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CareEvolutionís growth puts bigger office search on startups radar

Growth is a word that has become synonymous with CareEvolution. The Ann Arbor-based healthcare tech startup has been adding customers and employees. Now it's looking for bigger offices to house its growing workforce.

CareEvolution hired 30 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 80 employees and a couple of interns. Most of its new hires are in software development and healthcare professionals. It is currently looking to hire even more.

"We target about 10 people per quarter," says Vik Kheterpal, principal of CareEvolution. "We have a certain rhythm with our hiring."
CareEvolution's software specializes in breaking down information silos in healthcare systems primarily by sharing of electronic medical records and information. The idea is to make healthcare more patient-centric and efficient.

"Our company builds the bridges between our fragmented systems," Kheterpal says.

CareEvolution has spent the last year moving its software more into the mobile space. Moves like that have enabled CareEvolution's customers to speak highly of it and enable more growth. Its revenue spiked by 91 percent last year and Kheterpal expects his company to keep up that pace in 2015.

"Our revenue is growing exceptionally fast," Kheterpal says.

Source: Vik Kheterpal, principal of CareEvolution
Writer: Jon Zemke

Clarity Quest Marketing scores best year ever in 2014

Clarity Quest Marketing is one of those companies that has steadily carved out its niche over 14 years of business. Now that it's matured, the company is really hitting its stride.

"We have become one of the biggest healthcare IT marketing firms in the nation," says Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing. "We just closed two deals in the last week."

The Ann Arbor-based firm has hired three people over the last year, including project managers. It now has a staff of 20 employees and one summer intern.

Powering that hiring has been more and more word-of-mouth work from healthcare IT firms. It has signed deals across the U.S., including with the Chronic Care Management out of Cleveland and eMedapps in Chicago. It's also doing work closer to home, handling marketing for Mountain Pass Solutions, a University of Michigan spin-out.

Deals like that cleared the way for 2014 to become Clarity Quest Marketing’s best year ever. Slocum is optimistic her firm’s reputation will lead to a repeat of 2014 because of the steady pipeline of work it has lined up for this year.

"This year we're on track for the same as last year," Slocumb says. "I'm hoping its going to be better."

Source: Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hile Creative grows revenue with long-term clients, adding staff

A pivot in the Hile Creative business model is paying dividends for the Ann Arbor-based firm a little more than a year after it was executed.

The digital advertising firm made a shift from project-based work to more comprehensive branding for long-term clients. The move paid off. The 30-year-old firm's revenue is up 10 percent and it's looking to hire two people to its staff of 12.

"Our sweet spot is to work with companies that need help defining themselves in their competitive space," says Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative. "The question we always ask clients is why do you matter? Why would someone choose you over your competitors?"

Hile Creative grew by bringing on some more long-term clients, such as Venturi, a Traverse City-based maker of bathroom products. Hile Creative has also expanded its work with existing clients like Beaumont Hospital, Ann Arbor-based Heatspring, and the University of Michigan.

Hile Creative is looking to hire a graphic designer and web director now because it's aiming to do more video work for its clients. The company is betting more and more companies will turn to short videos to help them tell the stories about them and their products.

"More and more information, especially complex information, can be easily described through animation and videography," Hile says.

Source: Dave Hile, founder & president of Hile Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

RightBrain Networks adds 7 people, looking for 5 more

Repeat after me: cloud computing is not going away. It's not only a technology that is here to stay but is the very future of computing. The team at RightBrain Networks saw this years ago and is now starting to reap the rewards of growing a business based on cloud computing consultation.

"For the longest time people thought that it was a fad," says Jamie Begin, CEO of RightBrain Networks. "In 2014-15 there was a massive uptick in demand for cloud computing services."

Begin launched RightBrain Networks in 2009 after he was laid off from his IT job the year before. His firm has since grown exponentially, most especially recently. Over the last year RightBrain has doubled its revenue (crossing the $1 million mark) and tripled its staff. It now employs 13 people after hiring seven in IT, sales and marketing over the last year. It is now looking to hire another five people.

"Our growth has been over 100 percent for the last four years," Begin says. "We will be at 20 people by the beginning of August and 30 people by the end of the year. It feels like I am riding a rocket."

The Ann Arbor-based company specializes in both IT and cloud-computing for both startups and large companies and institutions. Some of its customers include Silicon Valley-based startups, ProQuest, and the University of California, Berkley.

Source: Jamie Begin, CEO of RightBrain Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

Swift Biosciences hires 4 as it debuts 2 new products

Swift Biosciences has launched two new products this month, releases the Ann Arbor-based company expects to help power its growth this year.

The 5-year-old life sciences startup makes tools for genomic research. It just released Accel-NGSTM Methyl-Seq DNA Library Kit. The new product utilizes AdaptaseTM technology, a unique molecular biology method that works with single-stranded DNA. The Adaptase technology enables next generation sequencing libraries to be made post-bisulfite treatment, allowing researchers to recover more of their input DNA and use a hundredfold less input material compared to other commercially available products.

"It's a way of examining the regulations of the genome, mostly what is on and what is off," says David Olson, CEO of Swift Biosciences. "What is active and what is not."

Swift Biosciences also recently launched its Accel-NGS Amplicon panels, which helps molecular biologists detect and screen clinically relevant mutations. The underlying technology enables hundreds of primer pairs to be amplified in a single tube. The panels can be used to target either contiguous coverage of a single gene, multiple loci throughout the genome, or a combination of both.

"It's a way of looking at a small number of important genes much faster and at a much lower expense than looking at the full genome," Olson says. "These genes can be the critical genes that impact our agriculture or oncology."

Swift Biosciences is also looking launching another new product or two before the end of this year (Olson declined to elaborate on them) along with a couple of new versions of is existing products. Its growing product portfolio has enabled the company to hire four people over the last year (technicians and sales & marketing professional), expanding its staff to 19 people.

"It would be fair to say we have grown 10-fold in the last year, customers and revenue," Olson says. "We hope to continue that pace this year."

Swift Bio Sciences has raised $13.15 million in venture capital, including a $7 million Series B it closed on earlier this year.

Source: David Olson, CEO of Swift Biosciences
Writer: Jon Zemke

VC investment in Michigan at highest level in 15 years

Investment in Michigan startups hit a 15 year high in the first quarter of 2015. 


"Twelve companies across the state collectively received $75.3 million in venture capital investments from January to March, according to the MoneyTree report from the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers using data from Thomson Reuters. That compares to 14 deals for $37.1 million in the same period in 2014 and was the best first quarter since the 17 deals for $142.9 million to start 2000.

Two of the recent deals included companies in West Michigan.

Apjohn Ventures invested $3.5 million in Kalamazoo-based Armune BioScience Inc., which is commercializing a new-generation blood test for men suspected of having prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, Grand Rapids-based software firm Buoy76 LLC received $950,000 from Start Garden LLC, Huron River Ventures in Ann Arbor, Detroit Development Ventures and an undisclosed investor, according to the report. Buoy76 is developing Sportsman Tracker, a mobile application that forecasts the best time and location for hunters and anglers as well as their probability of success."

Read the rest here.

BoostUp adds staff as it lands spot in REach accelerator

Local software startup BoostUp has landed a spot in the 2015 class of REach, a tech startup accelerator program in Chicago.

The startup, which is based in downtown Detroit's M@dison Building, plans to leverage the 8-month-long accelerator program to further its reach into the real-estate industry.

"It's a huge opportunity for us to connect with real-estate agents and brokers," says John Morgan, founder & CEO of BoostUp. "It should really open up some doors for us."

The REach accelerator program is a part of the National Association of Realtors' strategic investment arm, Second Century Ventures. BoostUp beat out hundreds of other applicants for its spot in the program. It will have access to workshops, conferences and networking opportunities within the real estate industry.

BoostUp’s online platform helps users to save money for the down payment on a house or car. It lets the user tell their family and friends about their goal through social media and gives them an option for people to donate toward that cause in the form of birthday or holiday gifts. The platform also offers a dollar-for-dollar match option with its brand partners, such as Hyundai and Quicken Loan.

"We started out with an automotive focus," Morgan says. "Now it's cars and homes."

BoostUp spun out of Synergy Marketing Partners and is one of the portfolio startups of Detroit Venture Partners. The 2-year-old startup currently employs a team of four plus a couple of summer interns. It has hired two people (a marketing manager and a product manager) over the last year and is looking to hire two more now.

Source: John Morgan, founder & CEO of BoostUp
Writer: Jon Zemke

Corktown-based Beard Balm releases new heavy duty product

Jon Koller knows a thing or two about beards. For one, he has had a beard for a while -- a big beard.

"I haven't shaved for three years at this point," Koller says. "I'll leave the size of it up to your imagination."

He's also the owner of Beard Balm, a Corktown-based business that makes an all-natural, leave-in conditioner for beards and facial hair. The balm is made of natural products like lanolin oil, coconut oil, and beeswax from a Traverse City farm. If there is such a thing as a manly man hair product, Beard Balm makes it.

"It's a leave-in conditioner for after you get out of the shower," Koller says. "It makes you skin happy and your hair happy so they play nice together."

Koller heads up a team of five people who make Beard Balm’s products, which retail for $20 and $22.49. The company is now getting ready to release its latest product this weekend: Heavy Duty Beard Balm. More information about its release party on Friday, May 1, can be found here.

Heavy Duty Beard Balm is a medium-hold balm. Most beard balm products are a light-hold. Medium-hold products have a heavier consistency, but not as heavy as mustache wax, the stuff that people use to make handlebar mustaches.

"It's formulated to hold your beard together more," Koller says. "It has more sticky stuff in there."

Source: Jon Koller, owner of Beard Balm
Writer: Jon Zemke

Functional Fluidics leverages WSU tech for new contract research

Dr. Patrick Hines has long been fascinated with blood analysis. He has used flow-based platforms to do blood analysis since he was a grad student in North Carolina.

That history and his wife taking a residency at the University of Michigan Health System led Dr. Hines to Detroit where he is launching a life sciences startup, Functional Fluidics.

"I was most comfortable with the opportunities here in Detroit, working Children's Hospital of Michigan and laboratories at Wayne State University," Dr. Hines says.

The 1-year-old startup is licensing technology spun out of Wayne State University that is enabling it to do expedited contract research of blood analysis for pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Hines and his team have developed a novel assay that allows the user to quantify the amount of adhesion and thrombosis in a sample of whole blood under physiologic flow conditions. The use of a patient's whole blood allows for a more accurate result. It is used in sickle cell research and blood platelet work.

The TechTown-based startup currently employs a team of five people. It is currently getting ready to raise a seed capital round to further its work.

"We are planning to raise between $500,000 and $1 million to grow this business and finance new product development," says John Cunningham, COO of Functional Fluidics.

Source: Patrick Hines, founder & CEO of Functional Fluidics; and John Cunningham, COO of Functional Fluidics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Warranty Ninja simplifies warranty registration process with app

People buy things everyday, from expensive pieces of equipment to small odds and ends. Few ever register these purchases. Warranty Ninja thinks it has an answer for that dilemma.

The TechTown-based startup was inspired Edward Carrington's photography hobby. He bought lots camera equipment over the years, both expensive and cheap. Every purchase came with an opportunity to register it.

"I register everything I buy," Carrington says. "I am the type of person who doesn’t like to buy an extended warranty."

The problem is registering everything is a cumbersome operation, requiring filling out paperwork and mailing it in to the manufacturer. It’s a process that hasn't changed in the better part of half a century. Warranty Ninja hopes to change that by digitizing this process with a mobile app. That way, not only are the products registered for their owners, but information on recalls or discounts are automatically sent to the user.

Warranty Ninja will also offer a subscription model for companies to leverage the system. That way the manufacturers can discover more information about their customer since only 10 percent of consumers register their purchases today.

"They are missing out on who is buying their product," says Jerry Rucker, co-founder & CEO of Warranty Ninja.

The 1-year-old startup currently employs a team of four people. It plans to roll out a Beta version of the software later this summer.

Source: Edward Carrington, co-founder & COO of Warranty Ninja; and Jerry Rucker, co-founder & CEO of Warranty Ninja
Writer: Jon Zemke

Edibles Rex hires 20 as it builds out new home in Eastern Market

In 2014, Edibles Rex was all about growing its revenue and food manufacturing business. This year, it's aiming to finish building out its new home near Eastern Market.

The 22-year-old firm has called the Warren-Connor neighborhood on Detroit's east side home for years. There it has provided catering and wholesale food preparation services, such as making the meals for school and corporate cafeterias. It won a $250,000 Mission Main Street grant last year that helped it expand its business by adding things like more delivery trucks.

"We added three more trucks last year," says Tammy Tedesco, CEO of Edibles Rex.

Edibles Rex has increased its revenues by about 10 percent over the last year, enabling it to hire about 20 people in kitchen prep, school lunch service, and clerical work. It currently employs about 110 people and is looking to add a few more jobs as it grows.

Edibles Rex has just entered Phase 1 of building out its new home in Eastern Market to help house that growing workforce. The first phase will build out half of the 50,000-square-foot building. Edibles Rex plans to use part of its own work and also lease out other sections of it for smaller food companies that want access to things like a 24-hour access to a licensed kitchen and office space.

"We are making a space for other food manufacturers who want to be in Eastern Market," Tedesco says.

Source: Tammy Tedesco, CEO of Edibles Rex
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hacienda Mexican Foods lands big partnership with Meijer

Hacienda Mexican Foods has signed a new deal with Meijer to produce a new line of products that will be sold exclusively through the big-box retailer.

The Mexicantown-based food manufacturer will make flour tortillas, corn tortillas, and tortilla chips for Meijer under the Hacienda Mexican Foods label. The new line is set to launch this summer.

"The products will have no preservatives," says Lydia Gutierrez, president of Hacienda Mexican Foods. "It's pretty true to what a true tortilla is."

Hacienda Mexican Foods has hired nine people over the last month to prepare for this bump in business. The new hires are for positions in production, customer service, and administration. The company also is looking to make five more hires to its current staff of 60 employees and a few summer interns.

"We're still hiring," Gutierrez says.

The 25-year-old business expects this new deal with Meijer to significantly grow its bottom line. In fact, Gutierrez believes it could double its revenue this year, and enable it to do more work with local firms. Hacienda Mexican Foods makes an effort to source as much of its work as close to home as possible.

"It becomes an economic driver for us and our community," Gutierrez says.

Source: Lydia Gutierrez, president of Hacienda Mexican Foods
Writer: Jon Zemke

Property management startup Castle closes $270K seed round

Castle, a tech startup focused on property management, has closed a seed round of funding worth $270,000.

The Detroit-based company plans to use the seed capital to add staff and continue to build out its property management software and services. The 1-year-old firm is proving out its business model in Detroit with aspirations of taking it national this year.

"We have seen some really exciting traction over the last few months," says Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle. "Let's see where it goes from here."

Three members of Venture For America's inaugural class (2012) launched Castle last year. Venture For America functions similarly to Teach For America, pairing talented college graduates with jobs at startups in economically challenges cities for a two-year fellowship. VFA fellows also helped found Rebirth Realty, which is turning a tax foreclosure in Virginia Park into housing for future Venture For America fellows. Castle is based out of that house.

Castle's software platform handles property management by automating service calls, rent collection, and other similar duties. The company is currently handling management for 52 properties both in the city of Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. Those properties are primarily single-family homes. The Castle team would like to get those numbers to several hundred by the end of this year.

"We figure if we can make this work here, we can make this work in Baltimore or Providence," Nussenbaum says. "It's only going to get easier."

Castle currently employs a team of three people and is looking to hire another three. Those new jobs include software development, business development, and operations.

Source: Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle
Writer: Jon Zemke

Reach influence moves to M@dison Building from Royal Oak

Reach influence has moved to downtown Detroit, taking up residence in the M@dison Building and bringing 19 new workers with it.

The retail analytics startup took $5 million in venture capital investment earlier this year with Detroit Venture Partners as one of the lead investors. Based out of the M@dison Building, Detroit Venture Partners is the primary investment fund for the surrounding tech startup cluster, branded as the M@dison Block.

"We are excited to be part of what is happening in Detroit," Eric Green, CEO of reach influence, said in a press release. "The vision, passion, and energy are contagious and will help our company continue to grow."

The 6-year-old startup’s software enhances the shopper experience (and the sales that come with it) with the help of data analytics, along with marketing and merchandising programs. Its flagship products, reach engage and reach offers, provide shopper-facing marketing tools for independent grocery stores in 37 states.

Reach influence has grown to 21 employees (two work remotely) over the last year. It has hired five people in the last year and is looking add a couple more people now.

"We are always looking to add to the team," says Susan Dettloff, director of marketing for reach influence.

The firm had been based in downtown Royal Oak before making the move to downtown Detroit last month. It is currently taking up a large section of the second floor of the M@dison Building, where it expects to continue to add staff as it works to increase sales and its client base.

"It's a very open, collaborative workspace," Dettloff says.

Source: Susan Dettloff, director of marketing for reach influence
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor Distilling Co aims to open near downtown Ann Arbor

A couple of local businessmen are aiming to open a new distillery and tasting room near downtown Ann Arbor later this year.

The Ann Arbor Distilling Co will occupy 6,000 square feet of space in the building at 220 Felch St. The building is currently owned by Icon Interactive, a digital advertising agency. A previous tenant of the space has moved out, opening up the space for new purposes.

"It's something that is exciting. It's way more exciting," says Rob Cleveland, partner with Ann Arbor Distilling Co. "This space was made to be a distillery. It just screams it."

Cleveland is the CEO of Icon Interactive. He is launching the Ann Arbor Distilling Co with Ari Sussman. The business will make vodka, rum, and gin to start with and eventually move into bourbon production. The distillery will include a 1,000-square-foot tasting room and 5,000 square feet for production space.

"There is the same enthusiasm for artisanal liquor as there is for craft brewing," Cleveland says. "It's just a different product."

The Ann Arbor Distilling Co hasn’t set an opening date yet but Cleveland hopes to open the doors to the establishment before the end of the year.

Source: Rob Cleveland, partner with Ann Arbor Distilling Co
Writer: Jon Zemke
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