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Ann Arbor's stkr.it adds 2 jobs after locking down Series A financing

Ann Arbor-based stkr.it may be about to turn three years old, but most of its growth took place over the last year.

The software startup helps people create and connect new messages to items like greeting cards and scrapbooks. The company has landed a number of partnerships with larger companies that will utilize its technology. Some of those partnerships include deals with Epson (a printer company) and Walsworth Publishing (a yearbook firm).

"It has been gratifying to see all of these partnerships come about," says Mike Newman, president of stkr.it. "As these products hit the market we expect to see a dramatic level of growth in the next six months."

The startup, which has dual offices in Ann Arbor and New York City, also locked down a Series A round of seed capital worth $600,000. That has allowed it make two of its part-time employees full-timers, rounding out its staff to five people. It is also looking at adding interns this year. Newman hopes to leverage a growing staff and revenues to flesh out its product in 2014.

"Now that we have built up a user base we want to give them the best product we can," Newman says.

Source: Mike Newman, president of stkr.it
Writer: Jon Zemke

TLS Productions moves to new Ann Arbor location

TLS Productions has moved from Brighton to Ann Arbor, bringing 14 more jobs closer to the Washtenaw County seat.

The 60-year-old firm specializes in providing sales, rental, and production for the stage part of special events. For instance, it provides the lighting for everything from theater productions to automotive and trade shows. It employs 20 people in total, and is also looking to hire two more people.

"Ann Arbor is a fantastic hiring base," says Carl Kedzierski, director of marketing and new business development for TLS Productions. "We're hoping to get somebody local."

TLS Productions' new space in Ann Arbor is twice as big as its previous one in Brighton. It began the move in November and finished just before the end of last year.

"It took quite a while," Kedzierski says. "It was quite a production for us."

Source: Carl Kedzierski, director of marketing and new business development for TLS Productions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wedit hires 2 people, looks to add another

Wedit is one of those startups that launched out of the early days of Bizdom and has been knocking around the Quicken Loans family of businesses ecosystem for a few years. This last year is when it started to gain traction and then some.

The 4-year-old startup made its name by offering affordable wedding videography solutions that are shipped to the happy couple in a box and then edited upon their request. It hired two people (a video editor and project manager) last year and is looking to hire another person who specializes in customer service now. It currently employs a team of three full-time employees and eight independent contractors. It is looking for summer interns.

"We tripled our sales," says Sarah Brithinee, CEO of Wedit. "It was our first cash-flow positive year."

The new economy startup made that happen by harnessing some new economy tricks to grow its revenue.

"It's all through social media," Brithinee says. "Ninety-seven percent of our sales come from Pinterest."

Wedit currently works out of the co-working space at Bizdom at 1528 Woodward. It is looking to move into its own space in the First National Building before the end of the winter. Wedit is also planning to rebuild its website and build up the company brand in this year.

"We're setting the table for a big 2015," Brithinee says.

Source: Sarah Brithinee, CEO of Wedit
Writer: Jon Zemke

ArborMetrix nails down an extra $1.3M in VC funding

ArborMetrix has expanded its Series B funding, adding $1.3 million in seed money from a couple of local venture capital firms. The Renaissance Venture Capital Fund and Detroit Innovate contributed to the Series B round, which was closed last year and led by RPM Ventures.

"They basically topped off that Series B," says Brett Furst, CEO of ArborMetrix. "It brought the Series B to $8.3 million."

The healthcare software startup moved into a new 9,000-square-foot office in downtown Ann Arbor, across the street from Google’s office, in November. "We take up most of the second floor," Furst says.

ArborMetrix's software platform provides real-time clinical performance analytics tools for hospitals. The technology helps healthcare providers improve the quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of surgical and other specialty care. ArborMetrix currently employs 31 people, up from 16 about a year ago, who are working to boost sales and flesh out the software platform.

"Our business plan shows we will be at 46 to 47 people by the end of the year," Furst says.

The $8.3 million Series B will help fund the development of the second generation of ArborMetrix's software platform, along with its sales and marketing efforts. Furst expects the platform to be released later this year. The increased size of the Series B might mean the startup doesn’t have to raise a Series C round anytime soon, if ever. It also means it can focus on the continued growth of its venture and the local investors who supported it.

"We want to hire and grow here," Furst says.

Source: Brett Furst, CEO of ArborMetrix
Writer: Jon Zemke

Michigan eLab's portfolio company looks to open Ann Arbor office

Venture capital firm Michigan eLab made its first investment in a startup last year, and it’s now helping that company establish a presence in Ann Arbor.

Fonemine is headquartered in Silicon Valley. The software startup scored an investment from Michigan eLab last fall and is working to open a sales office in Ann Arbor.

"They have already hired one sales rep in Ann Arbor," says Doug Neal, co-founder of Michigan eLab. “They are partnering with (Detroit-based) VisionIT.”

Michigan eLab launched about a year ago with the idea of funding startups in Michigan and bridging the gap between tech super hubs like Silicon Valley and the Great Lakes State. The firm has five partners, one administrative staffer and an intern. That team has raised almost half of its first fund, which has a goal of $40 million, and hopes to finish fundraising before the end of the year.

Michigan eLab specializes in investing in early-stage tech startups. Its average investment is $1 million. Neal hopes to close on two more investments in the near term, including one with an Ann Arbor-based startup.

"The pipeline is great," Neal says. "It's amazing how many opportunities we are seeing."

Source: Doug Neal, co-founder of Michigan eLab
Writer: Jon Zemke

GraphiColor scores best growth year in 30-year history

GraphiColor Exhibits is celebrating its 30th year in business this year but the event firm isn’t resting on its laurels.

The Livonia-based firm has spiked its revenue by 23 percent in 2013. It also hired two people in sales and marketing and a production assistant. The company now employs nine people.

"We had our biggest year ever last year," says Anita Mitzel, president of GraphiColor Exhibits. "We are extremely pleased with that."

GraphiColor Exhibits specializes in creating trade show displays and organizing corporate events. Mitzel credits last year’s growth to repeat business from the firm's longtime customer base, along with bringing on a couple dozen new customers in 2013.

"We're pretty easy to work with," Mitzel says. "A big reason we are successful is because we do what we say we're going to do. We don’t miss deadlines."

She adds that she is optimistic about GraphiColor Exhibits' chances of growing at the same rate this year. She expects repeat business will make that possible. "I would be very happy if we do that," Mitzel says.

Source: Anita Mitzel, president of GraphiColor Exhibits
Writer: Jon Zemke

Practice Space works to develop two new businesses

Detroit small business hub Practice Space has accepted two new projects into its Incubator program. One, a retro arcade bar, is searching for the perfect location while the second, a West Village property owner, is searching for the perfect tenant. Practice Space is helping each find what they're looking for.

Practice Space is assisting Donald Behm in opening Offworld Arcade, a retro-themed video game bar. In the four month-long Incubator program, the people at Practice Space are helping Behm articulate his concept and craft his business plan. They're also helping him find a building to purchase. A successful pop-up "barcade" was recently held in Hamtramck.

"One thing we've noticed is we want to work with people who want to collaborate," says Austin Kronig, cultural development director for Practice Space. "Donald realized he did everything he could on his own and now he needs support. He's an accidental entrepreneur. He doesn't have a business plan or a space but he knows the business and is an expert in classic arcade games."

In the second project, Detroit Institute of Bagels co-owner Alex Howbert approached Practice Space about identifying the right use for 1417 Van Dyke in West Village. The late-Victorian house is from the 1880s and features a storefront on the first floor of the building. It's near West Village hangouts like Craft Work, Detroit Vegan Soul, and the seasonal Tashmoo Biergarten pop-up. Practice Space is working with Howbert on architectural and concept designs, identifying the scope and breadth of the project. Kronig says that Howbert is open-minded about tenants as long as they don't need a full commercial kitchen.

This is the second term of Practice Space Incubator programming. Practice Space previously worked with Eleni Zaharopoulos and Jenile Brooks on their North End Store-House project.

Source: Austin Kronig, cultural development director of Practice Space
Writer: MJ Galbraith

NewFoundry app Ramblehook aims to streamline meetings

Ever been in a meeting and wonder where the time went? Wish you could take back that rambling story that sparked a side debate that ate up 30 extra minutes? NewFoundry thinks it has an answer for you.

The Ann Arbor-based firm, it's based just north of downtown overlooking the Huron River, just release Ramblehook, a mobile app that helps organizers take back control of meetings. It allows the user to list the agenda items, presenters, and time allotted for each topic.

"We're trying to reign in all of the side discussions that eat up meetings," says Richard Chang, partner & CEO of NewFoundry.

Chang is a alumnus of Mobiata, a software startup that made travel-oriented apps that was acquired by Expedia. He helped launched NewFoundry a year ago. Today it employs a dozen people who handle a variety of work ranging from mobile app development to industrial design.

NewFoundry's came up with the idea for Ramblehook to help keep its own internal meetings on track. It is currently working on a couple of other ideas for apps.

"We are looking at launching a few more apps in the next six months," Chang says.

Source: Richard Chang, partner & CEO of NewFoundry
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Come to D:hive's LiveWorkDetroit! event this Friday

Are you looking for a job in a city filled with opportunity? With high-tech startups, cutting-edge medical researchers, creative entrepreneurs, unrivaled restaurants, world-renowned museums, and affordable places to live, Detroit is that city. Join us Feb. 7 for a LiveWorkDetroit. one-day Detroit experience where you will network with award winning employers, meet students from around the state and get a first-hand look at the best places to live, work and play. 
Registration required ($15 after Jan 31) and includes food, transportation, and entertainment. Register here.

Event features: Employer Networking, 2-4 p.m.; Insider Tour by D:hive, 4-6 p.m.; Dinner and Panel Discussion, 6-8 p.m.

It's this Friday Feb. 7, 2-8 p.m. at the Westin Book Cadillac, 1114 Washington Blvd., downtown Detroit.
Got any questions? call 313-962-4590 or go to info@dhivedetroit.org.

The Dobrusin Law Firm pivots to focus on IP law practice

The Dobrusin Law Firm is growing after pivoting its business plan and focusing solely on intellectual property creation.

The downtown Pontiac-based practice focused on both intellectual property creation and litigation since its creation in 1999. A shakeup in the firm's leadership a year ago allowed it to drop the litigation aspect and focus on helping companies and entrepreneurs patent, trademark and copyright their innovations.

The Dobrusin Law Firm now helps these ventures file for the patent, handle the back-and-forth bureaucracy and land the rights to their intellectual property. That new business strategy has allowed the practice to hire two people over the last year to expand its staff to 20 employees.

The firm services a wide range of clientele. It started out serving primarily automotive and manufacturing firms but it is now handling work for companies across the country working on medical devices, packaging and chemicals.

"We want to broaden our client base in the chemical and medical device areas," says Kristen Pursley, managing partner of The Dobrusin Law Firm. "We think these sectors have a lot of room for growth."

Source: Kristen Pursley, managing partner of The Dobrusin Law Firm
Writer: Jon Zemke

AIM Computer Solutions expands clientele through referrals

AIM Computer Solutions has watched its business grow over the last year primarily through referrals, a phenomena the 18-year-old firm’s leadership credits to its inclusive business model.

The Fraser-based business develops ERP software for small- to medium-sized manufacturers. Creating that software means AIM Computer Solutions needs a lot of continuous input from its customers.

"We run our business almost like a cooperative," says Jerry Czernel, vice president of operations for AIM Computer Solutions. "Users have direct input into how we develop our applications. They are the owner/operator of our software."

That has allowed AIM Computer Solutions to pickup another three customers over the last year.

"That for us is a lot," Czernel says. "We look for one to...four new customers each year."

AIM Computer Solutions has hired one person for customer support over the last year. The firm now has a staff of 17 employees, and another 25 people in its extended staff. It is also looking for an intern. Czernel is optimistic that the firm’s continued growth will allow it to continue hiring in 2014.

"It's looking very rosy," Czernel says. "We immediately replenished the new business we got with double that amount in the pipeline."

Source: Jerry Czernel, vice president of operations for AIM Computer Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

New Economy Initiative receives $33M in funding for new entrepreneurial, workforce programs

A new round of funding is set to go towards entrepreneurial and workforce re-training efforts in the Detroit area.


"The New Economy Initiative's goal is to return greater Detroit to global prominence in innovation and entrepreneurship, and the effort's organizers said Monday it is moving closer to accomplishing what it set out to do, with the help of $33.25 million in new funding from 10 foundations.

The NEI, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, announced Monday that the funding will help support its efforts over the next three years, after awarding $76 million in grants in its first round of funding. That money helped fuel the work of some 35,000 entrepreneurs, who created more than 675 new companies and 8,000 new jobs in southeast Michigan, according to NEI organizers."

More here

Gongos hires 19 new employees in Auburn Hills

The leadership of a medium-to-large-size firm always says the business will soldier on and continue to grow just as it did before if it loses a key member (think founder or CEO) of its team. Following through on those statements is not easily done. Gongos is getting the job done.

The Auburn Hills-based market research firm lost its founder, John Gongos, suddenly to an illness a little more than a year ago. The company notched more than 20 straight years of steady growth on his watch, and it has continued to do that since. Gongos just booked its 23rd straight year of strong growth in 2013, spiking its revenue by 12 percent. Camille Nicita, president & CEO of Gongos, credits the team John Gongos assembled around him when he built the company.

"He relied heavily on the people around him," Nicita says. "He wasn't the end-all-be-all type of person."

Gongos has also grown its staff by 15 percent over the last year. It has hired 19 people since January of 2013 and now employs 125 full-time staffers and one intern.

"We're really hiring across the board because we're growing so rapidly," Nicita says. "Our goal as a company is not to be big, but to be great."

Nicita oversaw the combining of Gongos Research and O2 Integrated into the singular Gongos brand last year. The company is now working to move from solely market research to what Nicita and her team are coining the "decision intelligence space" that leverages traditional market research and data analytics that come from both Gongos overall research and from each customer.

This evolution is part of what makes Gongos a "living and breathing" thing that bases most of its ability on the combined vision of its workforce.

"We're trying to hire people who believe in the vision of this company as much as we do," Nicita says.

Source: Camille Nicita, president & CEO of Gongos
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bank of Ann Arbor to grow with 8,300 sq ft addition

Should everything go according to the Bank of Ann Arbor's plans, the corner of S. Fifth and E. Washington could look very different in the not-too-distant future. The bank is planning an 8,300 square foot addition in the form of a third floor on a portion of the building, as well as interior and exterior renovations of the entire structure. 
"We've certainly created a lot of excitement internally because the building does need renovation," says Bank of Ann Arbor Senior Vice President Hans Maier. "Our staff is excited, and I think the community will be excited too."
The Bank of Ann Arbor's main office building currently employs about 95 staff members. The new space would allow for growth, as well as more space for existing employees to work. 
"It's a combination of providing additional space and providing more efficient space," Maier says."
Plans for the project have been presented to the Design Review Board. Maier hopes to present to the Planning Commission in April, City Council in May and begin construction in July. Construction is expected to take anywhere from one year to 18 months. 
Source: Hans Maier, Bank of Ann Arbor
Writer: Natalie Burg

U-M Kellog Eye Center implants first bionic eye

<Insert Bionic Man sound effects here> Last month surgeons at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center implanted the very first bionic eye in patients with  late stage Retinitis Pigmentosa.
"The device is implanted in one eye. The patient wears glasses with a camera that converts images into electrical pulses that go to the retina.
It won't completely restore a person's vision, but it's giving people who can't see some hope."
Read or watch the rest here.

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