Ann Arbor is usually known for the University of Michigan, but it’s now becoming known for so much more.
It’s my hometown, and I loved growing up there. It’s a smart city with a ton of things to do, and I was never too far away from anything I needed. In the past couple years, Downtown Ann Arbor has changed a bit in some really good ways. I feel like every time I’m back in town there’s something new popping up. Restaurants? Check. Shops? Check. Startups? Definitely check.
Whether you’re in Kerrytown or on Main St., startups are popping up all over the city. Some of them were started by former students or professors at the University of Michigan, some were started in other cities but expanded in Ann Arbor. The one thing they all have in common? They’re shaking things up and growing like crazy. That’s why we’re here to break down the best startups in Ann Arbor and who to look out for this year.
The 23 Top Startups To Watch in 2020
1. Duo Security
Ann Arbor’s Duo Security was acquired by Cisco in 2018 for a whopping $2.35 billion (in a cash/stock combo), but their vibrant Ann Arbor office still has startup vibes written all over it. Their leading multi-factor authentication services put them on the cybersecurity map, and now they’re used by 18,000 customers in over 100 countries. They’ve grown to a team of over 800 people. And the platform makes 500 million authentications a month. These are some big numbers. That’s because Duo likes to do big things. Like partner with the U.S. Department of Energy to pilot Duo’s FedRAMP.
Have you ever gotten a text from your salon? It just might have been made possible by DaySmart. They design software that helps thousands of businesses simplify their operations, manage scheduling, automate client communications and more. They’ve been growing really fast—so fast that they’ve been listed on the Inc. 5000 9 years in a row. Keep your eyes peeled for a 10th year. A few months ago the company announced that it completed a growth-oriented recapitalization led by LLR Partners and Parthenon Capital, and in March they’ll be expanding their office in Ann Arbor as well as opening up new offices in North Carolina.
3. Atomic Object
Based in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Atomic Object offers custom software and development consulting. They’re making waves in the software industry—and in company benefits. They recently just announced that they added a socially responsible fund in their 401k portfolio. Atomic Object’s employees, or “Atoms” as they call them, wanted to “invest in companies that minimize harm to people and the environment.” Money, meet mouth.
Check out other Michigan startups with great culture benefits.
4. Workit Health
Workit Health makes it easier for people with addictions to get the help they need. Co-founders Robin McIntosh and Lisa McLaughlin were tired of watching friends fall through the cracks of addiction treatment programs. They were ordering food online, tracking their pulse on an app, so why couldn’t people get access to addiction treatments digitally, too? They changed that in 2015. WorkIt Health offers medicine in brick and mortar clinics, online courses, and one-on-one therapy sessions online with an expert team of compassionate clinicians and counselors. Easy access means high success rates. They’ve been featured in major publications like the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Business Insider, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and more. And they’re only just getting started.
5. May Mobility
Cities are congested with traffic, and yet there are still many people without a way to get around town. Enter May Mobility, creating a safer, greener and more accessible way to get around. They’ve been doing a lot of research, but they’re also making an impact. They’ve started deploying autonomous shuttles in a few cities—you can see them rolling around Detroit. But this is just the beginning. They’ve been making some big headlines, raising some big money—we’re talking over $70 million in 2019, $50 million of that led by Toyota—and they plan to be rolling out to more cities, soon.
Koddi provides marketing management software and services for the travel and hospitality industries. Their award-winning SaaS platform helps brands and agencies connect with consumers that want to go places. It’s also nearing $1 billion in media spend per year. Safe to say that 2019 was a huge year for them. They jumped up 280 spots to #328 on the Inc. 5000 and have grown over 1,400% in the last three years. Their team has grown too, with more than 130 employees in six offices across the country, including Ann Arbor. Look out, they’re going places.
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7. Refraction AI
It’s like DoorDash meets driverless cars. At Refraction AI, they’re building autonomous robots that will make deliveries from restaurants, pharmacies and grocery stores. They recently started their pilot program in January, partnering with four restaurants in Ann Arbor and a few hundred participants. The REV-1 robot can safely cruise through the streets and bike lanes, which avoids more traffic on already congested sidewalks. Plus it’s more sustainable for the environment, reducing emissions from delivery vehicles. The founders plan to expand the program to more cities soon, so keep an eye out for the REV-1 rolling down your streets with your Chipotle.
8. Dynamo Metrics
Better data drives better decision making. That’s the philosophy of Dynamo Metrics, and it’s led them to some pretty good decisions. They’ve been working with local governments since 2005 to deliver helpful metrics reports that help local governments solve challenges and create stronger communities. They’re headquartered in Ann Arbor but have done extensive research and data reports in Detroit and Jackson, Michigan as well as Gary, Indiana and the greater Ceveland, Ohio area.
Bodhala is a legal analytics firm headquartered in New York City, but their tech team is rooted in Ann Arbor. They’re a company for lawyers, designed by lawyers. I’ll spare you my lawyer jokes and cut to the chase: their leading platform helps corporate law firms analyze and optimize their spend. Their insights have been cited in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, and they’ve been growing really fast—we’re talking 600% in 24 months.
Voxel51 is the brainchild of a computer vision expert and a machine learning specialist. Jason Corso, the CEO of Voxel51, is a professor at U-M, teaching computer vision. He partnered with his former student and now CTO Brian Moore, whose expertise lies in machine learning. They put their heads together and built Voxel51, an AI video analytics platform that helps organizations unlock insights into their videos. In 2019, they completed raising $2 million, and in 2020 they plan to expand from 15 employees to 50.
Fun fact: Voxel51’s Head of People, Kristina, co-founded a great organization in Ann Arbor for business women working in the startup and tech world. Join the Shine & Rise community to get access to cool events—plus a whole new friend group of badass women. Everyone needs one of those.
Groundspeed is a leading insurance technology company focused on optimizing unstructured data. They use AI and automation to harvest, normalize, enhance and extract data so that it can be transformed into something effective and powerful. They raised $30 million in 2018 and were named one of the top ten insurance analytics consulting companies by Insurance CIO Outlook in 2019. Nice work, team.
The Startup Weekly recently named InfoReady a software company to watch in 2020. Winners were chosen based on 2019 business achievements, thought leadership, product or service strength and more. InfoReady builds software for higher ed institutions that help automate pay, manage applications, streamline funding processes and more. They recently launched their Engagement Hub for k-12 students to help promote youth outreach programs like summer camps and year-long programs. It’s a company full of smart cookies, so stay tuned for what’s next.
Censys provides data-driven cybersecurity by scanning the internet for threats and giving customers full visibility over their entire attack surface in near real time. The company was founded by security researchers at U-M, and they are trusted by some pretty big names like Nato, the Swiss Armed Forces, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and even Google. Talk about a search that comes up with a lot of hits.
You know those texts you get when your table is ready at a restaurant? Wisely just might have been the mastermind behind it, but they do a lot more than that. They provide a fully integrated Host Stand, Marketing Automation, and Guest Sentiment software suite for growing restaurant brands. They’re on a mission to make guest experiences better, which I appreciate because I hate waiting an hour for brunch on Saturday mornings.
Can you automate the wind? Well, no, but you can automate your wind farm. SkySpecs offers operations and maintenance solutions to help proactively keep turbines healthy and solve disjointed and resource-heavy business problems. And help keep energy green. They recently secured $17 million in series C funding. CEO Danny Ellis said the funds will help SkySpecs expand products to solve more problems, expand their geographic footprint, and double their team.
“Life’s too short for crappy software.” That’s the slogan of Nexient and I want to retweet it. Companies use Nexient’s software for strategy, design, development and operations. Analyst firm HSF Research recently singled out Nexient as a leader in software services that “quite literally cuts out the crap.” Okay, so not literally, but I appreciate the play there. Nexient has also been expanding in the Midwest. Along with Ann Arbor, they have product development centers in Columbus, Ohio and Kokomo, Indiana. Coming soon to a midwest city near you? Stay tuned.
Do you remember that Nokia ringtone that used to be everywhere? Because I do. Yes, this is the same Nokia, but they do a lot more than just making cell phones now. In 2017 they acquired a small Ann Arbor startup called Deepfield, opening up many new tech jobs in Ann Arbor. The Deepfield portfolio provides real-time network and services insights that up performance and security. In 2019 it was announced that Telefónica Spain, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world would use the Deepfield Cloud Intelligence analytics solution to improve user experience and troubleshoot content delivery in real time. ¡Buen trabajo!
18. IndustryStar Solutions
IndustryStar Solutions offers on-demand supply chain services through software technology. They’re passionate about partnering with companies to help them bring innovative and disruptive products to market that will have a positive impact on the world—things like autonomous vehicles and heated smart gloves for people with Raynaud's disease. They’ve won the FastTrack award from Ann Arbor SPARK in 2018 and 2019 for their quick growth. Let’s see what kinds of products they help get off the ground in 2020.
You might think their heads are up in the clouds, but that’s definitely not the case. Sure, SkySync is all about cloud migration and integration, but their ideas are grounded in problem solving. They were named the FY20 charter partner in the Microsoft Content Services Partner Program. They’re also a premier partner with Dropbox and trusted by some huge names like P&G, Netflix, and Disney.
It’s true, llamas are soft, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. LLamasoft is a tech company that offers innovative supply chain solutions using AI. They recently launched their AI-powered enterprise platform to help companies make smarter decisions. It’s not just about growth for them—although they’ve been doing a lot of that. They have a global impact team and play a role in the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They take their technology and use it for good in the world, like designing supply chains and delivering medical supplies and vaccines via drone to people in underdeveloped countries. You can also see what they’ve been saying about how the coronavirus is affecting supply chains in major publications like Forbes and BBC Radio.
AI software can be fun, and the leaders at Amesite think it can make education fun, too. The company was founded to make learning more affordable, accessible and engaging. They are data-driven and determined to give learning communities access to cutting-edge technology and the most up-to-date and verified content possible. In January, they just closed a $5.5 million funding round which will be used to expand product offerings and support sales and marketing efforts.
Ann Arbor loves its security. Meet Blumira, another cybersecurity company making next-level security solutions. It was founded by IT security pros whose experience span over 20 years. They’re still small but looking to grow their team, and have a strict “no a** holes and BS” rule. We love that rule at purpose.jobs, too.
Fun Fact: our good friend Patrick Garrity just started working at Blumira as VP of Operations. He is the winner of the Purpose Award for Top Marketing Leader 2019. Go, Patrick!
What happens when expert physicians, researchers, and clinical improvement experts all get together? They create ArborMetrix, the leading provider of healthcare analytics technology and services. They’re all about improving outcomes and advancing research safely and effectively. At the end of 2019, ArborMetrix announced they were selected to partner with the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) for a new, state-of-the-art physiatry clinical data registry. Stay tuned for what’s next from these health data geniuses.
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