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Lochbridge grows workforce to build 'LAYR Cloud,' a connected car framework

Technology in cars used to be simple. A motorist would turn a dial and the radio would come on. A little bit later a driver could touch a button and the windows would automatically roll down. Or the doors would lock. Or the cruise control would set. That's far from the case today, and Lochbridge is growing its workforce in downtown Detroit to accommodate it.

"It's getting a lot more fancy," says Raj Paul, vice president for automotive and emerging technology for Lochbridge.

Lochbridge used to be a division of Compuware until it was a spun out into its own full tech-service integration firm and acquired by Los Angeles-based Marlin Equity Partners. It now employs about 1,000 people in downtown Detroit.

One of Lochbridge's biggest pushes is the development of its connected car framework. LAYR Cloud enables easier automotive app integration and improves the driving experience based on driver preferences. LAYR Cloud allows for one-to-one personalization where the information delivered to the vehicle adapts to the drivers preferences and behaviors through a single, uniformed interface that can delivered through any technology platform.

"The whole thing is personalized around the driver's need and where he is going," Paul says.

Lochbridge currently employs about 300 people working on automotive. Paul's team has about a dozen people working on LAYR right now, several of whom were hired over the last year. He expects those numbers to grow over 2015.

"We always look for young talent," Paul says.

Source: Raj Paul, vice president for automotive and emerging technology for Lochbridge
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

365 Retail Markets hires 20 in Troy, looks to add 10 more

365 Retail Markets has acquired AirVend, a Utah-based vending machine technology company

365 Retail Markets is working to reinvent the vending machine industry with its MicroMarket technology, a platform that streamlines the remote food purchasing process. AirVend designs, develops, and distributes interactive touchscreen devices that can be retrofitted to nearly any vending machine.

"We are always looking to grow in this space," says Joe Hessling, CEO of 365 Retail Markets. "It's not often technology becomes available in the food service space, but when it does we look at every opportunity."

The Troy-based company's MicroMarket platform serves the vending, foodservice and hospitality industries with a 24/7 unmanned self-checkout system. That way employee break rooms can continuously serve fresh food and beverages. It pulls this off by harnessing new technologies, like touch screens and electronic payment methods.

"We are a technology company that plays in the vending space," Hessling says.

And 365 Retail Markets is proving to be a growing one. It’s revenue is up 75 percent last year and Hessling expects to hit 50 percent revenue growth this year.

The company has been hiring at a steady clip to keep with that growth. It has added 20 people over the last year, including software developers, technicians, and support staff. It is also looking to hire another 10 people right now, including data architects, software developers and project managers. Check out those job openings here.

"We are always hiring for different positions," Hessling says.

Source: Joe Hessling, CEO of 365 Retail Markets
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dexter-based kSpace Associates creates 5 new jobs

Last year turned out to be quite the year for kSpace Associates. The Dexter-based tech firm tied for its best year ever (2011) in terms of revenue generated.

"A good chunk of that was solar panel metrology tools," says Darryl Barlett, CEO of kSpace Associates. "We anticipate we will have similar sales level in 2015."

The 23-year-old firm develops and manufacturers diagnostic tools for the semi-conductor industry. In addition to solar metrology sales, several sales of its MOS Ultrascan system, which measures the curvature and bow of semiconductor wafers, were made to Chinese firms.

Those spiking sales allowed kSpace Associates to hire four people over the last year, expanding its staff to 26 employees and the occasional summer intern. The new hires include an optics engineer, a sales engineer, a field service technician, and an office assistant. It is currently looking to hire a software developer.

The company is also looking to pump up its sales of LED-based metrology products in 2015. The firm also landed a Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop new products. The first phase of the grant is worth $150,000.

"Phase 1 is a six-month project," Barlett says. "We hope to apply for Phase 2 by the end of the year."

Source: Darryl Barlett, CEO of kSpace Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

Systems in Motion doubles Ann Arbor office with 130 hires

On-shoring IT work is turning into a good thing for Ann Arbor. Systems in Motion, a California-based firm specializing in bringing IT work back to the U.S., has hired dozens of people for its Ann Arbor office over the last year.

"It's actually far and away our biggest office," says Colin Chapman, vice president & general manager for Systems in Motion.

Today the company employs 230 people in Ann Arbor after hiring 130 in the last year. Those new hires include software engineers, quality testers, and developers. The company is also looking to hire more people now.

"We're always looking for the best athlete," Chapman says. "We're constantly trying to build out our bench with strong people."

Systems in Motion specializes in application development, information management and testing services. It uses an Agile software development methodology, which makes the creation of software viable through a system of incremental improvements. That system enables it to be cost-competitive with overseas companies.

Systems in Motion plans to hire 150 people in Ann Arbor this year. It's a move the company expects will prompt it to looking for a bigger office space in the coming months.

"We're close to full occupancy at the building now," Chapman says.

Source: Colin Chapman, vice president & general manager for Systems in Motion
Writer: Jon Zemke

Guitar pedal maker Red Panda expands product line, staff, and office space in Midtown's Green Garage

Red Panda is a music tech startup that has a little bit more of everything this year. The Midtown-based company has added seed capital, new products, more employees, and a bigger space in the Green Garage.

"It's a space that is three times larger," says Curt Malouin, owner of Red Panda. "It's a little more than 600 square feet."

The 3-year-old startup makes digital guitar pedals for musicians. Guitar pedals have traditionally been analog pieces of technology. Malouin is an electrical engineer with experience working with analog circuitry in the automotive industry. He leveraged that experience to create new guitar pedals that focus on digital signal processing.

Red Panda has a new product in development and recently released another. Bitmap is a bitcrusher with fractional bit reduction and sample rate modulation. It digitized a guitar signal and reduces its sampling rate and fidelity.

"So it sounds like an 8-bit computer or an Atari video game sound," explains Malouin in layman terms.

Increased sales of Red Panda’s products has allowed it to move to a bigger space and double its staff to four people over the last year. The startup also landed a $10,000 NEIdeas grant last fall that is allowing it to purchase new manufacturing equipment that will allow it print graphics on its products and prompt it to hire more staff.

"Bringing graphic printing in house is much more environmentally friendly and faster than screen printing," Malouin says. "It will allow us to bring more products to the market quicker."

Source: Curt Malouin, owner of Red Panda
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hemingwrite offers word processor minus the distractions

A new startup called Hemingwrite is working to build a word processor that looks like a typewriter, works like a computer, and limits potential distractions.

The downtown Detroit-based company is well on its way to raising enough money to pull it off. Hemingwrite has already raised $322,701 in a crowd funding campaign as of Monday night with 10 days left to go. Hemingwrite has already surpassed its goal of $250,000, which it met within 36 hours.

Patrick Paul and Adam Leeb first started developing Hemingwrite last May. Previously, Leeb worked in e-commerce and investment banking and Paul worked in software and rooftop solar systems. Both saw an opportunity in simplifying the process of writing in the distraction-filled world of the 21st century.

"I've used distraction-free software before and it’s too easy to minimize and get on Facebook or Twitter," Paul says. "Adam came back to me and said let's make a piece of hardware."

The partners developed a prototype while working in a Detroit-based co-working space over the last six months. They are now entering the final design phase over the next two months and hope to start moving units later this year.

The current design features a normal-sized keyboard and a small screen for the manuscript. The machine automatically saves and syncs its work. It also can’t facilitate other things that are common distractions to writers, such as social media. Paul points out the startup choose the small screen because its already commercially available, and making a custom-sized screen is too costly.

"It also fits into our philosophy of always writing forward and completing a first draft," Paul says.

Source: Patrick Paul, co-founder of Hemingwrite
Writer: Jon Zemke

Sight Machine to close on multi-million-dollar VC round, grow staff

Sight Machine doesn't have to look too far down the road to see some big things are on the horizon. The manufacturing software startup is poised to close on a big venture capital round in a few weeks, move into a new home in a few months, and exponentially grow the business this year.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is in the final stages of securing a seven-figure venture capital deal within the next couple of weeks. The deal is described as "less-than-$10-million" ...but not too much less than that.

"It's still a multi-million-dollar deal," says Patrick Fetterman, vice president of marketing for Sight Machine.

The 4-year-old company has been developing a software platform for manufacturers. It started out as a inspection technology but now has expanded to analyze a factory's entire operations. It’s being branded as manufacturing analytics that take up an enormous amount of computing power to operate.

Sigh Machine launched its first product two years ago. Now it has two Fortune 1000 companies as customers and a number of medium-sized businesses. Fetterman expects that list to grow rapidly once the seed capital is confirmed and used to grow the business. It is already bursting at the seams in its current home in Ann Arbor's Maker Works.

"We're looking for additional office space because we have outgrown it," Fetterman says. "We plan to double the size of the business."

Sight Machine has expanded its staff to 22 people after making nine hires last year. Those new jobs included sales, marketing, engineers and executive team members. More hires are expected this year.

"It's going to be a very exciting year for the company," Fetterman says.

Source: Patrick Fetterman, vice president of marketing for Sight Machine
Writer: Jon Zemke

iRule lands $2.5 million in venture capital with Series AA round

When the Quicken Loans family of companies launched the [email protected] Building building a few years ago, it envisioned the building serving as a hub for high-growth tech startups. Startups like iRule, a [email protected] Building-based company that just raised $2.5 million in venture capital.

The five-year-old company makes a cloud-based universal remote control system for entertainment centers that can be operated from the user's mobile device. The $2.5 million will go toward the further development of the company’s product line.

"It will continue to fuel our growth both in terms of products and manpower," says Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule.

The $2.5 million in seed capital comes from existing investors like Detroit Venture Partners and new investors like AOL co-founder Steve Case. Ben-Gal says this round of venture capital is a Series AA for his firm.

The tech startup has grown its revenue by 50 percent over the last year and Ben-Gal expects his company to do it again in 2015. That has allowed iRule to hire seven people over the last year, including four in the last quarter. It currently has a staff of 21 employees and two interns and is looking to hire several software developers.

"We're always interviewing for that position," Ben-Gal says. "We're constantly growing so if the right person walked through the door, we would find a way to bring him onboard."

Source: Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule
Writer: Jon Zemke

Macomb-OU INCubator awards $23K at pitch contest

The Macomb-OU INCubator just handed out $23,000 in seed capital and services at its first elevator pitch competition earlier this month.

The Sterling Heights-based small business accelerator gave the money to three local startups that participated in the first Macomb Pitch: A Competition for Small Businesses. The Macomb-OU INCubator received 50 applications for the competition and narrowed the field down to eight finalists.

The winners include LayStitch taking first place, which is worth $8,500, a year-long service package from Mac-OU INC and seven-and-a-half hours of consultation with Butzel Long. Second place ($1,500) went to re-Contour, a developer of breast reconstruction dressings. Third place ($500) went to Warmilu, which is developing a non-electric, blanket-warming technology for the geriatric community.

Both re-Contour and Warmilu also received a one-year lease for a Mac-OU INC cubicle, five hours of consultation with Butzel Long, and a two-hour, strategic planning session with Advicoach of Michigan. The money and the services will go toward product development, customer research, and marketing efforts for the startups.

"Those are the main things people are using them for," says Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator. "It's meant to help them move their company forward and launch their product."

The Macomb-OU INCubator plans to turn the Macomb Pitch competition into an annual event with a few smaller pitch competitions sprinkled in between.

Source: Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Macomb-OU INCubator
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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

FarmLogs scores $10M in Series B round from big-name investors

FarmLogs has landed $10 million in venture capital, seed money the Ann Arbor-based software startup plans to leverage for some significant growth in 2015.

The agricultural technology company latest injection of funding is a Series B round with existing investors Drive Capital, Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures, and Hyde Park Venture Partners participating. New investors in the Series B round include SV Angel and Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator. FarmLogs has raised a combined $15 million in venture capital to date.

"We're a software company so most of that capital goes toward paying salaries for great people," says Jesse Vollmar, CEO of FarmLogs. "That's what we will continue to do."

The 2-year-old startup launched out of Y Combinator incubator in Silicon Valley and immediate moved to Ann Arbor. Its headquarters is now in Kerrytown. The company employs 22 people after hiring a dozen in 2014. It is currently looking to hire 21 more (more info on the openings here) and Vollmer expects his staff to hit more than 50 people next year.

"That's safe to say," Vollmar says. "We will have more than 50 people working for us."

FarmLogs platform modernizes farming, streamlining the process with software and applying data analytics to maximize yield production. It is currently serving farms in all 50 states and in 130 countries around the world. It currently has $12 billion worth of crops under management from its software.

Source: Jesse Vollmar, CEO of FarmLogs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Coliant merges with Macomb Pitch winner LayStich

The winner of the Macomb Pitch: A Competition for Small Businesses at the Macomb-OU INCubator is off to a fast start in the aftermath.

LayStitch, which won the elevator pitch competition, is merging with Coliant. The two Macomb County-based startups specialize in fabric technology that helps warm the wearers.

"Some of the technologies in LayStitch processes have value in the heated clothing technology for Coliant," says Mark Lundquist, executive vice president of LayStitch.

For instance, Coliant is developing personal climate-control technology, i.e. Smart Clothing system, that works to keep users warm while riding motorcycles and other similar vehicles, like ATVs. LayStitch is developing a process of making carbon-fiber composites at a reduced cost.

The 19 employees between both companies will now work together, even though LayStitch will retain its brand identity and operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Coliant. The two startups have offices in Sterling Heights and Warren.

Source: Mark Lundquist, executive vice president of LayStitch
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor's Avegant raises $9+ million. Is this the future of video?

Could Glyph be the next generation in entertainment viewing? Some big investors are betting on that to be the case.


"Glyph is based on technology developed by Dr. Allan Evans, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and relies on images that are generated from reflected light, which mimics how the human eye sees the world.

Each headset incorporates an array of tiny mirrors that reflect light onto the retina. Reflection creates images that are crisp, avoiding the pixelated effect of images on older televisions and on smartphones, for instance, when their screens are too close to the eye, the company said.

Video for Glyph is generated from a smartphone or other mobile device and connects to Glyph through an HDMI cable that Avegant provides."

Read the rest here.


MyFastbraces opens new dental practice in Troy

A Saginaw-based dental practice is expanding its firm by bringing a new technology for braces to Michigan, and opening a Metro Detroit location.

Dentists Donald Sabourin and Joel Hayden first ran into Fastbraces, a technology that claims to give people braces to correct their teeth faster and cheaper, while at a conference in Texas a few years ago. They brought the technology to their practice last year, and immediately noticed its popularity.

"We thought we would do five or six cases a month," Sabourin says. "We ended up doing 27 or 28 cases a month. We were like, 'Holy cow!'"

This fall they are opening a satellite location called MyFastbraces in Troy on Big Beaver Road to serve Metro Detroit. Since introducing the technology last year, they have hired an additional seven people including four employees at the Troy office.

Fastbraces were developed by a dentist in Texas as a way to help people correct the path and straighten out crooked teeth faster than traditional braces. Traditional braces move the tooth first and allow the root to follow. Fastbraces moves the root and the tooth at the same time, realigning the root and crown simultaneously. Fastbraces claims to cut the time and money needed to correct the problems by as much as half.

"We like to say half the time and half the price but at twice the comfort," Sabourin says.

MyFastbraces is currently looking to hire two registered dental assistants.

Source: Donald Sabourin, co-owner of MyFastbraces
Writer: Jon Zemke
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