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GreenLancer hires new CEO, begins raising Series B financing

GreenLancer is making some big hires and raising some big money this year. The downtown Detroit-based startup has hired its first CEO and is in the midst of raising a significant round of seed capital.

The new CEO is Zac MacVoy, a graduate of Lake Superior State University and most recently a vice president of sales at United Lighting Standards. MacVoy is leading GreenLancer's efforts to raise a multi-million dollar Series B round. It has closed half of its goal and will close on the rest later this spring.

"We feel he will be a key component as we scale to meet demand," says Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer.

GreenLancer is a product of the Bizdom accelerator program. It developed a software platform that guides businesses through the process of integrating green technology into their operations, such as solar panels. The platform provides high quality solar system designs needed to build and install solar electric systems, enabling contractors to manage projects, get quotes, order, and receive design services from one centralized place.

"We produce the design that the contractors use to install solar systems," Sharber says.

GreenLancer started by offering these services to commercial clients. It is now looking to expand into the residential market. The Series B will help the company with marketing, product development, and staff expansion. It has hired 14 people over the last year and now employs a staff of 22. It is also looking to hire a handful of web developers.

Source: Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer
Writer: Jon Zemke

HealthCure looks to raise $3M for infection prevention tech

HealthCure is making a big ask of investors this year, though the Detroit-based startup believes it has the stats to back up its request.

The 5-year-old company's platform helps hospitals reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections. Its software team works with the staff of medical centers to find places where infections can be prevented and helps the institution meet Affordable Care Act benchmarks. HealthCure recently finished a pilot program with Oakwood Healthcare System and is publishing a paper with the results.

"We reduced infections by 20 percent in areas we worked," says Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure. "[Oakwood] saved more than $1 million."

HealthCure plans to use that report as it works to raise a Series A round of seed capital. The firm is hoping to raise $3 million by this spring. Arizmendi believes that is possible as he continues to pitch investors from Chicago.

"We'd like to be in several healthcare systems in the Chicago and Michigan markets," Arizmendi says.

HealthCure is also looking at expanding into other markets over the next year, including California. To accomplish that, the company has hired one person over the last year, expanding its staff to eight people. It is also looking to hire two more executive-level staffers.

Source: Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shinola's newest store brings watches, ping pong, etc to downtown Ann Arbor

Shinola will bring its handcrafted watches, leather goods, bicycles and more to Ann Arbor at a new store set to open in downtown this May.

Shinola Chief Operating Officer Heath Carr says there has been "overwhelming response" from people who live in Ann Arbor visiting the existing location in midtown Detroit, whether driving or filling a shuttle bus that ran regularly between the storefront and Ann Arbor this past holiday season.

"We always talked about how do we expand in the state of Michigan, and Ann Arbor seemed like a logical place," Carr says.

Some final preparation has to be completed at the 1,500-square-foot location, at the corner of Liberty and Main, and then Shinola can start getting the space ready for summer shoppers. The store will also include a Commonwealth coffee shop and about 2,000 square feet in the lower level that will include a community lounge with tables and seating, ping pong tables and event space.

Carr says he wants the stores to be integrated into the community and feel like they've always been there. "We're excited to continue to roll out the Shinola story and products and be a part of these communities," he says.

Carr expects to hire about six to eight people to start and possibly more as the store expands. Commonwealth will also hire a few of its own staff.

The Ann Arbor location will be Shinola's seventh brick-and-mortar store. It has other locations in New York, London, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Source: Heath Carr, chief operating officer at Shinola
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

New business lab at Oakland University gives students access to cutting-edge Wall Street tech

A newly renovated business lab at Oakland University is giving students access to Bloomberg financial terminals that are used by many professionals in the financial sector to analyze company data, financial news, industry research, and more.

The 10 dual-screen Bloomberg terminals opened in January, giving OU students access to the same info used by brokers, investors, and other financial planners and advisors. The terminals also come with Bloomberg Professional Service, which trains students and tests them on their decisions and predictions.

Oakland University's lab is one of a handful in Michigan and is seen by administrators as a way to best prepare students for financial careers, giving them early access to tools that many would have been required to learn on the job.

Source: Nivedita Mukherji, associate professor of economics, associate dean, Oakland University
Writer: Kim North Shine

U-M students launch healthy food startup called Fruit Fairies

Densu Dixon and his friend Eric Jensen were both dedicated athletes when they came to the University of Michigan. They not only took their workouts seriously, but also their diets. It's a lifestyle choice that took an unusual turn when it became their business.

"We started to get frustrated with the availability of fresh produce on campus," Dixon says. "We couldn't find a service to help us so we decided to make one ourselves."

The U-M sophomores launched Fruit Fairies earlier this year. The startup aims to eating healthier in college more affordable through a weekly subscription service that delivers baskets of healthy food to the doorsteps of co-eds across the country. The baskets include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and additional options.

The Fruit Fairies staff assembles the baskets on Sundays and delivers them to its customers across Ann Arbor. The Sunday assembly-and-delivery system allows them to buy fresh food in bulk from wholesalers. The student-run startup is currently trying to raise $7,500 through a crowd funding campaign to grow its business later this spring. Check it out here.

"We are hoping for the beginning of April," Dixon says.

Source: Densu Dixon, co-founder at Fruit Fairies
Writer: Jon Zemke

AutoHarvest goes global by adding more Asian clients

AutoHarvest got its start with the idea of growing Michigan's new economy by enabling local entrepreneurs to leverage the intellectual property coming out of the universities and major corporations in the Great Lakes State. Today the nonprofit is aiming beyond the state's borders.

"We've been growing," says Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest. "We have been increasing our membership and database...[which] now contains about 90,000 intellectual property opportunities."

AutoHarvest has been targeting Asian-based firms to engage with its membership and plans to continue that expansion throughout this year by connecting more international businesses with the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The four-person nonprofit (it has hired two people over the last year) fosters collaboration and innovation in the auto industry by making things like tech labs and intellectual property more accessible. The 4-year-old organization has offices at the University of Michigan and TechTown.

Despite its recent foray into internationalism, AutoHarvest still regularly engages with local firms and entrepreneurs. For instance, Optimal Process Technologies is developing technology that improves the weldability of dissimilar materials. The processes will support the production of multi-material structures, reducing vehicle weight and improving vehicle fuel efficiency.

"The entrepreneur who licensed the technology came across it as a member of AutoHarvest," Pankin says.

Source: Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest
Writer: Jon Zemke

Arbormoon Software grows with work in beacon projects, watch apps

Arbormoon Software isn't the little software firm that could. It's a small business that did. Or, at least, is doing it.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based company recently was recognized as a FastTrack award winner for the third consecutive year. That means it had at least six-figure revenues with an annual growth of 20 percent for the previous three years. Arbormoon Software has accomplished this for three years running.

The company's leadership[ chalks that success to its work of creating mobile apps that have huge amounts of downloads, such as creating the apps for Weather Underground and XanEdu. "We're small but we have a lot more reach than larger companies," says Dave Koziol, president of Arbormoon Software.

The 11-year-old firm offers a comprehensive set of services for creating custom mobile apps. That work allowed it to move into a larger office last year and hire a couple of software developers, expanding its staff to a dozen people.

Arbormoon Software has also been working on creating software for new technology. For instance it has produced a couple of apps for mobile phones worn as watches. It is also working on beacon technology projects that help enhance mobile signals in places with limited receptions, such as large buildings.

"We're pushing the technology envelope and seeing how things evolve," Koziol says. "We're on the bleeding edge of technology looking for new things."

Source: Dave Koziol, president of Arbormoon Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

TSP Enterprises aims to raise $350K to bring pickup truck storage system to market

TSP Enterprises thinks it has the next big thing in pickup truck storage systems, and the Farmington Hills-based startup aims to bring its technology to market later this year.

TSP Enterprises principal product is advertised as a better way to haul small amounts of stuff in the back of a pickup truck. The small-yet-sizeable truck bed insert is made of durable plastic that forms a box to keep small items, like bales of hay or golf clubs, contained near the truck's tailgate. The company has been calling its product The Pickup Tuck, though it might rebrand. Check out a video of how it works here.

"It keeps your truck bed contained, neatly organizes, and secure," says Carlton Powell, president & CEO of TSP Enterprises. "They are also easily accessible from the tailgate when parked."

TSP Enterprises is looking to raise $350,000 in seed capital to help perfect product development and create the molds for manufacturing. It has been pitching the product at local angel groups and business plan competitions like Great Lakes Angels.

The TSP Enterprises team hopes to close on the seed round later this spring. The plan is to start marketing and selling the product in the third or fourth quarter of this year.

"We're making this a cargo-management system for the light- to medium-duty pickup truck," Powell says.

Source: Carlton Powell, president & CEO of TSP Enterprises
Writer: Jon Zemke

Compass aims to connect freelancers with small businesses

A couple of Venture For America fellows are looking to better connect small businesses with local freelancers with their new startup, Compass.

The downtown Detroit-based startup aims to draw upon a network of well-vetted freelancers to help small businesses flesh out their online presence with better websites, digital marketing, and social media. Compass clients are guided through an easy process where they get a dedicated freelancer to create an affordable, agency-quality website for their business. In return the startup takes a percentage of the bill for doing the business-side work so the freelancers can focus on their specialty.

"We manage the project," says Mike Wilner, CEO of Compass. "We handle all of the things a freelancer doesn’t want to handle."

Wilner launched Compass with Taylor Sundali seven months ago. Both are part of the 2013 class of Venture For America, a Teach For America-like program that pairs promising recent college grads with startups in economically challenged cities on two-year fellowships. Wilner worked for Social Proof and Sundali worked at Doodle Home before launching Compass.

The inspiration came from the parents of the fellows. Both sets of parents are small business owners and have been asking both 20-somethings for more and more help with beefing up the online presence of their companies.

"My parents sat me down and asked me for a lot of advice," Wilner says. "More than they ever had before."

The Compass team is currently going through the Venture For America Accelerator out east but plans to return to Detroit later this spring. They are already working with four local freelancers to pair with small businesses and plan to expand that stable of independent contractors markedly over this year.

"We want to have a lively community of freelancers working with us," Wilner says.

Source: Mike Wilner, CEO of Compass
Writer: Jon Zemke

Plutonium Paint adds products, grows its color palette

Plutonium Paint has already made a name for itself as a high-end aerosol paint brand, but this year it's looking to expand its product line.

The Southfield-based startup's principal product is a high-end spray paint targeting contemporary creatives, such as street art artists, muralists, arts and crafts enthusiasts, and do-it-yourselfers. Now the 4-year-old company will grow its pallet of colors.

"We have a few new products coming out this year," says Barry Fleischer, president of Plutonium Paint.

Plutonium Paint plans to offer more colors and shades without forcing its retailers to carry each product. The paint will be available in dozens of colors, all flat.

"We are coming out with a clear coat that will protect the paint," Fleischer says. "It will be available in semi-gloss and in gloss."

Plutonium Paint, which has added a few people this year to a staff of six employees and six independent contractors, is also looking to beef up its sales this year. It has traditionally sold its products at hobby stores for DIYers. It is now expanding into hardware chains and traditional paint stores.

"We also received a vendor number from Ace Hardware this year," Fleischer says.

Source: Barry Fleischer, president of Plutonium Paint
Writer: Jon Zemke

New Eagle expands staff at new facility in Ann Arbor

New Eagle moved into a new office in Ann Arbor last year and has been growing its staff and bottom line since.

The automotive, energy-efficiency company took over a 21,000-square-foot space on the city's western outskirts. It has spent equal parts of the last few months working on its hybrid technology and modernizing its new home.

"We took it from an old, dingy commercial space to a collaborative office," says Rich Swortzel, president of New Eagle. "It's open. It’s a fun environment."

The 6-year-old company specializes in hybrid technology for the automotive sector. Its recently released Raptor platform helps create fuel-savings for heavy vehicles like garbage trucks. It accomplishes that with a connected and distributed control system that is advanced, scalable, self-diagnosing, and remotely controllable.

"The goal is to mature it and grow it," Swortzel says.

New Eagle has enjoyed growing sales of technology both domestically and internationally recently. International sales accounted for half of the company’s revenue over the last year. That has allowed the company hire a handful of people over the last year.

Source: Rich Swortzel, president of New Eagle
Writer: Jon Zemke

Exxodus Pictures adds staff thanks to more commercial and film work

Exxodus Pictures is growing from its base in downtown Detroit thanks to more work in both film and commercials.

The M@dison Building-based company released the movie "Jinn" last year. It has also made three commercials and is gearing up to make the first of a slate of three movies later this year.

"Our main thing is movies," says Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-owner of Exxodus Pictures. "But if we get contacted for a commercial job, we don't turn it down."

The 5-year-old firm's first theatrical release, "Jinn," came out last spring. The movie is about an elite class of warriors/monsters who are ancient, supernatural, and made of fire. (Check out the trailer for the film here.) The film was released in 210 theaters in North America. It is set to release across multiple channels like Dish Network and Amazon this week.

Exxodus Pictures employs a core staff of 10 people after hiring two editors and two graphic designers. The company will also crew up to 30 people when it shoots commercials and up to 50 people while shooting a movie.

Exxodus Pictures recently received $1.3 million in tax incentives from the state of Michigan to film three made-in-Michigan movies. Those include "My Soul to Keep," "Swish Master," and "Golem." "Swish Master" is a story about Max Sheffield, a boy who unleashes black magic to put a stop to the bullying he is experiencing at school, but realizes along the way he may not be the one in control after all.

"Golem" centers around Adina Akhavan, who witnesses the annihilation of her village by Nazi soldiers. But then an otherworldly beast emerges and decimates the barbarous soldiers and Adina escapes into the forest. Weeks later, she is befriended by Captain Jaeger and his elite team of SS relic hunters who were sent to investigate the disappearance of the brigade and to secure the ancient beast. Adina has no choice but to hide her true identity, help Captain Jaeger secure the beast, and wait for the perfect moment to enact her revenge.

"My Soul to Keep" follows 9-year-old Eli Braverman, who is terrified of his basement and the evil that he thinks is living there. When his older sister Emily abandons her babysitting duties, Eli is left home alone to confront the darkness and the creature that may be lurking in it.

"We're looking to start shooting that in the spring," Ahmad says.

Source: Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-owner of Exxodus Pictures
Writer: Jon Zemke

Civionics brings wireless sensors to manufacturing

Civionics got its start spinning out of the University of Michigan in 2009 by commercializing wireless sensor technology. The platform was primarily used to measure the strength of large-scale infrastructure, such as bridge supports.

That's changing now. The startup is pivoting from its previous work, which mostly generated revenue from government grants, to a product platform.

"We have a new product we began selling at the end of last year," says Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics. "We hope it will help us enter some new verticals."

That new product is called Constellation. It is based on Civionics original technology but applies it to manufacturing equipment in factories. The idea is to monitor the strength of those machines and avoid breakdowns with well-timed maintenance. The company is aiming to focus on Michigan’s automotive market as a start.

To help make that happen, Civionics has joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program. The program helps small businesses leverage cutting edge manufacturing technology, opening the door for them to go to the next level of production.

"Automation Alley clearly has the connections in the area that we lack," Zimmerman says.

The Ann Arbor-based company currently employs a core team of a handful of people after adding one over the last year. Zimmerman expects to grow that team later this year as it lines up the first customers for Constellation.

Source: Andy Zimmerman, CEO of Civionics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ash & Anvil to offer Detroit-made clothes for short men


Steven Mazur isn't a tall man. At 5 feet 6 inches, he’s not exactly Peter Dinklage-size, but he is familiar with the challenges people of shorter stature face. It served as the inspiration for, Ash & Anvil, the men's clothing company he co-founded with Eric Huang.

"We were thinking about the challenges we face," Mazur says. "Finding clothes has not been easy."

Ash & Anvil specializes in making clothes for men 5 feet 8 inches and under, addressing many of the challenges shorter people face when buying clothes. For instance, when Mazur buys pants he knows the average inseam is 30 inches, but his measures 28 inches. Ash & Anvil's first line of clothing will launch with a line of casual, button-down shirts. It hopes to expand into jeans, dress pants/shirts, and athletic apparel later this year,

Mazur and Huang are Venture For America fellows who came to Detroit in 2013 as part of the second class of aspiring entrepreneurs in the Motor City. Venture For America pairs recent college grads with startups in economically challenged cities. Detroit was one of the programs first participating cities.

Ash & Anvil are currently working on a crowdfunding campaign to fund its first run of clothes, which will be made in Detroit. The campaign as a goal of raising $10,000 and has already raised more than $9,000.

Source: Stevem Mazur and Eric Huang, co-founder of Ash & Anvil
Writer: Jon Zemke

Creative firm Agency 720 expands across U.S., adds staff in downtown Detroit


For a creative agency, it's good to work with a major automaker’s brand. It's even better when you’re the recommended tier 2 marketing agency for Chevrolet.

That's the case with Agency 720, which has been growing its presence across North America steadily over the last year. It is now in 141 markets across the continent, mainly handling advertising work for Chevy dealerships across the U.S.

"They are a fabulous partner," says Harold Kobakof, president & CEO of Agency 720.

The downtown Detroit-based firm’s has added seven markets over the last year. It has also added work outside of the automotive industry, handling work with Pulte Homes. Most of Agency 720’s work, however, comes from Chevrolet dealerships.

"We're looking to expand into seven more markets this year," Kobakof says.

That expansion has allowed the four-year-old firm to expand its staff to 110 people after hiring 10 over the last year. Those new jobs include account managers and directors. Agency 720 is also in the process of hiring a graphic designer.

Source: Harold Kobakof, president & CEO of Agency 720
Writer: Jon Zemke
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