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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

The Whole Brain Group moves to bigger office in Ann Arbor

The Whole Brain Group found a new home in Ann Arbor this summer.

The digital marketing firm moved from Tree Town's downtown to a new office near Briarwood Mall in May. The new space measures out to just under 5,000 square feet, which is double the size of its previous office.

"We were sitting on top of each other," says Marisa Smith, head brainiac at the The Whole Brain Group. "People were doing desk sharing or working from home. Our creative director was moving here from California so we needed a place to put everyone."

The 12-year-old company started off building websites and evolved into a full-service digital marketing firm. Among its offerings are consulting on inbound marketing and sales lead generation. Many of its new customers are gazelle firms that are growing fast. Smith has noticed they are looking for a more comprehensive help when they contract with The Whole Brain Group.

"I saw that these business owners not only needed marketing advice but business advice," Smith says. "We wanted to offer both things so we could be a one-stop shop."

And it's worked out for The Whole Brain Group so far. It's revenue is up 40 percent, allowing it to cross the $1 million threshold over the last year. It has also hired four people, expanding its staff to 13 employees.

Source: Marisa Smith, head brainiac at the The Whole Brain Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Atomic Object doubles staff at downtown Ann Arbor office

A year ago, Atomic Object set up shop in downtown Ann Arbor with plans for some significant growth after acquiring a staple of the local software scene -  SRT Solutions. Today, the Grand Rapids-based software firm has followed through on those ambitions.

"We have doubled in size," says Darrell Hawley, co-managing partner-Ann Arbor of Atomic Object. "All of our designers and developers are really business. We're to the point now that we have to turn work down."

When Atomic Object acquired SRT Solutions it kept its staff based in downtown Ann Arbor. Since then Atomic Object has hired five people (one designer and four software developers), expanding its Ann Arbor staff to nine employees and one summer intern. It is also looking to hire one design and one software developer right now.

Atomic Object has found it easy to grow in Ann Arbor because of the concentration of software work in the area and the firm’s efforts to market its services.

"There is just an awful lot of software development going on in Ann Arbor right now," says Ann Marsan, co-managing partner-Ann Arbor of Atomic Object.

Source: Ann Marsan and Darrell Hawley, co-managing partners-Ann Arbor of Atomic Object
Writer Jon Zemke

401K GPS brings retirement planning services online

401K GPS, an online retirement planning service, received its first outside investment this summer when it landed five figures' worth of seed capital from the state of Michigan.

The Brighton-based tech startup landed $27,000 from the state's Business Accelerator Fund with the help of the Macomb-OU INCubator. That cash will go toward the company’s marketing efforts, building a new website, and licensing its technology.

"It was a pretty big deal for us," says John Eaton, general manager of 401K GPS. "It was the first time we got any external money. We were entirely self-funded before then."

401K GPS sells a software platform that helps take the guesswork out of managing retirement plan investments. It got its start as a service so consumers could manage their own 401Ks.

"It is a technology solution to an advisory problem," Eaton says.

401K GPS and its team of two employees and two interns changed up its business model earlier this year. It went from a consumer-facing platform to one that could be leveraged by financial advisors. The move allowed the startup to double its revenue.

"That was a significant change in the business model," Eaton says. "We went where there was no  competition."

Source: John Eaton, general manager of 401K GPS
Writer: Jon Zemke

826michigan expands Detroit presence with new hires

826michigan is sinking its roots deeper into Detroit, hiring more staff and expanding its presence in the state's largest city.

The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit supports K-12 students with creative and expository writing skills and helps teachers inspire their students to write. The organization started expanding into Detroit last year, helping connect volunteers, teachers, and students to create a more literate population of young people.

"We have a significant and growing student and volunteer population in Detroit," says Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan.

826michigan currently employs 10 people and has hired four new staffers over the last year. It recently hired two new people to help augment its expanded programming and fundraising in Detroit.

"We are really growing at an accelerated pace," Uhle says.

About three people work in Detroit at any one time for 826michigan. She hopes to expand that by another two people over the next year, which should help 826michigan meet the demand for its services.

"The demand and desire for our programs is much greater than the supply," Uhle says.

Source: Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Sister Pie wins $50K grand prize from Hatch Detroit

Sister Pie has won the fourth annual Hatch Detroit contest, taking home the $50,000 grand prize. The bakery and pie shop beat out a music store, a New Orleans-themed bar and restaurant, and a breakfast and lunch spot for the top prize.

While pie is deeply rooted in tradition, Sister Pie often puts inventive twists on its products. Recent pies include a pinto bean, corn, and jalapeno hand pie and a blueberry, plum, and balsamic pie.

Lisa Ludwinski, who owns and operates Sister Pie, has said that the Hatch prize money will go a long way toward completing the renovations of a West Village storefront. $50,000 will help Ludwinski reduce the amount of any loans she may need to take out as she builds out the Sister Pie location at Parker and Kercheval streets. Ludwinski hopes for an April 2015 opening.

A physical location for Sister Pie is important to Ludwinski, having stressed the desire for a community space in the neighborhood. Once the cafe opens, Sister Pie will offer breakfast and lunch items in addition to the pies and cookies for which the business is already well known.

Ludwinski hopes to open a temporary counter at the storefront while construction is completed. In the meantime, Sister Pie products are available throughout the city, including at Parker Street Market, Sister Pie's future neighbor.

After menswear and lifestyle boutique Hugh won the first Hatch contest in 2011, the next three winners have all been food- and drink-based businesses. La Feria, a Spanish tapas restaurant that opened in 2013, won in 2012. Meanwhile, Batch Brewing Company, a small batch brewery that took the top prize in 2013, continues to work on their eventual Corktown location.

Source: Lisa Ludwinski, owner and operator of Sister Pie
Writer: MJ Galbraith

HookLogic looking to hire 25 in downtown Ann Arbor

Walk into the Ann Arbor office of HookLogic and chances are you'll see a lot of people. Walk in there a short time later and chances are you will see even more people.

The tech firm has been steadily hiring since it moved into the old Leopold Brothers Brewery on South Main Street two years ago. The company currently has 55 of its 125 employees in Ann Arbor. It also hosted another 10 summer interns earlier this year. Those numbers are expected to grow over the next year.

"We're in the middle of hiring," says Jonathan Opdyke, CEO of HookLogic. "We're adding about 35 people worldwide."

Most of those new hires are destined for Ann Arbor. The company has hired 10 people (mostly software professionals) over the last year and it looking to hire another 25 in Ann Arbor right now. When those positions are full the company will have filled out a majority of its space in the Ann Arbor office, but still have a significant amount of room to grow into.

"Ann Arbor continues to be our primary technology product office," Opdyke says. "It has just grown since we opened it."
 
HookLogic specializes in paid product listings on commerce sites. It partners with large retailers, online travel agencies, and automotive companies to give marketers direct access to bottom-of-funnel shoppers, as well as a clear view into resulting sales attribution. It works with a number of big companies, including Expedia and Target, along with a number of automotive companies. Opdyke sums up his company’s goal for future growth in one word.

"Bigger," Opdyke says. "We're doing a lot to grow our relationships. We work with a lot of auto manufacturers like Chrysler. We want to grow those relationships."

Source: Jonathan Opdyke, CEO of HookLogic
Writer Jon Zemke

Moncur branding agency opens new offices in Miami, Austin

Moncur is rebranding and expanding its presence across the U.S.

The Southfield-based branding agency has been known as Moncur Associates for its 22 years until it dropped the latter part of its name this month. Moncur is also opening satellite offices in Miami and Austin.

"There is a lot of stability that comes with geographic expansion and a lot of growth opportunity," says David Moncur, principal of Moncur. "By my estimation Austin is the next Silicon Valley."

Moncur handles the digital and social media branding for the likes of Lear, Layne, Discovery Channel, the University of Michigan, Art Van, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. It’s revenue is up 50 percent over the last year and the company is on track to do it again.

The company has hired six people over the last year, primarily in creative and technical positions. Moncur currently has a staff of 27 employees and one intern. It also has four open positions for technical and creative staffers, including a director of digital marketing.

Moncur is looking to keep going by focusing on customers in the Metro Detroit, Miami and Austin markets over the next year. However, Moncur expects most of the growth to take place at its Southfield headquarters.

"That has never happened to us in our company’s history," Moncur says. "It's an exciting ride."

Source: David Moncur, principal of Moncur
Writer: Jon Zemke

FutureNet Group hires 80 as revenues grow by double digits

FutureNet Group once relied on a trifecta of industries for triple-digit revenue growth. Now that the 20-year-old company is maturing, its growth remains robust, though not quite as numerically impressive.

The Detroit-based firm (it makes its home on the city's far west side) clocked triple-digit revenue gains for several years as it grew its market share in the construction, IT/technology, and energy/environmental industries. Now it's aiming for double-digit growth as it continues to grow.

"We are expecting at least 20-30 percent growth," says Jay Mehta, senior vice president of FutureNet Group.

That growth has allowed FutureNet Growth to hire 80 people over the last year, expanding its staff to more than 300 people. The new jobs are in a variety of positions across the entire company.

Helping continue the company's growth is its new expansion in the security field. FutureNet Group acquired the perimeter security division from Smith & Wesson in 2012 and has since transformed that unit's losses into profits.

"We have been able to grow it quite a bit," Mehta says.

FutureNet Group’s perimeter security solutions include new technology to keep people and vehicles out of a facility by stoping them at the perimeter (Think access control gates). FutureNet Group’s access gate solutions have matured to the point where they focus on stopping an intruder while minimizing harm to that person.

"The whole intent is to catch the person alive," Mehta says. "No matter what's their intent."

Source: Jay Mehta, senior vice president of FutureNet Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Food Academy is raising funds to support young food entrepreneurs

A non-profit organization that partners with Detroit high schools, the Detroit Food Academy is in the midst of a $12,500 Patronicity crowdfunding campaign to raise money to fund its operations. 

According to Detroit Food Academy's Patronicity campaign page:

"The Academy is a 25-week program during the school year. Participants graduate with a polished values-based food product, a certificate in food entrepreneurship, a network of potential employers, and an opportunity to enter our summer employment program.

Small Batch Entrepreneurship Camp is a 6-week summer program that puts Academy graduates in the driver's seat of their food business. They are paid a stipend and employed 25 hours per week to launch, operate, and perfect their triple-bottom-line food business at farmers' markets and retail outlets across the City. The summer culminates in the 'Summer Finale Event’, where DFA’s young leaders pitch their businesses and leadership stories for a chance to win endorsements from the DFA Mentorship Board, scholarships, internship opportunities, and the addition of their handcrafted product to our emerging line, Small Batch Detroit."


Money donated to DFA will support these programs.

Real Ryder Revolution relocates cycling studio, expands number of classes

Just five years old, Real Ryder Revolution indoor cycling studio has already grown to four locations in Birmingham, West Bloomfield, Chicago and Ann Arbor. After first operating on N. Main for three years, the Ann Arbor location will soon be even closer to its core clientele with a new studio on E. University. 

"We wanted to be as close to campus as possible," says Leslee Blatnikoff, owner of Real Ryder Revolution. "We just want to feature it more toward the students." 

The approximately 1,500 square foot E. University location will open next week. The new location will offer an expanded number of classes for the 18-bike studio. The business is now running a pre-grand opening special on classes. The goals of Real Ryder Revolution, says Blatnikoff, will remain the same in their new space.

"We just want to make sure it's busy and we can give the students the workouts they want, and continue to be good, healthy influence in the fitness arena," she says. 

Real Ryder Revolution operates with eight to ten instructors. Updates on the business and new studio can be found on the business's Ann Arbor Facebook page.

Source: Leslee Blatnikoff, Real Ryder Revolution
Writer: Natalie Burg

Pinkerton picks Ann Arbor as its HQ

Now you can apply to Pinkerton man in Ann Arbor. That's right, the security company that once protected Abraham Lincoln (but not on that fateful night) and chased Jesse James has come to town.

Excerpt:

"Pinkerton men tracked down Butch Cassidy and the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang and pursued Jesse James. Pinkerton agents were also a part of the historic Battle of the Overpass at the Ford River Rouge Plant in 1937.

Now, the 164-year-old security and risk management company is moving its global headquarters from New Jersey to Ann Arbor, Michigan."

Read / Listen the rest here.

Pinkerton announcement here.
 

EXO Dynamics gears up to test back-brace prototypes

EXO Dynamics is in the process of finishing the first commercially viable prototypes of its mechatronic back brace and begin testing on its first subjects this fall.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, it calls the Venture Accelerator in the University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex, received a $50,000 state grant to create four commercially viably prototypes. EXO Dynamics is at the end of that process.

"We will have that finished by next month," says Mushir Khwaja, chief commercial officers of EXO Dynamics. "We will do the final assembly here to put some finishing touches on it."

EXO Dynamics and its team of four employees and one summer intern is developing an electro-mechanical back brace for medical professionals. The brace will be able to be worn by physicians under their lead vests in operating rooms.

"We will field test them with physicians in the fall," Khwaja says.

EXO Dynamics has received a notice of allowance from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, which means the startup expects to receive its patent for the back brace later this fall. The company also recently took second in the New Business Idea category of the Great Lakes Entrepreneur Quest business plan competition.

Khwaja plans to begin fundraising a seed capital round for EXO Dynamics later this year while field testing is going on. The company hopes to raise about $1 million in seed capital to commercialize its technology.

Source: Mushir Khwaja, chief commercial officers of EXO Dynamics
Writer Jon Zemke

DFCU Financial breaks ground on Plymouth branch

DFCU Financial, Michigan's largest credit union, is opening a new branch in Plymouth.

Ground was broken in late August on a 4,583-square-foot facility that will open in the first quarter of 2015 at Ann Arbor Road and Main Street.

The branch will be the 25th for the credit union that formed in 1950, started by seven Ford Motor Co. engineering employees. President and CEO Mark Shobe says the Plymouth location will serve more than 4,000 families.

The branch, which will sit on about one acre of land, will have two drive-through teller lanes, a drive up ATM and full services inside.

DFCU currently has branches in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Lansing.

Source: Peggy Richard, spokesperson, DFCU Financial
Writer: Kim North Shine


Retiree finds second act with cooking company, AVC Kitchens


Vazilyn Poinsetta isn’t the stereotypical senior citizen. The Midtown resident retired from a mortgage company a few years ago and decided to do something different. She went back to school and eventually opened her own business.

"I might as well be 70 and get a degree in nutrition instead of waiting around saying woulda, coulda, shoulda," Poinsetta says.

The lifelong Detroiter started classes at Wayne State University soon after retiring. In 2012, she started taking advantage of the entrepreneurial education classes at Blackstone LaunchPad on campus. That inspired her to start AVC Kitchens, which teaches cooking classes in the city.

"They (Blackstone LaunchPad's staff and participants) are just wonderful," Poinsetta says. "I'm not very tech savvy, but I can still ask anyone in the program and they will show me what to do."

AVC Kitchens aims to combine education of cooking and healthy living. Poinsetta hosts cooking classes at Eastern Market and Focus: HOPE, teaching people how to create cost-effective meals with everyday ingredients -- meals that are both affordable and nutritious using ingredients local people can find just about anywhere.

"Not anything that is super expensive," Poinsetta says.

Source: Vazilyn Poinsetta, owner of AVC Kitchens
Writer: Jon Zemke
2786 Articles | Page: | Show All
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