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Ann Arbor Avegant lands $4M in investment for 3D goggles

Three... no, four words: Hi-Def 3D goggles. Guess what's going to be the next hot tech development? At least, Intel thinks so, investing $2 million in Ann Arbor startup Avegant.

Excerpt:

"“It’s too late,” said another venture capitalist, this one in from Cleveland. “They closed their round at $4 million. I was trying to get in and couldn’t. Intel took $2 million of it and the existing investors took the rest. They took it off the table. I still can’t believe I got shut out.”

Having would-be VC investors salivating at the idea of writing you a check, and being able to say no, is a nice, and rare, spot for an early-stage company to be in. How Ann Arbor-based Avegant Corp. got to that spot is an interesting tale of being in the right place at the right time with the right technology."

Read the rest here.
 

MMS Holdings launches science internship at Wayne State

MMS Holdings is helping beef up the talent pipeline in Metro Detroit with the creation of a science internship program at Wayne State University.

The Canton-based clinical research organization specializes in regulatory submission support in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries. For the company, filling the local talent pipeline with more STEM graduates does nothing but help its bottom line.

"It's a good way to collaborate with the university so we have a healthy pipeline of college graduates," says Prasad Koppolu, vice president of MMS Holdings.

The Broadening Experience in Scientific Training program will focus on providing workplace opportunities at MMS Holdings for graduate students in the scientific fields from Wayne State University. These paid positions will focus on the areas of regulatory operations, medical writing, data management, clinical programming, and pharmacovigilance. The hope is these internships will open doors to a growing number of opportunities in the scientific research realm.

MMS Holdings has a staff of 500 people globally (including 80 in Metro Detroit) that primarily work on regulatory submissions for drug development. It has completed 45 new drug development applications in its seven years. The company has hired about 15 people over the last year, including positions in medical writing and clinical programing. It currently has two summer interns from the Broadening Experience in Scientific Training program, and is looking at adding co-op students to the program.

"Each year we could have around six people," Koppolu says.

Source: Prasad Koppolu, vice president of MMS Holdings
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Katz Law Firm opens small biz practice in downtown Birmingham

Donald Katz has been practicing business law for a long time. He recently worked as tax counsel for the combat systems group at General Dynamics and held a similar position at Miller Canfield before that. Today he is celebrating the first anniversary of his own practice, The Katz Law Firm.

"I wanted to do it on my own," Katz says. "I got sick of working for other people."

The downtown Birmingham-based practice focuses on providing law services and counsel for small businesses. Think legal and tax issues arising from the ownership and operation of small- and medium-size businesses, specifically in family-owned and closely-held businesses. It was a natural fit for an attorney who spent 14 years helping other people build their businesses.

"This has always been my focus," Katz says.

The Katz Law Firm recently launched a program to provide legal services to socially-conscious business ventures. The program waives the legal fees for investors and entrepreneurs setting up a low-profit limited liability company, commonly known as an L3C.

"It's a new type of entity in the corporate landscape," Katz says. "It's supposed to get socially-conscious entrepreneurs interested in forming their own entity." He adds, "It's the perfect avenue for certain type of entrepreneurial ventures."

Katz hopes to help about half a dozen L3Cs form and get established over the next year.

Source: Donald Katz, managing member of The Katz Law Firm
Writer: Jon Zemke

Immigration law firm Fragomen adds to Troy office staff

The Metro Detroit office for Fragomen is growing nicely along with the national economy and local automotive industry rebound.

The immigration law firm (formally known as Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy) is based in New York City but has a growing satellite office in Troy. It now stands at 15 people after making two hires over the last year. It is now looking for a senior paralegal.

"We are probably going to add more (staff)," says Alexandra LaCombe, managing partner of the Troy office for Fragomen. LaCombe was recently named the managing partner of the Troy office. She started as a senior attorney at the office 14 years ago.

Fragomen handles immigration law for a broad range of clients in the Metro Detroit office. Those include a number of automotive firms (two of the Big 3 are represented by the Troy office), local institutions of higher education, and financial firms.

"A lot of our clients are bringing a lot of work in-house while before they would use contractors," LaCombe says. "As they grow, we grow."

LaCombe plans to cement Fragomen’s position as a leader in immigration law during her tenure as managing partner of the Troy office.

"We want to make sure that if anybody needs any immigration expertise, they come to us first," LaCombe says.

Source: Alexandra LaCombe, managing partner of Fragomen's Troy office
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fresh Corner Cafe expands with workplace cafe service

Fresh Corner Cafe can now be found in commercial retail spots and office spaces across Metro Detroit.

The Midtown-based business (it calls the Green Garage home) recently launched a workplace cafe service where it installs a cooler at a workplace where patrons can swipe a credit card and take the food when they want. The pilot program can be found in five offices across the region, including St. John's Hospital in Clinton Township and the Franklin Athletic Club.

"We're bringing the corner store model to employers," says Noam Kimelman, co-founder of Fresh Corner Cafe.

The three-year-old business has made a name for itself as a supplier of healthy, organic foods to corner store bodegas across the Motor City. Its sandwiches and wraps can be found in 20 party stores in Detroit. The company has grown to a staff of seven employees after hiring another delivery person over the last year.

Kimelman would like to see both the corner store service and the work place cafe grow to a point where they can each support themselves. The Fresh Corner Cafe team is working to grow to 50 corner store accounts and 50 work place cafe accounts by the summer of 2015. The company is targeting both business offices for work place cafe locations, as well as community centers, where it hopes customers will be able to pay with Bridge cards.

"We're going for 20 work place cafes right now," Kimelman says.

Source: Noam Kimelman, co-founder of Fresh Corner Cafe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Jolly Pumpkin fills out new production space in Dexter

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales moved into a bigger production facility a little more than a year ago, and that investments is starting to pay off for the Dexter-based craft brewery.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales doubled its sales last year when production could catchup with demand. Its revenue and production are trending higher again this year, as the brewery continues to up its production. It produced about 4,000 barrels of its brews last year, and another 5,000 barrels of North Peak Brewing Co's beers, to which Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales bought the distributions rights.

"This new facility is five times that size," says Ron Jeffries, founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. "We have lots of room to expand."

That includes another five acres of land adjacent to the brewery. That is enough space for Jolly Pumpkin to triple its current production. That has also meant more jobs. The craft brewery has hired five people at its production facility, which now has a staff of 15 people, over the last year.

"We're constantly adding people," Jeffries says. "We just added two people over the last two weeks."

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales is also at full employment at its two restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor and Traverse City. That means 200 people working between the two locations. Jeffries adds that his company is looking at adding a third restaurant in the near future. It’s also looking to bump up its production to 10,000 barrels of beer next year and 15,000 barrels of booze by 2015.

Source: Ron Jeffries, founder of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales
Writer: Jon Zemke

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan expands Ann Arbor office

Revenue at Energy Alliance Group of Michigan made a big leap forward in its first year. The Ann Arbor-based sustainability company launched early last year with $50,000 in revenue booked. Today it clocks more than $1 million in sales.

"It was a lot of work," says Scott Ringlein, founder & president of Energy Alliance Group of Michigan. "We went out there and publicize who we are and what we offer. I am also a huge networker."

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan is a division of the Energy Alliance Group of North America. The Michigan-based firm, it also has an office in Grand Rapids, focuses on helping companies and organizations find energy-efficient solutions through new technologies and practices. For instance, Energy Alliance Group of Michigan has formed a partnership with Novi-based Srinergy to provide solar energy installations.

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan currently has a staff of seven employees and eight independent contractors. It has hired four employees over the last year, including a director of corporate communications, a social media professional and two account managers. It is also looking to hire two more account managers.

Energy Alliance Group of Michigan has also extensively leveraged entry-level talent through its internship program. The firm has facilitated 15 interns through the last year, including five in the last year. Its interns have come from places like the University of Michigan and the Michigan Shifting Gears program.

Ringlein plans to continue cementing his company’s presence in Michigan over the next year. It has also started to take work outside of the Great Lakes State, which he hopes to do more of in the near future.

"We want to continue publicizing who we are and what we do," Ringlein says.

Source: Scott Ringlein, founder & president of Energy Alliance Group of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

All Media Network adds people to downtown Ann Arbor office

When All Media Network moved its Ann Arbor office from near the city's airport to a space above Cafe Felix on Main Street last fall it served both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes.

"We got a cool old space in an old building with high ceilings and big windows," says Zac Johnson, senior product manager of All Media Network.

The new office also worked out as the best commuting option for the startup’s Ann Arbor contingent. Of those five people (including two new hires in January), three of them live within walking or busing distance of the new office. The other two are driving distance but were able to snag convenient parking spaces. Most of the office utilizes Go Passes.

Cool factor, check. Utility factor, check.

"This is the place that fit us the best," Johnson says.

The Silicon Valley-based tech startup runs websites like AllMusic.com, which is a bit like the IMDB website for music. All Media Network’s Ann Arbor is currently working to launch an iOS mobile app for AllMusic.com. It is also working to help grow the company's website usership over the next year.

Source: Zac Johnson, senior product manager of All Media Network
Writer: Jon Zemke

123.net hires 10 people as it grows wireless business

123.net is hiring in Southfield, and with good reason.

The Internet/data center company has hired 10 people over the last year, including six people for its wireless Internet division. It’s in the process of adding summer interns right now, and the firm plans to hire more staff later this year. The reason?

"Demand," says Jim Hart, director of wireless operations for 123.net. "We don't add head count because it's speculative. We add people because there is a need."

The 17-year-old company has been hard at work expanding its tech center at its headquarters in Southfield. The 130,000-square-foot structure at 24700 Northwestern Highway just brought an extra 15,000 square feet of data center space online.

123.net wireless Internet product has led the company's recent growth spike. Hart explains the speed of that product's deployment has been second to none.

"There is a demand for it," Hart says. "People just want it."

123.net also has two interns on top of its staff of 40 employees. It is currently looking to add three more summer interns. The company plans to use its internship program as a talent pipeline for future employees.

"We're hoping to convert a couple of them as soon as their internships are complete," Hart says.

Source: Jim Hart, director of wireless operations for 123.net
Writer: Jon Zemke

Michigan Corps cultivates socially conscious "Impact Investors"

Local leaders are working to establish a new type of angel investor in Michigan, the impact investor.

An impact investor is a high-net-worth individual (read wealthy) who wants to invest in fledgling small businesses that are both socially entrepreneurial and with the potential of sizable returns.

"They want to make a capital investment that will have some sort of social return while also getting their money back," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps.

Impact investors will be a significant part of the upcoming Social Entrepreneurship Showcase, a half-day conference that will highlight the participants of the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The June 20th event will help grow the local socially-focused entrepreneurial community. This year, 280 entrepreneurs and companies are participating from across the state. Most of them hail from Metro Detroit.

Michigan Corps is organizing the event and challenge. It's not only looking to cultivate socially conscious entrepreneurs, but investors who want to diversify their portfolio. That's where the idea of impact investors comes in.

"That is the theme of the showcase, to step into the shoes of an impact investor," Garlow says.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

Social Entrepreneurship Showcase highlights impact investors

Business competitions are becoming increasingly common in Detroit. Three are making their way through the Motor City this summer.

Former AOL CEO Steve Case recently announced that Detroit will be the first stop on his Rise of the Rest bus tour and pitch competition on June 24. The tour highlights up-and-coming entrepreneurial hot spots, showcasing their business accelerators and startups. Each stop will host a pitch competition with a top prize of a $100,000 investment from Case.

Project Startup Live held its business plan competition at TechTown last week. Of the three finalist (Banza, Swaddle-mi-Bili, and Social Sushi), Banza walked away with the top prize of $5,000. The two runners-up each received $2,500. Banza is marketing a pasta made from chickpeas. Swaddle-mi-Bili is developing a wearable fabric that helps babies fight jaundice. Social Sushi works to connect people and ideas through high-quality sushi.

The Social Entrepreneurship Showcase is gearing up to hold an afternoon event on June 20 to promote the participants and winners of this year's Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The challenge looks to help grow the local socially focused entrepreneurial community. This year, 280 entrepreneurs and companies are participating from across the state.

"I think more than half of our participants hail from southeast Michigan," says Elizabeth Garlow,  executive director of Michigan Corps, which is organizing the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.

She adds that this year's conference will focus on helping grow angel investors and investment funds looking to blend their portfolio with ventures that are socially entrepreneurial. This new class of investor is being branded as an "impact investor" who aims to make a difference while making a profit.

For information on the Social Entrepreneurship Showcase, click here.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow,  executive director of the Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

Warren-based Madison Electric Co. reaches 100-year milestone

Most businesses don't last more than a year or two. Only a small percentage make it a decade or more. The Madison Electric Co. is one of the rare ones that can claim a century of longevity.

The Warren-based firm is one of Michigan’s largest wholesale distributors of electrical, automation, HVAC, PVF, plumbing, water management and network communication systems and components. The family business is still run by the children of the two brothers who founded it in 1914.

"We understand we have a responsibility to maintain this," says Brett Schneider, president of Madison Electric Co. and the great-grandson of one of the founding partners.

Eight members of the family currently work at Madison Electric Co., including a fifth-generation member who recently graduated from Western Michigan University. The rest break down to three members of the third generation and four members of the fourth generation.

"The biggest thing is if you're not a working part of the company (as a family member) then you don’t have a say," Schneider says. He adds, "All of us who have been here started at the ground floor and learned every aspect of the business. However long it takes us to learn it is how long it takes us to learn it."

Madison Electric Co. currently employs 115 people after hiring seven new staff. The new hires include two inside sales professionals and five warehouse workers. The company is currently expanding into the pipe-valve-fitting market and is in the midst of upgrading its software system.

"It should give us the capacity to grow and give faster service to our existing customers," Schneider says.

Source: Brett Schneider, president of Madison Electric Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

MGCS, Duo Security headline Ann Arbor entrepreneurial roundup

It's been a busy week for Ann Arbor's new economy. Here is a quick roundup of stories that appeared recently and a big event about to come back to Washtenaw County.

The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium makes it return for its 32nd-annual conference. The event will be held at the Marriott Resort at Eaglecrest in Ypsilanti on June 17-18th. The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium is known as the best of the midwest conferences when it comes to showcasing startups with high-growth potential. The list of companies presenting this year was just released and can be found here.

Duo Security plans to move to 123 N Ashley St. The tech startup that specializes in duel-factor authentication got its start in the Tech Brewery in 2009 before moving to its current office in Kerrytown. The company has been hiring at such a steady clip (it currently has nine openings that can be found here) that is needs to find a bigger home to accommodate the growth. It plans to take 14,000 square feet in downtown to make that happen.

Seelio, a startup launched by University of Michigan students, has been acquired by PlattForm, which is based in Kansas City. Ann Arbor-based Seelio is a service-based student portfolio solution for higher education institutions while PlattForm specializes in marketing and enrollment management for institutions of higher learning. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County, A2Y Chamber of Commerce, and New Zealand-based QLBS are launching the Virtual Business Advisor. The self-assessment tool assists entrepreneurs and early stage businesses work toward their next stage of growth. Virtual Business Advisor identifies the strengths and weakness of personal and company while benchmarking them against other companies in the region.

Writer: Jon Zemke

Plex scores $50M in private-equity funding

Plex finds itself $50 million richer this summer after landing big financing investments from T. Rowe Price and Accel Partners.

The Troy-based company makes cloud-based ERP software for manufacturers. Plex describes its software platform as built from the plant floor up, enabling users to increase productivity and profitability at existing facilities by streamlining the manufacturing process.

The 19-year-old tech company was acquired in 2012 by Francisco Partners, a private-equity firm based in Silicon Valley. Plex also received a $30 million investment in 2012 from Accel Partners, a venture capital firm also located in Silicon Valley. The new $50 million capital infusion is considered an equity investment.

Plex plans to use its new round of seed capital to grow the sales and marketing efforts of its software platform. It is also planning to put some of that money into research and development of new technology.

"We have been working on a new user-interface over the last year," says Katy Teer, a corporate communications manager for Plex.

Plex has a staff of close to 400 employees and 20 interns. It has hired 156 people since January of last year. It also has 27 openings for everything from sales to senior technical writers right now. More information on those jobs is here.

"We're in an aggressive hiring plan right now," Teer says, adding she was employee No. 220 when she started at Plex two years ago. The firm expects to cross the 400-employee threshold later this year. "We're a really fast-growing tech company here in Metro Detroit."

Source: Katy Teer, corporate communications manager for Plex
Writer: Jon Zemke

MyoAlert develops tech for early detection of cardiac problems

Tragedy inspired Kabir Maiga to launch MyoAlert, a startup that produces technology that helps people self-diagnose potential cardiac arrest.

A close friend of Maiga's died of a heart attack last year while at work. The friend had felt symptoms but didn’t seek medical help for a few hours, missing a crucial window to help save his life.

"He delayed three hours before calling for help," Maiga says. "That was the difference between life or death for him."

This February, Maiga (a masters of entrepreneurship student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business) formed a team of four people to create MyoAlert. The TechArb-based startup is creating an undershirt with built-in sensors that can help people at risk of cardiac problems determine whether they are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or just everyday annoyances like heartburn.

"It gives people at high risk of a heart attack a tool they can use for detection," Maiga says.

MyoAlert has developed a pre-Alpha prototype of the technolog and is currently working on alpha prototypes. It has already raised a few thousand dollars from U-M's Center for Entrepreneurship and Ann Arbor SPARK to fund the initial development.

"Our hope is this July we will begin a clinical study," Maiga says.

Source: Kabir Maiga, founder of MyoAlert
Writer: Jon Zemke
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