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MagicBook creates app that makes paper books come alive

Enjoying paper books and participating in the digital revolution doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. That's what the team behind MagicBook is thinking.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing a mobile app that helps make reading physical books fun for kids.

"We were thinking of things we could do to connect technology with physical books," says Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook. "All of us grew up enjoying physical books. That really spoke to us."

The four-person team found that kids are reading less and less for fun, a practice that could potentially negatively impact intellectual development. To counter that, MagicBook is combing 21st Century technology with traditional books. Kids using MagicBook can hold a mobile device using the app to a book they are reading. The app will play music, animations, and even interactive characters to engage the user.

MagicBook won the People's Choice at the most recent Detroit Startup Weekend. The team is currently working on taking off the rough edges of the app so it can be ready for the general public.

"We're hoping to have it ready within the next six months," Knepp says.

Source: Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook
Writer: Jon Zemke

Troy's blueRock Technologies makes 5 hires on 30% sales growth

Troy-based blueRock Technologies has earned a couple of nice spikes over the last year.

The first comes from an additional five hires in technical and project management positions, expanding the company’s staff to 19 employees. It is also looking to hire another two technical staff right now.

The second is in its revenue. The IT company enjoyed a 30-percent bump over the last year. Most of those new sales have come from the hospitality industry. The 14-year-old firm has a number of clients that are nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels on the east coast.

"We have really increased our footprint in those areas," says Peter Marsack, vice president of consulting for blueRock Technologies. "We have a lot of clients in this area as well."

The IT firm also provides consulting and cloud-based services for its clients. One of its aims is to help pair clients with the best technology for their business model. The strategy is paying off, and blueRock Technologies is optimistic about its near-future prospects.

"We're going to continue growing the business in the hospitality market," Marsack says. "We're definitely going to be bringing on more people."

Source: Peter Marsack, vice president of consulting for blueRock Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Climate Technologies develops new way of cutting pollution emissions

Climate Technologies has reinvented itself in recent years as a company that works in both the automotive and green-tech sectors.

Today the Farmington Hills-based company is growing at a healthy clip while it continues to develop both ends of its business. Its revenue is up 15 percent in the last year, enabling it to hire another engineer in that time. It now employs six people.

"It's the rebounding of the automotive industry primarily," says Walt Zimmerman, CEO of Climate Technologies.

The 44-year-old company got its start providing temperature and humidity-control services for the automotive suppliers. The rebounding automotive industry has helped beef up that business. It has also gotten work from larger organizations, such as hospitals and universities.

Climate Technologies has also been developing a new way of cutting pollution emissions. The climate-control technology captures toxic gases and concentrates them so they can be used in things like fuel cells. It's now working on a next-generation version that integrates natural gas into the mix to make it more efficient.

"It's a large step forward," Zimmerman says. "It makes the technology appealing to people with pollution-control issues."

Source: Walt Zimmerman, CEO of Climate Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Building Hugger finds opportunity in the historic preservation of Detroit structures

When Amy Swift moved back to Michigan in 2011, the newly minted Ivy Leaguer had a master's degree in historic preservation from Columbia University, but not much else.

"I wasn't sure what was next at that point," Swift says. But it didn't take long for the architect to fall in love with Detroit, so she launched her own business: Building Hugger.

"I was really inspired by the opportunities that were here," Swift says.

Building Hugger specializes in historic preservation. If that seems broad, then know that such a wide focus wasn’t accidental. Today the company specializes in everything from design to renovating distressed properties to refurbishing historic windows.

"I founded Building Hugger before I knew what the focus would be," Swift says. "I found a lot of different projects. Some have been successes. Some have been failures. Some have been both. It’s to the point where I now know exactly what Building Hugger is."

The Detroit resident has participated in a recent auction of tax foreclosed properties and is working on rehabbing a couple of single family homes -- one at the front and the other at the rear of the same lot -- near Clark Park in southwest Detroit. You can check out the business plan for the project here.

Swift also is working in a number of construction trades, taking a special interest in window restoration. She has recently been working on restoring the windows of the Venture For America house in Virginia Park, and is taking on more similar projects.

"There is a lot of room for growth in this area," Swift says.

Source: Amy Swift, founder & principal of Building Hugger
Writer: Jon Zemke

InfoReady hits 800 percent growth in three years

InfoReady recently won one of Ann Arbor SPARK's FastTrack Business Awards, which recognizes local companies with 20 percent annual average growth over three years. Except the Ann Arbor tech startup's growth numbers are much bigger.

The 4-year-old firm has closed 800 percent revenue growth over the last years. Sales of its research grant writing and management software continue to take off as the company grows beyond Michigan.

"Most of that growth has come from more than 50 clients now," says Bhushan Kulkarni, CEO of InfoReady. "We're getting a real national footprint. We have clients in 25 states."

The GDI Infotech spin-off's software platform helps researchers find and apply for the best grant opportunities and then review and track progress of the project. It also had features that matches researchers with other research projects. Most of its client so far have been in the medical sciences and engineering areas of research & development.

InfoReady raised $2 million in seed capital shortly after it launched. It plans to begin raising a Series A round late next year or early 2016. It has hired eight people over the last year, expanding its staff to 25 employees. It also is looking to hire another six people now to help accommodate its growth next year.

"We expect to double in size in 2015," Kulkarni says.

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

Ornicept looks to hire 3 as it aims to quintuple in size

Ornicept is on the precipice of a big growth year. The Ann Arbor data-collection startup has already enjoyed a nice growth spurt over the last year but now has it sights set on even bigger things 2015.

Ornicept is projecting to grow four or five times its current size over the next year. The company currently stands at a staff of 10 employees after making two hires in business development and software. It also looking to hire another three people for senior positions right now.

"We're growing really fast," says Russell Conard, CEO of Ornicept. "I'm lucky to work with a really good team."

The 3-year-old company’s software platform that helps field workers log and manage data. That means everyone from wildlife biologists to infrastructure inspectors can input information into a mobile device and have it processed in a central computing source.

The technology was good enough to allow it to take first place in the IT category of last month's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in downtown Detroit. The $25,000 in prize money will be put toward Ornicept's Series A round, which will be worth seven figures and close on by next year.

"The round is going really well," Conard says.

Ornicept's current platform is full operational and being used by some large companies across the U.S.

"We have some of the biggest companies in the world relying on our platform," Conard says.

Source: Russell Conard, CEO of Ornicept
Writer: Jon Zemke

Massage Mechanics expands footprint, adds five new workers in Depot Town

Make no mistake, Massage Mechanics is not a spa. And that is working for them. The Depot Town business has been operating since 2011, and during that time it has grown from a 225 square foot space employing only the two owners to a 1,000 square foot operation with seven massage therapists. 

"Our big tagline is, 'We are not a spa.' We don't have the extras or do the fluff an buff massage," says Andrea Gruber, who owns Massage Mechanics with partner Becky Smith. "We're here to provide excellent quality therapeutic work to our area. We really want to help people and be a staple, not a luxury item. 

That means they can keep their prices affordable to those they feel need massage the most — working class people who are often on their feet or sitting at desks all day. That attitude has served them well. They moved from their original location more than two years ago into a larger space across Cross St., and this spring, expanded that 700 square foot space to accommodate even more growth. Since that time, they've added five additional massage contractors to their business. 

Smith and Gruber plan to continue the growth of Massage Mechanics with the same philosophy that had led to their current success: listening to the needs of the community. 

"Ultimately we want to keep growing as the customer base allows," Gruber says. "Every so often we look at the world around us to see that it needs."

Source: Andrea Gruber and Becky Smith, Massage Mechanics
Writer: Natalie Burg

Eagle Ottawa invests $10M into Rochester Hills tech center

Eagle Ottawa is investing $10 million in expanding its tech center in Rochester Hills.

The Auburn Hills-based automotive supplier employs 150 at its headquarters and another 160 people at its tech center. That number will rise at its tech center after the expansion project is complete.

"We see growth in the employment there," says Brad Jackson, spokesman for Eagle Ottawa. "We are making room for 50 more employees."

Eagle Ottawa is an automotive supplier that specializes in leather work. It is 150 years old and has grown its revenue by 18 percent over the last year. It has had a 25-percent compounded annual growth rate since 2011.

The firm has invested $75 million in global innovation initiatives and resources including design, R&D and marketing. Its $10 million expansion in Rochester Hills is part of that. The project will expand the building to 16,500 square feet to accommodate more prototyping and validation work. There will also be a new customer co-creation center aimed at empowering customers to ideate, prototype and validate their inspirations.

"Eagle Ottawa is committed to research and development and continually investing in its development," Jackson says.

Source: Brad Jackson, spokesman for Eagle Ottawa
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Huntington Co. acquires, consolidates dry cleaning businesses

A conglomerate of growing dry-cleaning companies are consolidating under a new name, The Huntington Co.

The Berkley-based business is made up of Huntington Cleaners & Shirt Laundry, Huntington Window Fashions, Wesch Cleaners, 1-800-DryClean, bizziebox, Pressed 4 Time, Martinizing, Dry Cleaning Station, and Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network. The combined companies employ 200 people after hiring five in the last year.

"We wanted to have a common reference point for people to look at," says Wayne Wudyka, CEO of The Huntington Co.

Wudyka launched the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network (also known as CRDN) in 2001, restoring clothing damaged by things like fire and smoke. It now has hundreds of franchises across the U.S. What is now the Huntington Co. launched bizziebox last year, integrating mobile technology into dry cleaning with locker-based pickup and delivery service for offices and apartment buildings.

"We see great opportunities to expand in this space," Wudyka says.

The Huntington Co. also acquired Pressed4Time, a door-to-door pick-up and delivery service, in May. Earlier this fall it also acquired Martinizing, the largest U.S.-based franchise dry cleaning brand with 422 locations in eight countries. Martinizing has been a brand name in the dry cleaning industry for decades with its founder becoming a co-owner of the Cincinnati Reds.

"We think we can add value to these companies," Wudyka says. "The economy is getting better so that’s good for the dry cleaning business."

The Huntington Co. plans to bring efficiencies to these businesses through improved and coordinated IT, marketing and operations services. The next year will be spent drilling down on the newly expanded family of businesses and improving them.

"I want to be operating at a very efficient level," Wudyka says.

Source: Wayne Wudyka, CEO of The Huntington Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wayne State grad/musician starts music production firm, J IV Media

Alton James has long dreamed of working in music. So much so that he even recently worked as an independent contractor for larger firms on the coast, providing musical scores for a variety of broadcast productions.

Now the Wayne State University graduate is doing it on his own with his new company, J IV Media.

"Why should I just be a subcontractor?" James says. "Why not start my own business?"

James worked with the Blackstone LaunchPad program at Wayne State to set up the basics of his business. He recently got engaged and opened his own studio in his new house in Chesterfield Township.

"We love the homes and the community out here," James says.

J IV Media is currently working on providing musical work for two documentaries. One has a Detroit-rebound focus and is locally based. The second is out of New York City and focuses on the for-profit prison system. James is also working with a number of University of Michigan film students on their projects.

"I would love to do some commercials for local businesses," James says.

Source: Alton James, owner of J IV Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

FreeStride Therapeutics scores win at Accelerate Michigan, adds positions

FreeStride Therapeutics won the Life Sciences category at last month's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The win came with a check for $25,000. The Ann Arbor-based startup, which is repurposing a human drug for veterinary purposes, made a number of connections with investors and fellow entrepreneurs at the four-day business plan competition in downtown Detroit.

"It was a generally rewarding and a literally rewarding experience," says Michael Long, CEO of FreeStride Therapeutics.

FreeStride Therapeutics is developing a drug that relieves and even prevents shin pain for racing horses. It even has implications for companion animals, like dogs and cats, suffering from arthritis. The startup is working on raising $1 million in a Series A to complete the final two studies necessary to bring it to market. The $25,000 from Accelerate Michigan will go toward that effort.

"We'll probably be able to close on that by the end of the year or early next year," Long says.

The three-person company plans to raise a Series B after it starts to generate revenue for its technology. That money will go toward overcoming the final hurdles on the way to FDA approval.

"We'll have a very good understanding of what the market wants from us," Long says.

Source: Michael Long, CEO of FreeStride Therapeutics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Benzinga creates jobs with its move to downtown Detroit

When Model D first spoke with Jason Raznick, he talked about hiring, specifically about how his startup Benzinga needed software developers. He said he would give Tigers playoff tickets as a finder fee for a connection that led to the hiring of a software developer.

That was a little more than three years ago. Benzinga was gearing up to move into his fledgling financial news company into its new offices in Southfield to accommodate its growth. At the time the company employed 15 people -- about one for each month of its age -- and was hiring.

Today Benzinga is more than double that size (35 people) and is planning to move to downtown Detroit. Over the last year, Benzinga has hired a dozen people (mostly software developers and journalists) and currently is looking to hire another five people. In fact, look up Raznick's LinkedIn page and his job is listed as "CEO - We're hiring!"

Those new jobs are coming to the Campus Martuis area of downtown next spring. While the firm hopes to contribute to efforts to rebuild the Motor City by relocating downtown, an even bigger reason for the move is so the company can grow by leveraging the urban core and downtown Detroit’s emerging tech scene to attract talent.

"We think we can have a big impact on Detroit," Raznick says. "And Detroit can have a big impact on us."

Benzinga is known as a online financial news publication in the vein of Bloomberg, selling information to stock traders toiling on websites. It makes its money from one of three sources: Benzinga Pro (its premium subscription service), selling data, and traditional advertising. Each new employee is given the freedom to come up with new ideas to generate revenue for the company. It’s part of a company culture Raznick likes to call a Doarchy. Check out a TED Talk he gave about it here.

"We're not one business," Raznick says. "We're opportunists."

Others have taken notice. Benzinga received a nearly $2 million seed capital round led by Lightbank, the Chicago-based venture capital firm started by Groupon's co-founders. Raznick has entertained offers for further investment that would require him to move the company to a different big city, such as New York, but he turned them down.

Despite refusing those offers, Benzinga has doubled its revenue several times, and Raznick thinks his startup is at the base of its hockey stick growth spurt.

"We're getting some serious revenue right now," Raznick says. "I don't think there is a limit to our revenue growth right now."

Source: Jason Raznick, CEO of Benzinga
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shinola watch company to add retail outlet in Washington, D.C.

Shinola, a manufacturer and retailer of watches and other high-end goods, is putting the shine on with its latest retail store.

Excerpt:

"Detroit-based Shinola continues to expand its retail presence beyond the Motor City, with a permanent, brick-and-mortar outlet reportedly in the works for the nation's capital.

The company, which makes watches in Detroit, in addition to crafting bikes, journals and leather goods at a variety of mostly-American locations, last month said it was opening shops in London, Los Angeles and Chicago...

Shinola had previously said it will have six brick-and-mortar stores once the Chicago one comes online in the Wicker Park-Bucktown neighborhood. Shinola’s flagship Detroit location is at 441 W. Canfield in Midtown, and the company also has stores in Manhattan and Minneapolis.

It also has a presence in Paris' ultra-trendy Colette shop and in the Abu Dhabi airport."

More here.

Xoran Technologies records best sales year since 2006

Xoran Technologies recorded its best year in nearly a decade in 2014. The Ann Arbor-based company installed more of its Mini CAT CT scanners this year than any year since 2006.

"2014 was actually a really good year for us," says Rachel Gajda, director of marketing for Xoran Technologies. "We hope to kick it up even more in 2015."

The 13-year-old bio-tech company manufacturers and sells point-of-care CT scanners. Its principal technology is MiniCat, a compact machine that can produce high-resolution bone window imaging of the sinuses, temporal bones and the skull. It controls about 75 percent of the market it serves.

Xoran Technologies has been developing a second product called xCAT, a mobile, inter-operative CT scanner. The company plans to start selling these in earnest within the next 12 to 18 months.

"2015 will bring Xoran Technologies to a new level of innovation and advancement," Gajda says.

In the meantime the firm is expanding its staff to accommodate that. It has hired seven people over the last year and is looking to bring on another six right now.

Source: Rachel Gajda, director of marketing for Xoran Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M student creates mini-insoles to keep heels in high heels

High heels are one of those accessories that are usually high fashion with low functionality. A new startup based in Ann Arbor thinks it can improve the functionality.

High heels are notorious for being unstable pieces of footwear that can be tough to walk in. Heel Secret is making a small insole that helps keep the users foot securely in the shoe.

"That insole has a clear elastic strap that goes over your heel and forces your foot into the shoe," says Kiri Chapman, founder of HeelSecret.

Chapman is a student at the University of Michigan going for a bachelors in dance and a certificate in entrepreneurship. She is also a dancer who worked in a professional ballet troupe before coming to Ann Arbor. College came with more opportunity to wear high heels for Chapman, which presented both a problem and an opportunity.

"That's when I started to play with my shows to make them fit better," Chapman says.

She launched HeelSecret a year ago and then took second place the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition earlier this month. That showing comes with $5,000 in seed capital that will help Chapman create more prototypes of her insole, which she plans to perfect before selling them to the public.

"We really want a product that will speak for itself," Chapman says.

Source: Kiri Chapman, founder of HeelSecret
Writer: Jon Zemke
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