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Ann Arbor SPARK lands $1M to expand reach regionally

Ann Arbor SPARK has landed $1 million in funding from the Michigan Strategic Fund that will help the economic accelerator expand its reach across Washtenaw County.

"This broadens the geography and the number of companies that we can serve," says Paul Krutko, president & CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK.

The money will go toward creating the Washtenaw County Incubator Collaborative, which will help bring Ann Arbor SPARK's business incubator activities across the county. The idea is to help further the growth of tech-based start-ups and jobs across the county.

Ann Arbor SPARK will partner with the MC3 Business Accelerator and the Michigan Research Institute to leverage the $1 million in state funding (and $722,500 in matching funds from the participating agencies) to create the the Washtenaw County Incubator Collaborative. The new partnership will focus on the medical device and defense industries as well as other high-growth industries in Washtenaw County.

"We need to deal with regional solutions," Krutko says.

Source: Paul Krutko, president & CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK
Writer: Jon Zemke

FarmLogs brings software to agriculture, scores $1M angel round

FarmLogs is bringing software and technology to a sector of the economy not know for early adoption - agriculture.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up is creating online-based, farm-management software with an eye toward helping farmers make better business decisions. The idea was born in Silicon Valley, the brainchild of two Michigan ex-patriots, and first incubated at the famed Y Combinator a little more than a year ago. It found well-known investors on the West Coast and was poised to become the next posterchild for Silicon Valley start-ups when it did something unconventional. It moved back to Michigan.

"We decided the right move for us was to move back to Michigan, right here in Ann Arbor," says Jesse Vollmar, CEO & co-founder of FarmLogs.

Vollmar and Brad Koch grew up in a rural area in Michigan's thumb and received computer information degrees from Saginaw Valley State University in early 2012. They saw firsthand how farmers were keeping their records by hand and making important business decisions off gut feelings. There were few, if any, computers and even less analytical data.

"They don't have the software tools to plan the business and manage their results," Vollmar says. "That's what we provide."

Those tools organize the farmer's data, helps them create financial models, figure out how best to plant fields, and when to bring their crops to market and which market presents the best value. The bottom line is to help them maximize production, efficiency and profits.

"We want to be thought of as the company that is leading innovation in agriculture," Vollmar says.

That idea has help propel FarmLogs to raising a $1 million angel round. It now employs four people and is in the process of hiring two more now. It expects to bring on even more as it starts to accelerate its growth with Ann Arbor as its base. And the reason for relocating Ann Arbor were pretty self-evident for Vollmar and Koch.

"Ann Arbor has a better start-up culture and vibe that we thought would be better for attracting talent," Vollmar says.

Source: Jesse Vollmar, CEO & co-founder of FarmLogs
Writer: Jon Zemke

SPARKing a change in Ann Arbor

There's a sense of inspiration when you walk into SPARK's incubator headquarters in Ann Arbor. To the one side are clusters of cubicles, scribbled on white boards, conference rooms, and stacks of paper everywhere. To the other side are a few people setting up chairs for a public event and several young entrepreneurs hunkered down over their computer working on the next big thing.

Bill Mayer, director of entrepreneurial services at SPARK, greets me at the door. He easily convinces me that SPARK is the place in Ann Arbor for any new business go-getter to be. He has a vast wealth of knowledge, is energetic, and, best of all, is really helpful. Almost immediately upon entering the facility, I felt comfortable in its colorful interior, mostly due to Mayer's calm yet somehow exuberant manner.

SPARK, in short, is a place for entrepreneurs. It's a place for that small business that maybe needs an extra hand. SPARK is a place to become more than just an idea—but it's more than that, too. SPARK focuses on the advancement of Ann Arbor's economy by assisting early stage startups through events, education, and space to grow.

And at the risk of sounding like a paid spokesperson, this space has everything. It has the room for startups to be in a genuine office environment, with things like copiers, printers, and high-tech conference rooms at their disposal. SPARK even has the unique quality of start up businesses clustered together so they can bounce ideas off one another and learn from each other.

It's everything you could want in an office space—at the fraction of the cost.

There is also the added benefit of Mayer serving as a mentor. His job is to guide the startups along, help connect them to who they need to be connected to, and challenge them to be so successful that they "graduate" from SPARK.

SPARK is designed as a crash-course entrepreneurial program, complete with an intense boot camp, graduation requirements, and weekly meetings with Mayer to check their progress. Are the businesses growing—generating revenue? Hiring people? Gathering clients? Mayer works with the startups from their earliest stages to when they walk out the door.

Even if the business isn't doing well, Mayer says, "failure doesn't always mean failure—you just have to pivot." Businesses change as they grow—SPARK helps them through these shifts with its unique, one-on-one service.

What really captured my attention about SPARK is how excited its startups were. I was able to talk with two: Ornicept, specializing in identifying birds via "computer vision," and Think Tech Labs, a software consultancy and solution development firm.

Ornicept's founder and chief technology officer, Russell Conard, said that before SPARK, "it felt like it was us against the world." After joining SPARK in August 2012, that viewpoint has changed. Ornicept recently reached a milestone thanks to SPARK—they hired their first person full time.

Justin Otani, CEO, said that SPARK "is great. They helped us grow, access a professional network, and gave us financial resources," among countless other things.

"It's the difference between telling you what to do and helping you get there," Conard said. "They help plug the cracks in the dam."

Without a hesitation, both Ornicept and Think Tech Labs "absolutely" recommend SPARK to startups.

For Vijay Mehra, founder and CEO of Think Tech Labs, the real pull to SPARK was its accessible network. Mayer, and the rest of the SPARK team, work with startups to put them in touch with people to test their business and product, and potentially even future clients. SPARK's "ecosystem of tools and connections," Mehra says, helped his company grow.

Think Tech Labs has only been with SPARK for 11 months, and has been awarded Salesforce.com's Customer Service Award for 2011, grown their workforce by seven, and launched a new application based on real estate.

With SPARK, success can be achievable. "Take advantage of the knowledge base and information," Mehra urges potential newcomers to SPARK.   Otani from Ornicept agrees, saying that they "wouldn't have been able to get [to where they are] without SPARK."

Interested in SPARK? Check out their website for more information. Also check out some of the other Michigan Business Incubators.

This article originally appeared in #Michipreneur magazine.

Pharma firm Esperion adds new CEO to growing staff

Esperion Therapeutics is bringing on some familiar faces to its staff, including a new CEO that has an extensive history with the pharmaceutical firm.

Tim Mayleben replaces Esperion Therapeutics' founder, Roger Newton, as president and CEO while Newton becomes the firm's executive chairman and chief scientific officer. Mayleben previously served as president and CEO of Ann Arbor-based Aastrom Biosciences before stepping down last summer.

Mayleben also once served as Esperion Therapeutics' COO and CFO a decade ago, helping it raise more than $200 million in seed capital and negotiating its sale to Pfizer in 2004 for $1.3 billion. Newton bought back the company four years ago and relaunched it.

"I am a business person by training. Roger is a scientist and a company builder," Mayleben says. "We complement each other really well."

Esperion Therapeutic's most advanced product candidate, ETC-1002, is in Phase 2 clinical trials for patients with hypercholesterolemia and other cardiometabolic risk factors. ETC-1002 is a small-molecule metabolic regulator of imbalances in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism and inflammation. It is being developed to address the underlying causes of metabolic diseases and reduce multiple risk factors associated with them. In preclinical and clinical studies to date, treatment with ETC-1002 has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated while producing statin-like reductions in LDL-C and inflammatory markers.

Esperion Therapeutics plans to wrap up it's Phase 2 clinical trials later this year and begin Phase 2 D clinical trials in 2014. Phase 2 D clinical trials are one of the final steps before FDA approval and often take two years or more to complete. The company has historically called Ann Arbor home before moving to the Michigal Life Sciences Innovation Center, managed by Ann Arbor SPARK, in Plymouth. The company now employs 11 people after hiring three recently.

Source: Tim Mayleben, president & CEO of Esperion Therapeutics and Roger Newton, founder of Esperion Therapeutics
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor start-ups score big at Accelerate Michigan

Start-ups from Ann Arbor and those with close ties to the college town did quite well at this year's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.

The top three finishers in this year's business plan competition all hailed from cities outside of Washtenaw County but they all have roots in the Ann Arbor area. Algal Scientific and nanoMAG (the first and second place finishers) both got their start in Ann Arbor before moving to Plymouth and Livonia, respectively. They both still work extensively with Ann Arbor SPARK. East Lansing-based InPore Technologies (the third place finisher) is headed up by Gerry Roston, a serial entrepreneur that calls Saline home.

Steve LeBeau, president of nanoMAG, praised the folks at Ann Arbor SPARK and at Accelerate Michigan with preparing his start bio-tech firm to do so well at the competition and be ready to raise a significant amount of revenue. He expects his start-up will be able to leverage its $100,000 cash prize from Accelerate Michigan into a seven-figure angel round.

"In the middle of this (competition) you're a venture capital fund saying, 'Send me a packet about what's going on,'" LeBeau says. "And you have a 12-page packet (prepared and peer-reviewed as part of the competition) to send them."

Other top placers at the Accelerate Michigan calling Washtenaw County home include:

- Eco-Fueling, the Saline-based business won the advanced transportation prize worth $25,000 for its fuel-efficiency technology built for diesel engines.
- Ornicept, the Ann Arbor-based start-up won the alternative energy prize worth $25,000 for its technology that monitors bird activity so wind turbine developers can make informed decisions.
- Protean Payment, the Tech Brewery-based company won the products and services award worth $25,000 for its software that can combine every creditcard in a consumer's wallet into one card.

Source: Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and Steve LeBeau, president of nanoMAG
Writer: Jon Zemke

Echo360 acquires U-M spin-out LectureTools, grows staff

Echo360, a Virginia-based educational technology company, has acquired LectureTools and plans to continue growing the start-up in Ann Arbor.

LectureTools' technology is working to reinvent the software programs used for educational materials, such as course packs, handouts and quizzes. It was originally developed at the University of Michigan and spun out of the university two years ago. The company now employs five people and an intern. Details of its acquisition were not released but it does appear the start-up will stay rooted in its downtown Ann Arbor office.

Echo360 specializes in educational learning tools and plans to use LectureTools' technology not only in its own software but also to build up the brand independently.

"One of the reasons we were acquired is so we can build it out to our true vision quickly," says Jason Aubrey, co-founder of LectureTools. "We're also building it out with Echo360s products."

Aubrey expects to begin really scaling LectureTools technology in January. The company recently hired one person in customer development and is looking to hire two more people in design and user-experience.

Source: Jason Aubrey, co-founder of LectureTools
Writer: Jon Zemke

Child Care Daily App leverages microloan for new hires

The team behind Child Care Daily App plans to leverage funding from the Michigan Microloan Fund for new outreach efforts and new hires that will help the start-up generate new sales in the new year.

The Ann Arbor-based firm developed an Internet platform that simplifies the daily activities of child care providers. The software automates handwritten tasks, organizes business operations and allows for better parent communication by providing parents real-time access to what is happening with their child throughout the day.

The 1-year-old company now counts 50 child-care facilities across the U.S. as customers. It plans to expand that number to 250-300 within the coming months. Helping make that happen is a five-figure loan from the Michigan Microloan Fund, which will help pay for the company's sales and marketing efforts.

"We need to beef up our sales force," says Bill Collins, COO of Child Care Daily App. "This helps pay for us going to a conference today and another one soon. These things cost money."

Child Care Daily App currently employs three people. However, it is in the process of bringing onboard some marketing and sales people that will almost double its staff size. Collins sees his market as more blue ocean and expects to need a larger team to explore it.

"(Our technology) is brand new to the industry," Collins says. "No one has done anything like it. That's a double-edged sword. Most people aren't familiar with it so we have to educate them. If I were selling a car people would understand."

Source: Billy Collins, COO of Child Care Daily App
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M start-ups take 1st and 3rd spots at Accelerate Michigan

Start-ups coming out of the University of Michigan continue to dominate the student portion of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. U-M-based businesses took first and third places in this year's business plan competition earlier this month.

Kymeira Advanced Materials
won the top prize at Accelerate Michigan's student competition, worth $25,000 in seed capital. The University of Michigan spin-out is creating a family of new-to-the-world inorganic polymers. Its proprietary chemistry can acheive ceramic-like properties. Hope College-based Lemon Peel is developing a headband that fits comfortably around the ears and forehead and removes both the sound and light so people can sleep.

SkySpecs, a start-up developed by University of Michigan students, took third place and the $10,000 in seed capital that comes with it. The 8-month-old company is developing unmanned aerial vehicles that use artificial intelligence to gather data in hazardous locations, such as collecting structural data in hard to reach places under bridges.

"We were quite impressed with all the competitors there," says Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs. "We were very satisfied to take third place against some stiff competition."

SkySpecs will use all of its $10,000 prize to build its first working prototype. It plans to complete a seed-capital round of fundraising from friends and family in early 2013. Ellis expects to go for a larger fundraising round later in 2013 and plans to use its success at Accelerate Michigan as a significant part of its pitch.

Source: Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor SPARK hands out Fast Track awards for economic development

The winners of Ann Arbor SPARK's 2012 Fast Track award winners were announced at the AnnArbor.com Deals of the Year event Friday night.

Eleven area companies met the standards for the award, which includes sustained growth of at least 20 percent throughout the three years directly preceding the award, with consumer satisfaction firm ForeSee winning for the sixth year in a row.

To qualify for a FastTrack award in 2012, companies had to show $100,000 gross revenue in 2008 and then consistent improvement until this year. Three companies won the award for the first time on Friday, online marketing firm The Whole Brain Group, mobile development firm Arbormoon Software, and the advertising imaging company Estrakon.

Beal Inc. won the award for the second year, while Beal Properties was given its third FastTrack Award.

"The broad range of markets and businesses honored with FastTrack awards are proof that the Ann Arbor region can support businesses across a spectrum of industries," Ann Arbor SPARK president and CEO Paul Krutko said in a statement. "To grow year over year, consistently, in a tough economy is truly noteworthy and these companies deserve recognition for this considerable achievement."

Some of the most impressive awards were the ones that went to companies that have been growing at that same 20 percent rate for the past seven or eight years.

Computer-aided engineering company Caelynx was named as a FastTrack winner for the fourth year, as was medical education management firm MedHub, which bought an old grain mill in Dexter in 2011 for increased office space.

Fifth-year award winners were software designer SRT Solutions, data storage center Online Tech, and supply chain software design firm LLamasoft, who also took home the Deals of the Year award in the technology sector.

Companies can apply for Fast Track awards every year in the fall, applications can be found on the Ann Arbor SPARK website. AnnArbor.com's executive vice president Laurel Champion serves on the board of Ann Arbor SPARK.

Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com.

Menlo Innovations still growing in underground Ann Arbor 'software factory'

When Menlo Innovations left its space in Kerrytown Market six months ago to move into the Offices at Liberty Square, the company decided it wanted to make the nearly 17,000 square feet into a "software factory."

The new space follows Menlo's "flexible workplace" philosophy, and is filled with lightweight tables, electricity and Ethernet connectivity cords that fall from the ceiling, and people working collaboratively in pairs and teams at computers that can be moved to a new location whenever the team needs a change of scenery.

"I don't even get to choose where I sit," co-founder and chief executive officer Rich Sheridan said. "The corner office is over here [in the middle of the room] right now because that's where the team put me. There's no real corner office for the CEO and I love the energy in the room you feel from just being here in the middle of it."

Sheridan's spot in the middle of the open floor plan might not give him great views out of a window (the space is underground and doesn't have any), but it does afford him the opportunity to watch his team at work.

The team Sheridan watches has continued to expand. Chief financial officer and co-founder Robert Simms said in an email that after tripling its available space with the move, Menlo has added three employees, raising its total to 21 in September. Average monthly revenues have gone up 23 percent, and monthly profits have risen 43 percent since moving into the former Tally Hall building, Simms said.

Menlo Innovations designs software solutions for companies, and has made usability and user experience a central focus of its creations. "High tech anthropologists" look at every program that is created to ensure that it fits the company's standard for design.

"[I think] there's a trend toward design [in the tech world]," Sheridan said.

"If you think about where high tech has gone, in the old days we were happy just to get stuff to work. Now we all carry around a computer more capable than all the computing capacity in the world when I was in college."

In addition to his own company, from his vantage point in the middle of the "office," Sheridan can look through a glass wall and see TechArb, the University of Michigan's student startup accelerator. Moses Lee, assistant director of student ventures at the accelerator, said the thin separation between the spaces is invaluable for students.

"We're trying to give students real world experience and contact with successful entrepreneurs," he said.

"It's amazing that they're in this space with a glass wall that you can look through so they can literally see right through to look at practitioners of what they are trying to do."

Menlo did not follow the same path that many other tech startups use to find early success. Rather than raising venture capital, the three co-founders, Sheridan, Simms, and chief operating officer James Goebel each wrote a check and the company "bootstrapped" its way from there.

"We never wrote another check and we never took an outside investment," Sheridan said.

"We crawled along the first few months and years, with enough to keep ourselves in our houses. To raise money we'd have had to spend all of our time explaining to people why we're doing what we're doing. We decided to grow more slowly and do it the way we want to."

Menlo's unique history and culture have led to a side-industry of "factory tours" and speaking engagements that have helped expand the reach of the company. Sheridan said there is at least one tour a day of the space, and on Menlo's website interested visitors can sign up for workshops that range from the free one hour tour to a $1,500 five day intensive titled "Dive into the Menlo Way."

Menlo's old space in Kerrytown, its first "open office" experiement, will be taken over in November by Internet marketing firm Pure Visibility. Linda Girard, Pure Visibility's president, said she was inspired by Menlo's offices and wanted to use the collaborative space idea to inspire growth and change in her company.

Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com.

LLamasoft raises $6 million in venture capital as it expands in downtown Ann Arbor

Supply chain software designer LLamasoft closed a $6 million Series A investment round Wednesday, at the same time it secured a strategic investment partner in Nike, and signed a lease for an additional floor of the First National Bank Building in downtown Ann Arbor.

The company also is nominated in the technology sector for AnnArbor.com's upcoming "Deals of the Year," an annual event honoring top business and executives in the region.

LLamasoft's growth over the past 24 months from approximately 40 to 150 employees has come as the company established themselves as an industry leader in supply chain design, attracting clients that include Fortune 100 companies and household names such as Ford, Kellogg, and Target.

LLamasoft has been growing so quickly that early this year it also expanded to a second floor office space on East Liberty that required some renovations.

"Because we have this list of customers that includes so many big companies, there are more and more solutions that they're asking for and more technological advancements that they want," executive vice president Toby Brzoznowski said.

"So we are investing heavily in our research and development team to build new products that expand what supply chain analytics and design can do."

Enabling the company to make that investment is a successfully closed Series A venture round that raised $6 million and was led by Chicago-based fund MK Capital. The round also included two Michigan venture capital funds, Augment Ventures and the First Step Fund, a partnership among Invest Detroit, TechTown, Automation Alley, and Ann Arbor SPARK. Brzoznowski said the round constituted a relatively small minority investment in the company.

Nike, the fourth partner in the investment, has been a LLamasoft client for almost two years and is now engaging in a project with the company to help them build its own supply chain design center.

"Our supply chain platform is becoming their analytics platform. They see this as a key competitive advantage," Brzoznowski said.

"With the growth and changes in the markets they operate in they need to be able to continuously design and change their supply chains. They wanted to bring us on board and close to teach them to do that."

As a company with a large global footprint, Nike's supply chain affects not only the company's revenues, but the environment as well.

"Innovation and sustainability are core to Nike Inc.'s operations and this new partnership with LLamasoft represents unique opportunities in both of these areas," Hans Van Alebeek, Nike's vice president of global operations and technology, said in a release.

"Through working with LLamasoft as a customer, we recognized the potential to collaborate on innovative supply chain solutions that offer real time logistics benefits and the potential to positively impact our efforts around carbon reduction."

Brzoznowski said the eventual goal of the project is for Nike to have its own supply chain analysts and directors who can use LLamasoft's products to design and adapt ideal shipping routes, materials sourcing, and other factors for the company.

"We have multiple people full time who will be sitting in Oregon doing this with them, but those are our people," he said.

"The idea is to make them into a world class supply chain organization and then to wean ourselves off."

Once those people come back from Oregon, they will have more room to spread out thanks to the company signing a lease for the fifth floor of the First National Bank building. LLamasoft already controls the fourth floor and half of the third, but with Pure Visibility moving to the space Menlo Innovations vacated in Kerrytown, the opportunity to expand presented itself.

"We want to continue to expand our footprint in downtown Ann Arbor," Brzoznowski said.

"We're projecting close to 70 percent growth this year, and that's in addition to two years of doubling. We have a very aggressive growth plan."

That plan includes the increased investment in R&D that will lead to the release of two new products before the end of 2012 and another new product within the next 12 months. Brzoznowski said other investments will include an increased sales and marketing team to build market share and increase brand visibility.

"We have the leading technology out there, and it's a matter of getting feet on the streets and recognition," he said.

"The plan is to invest heavily, continue to build new products that will lead to additional market share and sales which will lead to continued growth."

Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com.

SPARK East's anchor tenant, LaVision, sees expansive growth since 2005

For three years now the staff at Ypsilanti-based LaVision Inc. a subsidiary of German firm LaVision GMBH, have held yearly workshops for big thinkers from companies and organizations all the way up to the likes of NASA.

LaVision Inc. recently wrapped up the third workshop and projected that the company's trajectory is on the rise after experiencing explosive growth in 2005.

"Since 2005 we've doubled our turnover and expect a linear increase through 2005 past today" said LaVision Inc. President Callum Gray. "In terms of employees we jumped from just myself to four employees in a few years. We used the time to get up to capacity and then took on another PhD just in the last couple of years."

LaVision Inc. is the anchor tenant for SPARK East, located on Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti. The subsidiary was established in Michigan in 2000, spending time operating out of the Key Bank building down the street from the SPARK East business incubator, before moving three years ago.

The company began in 1989 as a spin-off from Max Planck Institute and Laser Laboratory in Goettingen, Germany, before transitioning into a multi-million dollar company that has sold laser imaging systems valued at close to $1 million, as of last year.

"The average system is worth $100,000 and our biggest and most expensive we sold last year for $800,000," Gray explained. LaVision Inc. is the sales and support arm of LaVision GMBH.

Gray came to Michigan in 2000 to look for a place to establish the subsidiary in Ann Arbor, before setting his sights on Ypsilanti, after discussing the area with a colleague who operates a company in the area dealing with a major German automotive parts supplier.

"When SPARK (East) mentioned they were looking for an anchor tenant we mentioned that we wanted to stay in Ypsilanti," Gray said. "Having access to this presentation space and other features as a tenant has been very convenient for us."

Last week's workshop is designed to provide formal information on LaVision's products and techniques, which affect everything from aerodynamics of aircraft, hydrodynamics of watercraft, flow of energy within combustion engines and even the function of stents and other procedures for mitigating cardiovascular failure within the human body.

"The general idea is to teach people the technique of flow mapping," Gray said. "These people are our end users. We had a fellow from the Webb Institute who does ship design and someone from NASA looking at rotor-craft, like helicopters and vertical take-off vehicles."

Personnel with the Food and Drug Administration have also attended LaVision Inc. workshops in order to develop testing procedures for techniques using the Ypsilanti company's flow measuring techniques.

"There is always a potential need for these techniques," Gray said.

Now that this year's workshop is done, the company is already trying to identify individuals from companies who stand to benefit from the 25 or so slots available each year.

"We always have more applicants than we do available spots," Gray said. "We charge for the course, but we make money by selling and supporting our systems. We do this to market ourselves and as a service to our customers."

Sean Dalton is a reporter for the Ypsilanti Courier.

Venture-backed DeepField set to launch out of Tech Brewery

It's easy to see all of the change taking place on the Internet from everyday use. The change taking place on the backend is expensive, a trend a new venture-capital-based start-up DeepField plans to take advantage of.

"There are huge changes going on behind the scenes," says Craig Labovitz, president & founder of DeepField. "Billions of dollars are being spent to build complex infrastructure around the world."

The Ann Arbor-based start-up, which calls Tech Brewery home, is developing software that will help large corporations deal with adapting to these infrastructure changes. That software provides them "the toolset to compete," Labovitz says. The software went public on Tuesday and there are already customers signed up.

"There is a strong demand," Labovitz says.

DeepField has raised $1.6 in venture capital to develop its technology over the last year. That has allowed it to hire about a dozen people and it has five openings now for positions in sales, engineering and software development.

Source: Craig Labovitz, president & founder of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

Larky lands $650K in investment, creates 5 jobs in Ann Arbor

Consumers love to boast about the deals they have taken advantage of, and a new downtown Ann Arbor-based start-up would love to help them turn up the volume.

Larky is developing mobile apps that help consumers maximize the discount available to them through membership organizations, loyalty programs and coupons from local businesses. Gregg Hammerman, co-founder of Larky, was inspired to create the software when he realized he didn't have the time to keep up with all the opportunities his membership in things like the Detroit Institute of Arts, AAA and the University of Michigan Alumni Association offered when he needed them the most. Larky does that work for him now.

"I can walk into the DIA and it will tell me that my membership paid for me and a family member this week," Hammerman says. The mobile app makes money from the institutions and businesses that employ it and it doesn't come out of the consumer's pocket.

Larky has landed $650,000 in an initial seed round with money coming from angel investors, the Michigan Microloan Fund and the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. Larky's team of three employees, it is also looking to hire a business development and software programmer now, is working on testing the 6-month-old start-up's app and hopes to roll it out nationally over the next year.

Source: Gregg Hammerman, co-founder of Larky
Writer: Jon Zemke

Arbor Networks hires 30, looking for 25 more

Arbor Networks is on a significant hiring spree in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan spin-out has hired 30 people over the last year and has 25 more openings.

The 12-year-old company specializes in IT security software and has grown to 300 people overall, including 100 in its Ann Arbor office. The company has been growing so fast that it's expanding its facilities in Ann Arbor, Atlanta and Massachusetts, hiring aggressively in all three locations.

The Ann Arbor facility has added 10,000 square feet of new office space and 1,200 square feet of lab and data center space.

"We're frankly bursting at the seams," says Kris Lamb, vice president of engineering at Arbor Networks. "We just needed more space."

Lamb expects Arbor Networks to continue hiring aggressively for the foreseeable future. The current 25 job openings should be filled by the end of the year. The company is aiming to grow the Ann Arbor office to 140-150 people within the next year.

"This expansion is driven by the rapid expansion in demand for our software products," Lamb says.

Source: Kris Lamb, vice president of engineering at Arbor Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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