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EXO Dynamics gears up to test back-brace prototypes

EXO Dynamics is in the process of finishing the first commercially viable prototypes of its mechatronic back brace and begin testing on its first subjects this fall.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, it calls the Venture Accelerator in the University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex, received a $50,000 state grant to create four commercially viably prototypes. EXO Dynamics is at the end of that process.

"We will have that finished by next month," says Mushir Khwaja, chief commercial officers of EXO Dynamics. "We will do the final assembly here to put some finishing touches on it."

EXO Dynamics and its team of four employees and one summer intern is developing an electro-mechanical back brace for medical professionals. The brace will be able to be worn by physicians under their lead vests in operating rooms.

"We will field test them with physicians in the fall," Khwaja says.

EXO Dynamics has received a notice of allowance from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, which means the startup expects to receive its patent for the back brace later this fall. The company also recently took second in the New Business Idea category of the Great Lakes Entrepreneur Quest business plan competition.

Khwaja plans to begin fundraising a seed capital round for EXO Dynamics later this year while field testing is going on. The company hopes to raise about $1 million in seed capital to commercialize its technology.

Source: Mushir Khwaja, chief commercial officers of EXO Dynamics
Writer Jon Zemke

Moncur branding agency opens new offices in Miami, Austin

Moncur is rebranding and expanding its presence across the U.S.

The Southfield-based branding agency has been known as Moncur Associates for its 22 years until it dropped the latter part of its name this month. Moncur is also opening satellite offices in Miami and Austin.

"There is a lot of stability that comes with geographic expansion and a lot of growth opportunity," says David Moncur, principal of Moncur. "By my estimation Austin is the next Silicon Valley."

Moncur handles the digital and social media branding for the likes of Lear, Layne, Discovery Channel, the University of Michigan, Art Van, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. It’s revenue is up 50 percent over the last year and the company is on track to do it again.

The company has hired six people over the last year, primarily in creative and technical positions. Moncur currently has a staff of 27 employees and one intern. It also has four open positions for technical and creative staffers, including a director of digital marketing.

Moncur is looking to keep going by focusing on customers in the Metro Detroit, Miami and Austin markets over the next year. However, Moncur expects most of the growth to take place at its Southfield headquarters.

"That has never happened to us in our company’s history," Moncur says. "It's an exciting ride."

Source: David Moncur, principal of Moncur
Writer: Jon Zemke

Relium relishes opportunity to stay boutique in software scene

Not every new economy entrepreneur has the desire to build the next software giant. Some, like Eric Shapiro, just want to keep programing cool technology.

The president of Relium has been writing code since the 1980s and launched the Ann Arbor-based software firm in 1987. For most of its life the company has just been Shapiro and an independent contractor or two. In the last few years he added a handful of employees but doesn’t see his company’s staff getting bigger than that.

"I'm a tech guy," Shapiro says. "I'm a programmer. When we scale up to five or so (employees) I become a manager instead of a programmer. I don't like that as much."

So Relium's staff stays at a handful of people. Last year it was five employees. Today it’s three. Maybe next year it will be four. Maybe. Whatever the number Shapirio's team is focused on keeping the company’s current client list happy and its custom software projects done on time.

"I'm vary wary of becoming the pointy-haired boss making technical decision that I don't understand well," Shapiro says. "I would miss being the guys who understands it all."

That means keeping up with the technology curve, which is practically a full-time job itself. But it's what Shapiro and his team like doing. They are currently working on the latest iteration of Weather Underground’s mobile app. To them that is more fun working on something a lot of people will see compared to making something from scratch that will have to fight with a lot of competition for visibility.

"It's just fun that everyone can use our app because it's a free app," Shapiro says.

Source: Eric Shapiro, president of Relium
Writer Jon Zemke

826michigan expands Detroit presence with new hires

826michigan is sinking its roots deeper into Detroit, hiring more staff and expanding its presence in the state's largest city.

The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit supports K-12 students with creative and expository writing skills and helps teachers inspire their students to write. The organization started expanding into Detroit last year, helping connect volunteers, teachers, and students to create a more literate population of young people.

"We have a significant and growing student and volunteer population in Detroit," says Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan.

826michigan currently employs 10 people and has hired four new staffers over the last year. It recently hired two new people to help augment its expanded programming and fundraising in Detroit.

"We are really growing at an accelerated pace," Uhle says.

About three people work in Detroit at any one time for 826michigan. She hopes to expand that by another two people over the next year, which should help 826michigan meet the demand for its services.

"The demand and desire for our programs is much greater than the supply," Uhle says.

Source: Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Husband-and-wife team launches urban design firm, City Form Detroit

About a year ago, James Fidler left his job at a downtown Detroit-based architecture firm to launch his own urban design company, City Form Detroit. This summer, his wife is joining the growing business.

"It was time for us to have new challenges and pursue some projects we are interested in," says Virginia Stanard, co-principal of City Form Detroit. "The timing was just right."

Stanard worked as the director of urban design at the University of Detroit Mercy’s Detroit Collaborative Design Center until this month. Now she is leaving that post to join Fidler, her husband, as co-principal of City Form Detroit. The downtown Detroit-based company specializes in providing urban design services, such as strategic planning and design guidelines, among others.

City Form Detroit's early projects include design and implementation work on Grand Circus Park. Stanard, Fidler, and their one employee are working on other similar projects in both downtown and out in the Detroit’s neighborhoods.

"We want to continue to contribute to the growth of greater downtown and the neighborhoods," Stanard says. "We want to make the city a better place to live and play."

Source: Virginia Stanard, co-principal of City Form Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

SA+A Architects takes on more design work, expands client base

SA+A Architects, which is short for Stephen Auger + Associates Architects, worked its way through the lean times of the Great Recession and is now starting to reap the benefits of the recovery.

The Lake Orion-based architecture firm has hired two people over the last few weeks, including a project architect and an industrial designer. The 19-year-old company has a staff of a dozen employees and two summer interns handling a growing amount of work.

"We landed some big projects," says Steve Auger, president of SA+A Architects. "We struggled through the downturn like everyone else. We had some nice projects on the bench, and a couple of those came alive."

A lot of the new work is coming from faith-based organizations, specifically churches. SA+A Architects projects include an expansion of the Clarkston United Methodist Church and the building of a new mega church in Cincinnati called Rivers Crossing Community Church.

"That's converting a movie theater to a 1,500-seat church," Auger says.

SA+A Architects also got the green light from Oakland County to serve as one of its preferred contractors for architecture work. The approval puts the firm on the short list for architecture firms to do work on designing schools and other government buildings.

"We just won a blanket contract with Oakland County," Auger says. "We want to do some more government work. We want to be more diversified."

Source: Steve Auger, president of SA+A Architects
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dalton & Tomich creates new home in downtown Detroit

In recent years, lots of companies have scored easy headlines when they announce that they are moving to downtown Detroit. Dalton & Tomich is one of companies that made the move first and worried about making headlines later, if at all.

The 4-year-old practice, which specializes in business law, moved from Bloomfield Hills to downtown Detroit a year ago. The fledgling firm moved its five employees, four of which are attorneys, into the Chrysler House to be closer to its clientele.

"We were spending part of every day in downtown Detroit (before making the move)," says Daniel Dalton, founding member of Dalton & Tomich.

The firm hasn't looked back. It has hired one replacement worker since making the move and grown its workload. The firm has also established itself as an authority in RLUIPA law, which protects religious entities from discrimination in land use.

"We're at that point where we are really busy here," Dalton says.

That is part of the reason Dalton & Tomich made the move. One of the firm's other motivations to move downtown was to play a role in the city’s rebirth.

"It's just a great city," Dalton says. "There are a lot of opportunities, and it's a fun place to be. You can tell from the lack of parking and how it can be hard to find a place to get lunch."

Source: Daniel Dalton, founding member of Dalton & Tomich
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brazilian immigrants launch pastry biz, Doce Brigadeiro

A couple of Brazilian immigrants are making a go of it in entrepreneurship, launching their own pastry business with the help of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College.

Doce Brigadeiro specializes in Brazilian handmade gourmet sweets. The main pastry is the popular treat called a brigadeiro. The main ingredients consist of condensed milk, cream and chocolate. Twenty-one flavors are on offer, including mint, toffee, lemon zest and sea salt caramel, as well as milk, dark and white chocolate.

"I love to do Brazilian desserts," says Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro. "It's something I would do every month."

Cecconi recently received her MBA from Walsh College where she leveraged the services of the Blackstone LaunchPad program, which teaches the basics of business to aspiring entrepreneurs. Cecconi and her friend, Marina Kapordelis, started selling brigadeiros to friends and family under the Doce Brigadeiro brand this spring.

The Royal Oak-based business is now looking for its own kitchen space to make its sweets, and eventually wants to open up a storefront in a local downtown like Ann Arbor or Birmingham in the not-too-distant future.

"We're hoping to get a lot of Christmas orders this year," Cecconi says.

Source: Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro
Writer: Jon Zemke

iVantage moves into bigger office to accommodate revenue growth

The iVantage Group is in the midst of some big changes and the Brighton-based staffing firm has a lot of growth to show for it.

The 10-year-old company specializes in staffing services for the IT, insurance and banking sectors. It helps its clients find IT, engineering, finance and executive talent in the tech world. The iVantage Group is in the midst of moving to a new home in Brighton, which is triple the size of its former space. The 4,500-square-foot office has room for better training and space for its current staff to stretch out.

"It's an amazing space in so many ways," says Juliet Shrader, president & CEO of iVantage Group. "We are growing so fast we were bursting at the seams."

The iVantage Group employs 12 people at its headquarters and another 100 in the field. It has hired four recruiters over the last year and is in the process of adding two more. That employee growth comes after several years of double-digit revenue gains, the smallest of which was 18 percent.

The firm also recently reorganized its leadership structure, adding more management positions. The idea is to help bring more leaders in to help grow the company, which has paid off handsomely so far.

"We now have a recruiter lead," Shrader says. "We never had that before. Creating that position has made our team not only bigger but stronger."

Source: Juliet Shrader, president & CEO of iVantage Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M research pushes envelope of wearable technologies

Could monitoring chronic ailments be as simple as breathing? That seems like a distinct possibility thanks to new technology coming from the University of Michigan.

University researchers, working in conjunction with the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program, are developing a wearable sensor that could provide continuous disease monitoring of conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. The sensor, which is about the size of a finger nail, detects airborne chemicals either exhaled or released through the skin. It can be worn as a wired device.

Nitric oxide and oxygen are among the chemicals it can detect. Abnormal levels of either can serve as indicators for high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. The sensor could also be used to detect hazardous chemical leaks, or provide data about air quality.

"This device has a broad range of applications," says Sherman Fan, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

The sensor is currently still a test subject in a U-M lab, but the team of researchers hope to commercialize the technology in the not-too-distant future. Fan is developing the sensor with Zhaohui Zhong, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Girish Kulkarni, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering.

"I would say (commercialization of the chip is) probably 3-5 years down the road," Fan says.

Source: Sherman Fan, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Branch aims to reinvent social media with new app

When the team developing startup Branch decided it wanted to work in software, it didn't just try to create the next best thing in social media. The six young people from Ann Arbor are trying to reinvent the entire sector.

"We started from the ground up," says Ryan Wolande, co-founder & CEO of Branch. "We scrapped what we had been conditioned to from other social media outlets."

Branch is a mobile app that is meant to turn people's digital presence into a real-world interaction. The software finds individuals who share the same interests and are in close proximity to each other and connects them.

"It's about fostering real-world relationships," Wolande says. "It's about social media in the physical world."

The Ann Arbor-based startup and its team of six people is in the homestretch of developing the software platform. Branch plans to start Beta testing soon and make the technology public later this fall.

Source: Ryan Wolande, co-founder & CEO of Branch
Writer: Jon Zemke

Capture Caddie develops technology to analyze golf swing

Lots of people play golf and nearly as many struggle to improve their swing. A new startup based in Canton believes it has come up with technology to help them.

Capture Caddie is developing technology that creates a simple way to record a player's golf swing. The four-person team behind the 1-year-old startup notes the only way to currently capture a player's golf swing and analyze it is to hire a pro, have a friend record it on a mobile device, or set up a tripod and hit record. All of these options tend to be either clumsy or not cost-effective.

"There is just no easy way to do it," says Edward Thai, co-founder & manager of Capture Caddie. "So we made an easy-to-use kiosk."

Capture Caddie provides a kiosk at golf courses that records a players swing and sends that video to the player's computer or mobile device. The kiosk also tracts data, such as carry distance and ball flight. Check out a video on it here.

"It's data most people can't get unless they go through a pro," Thai says.

Capture Caddie is nearly done with the development of this technology and is working to demo it at some local golf courses. It is also working to gamify the technology to add a competitive element between users.

"It makes you hit shots under pressure," Thai says. "That's golf."

Source: Edward Thai, co-founder & manager of Capture Caddie
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shinola bikes for rent in downtown Birmingham



Shinola and The Townsend Hotel, two brands cementing reputations of luxury, are pairing up to offer Shinola bikes to hotel guests and to Birmingham residents.

The Shinola bike rental program at The Townsend launched about a month ago as a new amenity that offers an easy and stylish way to see downtown Birmingham.

The bikes are for rent by the half hour for $15, an hour for $25 and for a day for $125. Bike helmets and locks are also available.

Operators at The Townsend, a Euro-styled hotel in Birmingham, and Shinola, which promotes American- and Detroit-made products and operates a factory and retail store in Detroit, say Shinola's Runwell and Bixby models are a great way to see how walkable -- or rideable -- Birmingham can be.

"We've only had a few rentals so far, but we have a sign at the concierge desk in the main lobby announcing the offering, and we've had many inquiries," says Lynette Zebrowski, The Townsend's chief concierge. "So we are expecting to see this pick up."

Source: Hope Brown, principal PublicCity PR
, and Lynette Zebrowski, chief concierge, The Townsend Hotel
Writer: Kim North Shine

 

Everist Health manufactures in Michigan, organizing clinical trial

Everist Health, formerly Everist Genomics, is starting to hit its stride in sales of its cardiac-testing technology.

The Ann Arbor-based firm makes AngioDefender, which helps doctors measure the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. To put it simply, AngioDefender gives people medical information about their heart in an easy-to-understand way without the technical jargon. It will tell the user how old the heart is compared to its actual age. Check out a video on it here.

"You may be 45 but your heart age might be 55," says Randal Charlton, director of Everist Health.

Everist Health has hired six people around the world over the last year, bringing its staff to 12 full-time employees, 20 consultants, and the occasional intern. It is selling AngioDefender in India and is getting ready to penetrate the markets in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Canada.

"We are now in go-to market mode," Charlton says.

Everist Health is also working to get the green light in the U.S. from the FDA. It is in the midst of organizing a clinical trial and hopes to get approval from the FDA by next year.

"We expect to start it very soon," Charlton says. "Certainly before the end of the year."

Everist Health's original plan was to use contract manufacturers in India to produce AngioDefender. It has since changed its course and is now using a Michigan-based manufacturer it found with the help of MichBio.

"As we ramp up we will be creating more work for not only us but other Michigan companies," Charlton says.

Source: Randal Charlton, director of Everist Health
Writer: Jon Zemke

Accio Energy preps for demo alternative energy project, fundraising

Accio Energy has gone about as far as it can go in the lab, prompting the alternative energy startup to begin making plans to build out a demonstration project and raise a multi-million-dollar seed round to make it happen.

Accio Energy's name was inspired by a spell in the Harry Potter books. The 6-year-old firm's aerovoltaic technology harnesses the electrokinetic energy of the wind. No turbine blades. No moving parts. Think of it as harvesting static electricity from the atmosphere.

"We've taken the concept and proven it in a lab," says Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy. "We're now at a level where the lab results show we have a very cost-effective product."

She says Accio Energy's technology is cost-competitive with off-shore wind turbines. The competitive advantage is that its technology can be floated out beyond the sight of people on the shore. Because it can be used like a buoy it doesn't need to be built into the ocean floor and can generate electricity without disturbing people.

Accio Energy is making plans to build a demonstration project for its technology early next year, possibly on the Gulf of Mexico. In the meantime it's getting ready to raise a $5 million seed round to fund that work. That can be a bit of a challenge for a startup that is both pre-revenue and pushing disruptive technology.

"We're wind energy with no turbines," Baird says. "That is hard for people to wrap their heads around."

Accio Energy is in the midst of hiring two people (a modeler and engineer) right now. The company currently has nine employees and the occasional intern. Baird expects that number to spike after Accio Energy closes on its latest seed round later this year.

"That will cause us to expand the team substantially," Baird says.

Accio Energy has raised $6 million since its launch. Baird points out that it has developed a new technology that has been issued six patents. She adds bringing new alternative energy technology to market can often cost nine figures.

"When you think how much we have done on $10 million to $11 million, it's amazing," Baird says.

Source: Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke
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