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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

3D Biomatrix lands key patent for core technology

3D Biomatrix recently received a key patent for its research technology, a milestone that is setting the company up for more growth in 2015.

The patent is for the company's hangar system, which scientists use for life sciences research. The patent helps the company validate the uniqueness of its products and prevents knock offs from competitors.

"It's an important patent for us because it covers our core technology," says Laura Schrader, president & CEO of 3D Biomatrix.

The University of Michigan spin-out, it calls the Venture Accelerator home, makes 3D cell culture hanging drop plates for lab research in cancer treatments or stem cells. The plates allow cells to grow in 3 dimensions like they do in the body. Most current methods offer only flat surfaces.

The 96-well plates sell well for users using manual lab methods. The 384-well plates are growing in use as they work well with automated lab equipment. The company also makes transfer tools and assay kits.

Schrader says sales for 3D Biomatrix were up in 2014 but declined to say how much. It currently has 30 distributors and is looking to expand into new markets this year.

Source: Laura Schrader, president & CEO of 3D Biomatrix
Writer: Jon Zemke

Inmatech adds staff after closing on $1.5M seed round

Energy startup Inmatech closed on a $1.5 million seed round this fall, capital the company plans to spend on further developing its battery technology. Atlanta-based SMS Investments XII led the round.

The 4-year-old University of Michigan spin out is developing advanced technology that greatly improves the performance of supercapacitors in batteries for electronics. The supercapacitors enable the batteries to improve the delivery of energy and increase energy density.

"It will be a power-storage device that will help batteries in range, run time and cycle life," says Saemin Choi, CTO of Inmatech. "It will also give low-temperature performance."

Inmatech is in the process of making alpha-versions of its technology for international evaluation. Choi expects his startup to begin work on the beta-version midway through 2015.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is expanding its team to further the development of its technology. The company currently employs five people after hiring a COO and materials scientist over the last year.

"We have two new hires coming in on Jan. 1st," Choi says. He adds the company expects to hire two more engineers and two more technicians over the next six months.

Source: Saemin Choi, CTO of Inmatech
Writer: Jon Zemke

University tech transfer offices bridge gap between academia and commerce

In Michigan's growing tech economy, there's no doubt that many of the innovators are coming from the halls and labs of academia. But how to get from concept to commercialization?

Excerpt:

"Coming up with a technological breakthrough is a feather in a university researcher's cap. 

But taking that brilliant notion, and forming a profitable business, involves another degree of difficulty. So professors and other researchers who want to turn their intellectual gifts into gold will probably need a little help along the way. 

"It takes more than a great idea," said Paul Riser Jr., managing director of technology-based entrepreneurship for Detroit business incubator  TechTown. "Professors sometimes are great technologists or great engineers and sometimes they don't have the know-how, from a business perspective."

The place to start may be the university's technology transfer office."

More here.

PHASIQ aims to ramp up production in Plymouth

PHASIQ is gearing up to make a number of steps toward commercializing its research lab technology in 2015.
"The technology has progressed a lot since last fall," says Shuichi Takayama, co-founder of PHASIQ. "We're currently working on scaling up our production."

The University of Michigan spinout provides a diagnostic platform for detecting protein biomarkers in biological samples. Its custom arrays can be used by pharmaceutical companies for drug and biomarker discovery, and advancing personalized medicine. You can check out a video describing the technology here.

The Plymouth-based startup that calls the Michigan Life Science and Innovation Center home has expanded its core team to three people after adding a technical support person. They have leveraged a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to further develop the technology, which is currently being used by researchers at the University of Michigan.

"It's much more user friendly with fewer steps," Takayama says.

PHASIQ is currently going for a few more SBIR grants to further development. The team hopes to begin ramping up production of its lab equipment in 2015.

Source: Shuichi Takayama, co-founder of PHASIQ
Writer: Jon Zemke

Eagle Ottawa invests $10M into Rochester Hills tech center

Eagle Ottawa is investing $10 million in expanding its tech center in Rochester Hills.

The Auburn Hills-based automotive supplier employs 150 at its headquarters and another 160 people at its tech center. That number will rise at its tech center after the expansion project is complete.

"We see growth in the employment there," says Brad Jackson, spokesman for Eagle Ottawa. "We are making room for 50 more employees."

Eagle Ottawa is an automotive supplier that specializes in leather work. It is 150 years old and has grown its revenue by 18 percent over the last year. It has had a 25-percent compounded annual growth rate since 2011.

The firm has invested $75 million in global innovation initiatives and resources including design, R&D and marketing. Its $10 million expansion in Rochester Hills is part of that. The project will expand the building to 16,500 square feet to accommodate more prototyping and validation work. There will also be a new customer co-creation center aimed at empowering customers to ideate, prototype and validate their inspirations.

"Eagle Ottawa is committed to research and development and continually investing in its development," Jackson says.

Source: Brad Jackson, spokesman for Eagle Ottawa
Writer: Jon Zemke

InfoReady hits 800 percent growth in three years

InfoReady recently won one of Ann Arbor SPARK's FastTrack Business Awards, which recognizes local companies with 20 percent annual average growth over three years. Except the Ann Arbor tech startup's growth numbers are much bigger.

The 4-year-old firm has closed 800 percent revenue growth over the last years. Sales of its research grant writing and management software continue to take off as the company grows beyond Michigan.

"Most of that growth has come from more than 50 clients now," says Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady. "We're getting a real national footprint. We have clients in 25 states."

The GDI Infotech spin-off's software platform helps researchers find and apply for the best grant opportunities and then review and track progress of the project. It also had features that matches researchers with other research projects. Most of its client so far have been in the medical sciences and engineering areas of research & development.

InfoReady raised $2 million in seed capital shortly after it launched. It plans to begin raising a Series A round late next year or early 2016. It has hired eight people over the last year, expanding its staff to 25 employees. It also is looking to hire another six people now to help accommodate its growth next year.

"We expect to double in size in 2015," Kulkarni says.

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

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

Cayman Chemical hires 17 as it fills out Ann Arbor offices

Interns are an important part of Cayman Chemical's growth. The bio-tech firm has hosted a steady stream of interns over the years and turned a number of its former interns into full-time positions.

The Ann Arbor-based company hosted 15 interns over the summer, and has three right now. Over the last year, the company has turned seven into full-time employees making up nearly half of its new hires. And the firm is looking for more.

"We are working to hire interns all year," says Christine Booher, vice president of human resources for Cayman Chemical. "We want to hire five right now."

The 34-year-old company provides researchers with bio-chemical tools and research services. It has hired 17 people over the last year, and is currently looking to hire another four people right now. Those new job openings include two entry-level scientists, a regulatory affairs professional, and a facility management professional. Check out its open positions here.

That growth puts Cayman Chemical’s staff to 225 employees. A consistent growth in revenue (Booher declined to say how much) has lead to the constant hiring. That has allowed the firm to continue filling up newly acquired space. The company doubled its building count in Ann Arbor to four last year, and recently just opened a new product shipping area.

"We have our facilities pretty much full at this time," Booher says.

Source: Christine Booher, vice president of human resources for Cayman Chemical
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

U-M Tech Transfer accelerates invention production

The University of Michigan has set another round of records this year when it comes to inventions and innovations.

The university's Office of Technology Transfer reported 439 new inventions for the last fiscal year, which us up from 421 the previous year. U-M also recorded 148 option and license agreements (up from 108 a year ago) and launched 14 startups.

"It has been a steady (upward) trend for the last five years," says Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research and tech transfer at the University of Michigan.

Now each invention doesn't equate a new startup. Oftentimes a startup developing a new technology platform will be based on a handful of patents. Nisbet estimates that about 25 percent of new inventions are robust enough to become their own startups.

"These inventions are a whole range of ideas," Nisbet says. "It could be a platform technology that is big and broad or a smaller piece of technology that a company can enhance."

He adds that each newly created startup spun out of the university requires much more complex technology than say a software developer coming up with a new mobile app. Because of the complexity of it means that more than a dozen new startups launched each year puts U-M toward the more prolific end of research university technology transfer programs. For instance, MIT normally leads the way and it routinely notches about 20 new startup launches each year.

"Fourteen is a pretty robust number when you consider the type of startup it is," Nisbet says.

The University of Michigan has 22 startups currently housed in its Venture Accelerator on the North Campus Research Complex. Each of those startups employs a couple of people. For instance, Exo Dynamics is a U-M spinout that is developing a back brace for the 21st Century. It currently has a team of five people working on the venture.

Check out a video promoting U-M’s Tech Transfer program here.

Source: Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research and tech transfer at the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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