles in size during football season) after hiring 20-plus people over the last year. It currently has six brick-and-mortar stores after opening its sixth last August. It also has 12 retail locations inside University of Michigan athletic facilities during games, like Michigan Stadium.

M Den is currently working on the build out of the expansion of its flagship store, which it hopes to open in time for the Ann Arbor Art Fair later this summer.

"We are going to use it for an expanded women's and children's sections," Hirth says.

Source: Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cribspot scores $50K as it adds more U.S. campuses to its off-campus housing service

Cribspot has landed some more seed capital, enabling the Michigan-based startup to start taking its software platform national.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company (it also has an office in downtown Detroit) recently landed a $50,000 investment from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0, a fund capitalized by the Michigan Economic Development Corp to invest in early stage tech startups. That investment brings Cribspots total seed capital raise to $680,000, which includes investments from Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures and a number of angel investors.

"It (early stage investments from local funds like the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0) is extremely important," says Jason Okrasinski, CEO of Cribspot. "The access to state funding, grants, and debt is one big advantage and differentiator from San Francisco."

Cribspot and its team of seven people is creating a centralized online portal for college students looking for off-campus housing. The co-founders, mostly University of Michigan students, were inspired to start the company after struggling with their own searches for off-campus housing that usually entailed Craiglist ads and looking for landlord signs in the sides of buildings.

Cribspot is a product of the Bizdom accelerator program in downtown Detroit. It also won $100,000 when it took second place at last year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Shortly after that win Cribspot started to spread its presence across the U.S.

"We currently have a presence at 175 campuses," Okrasinski says

Source: Jason Okrasinski, CEO of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rochester College launches social entrepreneurship center

Rochester College is launching a Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and is drawing from the local talent pool to lead it.

The small liberal arts college will house the center in its School of Business, offering a social entrepreneurship degree that emphasizes both profit and the public good. The degree is expected to dovetail well with the institution for higher learning's ethos.

"I was impressed with the campus's mission, which is to work on solving a lot of the world's problems," says Jaymes Vettraino, director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Rochester College. "It spoke to me in a way that I felt pretty passionate about."

Vettraino worked as the city manager of Rochester until this week, stepping down to take the job at Rochester College. He worked as an adjunct professor at Rochester College over the last year and has an MBA from Lehigh University.

Rochester College students studying in the Center for Social Entrepreneurship will work on both solving societal problems through commerce and contributing to their communities. Internships emphasizing servant leadership and social justice will be a focus of the Center. They will partner with local businesses, other educational institutions, non-profits, and government entities.

"My first six months is really about relationship building," Vettraino says.

Source: Jaymes Vettraino, director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Rochester College
Writer: Jon Zemke

Mountain Pass Solutions streamlines faculty hiring process

Managing a major research institution is in no easy task. Too much of the time, it's maddeningly inefficient. A University of Michigan spin-out believes it has a way to simplify and streamline at least one aspect of an institution's responsibilities.

Mountain Pass Solutions has created a web-based platform that manages the hiring, credentialing and on-boarding of university faculty. It also helps manage faculty workflow so the user can optimize things like document creation and the size of their support staff.

The U-M Venture Accelerator-based startup got its start when Deb Komorowski, a director of faculty affairs administration & finance for U-M Medical School, saw the inefficiency of bringing on new staff and faculty. She created the platform and got it noticed by the University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer.

"It was pretty obvious that what Deb built was satisfying a big need on the market," says Dave Morin, interim CEO of Mountain Pass Solutions.

The 1-year-old startup now employs five people and is further developing its platform with early customers, such as Central Michigan University. The bootstrapped startup plans to start scaling up its client base later this year.

"We will be looking at some rapid U.S. expansion this year," Morin says.

Source: Chris King, Deb Komorowski and Dave Morin, co-founder of Mountain Pass Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Backyard Brains looks to double revenue with national marketing

Backyard Brains has been chugging along for years, making a nice little business out of neuroscience testing kits with cockroaches. After five years it has hit $500,000 in revenue, but has its sights set on a much bigger number.

"We want that to increase to $1 million," says Tim Marzullo, co-founder & chief science officer of Backyard Brains.

The Ann Arbor-based company is getting ready to embark on a national marketing campaign to close that gap. Marzullo likes to say that when he or members of his sales team show off the company's insect neuroscience kits for grade-school education products, like the RoboRoach, they become instantly popular with teachers and students to the point orders are placed on the spot.

"It shocks us when we go to a neuroscience conference and people haven't heard of us," Marzullo says.

Which is a bit surprising because Backyard Brains is an international firm with a growing office in Chile. It has made five hires over the last year and now employs a team of about a dozen people. Marzullo hopes that team will be able to really make a name for itself this year.

"We want to expand beyond word of mouth," Marzullo says. "We're selling every day but not the numbers we need to be selling."

Source: Tim Marzullo, co-founder & chief science officer of Backyard Brains
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland University spins out first tech startup, Fulcrum Engineering

The first startup to spin out of Oakland University wants to make your vehicle safer by making its parts disengage during catastrophic accidents.

Fulcrum Engineering is developing technology that enables structural joints in a vehicles to decouple during big accidents. The idea is the force of the accident is displaced to better protect the motorists.

"We have shown we can reduce the force that is felt by the occupants of the vehicle by 60 percent," says Michael Latcha, president of Fulcrum Engineering.

Latcha is also an associate professor at Oakland University. He discovered the idea for the technology when trying to figure out ways to protect military vehicles from IED explosions. He found that if things like the engine or transmission were able to decouple during an explosion, then the force of the blast would also be displaced and better protect the people inside the vehicle.

"All your left with is the shell of the vehicle protecting the occupants," Latcha says.

Fulcrum Engineering is trying to commercialize that technology for use in everyday vehicles like sedans and work trucks. The idea is that only major accidents would enable the decoupling of the structural joints, not fender benders.

The Rochester-based startup launched last November. It made the finals of the Global Automotive Innovation Challenge and is currently working to license its technology to automotive suppliers.

Source: Michael Latcha, president of Fulcrum Engineering
Writer: Jon Zemke

Functional Fluidics leverages WSU tech for new contract research

Dr. Patrick Hines has long been fascinated with blood analysis. He has used flow-based platforms to do blood analysis since he was a grad student in North Carolina.

That history and his wife taking a residency at the University of Michigan Health System led Dr. Hines to Detroit where he is launching a life sciences startup, Functional Fluidics.

"I was most comfortable with the opportunities here in Detroit, working Children's Hospital of Michigan and laboratories at Wayne State University," Dr. Hines says.

The 1-year-old startup is licensing technology spun out of Wayne State University that is enabling it to do expedited contract research of blood analysis for pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Hines and his team have developed a novel assay that allows the user to quantify the amount of adhesion and thrombosis in a sample of whole blood under physiologic flow conditions. The use of a patient's whole blood allows for a more accurate result. It is used in sickle cell research and blood platelet work.

The TechTown-based startup currently employs a team of five people. It is currently getting ready to raise a seed capital round to further its work.

"We are planning to raise between $500,000 and $1 million to grow this business and finance new product development," says John Cunningham, COO of Functional Fluidics.

Source: Patrick Hines, founder & CEO of Functional Fluidics; and John Cunningham, COO of Functional Fluidics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Blogger digs into Ann Arbor's 826Michigan

A former EMU creative writing student decided to start a locally focused blog. She describes it as:

"Unpublished" is the journey of discovering Ann Arbor and everything it has to offer. It is exposing interiors; offering a deeper look at places I frequent. It is the gathering of recommendations from locals and my experiencing them for the first time. "Unpublished" is spreading Michigan roots in food, fashion, art, music, coffee and local business territories.

Her latest slice of local goodness is the nonprofit 826Michigan. Onward robots!

Excerpt:

"Having a relationship with creative writing all of my life, and working with children for half of it, I am confident in saying that 826michigan is probably the coolest nonprofit organization. Ever."

Read the rest here.
 

Court Innovations aims to streamline court experience

Ever been stuck in a courthouse wading through the mundane and time-consuming process of challenging a traffic ticket? Court Innovations thinks it has an answer for that soul-crushing experience.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has created a software platform that enables litigants to navigate the local court system online for things like civil infractions. The idea is to eliminate the need to stand in line at a court house when an issue can be resolved with the click of a mouse pad?

"We are moving from weeks and months (of time spent on small legal matters) to days," says MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations.

The fledgling startup spun out of the University of Michigan Law School a little more than a year ago with the help of $3 million in seed capital from the university's Third Century Initiative. It has since launched in three district courts in Ypsilanti, Highland Park and Bay City where it has been used by hundreds of litigants. Bay City started off using it for traffic court and civil infractions, but has since moved it to more areas.

"That's where they has the highest volumes of traffic," Cartwright says. "In Bay City we were able to expand it to the warrants, like failure to pay or show for a warrant."

The Court Innovations team (seven employees and five interns) is aiming to expand that even further to include people who are pleading down from low misdemeanors to civil infractions. It is also working to establish itself in more courtrooms across Michigan and the Midwest, a task Cartwright plans to begin fundraising for later this year.

"We'd like to be in a dozen courts in Michigan and hopefully one outside of Michigan," Cartwright says.

Source: MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fathead adds 44 people, staff hits triple digits

Fathead got its start by selling kids life-size decals of the athletes they idolize. Today the 9-year-old firm is finding some of its biggest gains from business-to-business sales.

Business-to-business work helped lead Fathead's growth spurt in 2014. It is now a $50 million company.

"That continues to be a very big area of focus for us," says Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead.

Business-to-business work included custom work for large companies and institutions. Among that subset is work for universities, such as the University of Michigan, which use Fathead’s custom decals for athletic and other events.

"Universities are really finding that we can transform their spaces," Cline says.

Fathead makes poster-size decals of everything from famous athletes to major brands. Dan Gilbert acquired the firm eight years ago, making it a member of the Quicken Loans family of companies.

Fathead has expanded its business by licensing major brands, such as Martha Stewart and John Deere. It is also getting ready to launch a new venture called Studio F, which allows artists to sell their work online as a fathead decal poster while Fathead keeps a percentage of each sale.

That work has enabled the downtown Detroit-based firm to add significantly to its staff. It has hired 44 people, bumping its staff size to just over 100 workers. It is currently looking to hire two software engineers. More info on those openings here.

Source: Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead
Writer: Jon Zemke

5 'tech titans' have strong ties to Michigan

Of the 23 "titans" listed in this compendium of tech giants, more than 20 percent have strong ties to the Mitten. And more than a couple are U-M grads.

Excerpt:

"... we've profiled 23 tech titans with Midwest roots, whether they earned their degrees here or were born-and-bred. Yes, each founder and executive eventully left for the coast, but if the region continues to build out its individual tech hubs, the surrounding states will start to retain the game-changing innovators - like Marc Andreesen, Larry Page, Jack Dorsey, and more - that it's consistenly seeding. "

Read the list here.

Civionics brings wireless sensors to manufacturing

Civionics got its start spinning out of the University of Michigan in 2009 by commercializing wireless sensor technology. The platform was primarily used to measure the strength of large-scale infrastructure, such as bridge supports.

That's changing now. The startup is pivoting from its previous work, which mostly generated revenue from government grants, to a product platform.

"We have a new product we began selling at the end of last year," says Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics. "We hope it will help us enter some new verticals."

That new product is called Constellation. It is based on Civionics original technology but applies it to manufacturing equipment in factories. The idea is to monitor the strength of those machines and avoid breakdowns with well-timed maintenance. The company is aiming to focus on Michigan’s automotive market as a start.

To help make that happen, Civionics has joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program. The program helps small businesses leverage cutting edge manufacturing technology, opening the door for them to go to the next level of production.

"Automation Alley clearly has the connections in the area that we lack," Zimmerman says.

The Ann Arbor-based company currently employs a core team of a handful of people after adding one over the last year. Zimmerman expects to grow that team later this year as it lines up the first customers for Constellation.

Source: Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M students launch healthy food startup called Fruit Fairies

Densu Dixon and his friend Eric Jensen were both dedicated athletes when they came to the University of Michigan. They not only took their workouts seriously, but also their diets. It's a lifestyle choice that took an unusual turn when it became their business.

"We started to get frustrated with the availability of fresh produce on campus," Dixon says. "We couldn't find a service to help us so we decided to make one ourselves."

The U-M sophomores launched Fruit Fairies earlier this year. The startup aims to eating healthier in college more affordable through a weekly subscription service that delivers baskets of healthy food to the doorsteps of co-eds across the country. The baskets include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and additional options.

The Fruit Fairies staff assembles the baskets on Sundays and delivers them to its customers across Ann Arbor. The Sunday assembly-and-delivery system allows them to buy fresh food in bulk from wholesalers. The student-run startup is currently trying to raise $7,500 through a crowd funding campaign to grow its business later this spring. Check it out here.

"We are hoping for the beginning of April," Dixon says.

Source: Densu Dixon, co-founder at Fruit Fairies
Writer: Jon Zemke

New business lab at Oakland University gives students access to cutting-edge Wall Street tech

A newly renovated business lab at Oakland University is giving students access to Bloomberg financial terminals that are used by many professionals in the financial sector to analyze company data, financial news, industry research, and more.

The 10 dual-screen Bloomberg terminals opened in January, giving OU students access to the same info used by brokers, investors, and other financial planners and advisors. The terminals also come with Bloomberg Professional Service, which trains students and tests them on their decisions and predictions.

Oakland University's lab is one of a handful in Michigan and is seen by administrators as a way to best prepare students for financial careers, giving them early access to tools that many would have been required to learn on the job.

Source: Nivedita Mukherji, associate professor of economics, associate dean, Oakland University
Writer: Kim North Shine

U-M student startup app helps track loved ones

A group of students at the University of Michigan are trying to bring campus safety into the 21st Century with a new mobile app called Companion.

The five students began working on the app a few months ago after noticing there wasn't a comprehensive public safety tool that worked with their smartphones.

"It was the culmination of a number of experiences we have had for years," says Danny Freed, co-founder of Companion. "We would get crime alerts that are 12 hours old and useless or there are the blue safety stations that no one uses."

Companion's mobile app harnesses real-time walking data that allows for family and friends to keep an eye on you as you walk home late at night. It matches that data with historical walking pattern and a predictive engine so local campus police can determine the optimal placement of officers.

Companion won the Pryor-Hale Award for Best Business at the Michigan Business Plan Competition. That came with $20,000 in seed capital. The team, all U-M undergraduates, also won the Most Successful Undergraduate team award for $2,500 as well as the Marketing Award sponsored by Marketing Associates for $2,500.

That $25,000 will go toward further developing the app. A Beta version is currently available in the Apple App Store, but the team is looking to enhance its capability.

"We are continuously adding features," Freed says.

Source: Danny Freed, co-founder of Companion
Writer: Jon Zemke
617 higher education Articles | Page: | Show All
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