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HealPay expands focus to billing activities for businesses

HealPay originally made its name by creating software that helped debtors pay their bills. Today the Ann Arbor-based startup is taking aim at a bigger market.

"We have submerged ourselves into billing," says Erick Bzovi, co-founder of HealPay.

HealPay is now offering its clients a more comprehensive option where it handles all of their billing and payments. Those services can now be done online or over the phone. It is also offering this with its original settlement app.

"We're deploying an IVR so that debtors can check their balance at any time," Bzovi says. "That's huge."

HealPay currently employs a staff of four employees and two interns. It recently turned one of those employees (a software developer) into a full-time position. It could do that because it has grown its client list to a number of medium-sized law firms and other businesses across the U.S., and that clientele is growing.

"We want to be in a place where we double our client size," Bzovi says. "We'd like to have 60 or 70 clients and in more states. We're in seven different states now. We would like to be in 20 states."

Source: Erick Bzovi, co-founder of HealPay
Writer: Jon Zemke

Avicenna Medical Systems signs first deal with VA health system

Avicenna Medical Systems recently signed a contract with the VA Health System Region 11, a move that will help deploy the startup's software platform in a number of medical institutions.

"That includes 11 hospitals and 20 site clinics," says Khaled El-Safty, co-founder & CTO of Avicenna Medical Systems. "We are working day and night to deploy it."

Avicenna Medical Systems' software platform is called AviTracks, which enables users to better manage treatment of their chronic diseases from home. It's aimed at people who utilize blood thinners or monitor cardiac rhythms. The idea is to lessen the information burden on healthcare IT systems, freeing medical staff to maximize time with patients and employ best practices for treatment.

The 7-year-old company's contract with the VA is set to last three years starting this summer. Avicenna Medical Systems is now looking to get into more regions of the VA health system now that it has signed one contract.

"Getting into the VA is one of the harder things we accomplished," El-Safty says.

Avicenna Medical Systems currently employs a staff of four people. It is looking to hire three more before the end of the year, including an account manager and software developer.

Source: Khaled El-Safty, co-founder & CTO of Avicenna Medical Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

PishPosh expands space with eye for maker education

The team at PishPosh has been working all summer toward building out new studio space in downtown Detroit, and now the podcasting and video production startup is about to embark on a new line of business -- maker education.

PishPosh plans to start offering day-long classes in mid October that teach people how to building new technology. The firm wants to ensure that classes are affordable -- think spending a few hundred dollars to learn how to build a drone or an arcade-style video game console. When classes conclude, participants get to walk out with their new toys.

"They get a box with all the parts they need," says Michael Evans, co-founder of PishPosh. "They get lunch, and then they get to leave with what they built."

Both Evans and his partner, Ben Duell Fraser, are instructors at Grand Circus, where classes in how to create software often cost thousands of dollars. They believe that PishPosh's new classes will complement Grand Circus' offerings and help grow the local tech community by giving them a broader range of education options.

The classes are set to take place in a 600-square-foot space in PishPosh's offices in the Department of Alternatives, a downtown Detroit-based entrepreneurial collective near Grand Circus Park. The walls in the education room are up and are covered in primer paint. Evans and Duell Fraser expect to finish off the space within the next few weeks.

"This is our training room," Evans says. "We're thinking of calling it PishPosh Academy."

PishPosh made its name with its "Slash Detroit" online video series, a roundup of the local news with a sharp sense of humor. Duell Fraser serves as the main anchor of the broadcast. The startup has toyed with making other shows over the last year and is now playing around with other formats, such as an uncensored version of the Friday Fahles where local media members give their take on current events.

PishPosh has expanded into 2,000 square feet at the Department of Alternatives to keep up with its current workload. Not only is it doing its Slash Detroit episodes and preparing to offer maker classes, it is doing custom video work, such as creating a documentary on Code Michigan for the state of Michigan. The company needed bigger and more intricate work/studio space to keep up with its portfolio of projects.

"If everything goes the way we want it to go, it wouldn't be too long before we needed the extra space anyways," Duell Fraser says.

Source: Michael Evans and Ben Duell Fraser, co-founders of PishPosh
Writer: Jon Zemke

Danlaw adds 30 engineering jobs in Novi

Danlaw has enjoyed a healthy sales increase since the end of the Great Recession, including a significant spike over the last year.

The Novi-based firm specializes in automotive-embedded electronics for network communications, infotainment, and telematics. Much of its recent growth has come from connected-vehicle technology work, which enables a car to communicate to other electronic devices around it.

"It has grown a lot in the last few months," says Tom Rzeznik, president of Danlaw. "Our connected-vehicle division has propelled our growth over the last five years."

That equates to an 80-percent revenue increase for the 30-year-old company between 2012 and 2013. It has hired 30 people in Metro Detroit over the last year, with a vast majority of those new hires being engineers. The firm now employs 150 people in the U.S. and 250 abroad in China and India.

Rzeznik says the company is on pace to do similar numbers in the 2013 to 2014 year, which is why it continues to hire.

"We're looking at significant growth this year as well," Rzeznik says.

Source: Tom Rzeznik, president of Danlaw
Writer: Jon Zemke

Covaron Advanced Materials raises seven-figure Series A

Big changes have taken place at Covaron Advanced Materials over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based startup has brought in a new CEO, raised a seven-figure Series A, and consolidated its investor circle to one person.

Covaron Advanced Materials, formerly Kymeira Advanced Materials, is developing a new chemistry for ceramics. The new technology was developed by company founder Vince Alessi and co-founders Cam Smith and Reed Shick. The advanced ceramics formula makes ceramics a more affordable and streamlined option for a number of molds and durable goods, such as those used in the automotive sector.

"We are a game-changing technology for a lot of industries," says Michael Kraft, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials.

Which explains why it won the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in 2012. And then the main competition at Accelerate Michigan in 2013. It also raised a $300,000 seed round from a number of local venture capital organizations, like Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures and Invest Detroit's First Step Fund.

"We had a lot of help from the Ann Arbor SPARK Business Accelerator Fund," Kraft says.

Those investors are gone now. Kraft says a single investor he declined to name but described as a person who owns "a Michigan-based consortium of companies" bought out everyone else and provided the money for a Series A. Kraft declined to name the individual or the exact amount of the Series A besides saying it was in the "seven figures" and provide enough funding to grow the company for 24 months.

Kraft, a Michigan State University graduate, was recruited from California to serve as Covaron Advanced Materials' new CEO. He explains the plan is to focus on growing the company through targeted application development of its ceramics technology. The idea is to aim for a long-term growth cycle (similar to what life sciences startups go through) so it can maximize the use of its technology in several markets. Covaron Advanced Materials and its team of 10 people (all recently moved from independent contractors to full-time employees) plans to leverage the sole investor’s portfolio of firms to grow.

"We're in a consortium of companies that employs more than 1,000 people and has more than $150 million in capacity," Kraft says. "That gives you an idea of the support we have."

Kraft acknowledges this is a unique situation for a startup. There are no exit requirements or need to pump up artificial value or need to exit because a subset of the startup's investors needs to cash out. There is only the goal of growing a big business that could one day have its fingers in a lot of pies.

"We have choices," Kraft says. "We don't need to paint ourselves into a corner."

Source: Michael Kraft, CEO of Covaron Advanced Materials
Writer: Jon Zemke

Tata Technologies invests in STEM education in Metro Detroit

Tata Technologies is making a significant investment in local STEM education, and it’s not hard to see why after looking at the company’s recent hiring spree.

The Novi-based firm has hired dozens of people over the last year, expanding its staff to 450 people in Metro Detroit. It employs 650 people in the U.S. with a vast majority of them based in Metro Detroit. The company currently has several dozen open positions in Auburn Hills and Novi right now.

"We are currently adding almost a hundred people a year," says Warren Harris, CEO & managing director of Tata Technologies.

And those are mostly engineering positions. Tata Technologies (its parent company is based out of India) specializes in engineering and product development IT services for the manufacturing sector. It employs thousands of people around the world, and choose to set up shop in Metro Detroit in part because of the deep engineering talent pool here.

Which is part of the reason why Tata Technologies recently made a large donation to enrich STEM education in Detroit Public Schools. Tata Technologies, along with the Detroit Lions and the nonprofit group Athletes for Charity, are working to provide more opportunities for Detroit Public School students to learn more in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. The STEM Youth Literacy Program will take place at Clark Preparatory Academy and Dixon Educational Learning Academy.

The donation is part of Tata Technologies's goal of improving STEM education around the world, and to help build up its future engineering talent pool.

"One of the commitments we are making is to build up our engineering talent not only here but around the world," Harris says.

Source: Warren Harris, CEO & managing director of Tata Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Walsh College breaks ground on expansion of Troy campus

Walsh College's Troy campus is getting a $15 million addition and renovations that will support a more contemporary learning and teaching environment.

The groundbreaking last week at 3838 Livernois Rd. marked the start of construction of a two-story, 27,000-square-foot renovation and addition to the original campus building built in the 1970s. Another 27,000 square feet of interior space will be renovated during the 18-month-long project.

When complete, the campus will offer distinct pavilions for a business-communication focused student success center, a student lounge and a one-stop student services center.

Technological upgrades are part of the renovations, and will fold into programs that focus on the development of business communication skills that are critical to leadership roles in business, says Stephanie Bergeron, president and CEO of Walsh College.

The project is the fifth improvement to the 4,000-student campus since 2007, including the Blackstone Launchpad for Entrepreneurs in 2010, a Barnes & Noble bookstore in 2012, and a Finance Lab in 2013.

Source: Erica Hobbs, Airfoil Group
Writer: Kim North Shine

Atwater Brewery aims to become Detroit's iconic brewery


Mark Rieth sees his company, Atwater Beer, as Detroit’s brewery. It's a big vision for the microbrewery situated on Detroit's east riverfront, but it’s an ambition with increasing merit as the 17-year-old venture grows.

"Being Detroit's brewery is important for us," Rieth says. "We want to be the iconic Detroit brewery, the way Stroh's used to be in the late 1800s and early 1900s."

Rieth wants Atwater to be known for local brews that are both high-quality and ubiquitous. Atwater Brewery is well on its way to both of those targets. It doubled its sales over the last year and is on pace to do it again. It sold 12,000 barrels in 2012 and 26,000 barrels last year. It's on track to sell 45,000 to 50,000 barrels in 2014 with sales of Dirty Blonde and Vannila Java Porter leading the way.

Atwater Brewery is at capacity at its main brewing facility at the corner of Atwater and Jos Campau streets, and is in the process of adding more brewing capacity there. The company is also a partner at the Brew Detroit operation in Corktown, which has helped it up its keg distribution.

"We have tripled our sales of Dirty Blonde kegs," Rieth says. "It's not slowing down anytime soon."

That has enabled Atwater Brewery to hire a dozen people over the last year, including brewers, sales professionals, and office staff. It now has a staff of 36 employees and one intern. It also recently opened a brewpub in Grosse Pointe Park in June, creating another 28 jobs. Atwater in the Park has proven so successful that Rieth is still looking at opening a tap room in downtown Detroit.

"That should happen within the next 12 months," Rieth says. "It will be downtown proper. Anywhere between the Campus Martius and Grand Circus Park areas."

Atwater Brewery is also entertaining the idea of expanding beyond Metro Detroit. Rieth is considering options in places like Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Traverse City. Although no specific plans have been made, the idea is appealing to Rieth.

"It's something we would like to do if the right opportunity presented itself," he says.

Source: Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery
Writer: Jon Zemke

Mountain Labs streamlines medical research with software

Alex VanDerKolk is a graduate of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business but also a fan of medical research. The recent recipient of a BBA is leveraging both passions to launch his own startup, Mountain Labs.

"I have always been interested in the medical field," VanDerKolk says.

The Ann Arbor-based company is developing data collection software, called Symport, for medical research. The idea is to create a platform that is simple to use, HIPAA complaint, and smart enough to streamline what can often be the archaic world of the healthcare research.

VanDerKolk has firsthand experience of how archaic that healthcare research can become. The 20-something worked as a data analyst for the University of Michigan Health System for a few years before he graduated late last year. He was appalled at the 20 Century-style tools university researchers were using to conduct 21st Century research on multi-million-dollar projects for a multi-billion dollar research institution.

"It was just a very inefficient process," VanDerKolk says. "We saw a lot of very smart people spending a lot of their time doing very mundane managerial tasks."

That inspired him to launch Mountain Labs last April. He raised $200,000 in seed capital and put together a seven-person team to build the software platform (with the help of Atomic Object’s Ann Arbor office) this summer. The technology is now in private Beta being tested with a few different research teams at U-M.

"Now we're starting to add software developers and bring our developers back in house," VanDerKolk says.

Mountain Labs is aiming to conduct a true pilot phase with a University of Michigan research department this fall. It is also looking to raise a $750,000 Series A by January so it can start looking at doing pilots outside of U-M.

Source: Alex VanDerKolk, president of Mountain Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Stik Pocket combines stickers, cell phones to create a wallet

Brian Owen doesn't like having things in his pockets. He loathes the feeling. In the 21st Century, most men carry both a wallet and a cell phone in their pockets, so Owens decided to combine the two with a new cell phone accessory called Stick Pocket.

"For years I have been trying to eliminate my wallet altogether," Owen says. "I hate having things in my pockets."

Stik Pocket is a sticker that attaches to a cell phone case, making just enough room for the essentials of a wallet. Think a drivers license, credit cards, and cash. Check out a video showing Stik Pocket in action here.

Owen was inspired when he bought a high-end wallet/cell phone combo made of leather. A few weeks after purchasing it, the leather cracked and started to fall off. Soon after Owen was left with just the plastic case. He decided he could do better by making a cheaper version that was made to last two or three weeks.

"It worked, so I started selling them," Owen says. "Now we're in 200 stores."

Owen launched Stick Pocket eight months ago and employs four people. The Bricktown-based startup also uses adult special needs students from Macomb Academy to help produce its products. Owen is also looking to introduce new sticker products later this year.

Source: Brian Owen, president of Stik Pocket
Writer: Jon Zemke

Software firm Deque doubles staff in Ann Arbor

Deque's presence in Ann Arbor has been growing both organically and rapidly in the last year. The software firm has doubled its local staff, hiring 13 people. It now has 25 of its 80 employees based in Ann Arbor, which is up from six two years ago.

"People love Michigan," says Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque. "They keep wanting to relocate there."

Deque's software makes websites more accessible to people with disabilities. The idea is to tap into larger markets by making a digital process accessible to everyone. For instance, Deque's products and services make it easier for blind people to access popular websites. Check out more of Deque's accessibility success stories here.

The 15-year-old company has experienced a significant spike in the demand for its services over the last year. It was able to attract a dozen new customers in 2013. As of July, it has landed 21 new customers for this year. Among those new customers, many of them are in the financial services, e-commerce, education technology, and aviation sectors.

"Airlines are definitely warming up to it," Kumar says.

Which has led to a spike in growth in the Ann Arbor office. The Virginia-based company has had a presence in Ann Arbor for years. It’s CTO lives in Ann Arbor. Today it has 25 people in the office and Kumar expects that number to keep growing at an aggressive pace.

"We continue to add good people to the team," Kumar says. "Right now our biggest bottleneck is us. The pipeline is healthier than ever."

Source: Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque
Writer: Jon Zemke

Coyote Logistics' Ann Arbor office spikes to 45 people

Last year Coyote Logistics made headlines with its plans to open up an office in Ann Arbor and create dozens of new jobs. This year the Chicago-based company is well on its way to meeting that goal.

Coyote Logistics has hired 45 people at its new office after opening it late last year. That puts it roughly a third of the way toward it goal of hiring 125 people in Ann Arbor over its first three years. The company is still moving toward that goal aggressively.

"We're going to hire 35 more people there over the rest of the year," says Jodi Navta, vice president of marketing & communications for Coyote Logistics. "It's a variety of positions."

Coyote Logistics provides third-party logistics and transportation services for North American shippers. While it's based out of state, many of the firm's employees have roots in Michigan. Navta and Coyote Logistics’ CEO, Jeff Silver, are University of Michigan graduates. Those connections, along with a $1 million Michigan Business Development Program incentive from the state of Michigan, sealed the deal to open the office. The company's leadership team hasn’t been disappointed so far.

"We're happy with the talent and we're happy with the number of people we have there," Navta says.

Source: Jodi Navta, vice president of marketing & communications for Coyote Logistics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Friends launch video production firm, The Right Brothers

A couple of friends recently launched a video production firm out of a Detroit neighborhood just beyond Hamtramck’s northern border.

Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller started The Right Brothers in April by helping produce music videos for local artists. The two-person operation now does everything commercial work to informational videos.

"We decided we had to move forward and do bigger things," Miller says. "We kept the momentum and moved forward."

Miller and Townsley met in Ferndale when Miller moved next door to Townsley in 2004. The two became fast friends and ended up sharing a passion for video work. Since launching The Right Brothers, they have created seven music videos and expanded into other work, such as short videos for Signal Return Press and another that appeared recently in Model D.

"We definitely want to keep supporting local artists we believe in," Townsley says.

Source: Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller, co-owners of The Right Brothers
Writer: Jon Zemke

Linkies turns social media conversations into a startup

A new startup based in downtown Detroit is making a name for itself.

Linkies made its debut at a recent Lion’s football game, collecting social media conversations about the event for a national audience. The startup’s platform works as a social media aggregator, capturing hashtags across major social networks. It organizes and displays them so the user (usually a major organization) can show off the social media conversations.

"It's all hashtag centric," says Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies.

Linkies roots can be traced back to the campaign to bring the X Games to Detroit. Priest and his team were also trying to create their own social network, an effort that petered out. The X Games Detroit initiative gave them the inspiration to try a new way to capture public support through social media.

"It kickstarted us to make our own platform," Priest says.

Linkies launched just seven months later. Today, Priest and his team of three people are building their startup from the LCE Labs incubator, which is run from the Lowe Campbell Ewald headquarters at Ford Field. Linkies is the incubator’s first startup tenant and Priest expects to stay at the space at least through the end of the year.

"Hopefully that will be extended," Priest says.

Source: Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ilium Software grows with work on eWallet platform

Ilium Software's eWallet platform is driving growth for the Ann Arbor-based firm.

The technology stores and categorizes all of the various passwords for its user, enabling them to access their private information, financial instruments, and other important online functions. The software can be used from a desktop computer to a mobile device.

Sales of the eWallet platform have risen smartly over the last year with the Windows 8 version (a full-screen app) leading the way. Ilium Software has in turn spend most of its time improving eWallet, releasing a new iOS version and upgrading its security features. It's also looking at accessing Apple’s fingerprint technology for mobile device and Apple Pay.

"It's our product that has gone back to the beginning of the company in 1997," says Ken Morse, managing partner of Ilium Software.

Ilium Software has been making mobile apps before most people had even heard of the word, designing apps for PDAs and other forms of technology in the late 1990s. The firm's team of half a dozen employees (it hired someone about a year ago) and a handful of independent contractors are focused on making its software platforms like eWallet ready for the next big thing in software.

"We're in the process of seeing what we can do with this latest iOS version," Morse says.

Source: Ken Morse, managing partner of Ilium Software
Writer: Jon Zemke
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