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NewFoundry hits $1M in revenue as it adds more staff

NewFoundry's first two years have been anything but boring as the Ann Arbor-based software firm hits some significant revenue milestones and hires more staff.

"It's been pretty crazy," says Richard Chang, CEO of NewFoundry. "We have been working with a lot of organizations from big corporations to startups."

NewFoundry, which calls the north side of the city overlooking the Huron River home, hit $1 million in revenues in its second year. That enabled it to hire three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and two summer interns. it is currently looking to hire six people in project management, mobile app development, and web development.

"We've just been completely swamped," Chang says. "We have more work than we need, which is why we are on a big hiring spree."

Prior to launching NewFoundry, Chang worked at Mobiata, a software startup that made travel apps before it was acquired by Expedia. He founded NewFoundry with an idea of making custom mobile apps and other software applications for clients along with its own apps. Last year it launched Ramblehook, a mobile app that helps better organize meetings by listing agenda items, presenters, and time allotted for each topic.

Chang would like to continue to diversify NewFoundry's revenue stream by creating more equity projects and apps to sell to consumers. He believes this will enable NewFoundry to continue on its current growth trend.

"Our goal is to double our revenue each year," Chang says.

Source: Richard Chang, CEO of NewFoundry
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arborís picoSpray locks down $1M Series A

PicoSpray, a startup creating technology to make small engines more energy efficient, has locked down a Series A worth $1 million, money the company plans to reinvest into its tech development.

"We are going to continue working with customers so we can adopt the technology to their needs and expand into new markets," says Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up's technology aims to replace the carburetor in small engines with a low-cost electronic fuel injection system. Small engines for things like motorcycles, mopeds, and generators have a lot of room to create energy efficiency gains and cut pollution.

Automotive engines have already done this with fuel-injection technology but bringing that to small engines has proven cost-prohibitive. PicoSpray is completely redesign this part of the small engine with a fuel-injection system that can reduce fuel consumption by 10-15 percent and be installed at half the cost of current options. Check out a video on the technology here.

Nong declined to name the investors in the Series A but said the money is going toward the final development of the technology. It has also enabled picoSpray to hire two people (a technician and an engineer), expanding its staff to six employees. That team is currently testing its technology out with engine and motorcycle manufacturers.

"We're looking at how we can mass produce it," Nong says.

Source: Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray
Writer: Jon Zemke

G2 Consulting Group hires 10, looks to hire 10 more

When the Great Recession hit, G2 Consulting Group adapted by integrating more technology into its business model. It was a successful strategy and the firm grew significantly in the years that followed. Today it’s using that same philosophy to keep growing.

The Troy-based construction firm specializes in environmental and geotechnical engineering services. (Think of it as doing the construction work that takes place below the ground, such as soil testing.) The addition of technology, such as remote monitoring of solar panels or sensors at the I-94/I-69 interchange that track vibration, has become an integral part of the company's work.

"We're just using more technology to get the data," says Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group.

The firm opened a satellite office in Ann Arbor last year and now has a staff of 46 employees and five interns. It has hired 10 people over the last year.

"We're looking to hire 10 more," Hargrave-Thomas says.

The driving force behind those new hires is revenue growth. G2 Consulting Group's revenue spiked 43 percent in 2014, which is up from 31 percent growth in 2013 and 20 percent growth the year before.

"We're on pace to continue that growth," Hargrave-Thomas says.

Source: Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Stkr.it finds unexpected customers, expands

Stkr.it launched as a startup looking to leverage the emerging new economy. Today it's generating revenue from an unlikely source: quilters.

"They have taken to our technology to label their quilts," says Mike Newman, president of stkr.it. "There are 16 million quilters in the U.S., and two million of them spend $3,000 a year on it."

The 4-year-old startup, which calls both Ann Arbor and New York City home, launched as software platform that helped people capture digital memories on their mobile devices, such as text messages. It pivoted a few years ago to helping people create and connect new messages to items like greeting cards and scrapbooks.

Meeting with business owners in the greeting card and gift store industries led to introductions to the quilting world. Scrapbookers have also flocked to the service.

"It wasn’t part of the original business plan," Newman says.

But it's a welcome addition. Stkr.it has grown its team to five people and is looking at expanding its reach in these new revenue streams. It is also aiming to create a few more over the next year.

Source: Mike Newman, president of stkr.it
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

Atomic Object looks for bigger space in downtown Detroit

Atomic Object is adding positions to its office in downtown Detroit and keeping an eye out for more space to house its new hires.

"We are looking for a new space that will give us some room to grow," says Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object.

The Grand Rapids-based software firm opened an office in Harmonie Park a couple of years ago and has since grown to a staff of six people. It has hired three people over the last year, including two young women who recently graduated from Michigan State University and Wayne State University. It's also looking to hire a couple of software developers.

"We are always open to hiring high-quality people," Erickson says.

The company is looking at moving to a bigger office in Detroit later this year, but a new space hasn’t been picked out yet. Erickson plans to keep the company downtown.

Atomic Object's work with large and small companies in Detroit has helped fuel its growth. One of the firm's clients is a startup called SingleThread, a company that helps car dealership service managers better communicate with customers to let them know the status of car repairs.

"It's getting some excellent traction," Erickson says.

Source: Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object
Writer: Jon Zemke

Corktown co-working space Saint Vincent fills up fast

A graphic design firm, an old school arcade, and a CPA are among the businesses that have helped to fill up the available space at Saint Vincent in Corktown. The Catholic school-turned-boutique office building welcomed its first tenant in Oct. 2014, and all of its available units were rented out by the end of that year. Work has already begun on the second floor of the building and it's estimated that the offices could be available by mid- to late summer of 2015.

Ryan Schirmang, managing partner of Saint Vincent, sees no shortage of businesses wanting to be located in the city. Once financing is lined up to complete renovations of the second floor, the interest he's received in renting space indicates that the remaining offices should fill up as quickly as the first floor did.

Schirmang purchased the building in 2012 and renovations began in earnest in July 2014. Saint Vincent was the recipient of an Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy grant, receiving $50,000 from the organization for spending $200,000 of its own money. That grant, says Schirmang, helped ensure that they would have money to cover operational costs once renovations were completed.

"It's cool to see how those grants benefit Corktown," he says. "It's spreading into the businesses in the neighborhood beyond Michigan Avenue."

Schirmang says that the space is best suited for small businesses that are more on the design side of things, not so much the light industrial and production-minded businesses that characterize nearby Ponyride. He does, however, hope to cultivate a close working relationship between the two co-working spaces.

Before the second floor is completed and open for rent, look for a lounge and events space that could open to the public by May. 

Source: Ryan Schirmang, Managing Partner of Saint Vincent
Writer: MJ Galbraith

TurtleCell begins selling iPhone case with retractable earbuds

TurtleCell is starting to sell the first wave of its iPhone case with retractable earphones this spring, and is gearing up to for its next big shipment of cases.

The Ann Arbor-based startup received its first shipment of cases (10,000 in total) and is marketing them for sale online and in retail stores. They are currently available in 25 Michigan-based Verizon stores. TurtleCell’s second cohort of iPhone cases (30,000) is in production and set to arrive later this year.

TurtleCell was launched three years ago by a handful of University of Michigan undergrads who were tired of constantly untangling their earbuds whenever they reached in their pocket for their iPhone. The answer was an iPhone case with retractable earbuds.

"It's a convenience product so you don't loose or tangle your earbuds," says Jeremy Lindlbauer, director of brand & marketing for TurtleCell. "It also protects your iPhone."

The team experimented with the concept for a little more than a year. Trying to build it out with a failed crowd funding campaign and other trial-and-error moves. They really started to gain traction when they entered the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The product won the People's Choice award two years running but more importantly was introduced to Auburn Hills-based consumer electronics company Digital Treasurers.

That gave TurtleCell the expertise and the seed capital it needed to more its product development forward smartly. Today it’s selling its cases for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S for $39.95. It plans to add iPhone 6 compatible cases later this year when its second production shipment arrives.

To keep up with that growth TurtleCell has expanded its staff to seven people, hiring four in the last year. Those new hires included designers and multimedia professionals. It is currently looking to add a couple more employees.

"We are always looking," Lindlbauer says. "We are usually looking for an electrical engineer. It depends on the fit."

Source: Jeremy Lindlbauer, director of brand & marketing for TurtleCell
Writer: Jon Zemke

ITC passes $1B revenue mark, adds 38 people in Novi

ITC, a Novi-based firm, is the nation’s largest independent electric transmission company. It is posting some big numbers these days, passing the $1 billion mark in revenue and hiring another 38 people in metro Detroit.

It also reorganized its leadership structure, appointing about a dozen people to new executive positions. The moves are meant to set the stage for more growth by adding flexibility to take advantage of more development opportunities.

"The purpose of the reorganization is to drive up operational performance and drum up the value for the customers," says Linda Blair, executive vice president for ITC.

ITC has experienced significant revenue gains since its launch a dozen years ago. In 2003 it recorded $102 million in revenue. A decade later it hit $914 million. Last year its revenues crossed the $1 billion mark.

That has enabled ITC to hire a number of people, growing its staff from 429 people in Michigan by the end of 2013 to 462 by the end of last year. Today it stands at 467. ITC has a total staff of 585 people across the U.S.

The company's leadership expects the current growth curve to continue in 2015 as the firm continues to attract more transmission line work
"This country has seen no meaningful investment in transmission line infrastructure for 30-40 years," Blair says.

Source: Linda Blair, executive vice president for ITC
Writer: Jon Zemke

GreenLancer hires new CEO, begins raising Series B financing

GreenLancer is making some big hires and raising some big money this year. The downtown Detroit-based startup has hired its first CEO and is in the midst of raising a significant round of seed capital.

The new CEO is Zac MacVoy, a graduate of Lake Superior State University and most recently a vice president of sales at United Lighting Standards. MacVoy is leading GreenLancer's efforts to raise a multi-million dollar Series B round. It has closed half of its goal and will close on the rest later this spring.

"We feel he will be a key component as we scale to meet demand," says Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer.

GreenLancer is a product of the Bizdom accelerator program. It developed a software platform that guides businesses through the process of integrating green technology into their operations, such as solar panels. The platform provides high quality solar system designs needed to build and install solar electric systems, enabling contractors to manage projects, get quotes, order, and receive design services from one centralized place.

"We produce the design that the contractors use to install solar systems," Sharber says.

GreenLancer started by offering these services to commercial clients. It is now looking to expand into the residential market. The Series B will help the company with marketing, product development, and staff expansion. It has hired 14 people over the last year and now employs a staff of 22. It is also looking to hire a handful of web developers.

Source: Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer
Writer: Jon Zemke

PeachWorks scores $4M in VC, opens Southfield HQ

Software startup PeachWorks has landed a few million dollars seed capital and is opening its first headquarters in Southfield this spring.

The 8-year-old company, formerly known as WhenToManage, provides cloud-based software for the restaurant management industry. Its $4 million Series A was led by Indiana-based Allos Ventures. Other early stage venture capital firms participating in the round are Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures, Florida-based Arsenal Venture Partners, and downtown Detroit-based Invest Detroit.

"We're rolling out a new general product and platform," says Mark Symonds, CEO of PeachWorks. "We're also building out staff and marketing."

PeachWorks principal product is a subscription-based software platform for restaurants. The platform handles recipe and inventory management, point-of-sale analytics, and staff scheduling. It can be used by restaurants, hospitality businesses, speciality retailers, and food service markets.

"Our sweet spot is fast casual, casual, and fine dinning," Symonds says.

Symonds recently joined PeachWorks as CEO after serving as the CEO of Plex Systems, a software firm that specializes in cloud ERP for manufacturers. He says PeachWorks had been more virtually based before this year with staff spread across the U.S. Metro Detroit contained the highest concentration of those staff. The company currently employs 35 people after hiring eight over the last year. It is currently looking to add another six people.

"Southfield is centrally located," Symonds says. "We also have an office in downtown Ann Arbor."

Source: Mark Symonds, CEO of PeachWorks
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shinola's newest store brings watches, ping pong, etc to downtown Ann Arbor

Shinola will bring its handcrafted watches, leather goods, bicycles and more to Ann Arbor at a new store set to open in downtown this May.

Shinola Chief Operating Officer Heath Carr says there has been "overwhelming response" from people who live in Ann Arbor visiting the existing location in midtown Detroit, whether driving or filling a shuttle bus that ran regularly between the storefront and Ann Arbor this past holiday season.

"We always talked about how do we expand in the state of Michigan, and Ann Arbor seemed like a logical place," Carr says.

Some final preparation has to be completed at the 1,500-square-foot location, at the corner of Liberty and Main, and then Shinola can start getting the space ready for summer shoppers. The store will also include a Commonwealth coffee shop and about 2,000 square feet in the lower level that will include a community lounge with tables and seating, ping pong tables and event space.

Carr says he wants the stores to be integrated into the community and feel like they've always been there. "We're excited to continue to roll out the Shinola story and products and be a part of these communities," he says.

Carr expects to hire about six to eight people to start and possibly more as the store expands. Commonwealth will also hire a few of its own staff.

The Ann Arbor location will be Shinola's seventh brick-and-mortar store. It has other locations in New York, London, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Source: Heath Carr, chief operating officer at Shinola
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

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

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
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