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Medical equipment manufacturer to invest $2M into Ann Arbor area after securing tax abatement

Orchid Orthopedic Solutions recently secured a $10,000 Industrial Facilities Tax Exemption that will help the company add nine new jobs before the end of 2014, and invest more than $2 million into its Lima Township facility, Orchid Chelsea.

The company – which specializes in medical devices, such as knee and hip implants as well as tools and specialty instruments – is investing in new equipment and updating existing equipment.

Officials at the company said that Ann Arbor SPARK was instrumental in helping secure the incentives.

"Orchid Chelsea has been able to tap talent and resources to grow its location in the Ann Arbor region," Patrick Davison, general manager of Orchid Chelsea, said in a statement.

"Knowing that Ann Arbor SPARK is able to provide support for our efforts to expand in this region, and that we also have support from Lima Township, reinforces our commitment to growing here."

The new equipment that Orchid Chelsea is investing in will support the company's growth. The nine new jobs will range from general laborers to technical staff.

"High tech manufacturing, like the precision equipment and orthopedics that are Orchid Chelsea's specialty, is the core of our talent pool and expertise in the Ann Arbor region," Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, said in a news release.

"Simply, there's no better place in the world than the Ann Arbor region to design and build a product. SPARK's role in this region is to help connect companies with resources such as applying for incentives or finding that world-class talent, and we're pleased Orchid Chelsea is using our talent portal to list jobs and find employees."

Orchid, which employs more than 1,800 skilled workers in its 13 manufacturing & technical sites, is headquartered in Holt.
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Earlier this month the company also received a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to train 35 new employees on the use of new equipment following a $4.8 million expansion at its headquarters.

This article originally appeared on MLive.com.  

Insurance company plans new Ann Arbor headquarters; gets $400,000 grant from MEDC

Hannigan Insurance, a 16-year-old insurance company based in Clinton Township, is preparing to move its headquarters to Ann Arbor.

The company plans to hire 75 people over the next three years.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation awarded Hannigan Insurance a $400,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant to help support job creation at the company’s future Ann Arbor headquarters.

Hannigan Insurance CEO Brian Hannigan said he is in the final stages of negotiating a lease for the new headquarters on the south side of Ann Arbor. He hopes to open the office by Nov. 1. 

The new Hannigan Insurance office will combine a five-person office in Clinton Township and a five-person office on Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor. It will also position the company to grow, including 15 jobs the company plans to create over the next 60 days.

Hannigan Insurance specializes in auto and home insurance, and the company has shifted to an online agency model in response to evolving technology.

“We became more of a technology company really four, five years ago and that’s really helped our growth,” Hannigan said.
With the new Ann Arbor office, Hannigan Insurance has become licensed in 42 other states to reach a broader clientele. 

Hannigan said the company is 99 percent Michigan focused and does about 1 percent of its business in Florida.

“The reason we’re building this (new office) and adding these 75 people is to grow on a national scale,” he said. “We’ve grown every year, but the next three years are probably going to be the biggest turning point in the company’s history.”

Hannigan said the performance-based grant from the MEDC will be used specifically for job creation. Hannigan Insurance worked with Ann Arbor SPARK to secure the MEDC incentive and look for office space in the area.

Hannigan said the driving reason for relocating the company’s headquarters to Ann Arbor is the talent pool in the area. He considered opening small offices in various Michigan cities, but ultimately decided one Ann Arbor office was the best move for the company.

“An Ann Arbor spot is perfect; you can draw from Lansing, Jackson and that area, especially with all the colleges there. …When you’re hiring and trying to attract key people, the Ann Arbor region has just really grown for us,” he said.

This article originally appeared on MLive.com.

The 21st century body is being built in Washtenaw County

Dan Johnson has always had a bit of an obsession with Iron Man. He had been collecting the comics since age 12. Going to the Iron Man movie was almost a religious experience for him. And it directly led to the creation of his own startup.

"It was one of the reasons why I went into engineering in the first place," Johnson says.

One of Johnson's college advisers wanted him to go for a doctorate in mechanical engineering. Johnson refused unless he could create something real as his dissertation.

"I wanted it to be an exoskeleton," Johnson says. "My PhD work was definitely inspired by that. That was probably the biggest reason."

Johnson received his PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2012. His dissertation centered around creating a back brace for the 21st Century that could help back pain suffers avoid surgery or recover from surgery or even help support medical professionals  performing intense procedures, such as hour long surgeries.

That served as the basis for the launch of Exo Dynamics, an Ann Arbor-based startup. It's one of a number of local biomechanical startups in Washtenaw County that are making lives easier, reinventing their niches of the healthcare industry, and creating jobs.

Tech Transfer

Exo Dynamics is developing an electro-mechanical back brace. The company is billing it as "the next generation of innovative spinal orthoses, devices meant to provide support and mobility." The idea is to help people who suffer from back problems regain mobility and enjoy a productive, active, and independent life.

"They could use it in lieu of or post surgery," says Mushir Khwaja, chief commercial officer of Exo Dynamics. He adds, "There are 250,000 back surgeries perform in the U.S. every year."

Khwaja estimates the market potential for such a product is $1.2 billion. But the Ann Arbor-based startup, its office is in the Venture Accelerator in the University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex, isn't going for that brass ring right away.

First it is developing four commercially viable prototypes this fall. The startup's team of four people plan to test it this winter and have a product it plans to sell to doctors performing long surgeries to help provide them with back support. That would allow the startup to begin generating revenue without jumping through all the hoops of getting federal approval.

The market size for doctors performing surgery is estimated at $300 million with each back brace retailing for $5,000. Add in other medical professionals like dentists, and that number goes up another $760 million. The company hopes to generate revenue there while getting federal approval for its device to be used for back pain suffers. All of these markets are ripe for the picking, according to Khwaja. 

"We're introducing an innovative product for the back brace market," Khwaja says. "The market hasn't seen any product innovation for the last half century. We feel it's right for bring it into the 21st Century."

Innovation in a medical office

Not all of the biotechnology being developed by local startups spins out of universities. The mouthguard developed and marketed by Akervall Technologies is coming from a local medical practice.

Dr. Jan Akervall, a local ear, nose and throat specialist, first started playing around with the idea of building a better mouth guard about a decade ago when he couldn't find a suitable one on the market. The result was a thin-yet-tough mouthguard made of non-compressible, perforated material. It is 30 percent stronger than conventional mouth guards.

The SISU Mouth Guard is marketed toward athletes as a stronger alternative that is both lighter and less obstructive that traditional mouth guards. SISU is a popular word in Finland that roughly translates to "determination, strength, resilience." 

Akervall Technologies also recently released the SOVA mouth guard which is designed for people who grind their teeth in their sleep. The company is now working on a mouth guard that can be used for patient during oral surgeries and a new mouth guard made of reactive material.

"We call is the first reaction mouth guard," says Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies and Dr. Jan Akervall's wife. "It reacts on impact. It's like a safety belt for your teeth."

Akervall Technologies was built out of the basement of the Akervalls' Ann Arbor home for its first seven years. The company reached a staff of eight people before it took its first office in Saline this spring. Now it's doing everything from research and development in its own wetlab (it's also doing a study in conjunction with the University of Michigan School of Denistry www.dent.umich.edu) to manufacturing and packaging the item in an adjacent light industrial space.

Akervall Technologies recently signed a co-branding agreement with Reebok and a few other companies. It cleared $900, 000 in revenue last year and is on track to make $1.5 million in revenue this year. The company recently hired six people and has expanded its R&D team to three scientists and one assistant scientists with plans to add more people soon.

"We have all this talent," Sassa Akervall says. "We can do it in-house. Why would we send that work out to a lab? We're looking to help create more jobs here."

21st Century lift

And some of the most promising biomechanical startups have nothing to do with local universities. The Lavin Lift Strap got its start in the home of a local family looking to make the best of a tough situation.

Manuel Lavin's father had taken ill and eventually made him bed-ridden. Alzheimer's had made him unable to care for himself and incontinent. Still Lavin's mother insisted on taking care of him at home. That proved to be a difficult proposition as she struggled to move his body. 

"What she really needed was someone to help lift him so she could clean the bed," Lavin says.

So Lavin invented a way to do just that. He found some old seat belt materials, an aluminum plate, and some pieces of velcro and turned it all into a pulley-type system that enabled his mother to move his father.

Today the Lavin Lift Strap is in its fifth version. They make a system that can be used repeatedly and one that is disposable. All of them are are built with the comfort of the patient and ease of use of the medical professional in mind.

"One of the things we are complimented on when we go to conferences is how comfortable they are," says Donna Gilkey-Lavin,and co-founder of the company. "They are big and squishy."

Gilkey-Lavin is also Manuel Lavin's wife. She worked in middle management at Dell before coming to work on Lavin Lift Strap full-time. Lavin worked in intellectual property and ran another small business before starting Lavin Lift Strap. Now the couple oversees a staff of 13 people from the company's offices in the Ann Arbor SPARK East incubator in downtown Ypsilanti. The Lavin Lift Strap is manufactured a few minutes away at Trim-Co, a small manufacturer in Belleville. 

"Our manufacturing is done in Michigan," Gilkey-Lavin says. "We get a quality product here. We are constantly complimented on the product, and people here know how to make it."

The Lavin Lift Strap is sold across the U.S. with Amazon serving as one of its main distributors. Revenue for the company has increased annually by double-digits over the last few years. It is now working to make some large sales to institutions and some international sales to Canada in 2015. Not bad for a company that got its start in a family's basement.

This article originally appeared on ConcentrateMedia.com. 

Virtual Business Advisor available for local business owners

Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County, the A2Y Chamber of Commerce and New Zealand-based QLBS collaborated to launch the Virtual Business Advisor, a self-assessment tool that assists entrepreneurs and early stage businesses as they work toward their next stage of growth.
 
Through a series of self-assessment questions, the Virtual Business Advisor identifies personal and company strengths and weaknesses. It also benchmarks against other companies in the region.  At the end of the Virtual Business Advisor’s 10-minute assessment, business owners receive a detailed report with feedback, advice and specific suggestions.
 
Virtual Business Advisor resources include links to low- and no-cost resources that help business owners plan their next steps on the path to success.
 
Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County and A2Y Chamber are all actively reaching out to business owners in the region with invitations to use Virtual Business Advisor.
 
Anyone who wants to sign up for the service or learn more should visit VirtualBusinessAdvisor.com.

Ann Arbor SPARK recognizes consistent company growth with FastTrack Awards

 
Ann Arbor SPARK recently presented its annual FastTrack awards to 15 Washtenaw-based companies that have demonstrated consistent growth. Several of the 2014 FastTrack award recipients were multiple year winners.
 
“The FastTrack award winners demonstrated that they have what it takes to not only grow their businesses, but to do so consistently, over time. It’s exciting to honor 15 Ann Arbor region companies for having an incredible and positive impact on our community,” said Paul Krutko, Ann Arbor SPARK president and CEO. “The diversity of these FastTrack winners - from software to document conversion to composites - is impressive; these amazing companies are the foundation of Ann Arbor’s stable and growing economy, and what sets this region apart from others in the state and nation. Ann Arbor SPARK is grateful for the opportunity to be a resource to them, and to have supported the acceleration of their growth curve.”
 
Recipients of 2014 FastTrack awards were required to have revenue of at least $100,000 in 2010, with an annual growth of 20 percent for the following three years. Yeo & Yeo CPAs & Business Consultants sponsors the Ann Arbor SPARK FastTrack Awards and verified all of the award applications.
 
One-year FastTrack winners:
TekWissen is a global innovation and technology services company that helps clients to powers of invention, commercialize and evolve products and services for the connected world.
 
FAAC Incorporated is the world’s leading supplier of accurate high-speed weapon system simulations. Its experience performing this work over the past 30 years has resulted in an excellent reputation with both developmental and operational military activities.
 
Human Element’s experienced software developers, designers, analysts, and business experts have worked with clients on branding, eCommerce, search engine optimization, custom tech applications and intranet projects. The company is one of the premier Magento development companies in Michigan.
 
Image Data Conversion specializes in document imaging, conversion and workflow. Its services include converting images from paper to film and digital and digital to film, and converting content, including newspapers, magazines and documents to searchable text and PDF formats. The company also offers a range of related custom services.
 
InfoReady Corp is dedicated to making business software simple, manageable and productive. It pioneered the KnowSpace software, which brings large amounts of information into one manageable interface. It helps businesses and organizations, at any time, in any location, access the information they need, manage a project or collaborate with a team.
 
Two-year FastTrack winners:
CEI Composite Materials is a full service provider of architectural metal panel systems and components for the commercial construction industry. It specializes in corporate identity and brand recognition. CEI provides its clients with a range of services, including project management, design, fabrication and installation. It utilizes industry leading software and fabrication equipment to ensure superior quality and precision of the finished product.
 
McCreadie Group Inc. is a pharmacy software solutions company with a history of innovation and quality applications for pharmacy clinical documentation, Investigational Drug Service management and pharmacy education. McCreadie Group’s expertise includes information systems, education, operational management and technology.
 
Sungrace Software provides innovative engineering software solutions and services to the manufacturing, energy, AEC, aerospace, and automotive industries in the U.S. and Canada. By combining proven technologies from the PLM industry with exciting new technologies from the gaming and mobile worlds, Sungrace is helping develop a new breed of solutions for our customers’ design, simulation and advanced visualization challenges.
 
Three-year FastTrack winners:
Arbormoon Software specializes in planning, strategy, design and development on the iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry among others. As a company that has been recognized for hiring and growing Michigan talent, they employ a staff of top-flight professionals to maximize the impact of “mobile” for their clients.
 
Estrakon Inc. is an advanced LED lighting company that provides lighting solutions for the point-of-sale market and in-store fixture companies. Its patented technology provides simulated motion and accurate color matching to ensure brands are represented appropriately and effectively at retail. Estrakon conducts all manufacturing and assembly operations in Ann Arbor.
 
Oxford Companies is a full-service real estate company with more than 15 years of experience investing in Greater Ann Arbor. Our 50 professionals offer leasing, property management, construction services and investment to tenants, owners and investors.   
 
Six-year FastTrack winners:
Caelynx LLC is a computer-aided engineering firm providing expedient, reliable consulting services. It specializes in helping clients in the aerospace, automotive, defense, energy, life science and consumer product industries.
 
MedHub Inc. is a privately-held company that provides managed IT services for large academic teaching hospitals worldwide. MedHub clients include the University of Michigan, Mayo Clinic, Duke University, Stanford University, Cleveland Clinic, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin and Indiana University.
 
Seven-year FastTrack winners:
LLamasoft Inc. is a worldwide leader in delivering supply chain design software and services to large organizations. It provides the leading supply chain design and predictive analytics applications available on the market, enabling companies to model, optimize and simulate their supply chains as well as improve cost, service, sustainability and risk mitigation.
 
Online Tech is a leader in secure, compliant enterprise-class hosting services. Its Midwest data centers assure mission critical applications are always available, comply with government and industry regulations, and continue operating after a disaster. Online Tech delivers the security, privacy and availability expected from world-class data center operators.

Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County and A2Y Chamber launch Virtual Business Advisor

Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County, the A2Y Chamber of Commerce, and New Zealand-based QLBS have collaborated to launch the Virtual Business Advisor, a self-assessment tool that aims to assist entrepreneurs and early stage businesses as they work towards their next stage of growth.

Ann Arbor SPARK was the catalyst for Virtual Business Advisor. In conjunction with QLBS, it developed the Virtual Business Advisor software platform as well as the question sets that are the basis for the self-assessment tool. Ann Arbor SPARK also identified the referral resources that are offered to businesses owners as part of the Virtual Business Advisor process.

“We are thrilled to partner with Washtenaw County and the A2Y Chamber to offer a new resource to businesses that need support in reaching their goals,” said Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK.  “While all of our organizations work hard to serve businesses in this region, for many, the 24-7 convenience of an online tool like Virtual Business Advisor is absolutely ideal. For some growing businesses, it offers the exact tools they need to get to the next stage of business development; for others, Virtual Business Advisor sets them on the path to access services from Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County or the A2Y Chamber.”

Through a series of self-assessment questions, the Virtual Business Advisor identifies personal and company strengths and weaknesses. It also benchmarks against other companies in the region.  

At the end of the Virtual Business Advisor’s 10-minute assessment, business owners receive a detailed report with feedback, advice, and specific suggestions. The Virtual Business Advisor also connects users to suggestions and available resources to address their unique needs.

“We are proud to be a partner in creating an important tool to help businesses succeed and grow right here in Washtenaw County,” said Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s Office of Community and Economic Development. “The VBA is a common sense approach to helping entrepreneurs and business leaders get real help, when they need it.”

Virtual Business Advisor resources include links to low and no-cost resources that help business owners plan their next steps on the path to success.

Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County and A2Y Chamber are all actively reaching out to businesses owners in the region with invitations to use the Virtual Business Advisor. A presentation of the tool is planned for an upcoming A2Y Chamber meeting.

“The Virtual Business Advisor will enhance entrepreneurship in our region. Business owners work 24-7…unfortunately there isn’t typically someone around late on Saturday night to help answer their questions,” said Diane Keller, president and CEO of the A2Y Chamber of Commerce. “This short business assessment will provide 24-7 access to numerous resources and help guide entrepreneurs at every level from Entrepreneurship Ready to Business Fitness checkups. We’re proud to partner on this regional initiative to grow businesses at every stage.”

Anyone who wants to sign up for the service or learn more should visit VirtualBusinessAdvisor.com.

Ann Arbor tech startup Seelio acquired by Kansas City-based PlattForm

A worldwide marketing and enrollment management partner for colleges and universities has acquired Seelio, an Ann Arbor-based startup founded by University of Michigan graduates.

PlattForm, a 25-year-old Kansas City-based company, bought Seelio – which helps students of all ages build easily viewable Web-based displays of their best projects and endeavors – for an undisclosed amount.

Moses Lee and David Jsa launched Seelio in August 2012 with the purpose of "(connecting) students and educators across disciplines and campuses to encourage inspiration, feedback, and collaboration around great projects."

"With PlattForm, we have found a natural partner in supporting students throughout their entire university life cycle – from enrollment to placement," Lee, Seelio's CEO and co-founder said in a statement.

"We are excited to continue PlattForm's legacy of impacting higher education through strong service and innovative technology."

Emily Keller-Logan, a spokesperson for Seelio, said PlattForm approached them earlier in 2014 with the opportunity to join them.

"With their focus on services for all stages of the student lifecycle – from enrollment to career placement – we saw a very natural fit between what we do and what they are already doing to ensure a greater return on a students' educational investment," Keller-Logan said.

"This new partnership means great things for Seelio. We will stay in Ann Arbor and our current team will continue to grow and innovate Seelio's services and technology."

Seelio will remain as its own unique entity while benefitting from PlattForm's expertise in marketing, enrollment management, data analytics, and student lifecycle management, she said. The additional resources are expected to help Seelio continue to grow its local team, its technology and its service model in order to impact even more students.

Keller-Logan said the company anticipates hiring additional team members for technology, partnerships and service roles.

"We are also looking to increase partnerships with universities to bring our technology and service model to more programs in the next year," she said.

"We're excited to be working with PlattForm to change lives through education."

With early partners like the University of Michigan, the University of Toledo and West Virginia University, thousands of students have used Seelio to capture build multimedia portfolios, enabling the schools the opportunity to attract new students, assess learning outcomes and better prepare students for their.

Seelio will remain in Ann Arbor offices at the SPARK Central incubator.

SPARK president and CEO Paul Krutko said that Seelio is an exciting example of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at work in the area.

"Thanks to the support that's available here in this region, the Seelio founders were able to develop a technology, receive support from the university, graduate and find a home in the SPARK Central incubator where they refined their business plan and product," Krutko said.

"Seelio's strong start and solid business model makes it an attractive acquisition for PlattForm, which has committed to backing Seelio's continued hiring and long-term growth in Ann Arbor."

PlattForm CEO Steve Fireng said that Seelio was an attractive partnership for his company because of how it caters to students' biggest priorities.

"Career preparation is the No. 1 reason students choose an institution," Fireng said in a statement.

"By providing Seelio with additional resources to achieve its vision, the company will have a greater ability to impact more students and universities."

A year ago in May, Seelio announced that it had secured $900,000 in seed funding.

This article by Jeremy Allen originally appeared on MLive.

Tech company moving into former AnnArbor.com office; plans to add 30 new employees

Pillar Technology, a software design and development firm, has signed a lease to move into the former AnnArbor.com space at 301 E. Liberty St. in downtown Ann Arbor. The company will occupy the entire seventh floor.

For the past two years the company has been located at a space inside the Tech Brewery on Jones Drive, but has been searching to find a new location for about a year.

Charles Fry, the vice president of Pillar, said the move will accommodate an accelerated growth plan as the company looks to grow from about 50 employees to more than 80 employees over the course of the next 12 months.

"We're really excited and committed to being in the heart of Ann Arbor, and that's about as in the heart of Ann Arbor as we could find," Fry said.

The 9,604-square-foot space will undergo a complete overhaul, Fry said, as contractors will gut the insides in order to provide a more open layout. The company plans to be moved into the location just after Labor Day, and the build-out will take place through the summer months.

In 2013, Pillar received a $350,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant with the promise to invest $1.43 million in Michigan and create 45 jobs in the state. It hired 12 people during 2013, and its plan to hire an additional 30 within the next year, the company is on track to fulfill its promise.

"This move certainly isn't going to make parking downtown any better," Fry said jokingly.

"But our company employs an economic development person's dream: young, college-educated people with really good salaries. We want to recruit more out of the university and see more of the bright people stay in the area. We're recruiting nationally for technology jobs and we think those people will bring their young families here, so our folks will really be more integrated into the community more than just eating lunch here and leaving."

Fry said his company is an active supporter of the tech, startup, and entrepreneurial communities, and he will be making announcements this year that show their commitment to helping those industries thrive and grow.

The company works with clients in the automotive, financial and manufacturing sectors as well as a number of other industries. Pillar hired 12 people in 2013 and plans to hire 20-25 people in 2014. The company has open positions listed on its website for developers with experience in Java and .NET programming.

"Brendan (Cavendar) and the team over at Colliers really did a fantastic job for us, learning what we were about and finding a space that really fits what we were looking for," Fry said.

AnnArbor.com moved into the 301 E. Liberty St. office in 2009. The newspaper was rebranded as The Ann Arbor News in Sept. 2013 and relocated to its current home at 111 N. Ashley.

This article by Jeremy Allen originally appeared on MLive.

Ann Arbor SPARK reports economic growth in 2013: $148 million in new investments and 1,509 jobs

At its annual meeting, Ann Arbor SPARK detailed the results of its work in the last year and presented its annual business leadership awards. Ann Arbor SPARK also announced the launch of the Virtual Business Advisor, a program offered in collaboration with the City of Ann Arbor and the A2Y Chamber.

“Our metrics show that it’s been a terrific year for economic development in the Ann Arbor region,” said Tim Marshall, president and CEO of Bank of Ann Arbor, and chair of Ann Arbor SPARK’s board of directors and executive committee. “Startups and global companies alike chose to invest and grow in Ann Arbor, ultimately contributing jobs and investment to our economy. Recognition for the Ann Arbor region continues to grow, and we’re becoming known as a place with a rich ecosystem of support that offers companies exactly what they need – at the right time – to reach their potential.”

Ann Arbor SPARK’s work in 2013 included marketing the region, meeting with growing businesses, and providing business acceleration resources to startups.  Its efforts resulted in:

$148 million in new investments and 1509 jobs committed in the region
Assistance to 274 startups, and incubation of 83 new companies
Business attraction and retention of 45 successful projects

Ann Arbor SPARK’s annual report, which details these successes, is available onlineat this link. 

Over the last year, SPARK has also worked in collaboration with the City of Ann Arbor and the A2Y Chamber on launching the Virtual Business Advisor. The Virtual Business Advisor is an online tool to help business owners assess their needs and access tools and training to meet those needs. Virtual Business Advisor will officially launch to the public in June 2014.

Ann Arbor SPARK also presented its business leadership awards, including 2013 Volunteer of the Year, Entrepreneurial Company of the Year and Business Development Project of the Year.

Its 2013 Volunteer of the Year, Ken Nisbet, was recognized for his passion for economic development and growing the local economy and companies.

Under Ken’s leadership as executive director of the University of Michigan’s Office of Tech Transfer, the University of Michigan has achieved substantial growth in tech transfer performance and established a reputation as one of the leading tech transfer offices in the nation.

The Entrepreneurial Company of the Year, Tangent Medical Technologies, was recognized for its use of SPARK’s extensive entrepreneurial services to grow from startup to established and growing company. The growing medical device company, which is commercializing a new class of intravenous fluid delivery catheters, has received Food and Drug Administration approval for its NovaCath catheter, closed on an $8.6 million round of funding, and was awarded a patent that covers a range of incorporated technologies. It recently began accepting commercial orders for its NovaCath system.

Lake Trust Credit Union was recognized as Business Development Project of the Year, for having had a significant impact on the regional economy.  Lake Trust Credit Union plans to build a new $30 million headquarters near Brighton and plans to invest a total of $40 million in Michigan over the next five years.

Lake Trust wins acclaim

Lake Trust Credit Union last week accepted Ann Arbor SPARK’sBusiness Development  Project of the Year award for the significant impact its new headquarters building, which will be located in Brighton Township, will have on the regional economy.

Lake Trust’s plans to build the new, $30 million Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified headquarters are underway, with site work beginning last week.

Overall, the credit union plans to invest  a total of $40 million in Michigan over the next five years.

“We’re so proud of our headquarters and the positive impacts it will have in Brighton, as well as the difference we’ll make in Michigan,” said Lake Trust Credit Union President and CEO David Snodgrass. “We’ve built so many outstanding relationships throughout the course of our work, and to be able to celebrate with our community is a remarkable feeling.”

Lake Trust’s headquarters will unite two work forces from Lansing and Plymouth. Initially, around 240 employees will occupy the building, and the credit union has the potential to grow to 325.

Employees will enjoy walking trails and picnic areas. Lake Trust plans to preserve much of the site’s natural features; 90 percent of the significant trees will remain untouched, and 41.3 percent of the entire site will be undisturbed. The building will be built in a way that minimizes disruption to the community and works with the natural elevation of the land to minimally impact the environment.

Lake Trust Credit Union is the fourth-largest credit union in Michigan. With more than $1.5 billion in assets, Lake Trust has over 157,000 members. Membership is open to anyone within its 35-county service area.

For more information, visit Lake Trust Credit Union on Facebook or follow it on Twitter @laketrust. You can see an HQ fly-through video on Lake Trust’s YouTube channel.

This article originally appeared on LivingstonDaily.com.

Akervall Technologies expands in Ann Arbor region

Akervall Technologies Inc., an Ann Arbor SPARK business accelerator client that makes the SISU Mouth Guard and SISU SOVA Night Guard, is expanding to a 15,000 sq. ft. facility in Saline, Mich. The new facility includes a wet lab for research and development, offices for management and sales, and a manufacturing area.

Ann Arbor SPARK has supported Akervall Technologies since its inception, having provided funding as well as incubation and business acceleration services. On its path towards commercialization, Akervall Technologies received, and repaid early, funding through Ann Arbor SPARK from the Michigan Microloan Fund Program.

“Supporting a company like Akervall Technologies in taking a great idea, developing an innovative product and bringing it to market – all from the Ann Arbor region – is exactly the mission of Ann Arbor SPARK,” said Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK. “That Ann Arbor SPARK has identified and offers a range services that can help a company across this continuum, and that this region has the ecosystem to support its further development, shows the strength of our entrepreneurial economy.”

“Moving to a new facility where we can move confidently towards commercialization and production of the SISU products is a huge milestone for Akervall Technologies,” said Sassa Akervall, company co-founder and president. “On top of having operations, research and development, and manufacturing under one roof, we also recently purchased a packaging machine. We plan to first bring packaging in-house, then eventually our own manufacturing in order to bring jobs back to Michigan. It’s an incredibly exciting time for Akervall Technologies, and there’s no doubt that our success is, in part, thanks to support we’ve received from Ann Arbor SPARK.”

Akervall Technologies was recently recognized as one of the 2014 “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch,” an awards program presented by Michigan Celebrates Small Business. The company was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation Phase II grant award.

The company’s SISU guards started out as Protech Dent, but with assistance from Ann Arbor SPARK’s business accelerator services, rebranded in 2012. SISU is rapidly gaining momentum in the athletic and night grinding mouth guard markets. 

Virta Laboratories wins Ann Arbor SPARK's Best of Boot Camp

Virta Laboratories, Inc. was awarded Best of Boot Camp at the conclusion of Ann Arbor SPARK’s 24th Entrepreneurial Boot Camp. Virta Labs was chosen as winner by a panel of investors and industry experts who rated Boot Camp participants’ pitches.

As Best of Boot Camp winner, Virta Labs received membership to the New Enterprise Forum (NEF) and a NEF coaching team for one year as well as an engagement with the Ann Arbor SPARK business accelerator. 

Virta Labs delivers malware and anomaly detection on medical devices and process control systems by non-intrusively measuring the power consumption patterns of the machines being protected.  The increasing reliance on commodity operating systems for modern devices has also opened the attack surface, leaving many devices vulnerable to a garden variety of malware.  Virta Labs helps its customers in early detection, while avoiding interference with the functions of the devices by doing the measurements "at the wall".  The Virta Labs team includes strong technical members with advanced degrees from MIT, UC Berkeley, UMass Amherst and the University of Minnesota. 

“We are very grateful to the community of entrepreneurs in Ann Arbor for being very supportive, inclusive and insightful,” said Virta Labs co-founder Denis Foo Kune. “Ann Arbor SPARK’s Boot Camp was a rigorous exercise that brought us closer to our customers and helped us focus on the core value that Virta Labs can provide. Ann Arbor SPARK has been a tremendous resource for us as a startup.”

Ann Arbor SPARK’s Entrepreneurial Boot Camp process quickly and effectively validates and focuses an entrepreneur's business idea. Compared to other entrepreneur education programs that focus on teaching how to write a business plan, Boot Camp gives business founders the tools to decide if their idea is worth executing.

“Ann Arbor SPARK’s Boot Camp is a can’t-miss event within the entrepreneurial community because it’s effective and it’s a valuable experience,” said Paul Krutko, Ann Arbor SPARK president and CEO. “Boot Camp provides one-of-a-kind education and mentoring to young startups, helping them quickly get on the path to success. It’s no wonder Boot Camp is an integral part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in the Ann Arbor region.”

Ten teams and 40 volunteers participated in Ann Arbor SPARK’s Entrepreneurial Boot Camp. A bi-annual program, Boot Camp has assisted more than 300 companies since 2002.

Washtenaw County expected to add 12,500 jobs over the next three years

Washtenaw County is expected to add more than 12,500 jobs over the next three years, building on four consecutive years of steady job gains in the area.

That’s a key message from a 2014-2016 economic forecast conducted by University of Michigan economists George Fulton and Donald Grimes for The Ann Arbor News.

The jobs forecast is upbeat for the area; it shows Washtenaw County is in the midst of a seven-year economic rebound that will result in 31,147 job additions from the bottom of the downturn in 2009 through 2016.

By early 2013, the county surpassed its previous peak level of employment that was achieved in 2002, fueled by job gains in the professional and business services sector, health care and higher education.

“I think, what makes that particularly noteworthy, is in the state and many of its constituent localities, they’re not even close to getting back all of the jobs being recovered, and (Washtenaw County has) and we’re gaining on top of that,” Fulton said in an interview.

Still, not everyone in the region is feeling the recovery, and the eastern part of Washtenaw County was hit much harder by the recession than Ann Arbor. The median wage in the county also declined by $599 per year from 2005 to 2012.

The employment-to-population ratio in Ypsilanti fell from 69.9 percent in 2005-2007, to 63 percent in 2010-2012, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Ann Arbor’s employment-to-population ratio remained steady at 75 percent during those time periods.

“Geographically, economic performance is much weaker in the eastern part of the county, particularly in the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township,” Fulton said. “There is a much lower employment-to-population ratio that spiraled downward during the recession in those areas. There’s much lower and sinking family income, and there are much higher poverty rates.”

Fulton and Grimes have been forecasting local job growth since 1986, with an annual average error of 0.6 percent. Their 2013 forecast was accurate, with the projected job growth of 1.9 percent matching the actual outcome.

The county is expected to add 3,474 jobs in 2014, 4,247 jobs in 2015 and 4,864 jobs in 2016. That follows four years of job losses from 2006 through 2009, and four years of job gains from 2010 through 2013.

New jobs will be added across most major sectors in the county, reflecting a broad-based recovery.

Grimes called Washtenaw County’s economic resilience “remarkable,” given some significant setbacks to local employment that have occurred. For instance, Pfizer’s closure in 2007 and the loss of Borders in 2011 resulted in thousands of layoffs in the region.

“We’ve endured some really bad events,” he said.

But as employment declined in certain industries over the past two decades — the region shed 78 percent of its automotive-related workforce from 1990 to 2009 — jobs were added in other sectors, such as state government. That sector includes the University of Michigan and its health system.

The forecast predicts Washtenaw County’s unemployment rate will fall from 5.8 percent in 2013 to 5.7 percent in 2014 and 5.1 percent in 2015. By 2016, the unemployment rate is expected to drop to 4.4 percent.

The region’s forecasted unemployment rate remains high compared to the 3.6 percent the county averaged between 1990 and 2007.

“One disappointment is that the unemployment rate is not lower still,” the forecast says.

The “New Economy”
The distribution of employment in Washtenaw County has shifted dramatically since 1990.

The manufacturing sector went from having 19.7 percent of all jobs in the county in 1990, compared with 7.6 percent in 2013. That sector is expected to add 821 jobs through 2016.

“What we’re seeing is a shift from a very predominately manufacturing focused economy in the Ann Arbor region to one that, right now, is equal in terms of manufacturing and professional technical jobs,” said Paul Krutko, CEO of economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK.

“We are diversifying our economy so that we are more resilient. If there’s a downturn in one area of the economy, it doesn’t cause the entire economy to turn in a negative direction,” he added.

In 2013, there were 197,371 jobs in Washtenaw County. About 63 percent of jobs were in the private sector, while about 37 percent of positions were government jobs.

The forecast predicts there will be 12,585 jobs added through 2016, with 9,495 in the private sector and 3,090 in the government sector.

The top job producers over the next three years are higher education; private education and health services; and professional, scientific and technical services.

“All of these sectors are central players in the New Economy,” the forecast says.

The three private service-providing industries that lead job growth through 2016 are: Professional and business services; private education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities.

The professional and business services sector, which includes most of the region’s technology companies and consulting firms, is expected to add 2,535 jobs through 2016, fueled by rapid growth at smaller companies.One of those companies, Ann Arbor tech startup Nutshell, recently expanded to a new office in downtown Ann Arbor to support its growth. CEO Guy Suter said Nutshell, along with his other startup Lift Me, are looking to collectively fill six positions.

“We are successfully finding workers, but it’s not quite keeping up with our own individual demand,” he said. “I expect that to continue. Just from the business side, I know for a lot of established businesses, revenues are picking up so they are investing and growing their teams.”

Technology companies such as PRIME Research and Barracuda Networks have hired additional employees over the past several years, tied to expansions in downtown Ann Arbor.

Domino’s Pizza, one of the county’s largest employers with 550 workers at the Ann Arbor Township-based headquarters, is hiring to support the company’s store count growth.

“We’re trying to grow, grow, grow,” said Sherri Enright, who leads Domino’s Pizza’s human resource department.
Enright said the company is heavily investing in its technology department, which accounts for about half of the workforce at the headquarters.

“We have very exciting, high-tech kind of Silicon Valley jobs here in Ann Arbor. With over 40 percent of our sales in the digital arena, we need that workforce to support that,” she said.

The private education and health services sector lost 127 jobs in 2013, the first decline in the industry since 1998. The losses were concentrated in the health services component, which can be traced to private hospitals, emergency relief and vocational rehabilitation services, the forecast says. That sector is forecasted to gain 1,953 jobs through 2016.

The county’s local government sector, which includes public K-12 education and Washtenaw Community College, loses jobs each year from 2010 to 2015, before starting to grow again in 2016.

Washtenaw County’s state government sector, which includes Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan and U-M’s health system, has added jobs every year since 2001. The forecast predicts the sector will grow by an average of 1.8 percent per year.

U-M and the university’s health system lead the way as Washtenaw County’s largest employers with a combined workforce of 38,191, according to numbers from Ann Arbor SPARK.

“One lesson that struck me is how very important the University of Michigan and its health system is to the prosperity of Ann Arbor,” Grimes said.

Kara Gavin, a spokeswoman for the U-M Health System, said there are job openings in various nursing departments and there will be a career fair Sunday to fill those positions.

Housing market’s effect
Washtenaw County’s improving housing market is directly related to its economic recovery.

Home sale prices were up 18 percent in 2013, and all 25 municipalities in Washtenaw County experienced gains in average home values this year for the first time since before the recession.

The county is also seeing a rebound in new home construction after years of stagnation. A 176-home subdivision is proposed on West Liberty Road in Scio Township, a 323-home subdivision is proposed on Staebler Road between Jackson and Park roads in Scio Township, and a 154-home subdivision is proposed on Ann Arbor’s Pontiac Trail.

According to data from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, builders pulled 461 single-family building permits in Washtenaw County last year, compared with 315 in 2012 and 158 in 2009.

Grimes said the housing market’s recovery impacts the county’s economic outlook in a variety of ways; a strong real estate market boosts jobs in the construction industry, the finance sector, the retail industry and the manufacturing sector.

“In many ways, residential construction helps the overall economy,” Grimes said.

Fulton added: “There are a lot of local supplier industries that are going to benefit from it.”

The forecast predicts the construction industry in Washtenaw County will grow by 11.4 percent, or 365 jobs, through 2016, largely due to a revival in residential construction.

“Local builders have struggled through a long dry spell, but business appears to be looking up for them,” the forecast says.

Howard Hanna’s Nick Lacy, also the president of the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors, said Ann Arbor area buyers are starting to turn to new construction due to a shortage of homes for sale in the area.

Not everyone’s recovery
To be sure, not everyone in Washtenaw County is feeling the economic recovery.

Fulton said the gap is widening in terms of unemployment and wages between people who have only a high school diploma, and those who have a bachelor’s degree or more.

“Not only is it widening, it’s widening rapidly,” he said.

The employment-to-population ratio for people who have only a high school diploma has declined at a rate of 0.9 percent per year since 2005. Meanwhile, the employment-to-population ratio for those with a bachelor’s degree or more has increased by 0.3 percent per year since 2005.

“Job growth is occurring in industries and occupations…that require more educational attainment to fill those jobs — nurses, doctors, computer programmers. Generally, those people have much higher levels of education,” Grimes said.

Eastern Michigan University sophomore Taylor Wilson said she is struggling to find a part-time job in Washtenaw County in the retail or food industry. She has been combing online websites to find open positions, but hasn’t managed to land a job yet.

“It’s very frustrating and stressful, because you fill out applications and literally take tests, answer questions and essays, and some people don’t even call you back or you have to keep calling them…and if you do get a job, it’s probably not your ideal job,” she said.

She added: “I need to pay my bills.”

Fulton and Grimes noted that in some cases, people with a bachelor’s degree or more are displacing workers with less education.

Krutko said one of the goals of Ann Arbor SPARK is to help people get the skills they need to fill the open jobs in the county.

“The jobs we bring back aren’t going to have the same skills,” he said. “There are going to be different jobs that require higher levels of skills. That’s why it needs to be really tied to what we’re doing with education and retraining.”

This article by Lizzy Alfs originally appeared on MLive.

SPARK official: County job growth on the rise

Livingston County’s relationship with Ann Arbor SPARK has resulted in 360 full-time jobs and $38 million in new investment from 11 companies since the contract was inked three years ago, officials said.There are about 90,350 county residents working.

The county’s unemployment rate — while lower than the statewide rate — is around 7 percent.

But the county’s quality of life and prime location between Detroit and Lansing is drawing major employers, said Paul Krutko, Ann Arbor SPARK president and CEO.

Some companies, including Lake Trust Credit Union, are moving or considering moving corporate headquarters to Livingston County.

“This is pretty significant activity that Livingston County has not had before,” Krutko said in an interview last week. “There’s a lot of good positive activity out there.”

Ann Arbor SPARK’s main role is helping national and international companies solidify incentives, namely tax abatements, and finding the best local sites for their operations.

Most of the reported 360 full-time jobs are yet to be filled, but their creation is based on state and local tax-incentive agreements that depend on promised job creation and investment, Krutko explained.

Outside of Lake Trust Credit Union, most of those new jobs are in manufacturing.

The lion’s share of SPARK’s reported 360 created jobs, 250, will be created when Lake Trust Credit Union sets up its $30 million headquarters in Brighton Township, according to SPARK figures.

Forty-six of the 360 jobs will be created over two years when Georgia-based Thomson Plastics Inc. opens a Howell Township plant, its first in Michigan. The injection-molding company’s plan, announced last week, is expected to invest about $4 million over the next two years.

Howell Township has approved a 50 percent property-tax abatement based on the promised job creation and investment.

Thomson Plastics’ decision to set-up shop in Howell Township was based on immediate access to expressways and a central location to Michigan’s automotive manufacturing base, company president and CEO Rick Kibbey said.

The remainder of the reported 360 jobs will come from agreements with Aero & Auto Stud, Brighton NC, Commercial Construction Inc., MetPro Group, Ashland Aluminum Co., Conatus Inc., Zero Gravity Filters, Chassix and Eastern Tool & Machine, according to SPARK data. Krutko said companies are also interested in the county’s qualify of life, access to natural features and a central location for workers’ commutes.

“We’re now beginning to see a lot of new traction in that regard and feel the relationship is beginning to bear fruit. We’re feeling very good about where things are right now and our ability to market and try to match companies that are interested in the attributes Livingston County has,” Krutko said.

Main Street growth

Separately, 127 small-business jobs were created last year in the county through the mostly federally funded Michigan Small Business Development Center, according to center data. The job creation was accompanied by $2 million in new, Main Street-type businesses in the county.

The center’s Greater Washtenaw Region services Livingston, Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Monroe and Washtenaw counties. The organization helps small businesses get off the ground through helping owners execute business and marketing plans and secure financing.

The services are offered to businesses at no cost, but the center tracks job creation to prove it’s doing its job, Regional Director Charlie Penner explained.

Most of the new small-business jobs created were likely in the hospitality and health-care industries, but the center keeps business names confidential, Penner said.

“If we say we’ve created 127 jobs, we find pieces of paper from the business owners saying, ‘I added 11 people and you helped me,’” he explained.

County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Carol Griffith touted local job growth in her recent State of the County address.

Projects that represent growth in the county, including the new EMS building and a new Livingston County Airport terminal, also are creating jobs through contracted partnerships, including with the University of Michigan, Griffith said.

Many of those jobs won’t be filled locally, but workers will visit local restaurants and businesses, Griffith said. She said a spike in county building permits means new employment for construction workers and subcontractors who also will visit local businesses.

“Those people need to go out and eat lunch and have meetings, and it all snowballs into a good economic climate,” she said.

This article by Christopher Behan originally appeared on LivingstonDaily.com.

Paul Krutko: Want to grow? Work locally, but think globally

Last year, Michigan set a record. Nearly $60 billion in goods were exported from Michigan -- a three percent increase from 2012. Every billion dollars of exports supports around 5,000 U.S. jobs, giving us a significant reason to focus our attention on these export markets.

Livingston County already competes in the global economy. Hundreds of people in the area work for firms based in Germany, Japan, The Netherlands and Thailand, among others. And companies in  Livingston County export about $775 million in goods and services annually, which accounts for more than 17 percent of the county’s economic production. That means that nearly one in five dollars of the county’s economic engine is dependent on countries other than the United States.

Successful companies know that they can compete globally by working locally. More than 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States, and three-quarters of the world’s purchasing power exists elsewhere. With growing global economies, our local businesses could have as good a chance at scoring new business in Howell as they do in Hanoi.

Companies like Brighton-based Hug-A-Plug have set their sights on our neighbors to the north.

“Expanding into Canada increases our market potential by 33 percent with minimal changes to our marketing program,” says Bob Green, president of Hug-A-Plug. “Existing distribution channels are a perfect fit for our product. With numerous transportation options and easily met import requirements, Canada is a great way for Hug-A-Plug to enter the export market.”

Clearly, it takes a lot of work to enter any new market, let alone a foreign one. There are different rules, languages, customs and cultures to learn and understand. But there are also plenty of resources available to address those issues. For many years, the federal government has assisted companies in identifying potential foreign customers, and recently, the state of Michigan has provided assistance to companies that want to translate their marketing materials or attend a foreign trade show. There are even programs that can reduce the financial risk of securing new international clients.

Michigan is a terrific place to do business — we have 10 million consumers living here, and personal income is growing faster than it has in many years. But companies looking to grow should welcome the opportunity to compete globally. It will be a challenge, but it could pay off for businesses and their employees.

Paul Krutko is president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK.
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