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Akervall Technologies' mouthguard sales spike, staff grows

Akervall Technologies won the advanced materials category at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition earlier this week for the second year running. But that's the least of what the startup is excited about these days.

The Saline-based mouthguard manufacturer has spiked its sales by 60 percent over the last year and it’s on pace for similar growth in 2016. It is also looking at launching a handful of new products to help it grow even more.

"We think we can sustain our growth rate," says Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies. "We are the bottom of the hockey stick and it (the company's growth) is about to take off."

The 6-year-old company’s primary product is the SISU Mouth Guard, which is marketed toward athletes as a stronger alternative that is both lighter and less obstructive that traditional mouth guards. SISU is a popular word in Finland that roughly translates to "determination, strength, resilience." Other products include the SOVA mouth guard which is designed for people who grind their teeth in their sleep.

Akervall Technologies has been based out of Sassa Akervall's basement in Ann Arbor until about a year ago when it took over a light-industrial space in Saline. It now employs a staff of 17 people and a summer intern. It has hired five people over the last year, including research scientists and marketing professionals.

Akervall Technologies made the finals of this year's Accelerate Michigan, the state’s largest business plan competition for startups. Winning the advanced materials category comes with a $25,000 cash prize, which Akervall Technologies plans to use to help purchase production equipment.

"It just sharpens your mind," Akervall says of Accelerate Michigan. "If helps you figure out how other companies think."

Akervall Technologies plans to launch its next-generation version of the SISU Mouth Guard that is stronger than the current version in the first quarter of next year. It is also planning to launch some other products later in the year.

Source: Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor startups score big wins at Accelerate Michigan

When Steve Schwartz went up to collect the ceremonial $100,000 check for taking second place at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week, he was surprised but not shocked. The CTO of Genomenon didn’t expect to win big, but he knew the Ann Arbor-based startup’s team has a lot of potential when it comes to the fight against cancer.

"We all know someone in our lives who has been impacted by cancer," Schwartz says. "We're all passionate about it."

Genomenon is a life sciences company developing a technology platform focused on personalized medicine with simplified genome interpretation software. It has an office in the Tech Brewery and at the University of Michigan. The U-M spinout's platform tackles the challenges of analyzing DNA sequencing data, including gathering, organizing and interpreting the results. This is process is called tertiary analysis and typically requires extensive manual review that can be frustratingly inefficient and error-prone. Genomenon’s software accelerates tertiary analysis so it can treat patients and publish findings faster.

The 1-year-old startup’s team of seven has built out the product and has begun introducing it to its first paying customers. A larger product roll-out is planned for next year.

"We are now in the process of raising a seed round," Schwartz says. "This (the Accelerate Michigan win for $100,000) is a nice little bump for our seed round."

Five other Ann Arbor-based startups, all of which receive help from Ann Arbor SPARK, also walked away from Accelerate Michigan with $25,000 in prize money. Those include Akervall Technologies (winning the advanced materials category), Arborlight (alternative energy), FlexDex (medical device), Workit Health (IT), and PicoSpray (Advanced manufacturing).

Accelerate Michigan is Michigan's biggest business plan competition. It awards more than $1 million in prizes each year. Ann Arbor-based startups normally dominate the winners circle each year.

Source: Steve Schwartz, CTO of Genomenon
Writer: Jon Zemke

Reveal Design Automation scores $50K from Zell Lurie Fund

Reveal Design Automation has scored a $50,000 investment from the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, a pre-seed investment fund from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

The money is the last infusion of seed capital the University of Michigan spin-out will received. The angel investments and federal grants total nearly $4 million that is going toward the development of the Reveal Design Automation's semiconductor chip design technology. The $50,000 will go toward helping the Ann Arbor-based company land more customers.

"We have a sales team now," says Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation. "They also provide customer support."

Reveal Design Automation specializes in developing electronic design automation software. The software helps simplify the complicated semiconductor chip design that shortens the verification timeline and lets makers bring it to market faster.

The firm has already finished the Version 1 of its platform and has deployed it to a couple of initial customers in industries like telecommunications and automotive. It now has a team of 12 people after adding a couple over the last year.

"I want to make sure we have more customers," Andraus says. "I'd like to have as many Tier 1 customers are we can support and 20-30 employees."

Source: Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Virta Labs tests prototypes to protect medical devices from malware

As the healthcare services start to increasingly rely on technology, they need to start thinking about protecting themselves the same way computers do. Or at least that is how the team at Virta Labs sees it.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, which calls the Tech Brewery building home, is developing a technology platform that will defend medical devices from malware attacks. Pace makers and other high-tech pieces of medical technology are vulnerable to cyber attacks because security is largely undeveloped.

One-year-old Virta Labs, which won the Best of Boot Camp award at Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneur Boot Camp last year, focuses on protecting those medical devices. The company has recently built prototypes and is looking to beta test its security technology later this summer.

"The hardware is pretty much complete," says Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs. "We are in the scaling phase of development of our cloud infrastructure."

Virta Labs recently grew its team of 10 people. That staff includes seven PhDs, a fact Foo Kune is quick to point out.

"We pride ourselves on our strong technical team and being engineering driven," Foo Kune says.

That team also recently landed a Phase 1 SBIR grant worth $150,000 to develop its technology. It is also in the midst of raising a six-figure seed capital round.

"We will be closing our seed round very soon," Foo Kune says.

Source: Denis Foo Kune, co-founder of Virta Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

TSRL pivots business model to become technology accelerator, grows staff

To say Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories has been through a lot over the last year might be an understatement. The Ann Arbor-based life sciences firm lost its president and general manager, John Hilfiger, in April of last year. That led to the promotion of Elke Lipka as president of the company just at the time when it started to pivot its business model from drug development to technology accelerator.

"We are partnering intensely with academic institutions," Lipka says. "We are providing the wet lab space and drug development services."

...And more importantly showing its clients the way to non-dilutive seed capital. Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories, commonly known as TSRL, uses an ongoing collaborative process that lets entrepreneurs leverage its expertise to obtain the data and non-dilutive funding necessary to develop and commercialize their technologies. In exchange, TSRL takes a fee and small equity stake in the company.

"Much smaller than a venture capital firm would take," Lipka says.

TSRL is focusing on companies that optimize treatment for infectious diseases, such as influenza, HSV, VZV, CMV, EBV, poxvirus, HPV, Adenovirus, and RNA viruses. It is currently working with a handful of partners, including one from the University of Michigan.

"Three are pretty active right now," Lipka says.

TSRL has hired two people over the last year, including a business development manager and a chemist. It is currently looking to hire a research scientist to add to its staff of 10 employees and one intern.

Source: Elke Lipka, president of Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories
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

H3D expands camera tech to more nuclear plants around world

H3D has spent much of the last year becoming a global player, selling its camera technology internationally.

"We have sold our cameras to close to 20 nuclear power plants around the world," says Zhong He, chairman of H3D.

Zhong is also a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan. He has been working on H3D’s camera technology since the late 1990s, spinning out the company four years ago.

H3D's Polaris H technology is a hand-held radiation camera that helps nuclear plant operators find potentially dangerous hot spots and leaky fuel rods with more speed and precision. It accomplishes this by laying a gamma-ray map over an image of a room, allowing it to pinpoint radiation sources.

H3D's has seen dramatic sales gains without a marketing budget. It also has landed two Department of Defense contracts. All of these wins are coming primarily through word-of-mouth advertising from the company's customers. The increased roster of clients has allowed the company to hire four people (engineers) over the last year, expanding its staff to nine people. It is also looking to hire another engineer if the right candidate comes around.

"We are financially quite sound," He says.

Source: Zhong He, chairman of H3D
Writer: Jon Zemke

InfoReady hires 7, looks to add a dozen more in Ann Arbor

InfoReady is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month, a milestone that carries a lot of weight with the startup's founder.

The Ann Arbor-based firm has doubled its revenue each year, notching 1,000 percent growth in that time frame. That growth streak doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon.

"At least the next three years," says Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady.

Kulkarni is a serial entrepreneur in Ann Arbor, having launched and exited a handful of tech startups over the last couple of decades. InfoReady was spun off one of those firm, GDI Infotech. InfoReady's software streamlines the research and business-venture-building process for everything from obtaining grants to building new startups. It even helps match the user with the best sources of funding and talent.

"It matches you with the right data," Kulkarni says.

InfoReady raised a $2.5 million angel round last year. It is now looking to recapitalize later this year with a planned $5 million Series A.

InfoReady has also expanded its team over the last year, hiring seven people. It currently employes a staff of 25 employees and a couple of interns. It is also looking to hire a dozen people, primarily in sales and marketing.

Source: Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady
Writer: Jon Zemke

Sakti3 leverages $20M Series C, including $15M from Dyson

Sakti3 has closed on a eight-figure Series C round of seed capital to help develop and commercialize its lithium ion battery technology.

The Ann Arbor-based startup closed on a $20 million Series C earlier this month. That investment includes a $15 million investment from Dyson, the vacuum cleaner company. Sakti3 now has a broad range of investors including General Motors and Khosla Ventures.

"We think this is a huge development for Sakti3," says Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3. "The Dyson partnership is critically important for our growth and first entry into the market."

Sakti3 spun out of the University of Michigan seven years ago looking to help lithium ion battery technology take a big step forward. Sakti3's technology claims to offer double the energy density of today’s commercial cells at half the price. It has been targeted for the automotive industry but Dyson sees potential in it for its handheld vacuum cleaners.

Sastry says her startup employs less than two dozen people and is hiring. She declined to say how many jobs it has open or how many people it has hired over the last year.

Source: Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Sakti3
Writer: Jon Zemke

AutoHarvest goes global by adding more Asian clients

AutoHarvest got its start with the idea of growing Michigan's new economy by enabling local entrepreneurs to leverage the intellectual property coming out of the universities and major corporations in the Great Lakes State. Today the nonprofit is aiming beyond the state's borders.

"We've been growing," says Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest. "We have been increasing our membership and database...[which] now contains about 90,000 intellectual property opportunities."

AutoHarvest has been targeting Asian-based firms to engage with its membership and plans to continue that expansion throughout this year by connecting more international businesses with the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The four-person nonprofit (it has hired two people over the last year) fosters collaboration and innovation in the auto industry by making things like tech labs and intellectual property more accessible. The 4-year-old organization has offices at the University of Michigan and TechTown.

Despite its recent foray into internationalism, AutoHarvest still regularly engages with local firms and entrepreneurs. For instance, Optimal Process Technologies is developing technology that improves the weldability of dissimilar materials. The processes will support the production of multi-material structures, reducing vehicle weight and improving vehicle fuel efficiency.

"The entrepreneur who licensed the technology came across it as a member of AutoHarvest," Pankin says.

Source: Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Premier acquires U-M spinout Electric Field Solutions

Premier, a gas and electrical industries service company, has acquired Electric Field Solutions, a University of Michigan spinout specializing in electric field measurement and detection.

"The company that acquired us has been working with use for over a year," says Nilton Renno, co-founder & CEO of Electric Field Solutions. "The testing exceeded its expectations by far."

Renno, a University of Michigan professor of engineering, first developed Electric Field Solutions' principal technology to measure electric fields caused by dust storms on the surface of Mars. The Ann Arbor-based company, it calls the Venture Accelerator home, is developing the Charge Tracker, a sensor product that can identify stray voltage from a distance of more than 10 feet. That technology caught the attention of Premier, a unit of Houston-based Willbros Group, which acquired Electric Field Solutions for an undisclosed amount.

Electric Field Solutions employed a couple people and a few independent contractors. Renno is now going on to work on another startup that helps detect black ice and sends feedback to the braking system in vehicles. Why leave Electric Field Solutions and go onto a new venture?

"I have a full-time job," Renno says. "I think we went through three CEOs with the company. We didn't find the right person to direct the company. When the last CEO left I decided to sell the company."

Source: Nilton Renno, co-founder & CEO of Electric Field Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Anonymous incubator set to grow 10 fold this winter

The anonymous incubator space at 333 Parkland Plaza is about to get much bigger as the owners begin to move to a new building that is much, much larger.

"We will essentially be 10 times bigger than we are today," says Mark Smith, co-owner of 333 Parkland Plaza.

Smith never intended to end up in the small business incubator game. He ended up with his current building just off Jackson Road in the early 2000s when a bio-tech company he invested in went under. Smith recruited young biotech and medical device firms to fill it, offering an all-inclusive rental rate with professional and mentoring services aimed at helping those startups grow.

It worked. The building has been full for years, and Smith has had to turn away prospective tenants because there is no room at the incubator. His current client list includes Evigia, ePack and AVAcore Technologies, which take up all of the 7,500 square feet.

Now Smith and his partners are in the process of closing on and moving into another commercial space nearby. The transition should be done by the of the first quarter or early second quarter. The 75,000-square-foot facility will include thousands of square feet of dry and wet labs. Smith plans to build in a co-working space, and add to the services offered with the likes of human resources, 3D printing and CAD software. Smith is looking to hire four people to operate the new facility with jobs ranging from facility management to IT.

"We are starting at 10 (companies occupying space in the new facility)," Smith says.

Those include all of the other firms currently at 333 Parkland Plaza and a few more. Smith can now accept applications for space in his incubator with the idea of having enough room to accommodate the requests. Smith plans to keep the facility at 333 Parkland Plaza and currently has a tenant lined up to take over the entire space.

Source: Mark Smith, co-owner & manager of 333 Parkland Plaza
Writer: Jon Zemke

GENOMENON leverages local startup support for success and growth

GENOMENON is one of those startups that local leaders get all warm and fuzzy about. The Ann Arbor-based company is a cross between life sciences and tech, and has a very promising future.

And then there are the startup resources that have been invested in its success. GENOMENON has leveraged just about every new economy startup program in southeast Michigan. It spun out of the University of Michigan, taking advantage of U-M's Office of Technology Transfer along the way. It has worked with Ann Arbor SPARK, the local small business development center, and the Great Lakes Entrepreneurs Quest initiative, among others.

"We have really maximized the resources in the Michigan startup community," says Dr. Mark Kiel, co-founder & CEO of GENOMENON.

GENOMENON is the product of three U-M pathologists, including Dr. Kiel. They are developing software focused on interpreting the mountains of data that come from genome sequencing. The end result could lead to things like improving cancer diagnosis and treatment. Think of it as data analytics for genome sequencing.

"We can produce the data really efficiently," Dr. Kiel says. "It's interpreting the data that is the problem."

GENOMENON is currently made up of seven people after launching last May. It is currently looking to hire a handful of software developers.

"We need boots on the ground, people who can code," Dr. Kiel says.

Source: Dr. Mark Kiel, co-founder & CEO of GENOMENON
Writer: Jon Zemke
221 Research / Tech Transfer Articles | Page: | Show All
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