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ArborWind set to begin installing wind turbine tech in spring

ArborWind successfully finished testing its wind turbine technology this year, and now the Ann Arbor-based firm is aiming to install about a dozen units in Michigan in 2015.

That increase has prompted the 4-year-old company to hire two people over the last year in sales and marketing. It currently has a staff of five employees and an intern, and expects to do some more hiring next year as it starts building wind turbines.

"We're looking at expanding pretty rapidly," says Dilip Nigam, president & CEO of ArborWind. "We'll probably need more sales and marketing people."

ArborWind is taking the traditional wind turbine design (think pinwheels) and turning it on its ear. ArborWind’s turbine employs a vertical-axis design so it looks like the beater ends of a hand mixer when harnessing the wind. This design enables the turbine to turn regardless of which direction the wind is blowing. Check a video explaining the technology here.

"This turbine will last 50 years," Nigam says. "We designed it for that."

Each of ArborWind’s turbines generates 200,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually. ArborWind plans to install 11 of them across the state in early 2015 and use that to set the stage for an even bigger growth spurt.

"We want to expand rapidly and do 50 turbines," Nigam says. "Each of those turbines costs more than half a million dollars so it will be a large order."

Source: Dilip Nigam, president & CEO of ArborWind
Writer: Jon Zemke

Minority Business Access Fund aims to lend $100M to Detroit small biz

Minority business owners in Detroit are getting a new pool of money to dip into, and it's a big one.

The Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council is launching the Minority Business Access Fund, a $100 million loan vehicle offering liquidity assistance to small- and medium-sized businesses. That could mean everything from multi-million dollar automotive suppliers to family owned businesses.

"We hope this will be a great value to the businesses in the neighborhoods of Detroit," says Louis Green, president of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council.

The Minority Business Access Fund will offer up to $100 million annually to local minority-owned firms. That could be ten $10 million loans or 1,000 $100,000 loans. Green expects to make 75 to 100 loans in the first year.

The Minority Business Access Fund is meant to address the cash-flow needs of minority-owned businesses. Small businesses often find themselves in a cash crunch to meet things like payroll because of hiccups in payments from customers. Minority-owned firms have traditionally been underserved by traditional lending institutions, and this fund is meant to help bridge that gap. Although the fund is sponsored by a council focused on helping minority-owned automotive suppliers, the fund will be open to all comers of color.

"It's open to folks in lots of industries," Green says. "We're talking to folks in healthcare and folks who are working on the M-1 Rail. We're talking to a lot of folks."

Source: Louis Green, president of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council
Writer: Jon Zemke

Jet-setting firm Broadsword cultivates consulting work in backyard

When the economy went south, Broadsword branched out.

The tech consulting company had once relied on the local automotive and manufacturing industries, but added work with the federal government, specifically the U.S. Dept. of Defense. Today the Livonia-based firm company is looking to flesh out its local work.

Broadsword has watched its revenue jump 30 percent over the last year, mostly by expanding its customer base outside of Metro Detroit.

"It was mostly new customers," says Jeff Dalton, president of Broadsword. "We're starting to expand our work with our existing customers."

Broadsword specializes in leveraging Agile and Lean methods to drive up performance engineering using its AgileCMMI methodology and collaborative consulting and coaching solutions. Some of its clients include Rockwell Collins, NASA, Boeing, Chrysler, Compuware and L-3 Communications.

The company currently employs 10 people. It has hired two over the last year, including senior- and junior-level consultants. It it currently looking to hire two more consultants.

Source: Jeff Dalton, president of Broadsword
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.


"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.

Oakland University students build diabetes app, TypeOneTwo

A trio of Oakland University computer science majors placed at the MHacks hackathon in Ann Arbor with its diabetes mobile app.

Andrew Clissold, Steven Wiggins and Brandon Powell are the undergrads behind TypeOneTwo. The mobile app helps people who live with diabetes track and analyze their glucose and insulin levels.

"I have been wanting to make an app to help me better track my stuff," says Powell, who also lives with Type 1 diabetes.

The friends built out the app during the MHacks software programming competition at the University of Michigan earlier this fall. The 2-month-old startup placed in the top 10 after the 36-hour hackathon, and set the stage to further develop the app into a business.

"This was something that was fun for all of us and could help other people," Powell says. "It was really a blast. We had so much fun. We just sat down and programmed for 36 hours."

The trio behind TypeOneTwo plans to keep developing the app over this winter and launch it to the public in early 2015.

Source: Brandon Powell, co-founder of TypeOneTwo
Writer: Jon Zemke

SE Michigan firms dominate Accelerate Michigan competition

Eleven startups took home cash prizes at last week's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and each one of them is based in southeast Michigan.

While Ann Arbor-based firms took home the lion's share of the winnings, companies based in Metro Detroit also won some of the category awards worth $25,000 apiece. Those winners included Wixom-based SurClean (Product and Service category), Plymouth-based Beet Analytics Technology (Manufacturing), and Detroit-based Inventev (Advanced Transportation).

Ann Arbor-based firms SkySpecs (drone technology) and Cribspot (online platform for off-campus housing) took the top two spots worth $500,000 and $100,000, respectively. Ann Arbor startups also took six of the nine category wins. More info on those here.

Accelerate Michigan is an annual business plan competition held in downtown Detroit. It aims to promote and grow the cream of the crop of startups based in Michigan or looking to move to the Great Lakes state. Its $1 million in prize money and services also serves as a motivational tool to push startups closer to investment and commercialization.

"It's a very good learning process," says David Wang, CEO of Beet Analytics Technology. "I have never prepared so much for a 10-minute pitch process."

Beet Analytics Technology provides diagnostic and analytical tools that accelerate problem solving in complex manufacturing and automation operations. Its software improves problem identification and reduces production downtime so the user can optimize productivity gains.

SurClean is developing a laser-based technology that replaces the harmful chemicals, media blasting, and other abrasives typically used in the removal of paint and other coatings from aircraft, vessels, and bridges undergoing maintenance. Its technology uses a laser beam to disintegrate and remove paint and other coatings like rust from substrate in a cost-effective, safe, energy-efficient and earth-friendly way.

Inventev is creating a hybrid-electric system for commercial trucks. The technology is a new transmission architecture that allows electric machines to operate other aspects of the trucks, such as the hydraulic lift. That way the truck's diesel engines don't need to idle while they dump their load.

Source: David Wang, CEO of Beet Analytics Technology
Writer: Jon Zemke

Startups from NextEnergy, Bizdom win big at Accelerate Michigan

Startups with close ties to two Detroit-based business accelerators practically swept the top prizes the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week.

Clients of NextEnergy and Bizdom took home 83 percent of the $810,000 in prize money, including the top two spots worth a combined $600,000 in seed capital. NextEnergy’s startups led the way, taking home four prizes in the competition.

"The companies we work with are in a pretty good spot," says Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy. She adds that 13 NextEnergy client startups made the semifinals, too. "They tend to do pretty well because they got pretty good support."

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is an annual business plan competition held in downtown Detroit. It awards $1 million in seed capital and services to new economy startups either based in Michigan or looking to move to the Great Lakes State.

SkySpecs took home the top prize worth $500,000 for its sophisticated collision-avoidance system for drones that enables them to inspect wind turbines, utility towers, and other pieces of infrastructure. NextEnergy helped the Ann Arbor-based company with its go-to-market strategy, partnerships matchmaking, and fundraising.

Cribspot was named the runner up ($100,000) for its software platform that helps connect college students to off-campus rental housing. The one-year-old startup graduated from Bizdom earlier this year and just finished raising a $660,000 seed round.

The following NextEnergy client startups won sub-category prizes worth $25,000 each: Solartonic (Energy), Ornicept (IT), and Inventev (Transportation). Redfield points out that the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition helps these companies not only by providing them with seed capital, networking opportunities, and exposure, but also with a good inspiration to move quickly.

"It gives them a set of deadlines and high expectations to perform to," Redfield says. "We always speak about speed in regards to startups. Competition deadlines are a great way to bring speed to the table."

Source: Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Beet Analytics Technology scores win at Accelerate Michigan

Beet Analytics Technology was already on a significant growth spurt. Now it has a win at last week's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition to add to that momentum.

The Plymouth-based tech firm won the Manufacturing category of the Accelerate Michigan competition, putting $25,000 in seeding capital toward its growth plans. The 3-year-old manufacturing software startup plans to use the prize money toward further developing its platform and acquiring more hardware for it.

"We are prepared for another leap forward," says David Wang, CEO of Beet Analytics Technology. "We have had a lot of interest."

Beet Analytics Technology is developing diagnostic and analytical tools that accelerate problem solving in complex manufacturing and automation operations. Its software improves problem identification and reduces production downtime so the user can optimize productivity gains. The company has landed a couple of contracts with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from around the world and now claims to have landed contracts or is in talks to sign with half of the 10 largest OEMs in the world. It has hired seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to a dozen employees.

This activity led it to give the Accelerate Michigan competition a try this year. The annual business plan competition is Michigan's pre-eminent contest for startups, awarding $1 million in seed capital and services each year. The top prize is for $500,000. Wang and his team left the competition impressed with what they saw.

"I was amazed by how many quality entrepreneurs there are in Michigan," Wang says. "I was happy to meet all of them."

Source: David Wang, CEO of Beet Analytics Technology
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cribspot adds $100K to seed round with Accelerate Michigan win

Cribspot announced raising a $660,000 seed round a little more than a month ago. Add another six figures to that number after its win at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, it also has an office in downtown Detroit, took second place at Michigan's pre-eminent business plan competition. That showing comes with $100,000 in seed capital the startup can use in the best way it sees fit.

"We want to add more features that cater more toward landlords," says Jason Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot. "We also want to have a larger footprint across the country."

The 1-year-old startup and recent Bizdom graduate is creating an online portal that creates one central website for off-campus housing in higher education. The co-founders, mostly University of Michigan students, recognized that finding off-campus houses is an exercise of searching craigslist ads and signs on the sides of buildings. Cribspot offers a central location where students and landlords can come together to find/offer/manage student housing.

Cribspot landed $660,000 in seed capital early this fall with the round led by Huron River Ventures. It plans to put most of the $100,000 it won at the Accelerate Michigan competition to hiring another software engineer, expanding its staff to six full-time employees and four interns. It is also looking to expand into an other few university markets (it’s currently in 15) including Wayne State University and the University of Detroit Mercy.

Source: Jason Okrasinski, co-founder & CEO of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor-based startups all but sweep Accelerate Michigan

Ann Arbor-based startups all but swept the awards at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week, taking home a combined $740,000 in seed capital.

Startups from Tree Town took the top two spots, and won six out of the nine sub categories. A startup led by University of Michigan students also took second place in Accelerate Michigan's student portion of the competition.

The big winner was SkySpecs, a startup developing drone technology, taking home the $500,000 first place prize. Getting here has been a long road for Ann Arbor-based company, originally placing in the student portion of the competition in 2012.

"This was our third year doing it," says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs. "It was a really, really good competition. I was impressed with so many of the competitors."

Cribspot, which calls Kerrytown home and has an office in downtown Detroit, took second place in the overall competition. That showing earned it $100,000 in seed capital, which company plans to use to adds staff to help further develop and expand its online-student-housing platform.

The following Ann Arbor-based companies took home category awards:

- Ornicept won the IT prize (worth $25,000) for its software platform that helps field workers collect and manage data.
- Solartonic won the Alternative Energy prize ($25,000) for its flexible solar panel technology, solarap, that attaches to non-traditional surfaces, such as wrapping around the pole of a street lamp.
- Akervall Technologies won the Advanced Materials prize ($25,000) for its thin-yet-tough mouthguard made of non-compressible, perforated materials.
- Freestride Therapeutics won the Life Science prize ($25,000) for its drug that relieves and even prevents shin pain for racing horses.
- AlertWatch won the Advanced Transportation prize ($25,000) for its patient-monitoring technology.
- TurtleCell won the People's Choice award ($10,000) for the second year in a row for its Phone case that comes with retractable earbuds.

HeelSecret took second place in Accelerate Michigan's student competition ($5,000) for its shoe attachment that helps better connect high heels to the people wearing them. The startup is led by University of Michigan students.

Source: Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs
Writer: Jon Zemke

IT security firm VioPoint adds to staff in Auburn Hills

Every tech firm is looking to carve out its own niche in the digital landscape. VioPoint is using its new niche as a platform for its recent growth spurt.

The Auburn Hills-based tech firm specializes in cyber security and offers strategic consulting services on top of that. It has recently targeted its focus on providing an active digital defense for small-to-midsize companies.

"We realized there is a niche where there were all of these security breaches," says Kelsey Marsh, marketing coordinator for VioPoint. "Often they don't have the budget or don't realize they need security."

VioPoint steps in and offers a comprehensive solution of managed IT security services. What makes it attractive to small businesses is that since it's all inclusive it can be more affordable.

"It draws the costs down for our clients because we can create efficiencies and synergies," says Mike Pokas, vice president of consulting services for VioPoint.

The rising demand for those services has allowed VioPoint to grow, hiring four people in IT security consulting over the last year. It now employs a staff of 25. VioPoint is projecting a spike in revenue of 30-35 percent this year, and it's optimistic it can hit that number again in 2015.

"The bad guys aren't going away," Pokas says.

Source: Kelsey Marsh, marketing coordinator for VioPoint and Mike Pokas, vice president of consulting services for VioPoint
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Development Fund lands $10M for small business lending throughout the city

The Detroit Development Fund recently landed $10 million in new funding that will allow it to make loans to more small businesses throughout Detroit.

The downtown-based nonprofit makes loans to small businesses, developers, and entrepreneurs in Detroit and has invested in excess of $27 million to 214 recipients. Of those, 64 percent are minority-owned ventures and 49 percent are owned by women. The fund currently has $23 million under its management.

This summer, the Detroit Development Fund received $10 million in new funding -- $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $5 million from Huntington Bank. The Goldman Sachs money will be loaned to in increments of $100,000 to $250,000. The Huntington Bank money will be used to launch the Detroit Microloan Collaborative, which will make loans ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

"We're trying to deploy as much as we can with a focus on minority-owned businesses in the city, not just downtown," says Ray Waters, president of the Detroit Development Fund.

The Detroit Development Fund launched in 2002 under a different name. It rebranded in 2010 and has grown its staff since then. The nonprofit currently employs seven people after hiring a loan administrator and a credit analyst over the last year. It is currently in the process of hiring a new lending officer.

Source: Ray Waters, president of the Detroit Development Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

Leon Speakers hires 12 as it grows, evolves business model

Leon Speakers is forever evolving, and the evolution of the Ann Arbor-based company has accelerated over the last year.

The high-end electronics company got its start in a University of Michigan dorm room making custom speakers in 1997. It has since grown into its own international business with dozens of employees. The company executed its first acquisition late last year, and has now upgraded its manufacturing process by implementing lean manufacturing.

"It's been a pretty big transition lately," says Noah Kaplan, founder & president of Leon Speakers.

The company has hired a dozen people over the last year, bringing its staff to just under 50 people. Among its new hires are product managers, sales directors and factory labor. That expanded staff has helped the company post double-digit revenue gains over the last year.

A big part of growth is thanks to Leon Speakers acquisition of Florida-based Media Decor, makes custom frames for flat screen TVs. Leon Speakers has folded Media Decor's portfolio into the rest of the company. It has also upgraded its factory to enable a more efficient production. It can now produce high-end electronics that can aim to be price competitive with electronics made overseas.

Leon Speakers is also working to make its newly redone factory into a tour-ready facility that it wants to make part of its artistic expression. The company is also aiming to expand its physical presence to Europe next year.

"We are leveraging the factory and our capability to manufacture so we can compete internationally," Kaplan says. He adds, "we're looking at some more exponential growth and a tour-ready factory."

Source: Noah Kaplan, founder & president of Leon Speakers
Writer: Jon Zemke

Caelynx expands bottom line on growth of software platform

Three years ago Caelynx made all of its money from its engineering consulting and staffing services. By next year its only going to get about half of its bottom line from those sources. The other half, from its rapidly growing software platform.

"Software is continuing to be the major growth area," says Hans Steiner, director of business development for Caelynx. "All areas are growing but software is leading it."

The Ann Arbor-based company's computer-aided engineering platform works as a simulation platform for the company.

"This allows them to test it virtually so they can see if it performs," Steiner says.

Caelynx recently notched another 20 percent revenue growth year, making it the sixth consecutive year to do it. Ann Arbor SPARK has now recognized Caelynx as one of its FastTrack award winners for exponential revenue growth.

Caelynx has also hired one person in the U.S. and three for its Romania office over the last year. It now has a staff of 12 people in the U.S. and six in Romania. The company also recently moved from Ann Arbor's southside to a new office just north of downtown near the Amtrak train station.

"It's smaller but it's the right size for us," Steiner says.

Source: Hans Steiner, director of business development for Caelynx
Writer: Jon Zemke

Houston VC firm opens in Ann Arbor

Somebody smells money. If there's one thing Texans don't fool around about it's football, oil and, of course, making money. To wit, Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury Fund has set up shop in The Deuce.


"He said there is a depth of engineering, computer science and machine-learning talent in the area, bolstered by graduates of the University of Michigan. One of Mercury's main areas of investment is biotech, and there are numerous contract research organizations in Ann Arbor that were founded by former Pfizer Inc. employees after it closed its local operations in 2008."

Read the rest here.
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