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UltraLevel spins out CloudSAFE in Southfield

UltraLevel, an IT firm, is spinning out a private cloud computing company called CloudSAFE this week.

"Our customers are companies like UltraLevel," says Michael L. Butz, Sr., founder & CEO of UltraLevel. "We have three partners, and we are working to grow it from there."

CloudSAFE offers integrated private and hybrid cloud services with live technical support. Its initial products include providing IT infrastructure out of the office and into a secure private cloud, IT disaster recovery services, a managed firewall protection services, and voice-over IP services.

The company is currently covering the Midwest and part of the Washington, D.C., area. Butz has plans to make the company a national player within the next 12 months.

"I'd like to establish us as North America’s premier private cloud computing company," Butz says.

CloudSAFE currently employs a team of 15 people and is hiring.

"We expect to double in the next 12 months," Butz says.

Source: Michael L. Butz, Sr., founder & CEO of UltraLevel
Writer: Jon Zemke

Vectorform partners with DTE to launch Powerley

A downtown Royal Oak tech firm and the biggest utility in Michigan are partnering to launch a new startup aimed at helping mobile users be more energy efficient.

Powerley is the product of a joint venture between DTE Energy and Vectorform, a digital experience company. The 1-month-old venture is launching a platform for utility customers to link their smartphones to smart meters, enabling them to take a comprehensive look at their energy use.

"Powerley can bring the technology and the expertise in energy efficiency to world," says Kevin Foreman, CTO of Powerley.

The Powerley home-energy-monitoring platform can help track energy usage down to the consumption of individual electrical devices. It also provides personalized tips on how to best save energy. Check out a video describing it here.

"A lot of our early adopters are either retirees or not as technology savvy as you would think," Foreman says.

The Powerley platform has been three years in the making. The joint venture currently employs six people and is looking to add a few more. Vectorform has also worked with DTE Energy to produce the DTE Insight mobile app, which allows utility customers to monitor and personalize their energy consumption patterns.

Source: Kevin Foreman, CTO of Powerley
Writer: Jon Zemke

Duo Security lands $30M from big-name investors, adds lots of jobs

Duo Security is making a lot of news this week. There is the new product launch, Duo Platform, that promises to be a more comprehensive online security solution. There are the new jobs created, a couple dozen easy. There are the new satellite offices, both domestic and international.

And then there is the money. A lot of money.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based tech startup just closed on a Series C worth $30 million. Redpoint Ventures led the round with participation by current investors Benchmark Capital, Google Ventures, Radar Partners, and True Ventures. That's a lot of big names from the Silicon Valley venture capital world.

The money will go toward expansion of the company in a number of different ways. First and foremost will be hiring. The company moved into its new, larger home at 123 N. Ashley earlier this year, crossing the 100-person employee mark about the same time. Duo Security currently has 30-some job openings, which can be found here.

"We are hiring across the board in every department," says Jon Oberheide, CTO of Duo Security.

Most of those jobs are in Ann Arbor. Some are elsewhere around the world. Duo Security has recently opened a California office and is in the process of opening a satellite office in London. That office is expected to play a key role in the company’s international expansion plans.

"We are expanding internationally for the first time," Oberheide says.

Duo Security has made a name for itself with its two-step verification software. The simple-yet-effective system that confirms the right person is accessing protected information with something as simple as a text message or push alert. The newest version of this is Duo Platform, a two-factor authentication solution that offers additional functionality, while keeping security easy and painless for the end-user. It offers a more comprehensive software platform that helps protect the path of access for everything from individuals to large businesses. Check out a video explaining it here.

"We want to build a platform that is easy enough to protect customers regardless of their level of sophistication," Oberheide says.

Source: Jon Oberheide, CTO of Duo Security
Writer: Jon Zemke

H3D expands camera tech to more nuclear plants around world

H3D has spent much of the last year becoming a global player, selling its camera technology internationally.

"We have sold our cameras to close to 20 nuclear power plants around the world," says Zhong He, chairman of H3D.

Zhong is also a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan. He has been working on H3D’s camera technology since the late 1990s, spinning out the company four years ago.

H3D's Polaris H technology is a hand-held radiation camera that helps nuclear plant operators find potentially dangerous hot spots and leaky fuel rods with more speed and precision. It accomplishes this by laying a gamma-ray map over an image of a room, allowing it to pinpoint radiation sources.

H3D's has seen dramatic sales gains without a marketing budget. It also has landed two Department of Defense contracts. All of these wins are coming primarily through word-of-mouth advertising from the company's customers. The increased roster of clients has allowed the company to hire four people (engineers) over the last year, expanding its staff to nine people. It is also looking to hire another engineer if the right candidate comes around.

"We are financially quite sound," He says.

Source: Zhong He, chairman of H3D
Writer: Jon Zemke

InfoReady hires 7, looks to add a dozen more in Ann Arbor

InfoReady is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month, a milestone that carries a lot of weight with the startup's founder.

The Ann Arbor-based firm has doubled its revenue each year, notching 1,000 percent growth in that time frame. That growth streak doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon.

"At least the next three years," says Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady.

Kulkarni is a serial entrepreneur in Ann Arbor, having launched and exited a handful of tech startups over the last couple of decades. InfoReady was spun off one of those firm, GDI Infotech. InfoReady's software streamlines the research and business-venture-building process for everything from obtaining grants to building new startups. It even helps match the user with the best sources of funding and talent.

"It matches you with the right data," Kulkarni says.

InfoReady raised a $2.5 million angel round last year. It is now looking to recapitalize later this year with a planned $5 million Series A.

InfoReady has also expanded its team over the last year, hiring seven people. It currently employes a staff of 25 employees and a couple of interns. It is also looking to hire a dozen people, primarily in sales and marketing.

Source: Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady
Writer: Jon Zemke

IROA Technologies signs key license agreement with University of Florida

IROA Technologies launched its first product last year, and the Ann Arbor-based startup has started to reap some of the rewards of that hard work.

The 5-year-old company has signed up a couple of dozen of clients and entered into a lucrative licensing agreement with the University of Florida for its metabolomic testing kits.

"That (the product roll out) went really well," says Felice de Jong, CEO of IROA Technologies. "We now have about 30 collaborators and groups using our product."

IROA Technologies got its started as NextGen Metabolomics in 2010. It changed its name to its current brand in 2013 and scored a $1 million Series A early last year. That money went toward the development of testing kits for yeast and bacteria, which can help identify key metabolites in the diagnosis of diseases, such as cancer.

IROA Technologies reached a big milestone last year when it signed its licensing agreement with the Southeast Center for Integrated Metabolomics at the University of Florida. The agreement proved to be a big bit of validation for the testing kits , attracting new customers.

"That has played a key strategic role with us," de Jong says.

IROA Technologies plans to continue to line up more customers this year in an effort to increase its revenue. It has also added a sales person to its core team of 10 people. The company is not planning on raising a Series B anytime soon.

"We have been doing well on the revenue front," de Jong says. "We can reinvest in the company."

Source: Felice de Jong, CEO of IROA Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Berg Muirhead adds new clients in legal, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors

Berg Muirhead and Associaties is gearing up to take a significant step forward this year, adding a handful of large clients and some new hires to go with them.

The New Center-based public relations and marketing firm has made a name for itself since 1998 handling a number of high-profile clients both in Detroit (Strategic Staffing Solutions) and outside of it (the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and The Somerset Collection in Troy). Those clients aren't going anywhere.

"We have a great set of longterm clients and clients who come in and out with projects," says Peter Van Dyke, partner with Berg Muirhead and Associates.

This year, the firm is adding some larger clients. Berg Muirhead and Associates is now handling work with Metro Detroit’s new Regional Transit Authority and the Varnum law firm, which is opening a new office in downtown Detroit. Berg Muirhead and Associates is also helping a second-stage manufacturing firm in metro Detroit (Van Dyke declined to name it) re-brand and is about sign a contract with a major local health-care provider.

Berg Muirhead and Associates made two replacement hires last year, but Van Dyke expects to add some new hires on top of his staff of eight employees and two interns soon.

"We are looking to expand the team," Van Dyke says.

Source: Peter Van Dyke, partner with Berg Muirhead and Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria & Brewery celebrates Midtown opening

This past weekend, the stretch of Canfield Street between Second and Cass celebrated the opening of its third brewery, making the Midtown block an easy destination for fans of craft beer. Newcomer Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria & Brewery joins the well-established Traffic Jam & Snug and Motor City Brewing Works on Canfield. A strong beer and food neighborhood just got stronger.

Located at 441 W. Canfield, the pizzeria and brewery is the fourth location for the Jolly Pumpkin brand, which is based out of Dexter, Mich. and has locations in Ann Arbor and Traverse City. While most of the company's beer is brewed at the main Dexter facility, representatives say that a small brewing operation will produce beer at the Detroit location.

The Detroit Jolly Pumpkin is styled differently from the other locations, says partner and co-founder Jon Carlson. "The biggest waste in brewing are the wooden pallets. We're using reclaimed pallet boards everywhere." A long bar lines the west end of the 5,000-square-foot restaurant while communal dining-style picnic tables take up most of the floor space. Large windows face the sidewalk to the north. Reclaimed pallet boards cover the walls.

The kitchen offers signature pizzas with fresh, local ingredients, including dough hand-crafted by the nearby Avalon International Breads bakery. Other Michigan businesses tapped by the company include the Brinery, Guernsey Dairy, and McClure's Pickles. Soups and salads round out the menu.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales was launched in 2004, becoming the first craft beer brand to concentrate solely on sour ales. Of the 32 taps at the Detroit location, roughly half offer the wide range of sour ales developed by the company. The other half feature another Michigan-based brewery, North Peak Brewing Company, which offers a more traditionally-varied selection of different kinds of beers. Jolly Pumpkin co-founder and master brewer Ron Jeffries is also a collaborator of the North Peak line.

Source: Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria & Brewery and Jon Carlson, partner and co-founder
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Mega Tiny Corp reinvents iPhone case in downtown Detroit

Mega Tiny Corp. has something more going for it than just a cool name. Its co-founders believe they have the next cool product for iPhones.

The 4-month-old startup is developing an iPhone case with suction technology built into it, enabling users to stick it against just about any flat surface. Check out a video showcasing it here.

"This is the first case to offer nano-suction material built into the case," says Carl Winans, co-founder of Mega Tiny Corp. "You can do hands-free selfies."

Most of the 10 people working on Mega Tiny Corp. are based in southeast Michigan and the company is about to sign a lease on an office in downtown Detroit. In the meantime, the team is finishing off a crowdfunding campaign to finance the manufacturing of its Zero Gravity iPhone case. Mega Tiny Corp. has raised $44,369 as of Monday night, by far exceeding its original $25,000 goal with 16 days left in the campaign.

"We met the goal in about four days," Winans says. "We're getting ready to add some stretch goals."

You can check out its crowdfunding campaign here.

Source: Carl Winans, co-founder of Mega Tiny Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

NEIdeas challenge returns for second year of grants to Detroit businesses with ideas for growth

Last year, the New Economy Initiative and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation teamed up to award 32 existing small businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park a combined total of over $500,000 for their ideas for growth.
Instead of focusing on startups like other Detroit business competitions, NEIdeas is designed specifically for small businesses that are at least three years old and have had a lasting impact on their neghborhoods -- established businesses like Touch of Class Restoration, a Brightmoor-based construction and remediation company that used its 2014 NEideas award to buy new equipment and hire a marketing manager, and G + C Style, a 50-year-old storefront barber shop that used its award to expand its services to repairing and sharpening clippers for other barber shops.
In 2014, 30 small businesses each received awards of $10,000, while two businesses with high growth potential each received $100,000.
This year, a whole new group of time-tested Detroit businesses will receive NEIdeas challenge grants. On Thursday, April 16, the 2015 round of the challenge opens with an event at the Bel Air 10 Theater located at 10100 E. 8 Mile Rd. Starting at 10 a.m., winners of the 2014 challenge will be on hand to answer prospective applicants' questions, as will other challenge ambassadors. At 10:30 a.m., Dave Egner, executive director of the NEI, and Rodrick Miller, president and CEO of the DEGC, will give remarks, which will be followed by an NEIdeas information session.
Visit neideasdetroit.org for more information.

Tech startup Amber Engine sees opportunity in home furnishings market

Home furnishings and decor isn’t a conventional space in which to launch a tech startup, but one group of entrepreneurs in Detroit thinks it has a lot of potential.

Amber Engine has created a software platform that streamlines the sales process for home furnishings and decor. The idea is to capitalize on the inefficiencies in the market, which is worth $275 billion.

"It's unusually under-penetrated online," says Morgan Woodruff, president and CEO of Amber Engine. "There is a lot of headway for growth."

Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio, launched the company in January. The business-to-business, cloud-based platform provides an online portal for manufacturers and online retailers that handles data management and keeps the availability of product offerings up to date.

"If you're looking for bar stools we want to show you every sort of bar stool available around the world," Woodruff says.

Amber Engine, which is based in the basement of the Chrysler House in downtown Detroit, currently employs a team of 15 people. It currently has a handful of openings, which Woodruff doesn’t expect to go away anytime soon.

"We expect to hire a person every other month for the rest of the year," Woodruff says.

Source: Morgan Woodruff, president & CEO of Amber Engine
Writer: Jon Zemke

Urban Aging families find resources for elderly loved ones

Patricia Rencher is all too familiar with the challenges of getting old. The downtown Detroit resident supported her parents through their final years when they were in their 80s and 90s.

"I discovered how disjointed and fragmented aging services were," Rencher says.

That inspired Rencher to start Urban Aging, a low-profit limited liability company that specializes in helping people navigate the aging process. Rencher recently graduated from the BUILD Social program, which teaches the basics of business to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Urban Aging will help its customer figure out what services, resources, programs, and products are available so they can maximize the comfort level of their loved ones' final years. The company also plans to host conferences and launch a tabloid newspaper to help guide people through the aging process.

"People need to know what services are available for home healthcare," Rencher says.

Urban Aging plans to host its first conference on May 16 in the Wayne County Community College District's Northwest Campus at 8200 W. Outer Drive in Detroit.

Source: Patricia Rencher, owner of Urban Aging
Writer: Jon Zemke

123.net leads effort to create Detroit Internet Exchange

123.net is leading an effort to add more speed and remove more problems from you Internet experience.

The Southfield-based Internet/data center company is pushing for the creation of Detroit Internet Exchange (Det-IX for short), a local Internet exchange passing Internet traffic locally between carriers for improved speed and lower cost.

"Our goal is to get as many companies in Michigan to interconnect locally instead of paying carriers in Chicago," says Ryan Duda, CTO of 123.net.

Today, people from metro Detroit who send an email to their neighbor first have to route it through a Chicago-based Internet exchange. Going through a third-party provider in another time zone creates a longer sending time. Many major metropolitan areas already have an Internet exchange, but this will be metro Detroit’s first.

Det-IX will enable local carriers who share bandwidth to send information over the World Wide Web faster and more affordably by utilizing peer-to-peer efficiencies. The creation of Det-IX will also upgrade the data infrastructure in Michigan and make it more appealing to new economy businesses who depend on Internet connectivity.

Source: Ryan Duda, CTO of 123.net
Writer: Jon Zemke

Attorney creates own law practice based on mediation

Antoinette "Toni" Raheem knew what it was like to work in corporate law. She knew it so well that she was inspired to launch her own legal practice: Law & Mediation Office of Antoinette R. Raheem.

"I was with a big firm for a number of years and learned what I could from them," Raheem says. "I decided it would be best if I went out on my own."

The Bloomfield Hills-based legal practice specializes primarily in mediation. That can mean settling disputes for everything from divorces to business partnerships gone wrong.

"The legal system is made to increase animosity between people," Raheem says.

She adds that the legal system sets up people to argue with each other. It picks winners and losers. It decides who is right and wrong. Raheem believes there is a different way forward for litigants through simple communication.

"You can meet everybody’s needs," Raheem says. "You don't need a winner or a loser."

The Law & Mediation Office of Antoinette Raheem is a one-woman show, but it's one that is pushing for change in the local legal system.

"I'd like to see more immediate and frequent use of mediation," Raheem says.

Source: Antoinette "Toni" Raheem, owner of the Law & Mediation Office of Antoinette Raheem
Writer: Jon Zemke

Community Choice, NuPath credit unions merge

Community Choice Credit Union is merging with NuPath Community Credit Union, creating a larger metro Detroit-based financial institution that will carry on under the Community Choice Credit Union’s banner.

The newly expanded credit union will now have 67,000 members across Michigan and $665 million in total assets. The merger with NuPath Community Credit Union will open up the downriver market to Community Choice Credit Union, along with other locations across Michigan.

"Downriver certainly is an area that is a good fit for us," says Alan Bergstrom, senior vice president & chief marketing officer for Community Choice Credit Union. "NuPath also has a branch in Holland, which was attractive to us. We have been looking at going from a strictly metro Detroit credit union to serving other areas of Michigan."

NuPath Community Credit Union has three branches in Wyandotte, Flat Rock, and Holland. Those branches and the credit union’s employees will be folded into the Community Choice Credit Union's workforce. The new credit union now employs about 200 people.

Community Choice Credit Union will now have 13 branches after the merger. The Farmington Hills-based credit union recently opened a new branch in Northville near Six Mile and Haggerty roads. It is also in the process of building out another new branch in Shelby Township that is set to open early next year. The 80-year-old credit union is also looking to execute more mergers, one of which is currently in the works.

"Based on our strategic plan, we have a pretty aggressive growth plan in place," Bergstrom says. "That includes mergers."

Source: Alan Bergstrom, senior vice president & chief marketing officer for Community Choice Credit Union
Writer: Jon Zemke
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