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Akervall Technologies

(734) 389-7400
1512 Woodland Dr
Saline, MI 48176

Akervall Technologies hits its stride when the business moves beyond its CEO

Welcome to the Year of the Gazelle, an exploration of the fastest-growing startups in southeast Michigan by the Startup team and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (NEI). Not only will we identify the local gazelle companies that are perfecting innovative new products, creating jobs, and generating lots of revenue, we will give you a full accounting of each one. The stories behind the entrepreneurs that build these businesses. The investors that back them. The resources they leverage. How they have all worked together to build Metro Detroit's new economy, and how they plan to do it in the future. In return we will only ask you to do one thing: keep up.

Sassa Akervall knew her company was ready to really grow when it wasn't all about her anymore.

The co-founder & CEO of Akervall Technologies saw her startup take off when she stopped doing everything herself or telling everyone what to do. She even kicked the company out of her house when it became too big.

"We were basically sitting on top of each other's laps," Akervall says. "Once we got our own facility it was like turning on a faucet."

Akervall Technologies' principal product is the SISU Mouthguard, a thin-yet-tough mouthguard for athletes. It was developed by Dr. Jan Akervall, an Ann Arbor-area ear, nose and throat specialist who also happens to be Sassa Akervall's husband. They have been building the company from scratch at their kitchen table since 2008.

It eventually got big enough that it had to move to their basement where eight employees worked 40-plus-hour workweeks. That proved too much in too little of a space so in May of 2014 Akervall Technologies moved to its first real commercial home in Saline, which provided space for office, manufacturing, and research-and-development. But why wait so long to make the move?

"It was just a question of being frugal," Akervall says. "We are a bootstrapped company so it was just a matter of expenses."

That was a turning point for Akervall Technologies. It had consistently hit 30 percent revenue growth each year until last year when it made the move. Its revenue growth nearly hit 50 percent in 2014. It also scored $1.5 million in revenue last year and hired eight people, bringing its staff to 16 employees and the occasional summer intern.

"This year we’re hoping to hit 50 percent (revenue growth) or near it," Akervall says.

The new space is also enabling Akervall Technologies to expand its product line. Its mouthguards are composed of non-compressible, perforated material that is 30 percent stronger than conventional alternatives. Akervall Technologies also sells the SOVA Nightguard, which is designed to help people who grind their teeth while sleeping. Akervall Technologies’ now has its own research-and-development space giving its team to plenty of room stretch its legs.

"We have more coming," Akervall says. "We have a bunch of them in the pipeline. We have a full research & development department working on exciting things."

Akervall Technologies didn’t get to this place alone. It has leveraged a number of local entrepreneurial resources to build its business. It received a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to fund its research and development. It participated in the Michigan Economic Development Corp's Economic Gardening program and Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneurs Boot Camp program. It even received one of the Michigan Microloan Fund's microloans through Ann Arbor SPARK.

"We were able to pay it off early," Akervall says.

But what might be most influential is the mentorship Akervall has received. Ann Arbor SPARK introduced her to Wayne Brannon, a former General Motors executive. He has mentored her for the last few years, helping guide both the growth of Akervall's company and herself as a CEO.

"I have gone from a management role to a leadership role," Akervall says. "It was hard for me because I had to let some things go. He helped me think like a leader."

Akervall returns the favor now. She has worked with Ann Arbor SPARK to help consult with young startups and mentor aspiring entrepreneurs.

"You have to pay it forward,' Akervall says.

- Written by Jon Zemke

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