The signs of McClure's Pickles success are easy to spot, no matter where in the U.S. you happen to be.
The Detroit company's gourmet pickles – and its other products like bloody Mary mix and flavored potato chips – can be found at a stand in Detroit's Eastern Market or on a shelf in a Manhattan Whole Foods.
The company manufactures most of its products in a former automotive plant on the border of Detroit and Hamtramck, where a rapidly growing staff works diligently to meet orders. McClure's Pickles
has hired seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to 27 employees and a handful of summer interns. Among its new hires are a sales director to help it make the jump to a national brand and an operations director to help it keep up with the demand.
The 8-year-old firm has averaged about 30 percent organic revenue growth each year, making it a multi-million-dollar company today.
"We expect to grow even more this year," says Joe McClure, co-owner of McClure's Pickles
. "We're expecting about 45 percent growth in revenue."
McClure's Pickles is what's known as a gazelle, a company that isn't only growing fast with exciting new products, but also has a high-revenue ceiling. Gazelles are exciting companies. They're the ones creating jobs by the dozens as they make new innovative products.
Gazelles are exactly what Michigan's economy needs, and that's why we will be covering them in depth in the coming months.
Welcome to the Year of the Gazelle, a joint effort of the Southeast Michigan Startup
team and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan
"There are some great local success stories," says Dave Egner, executive director of the NEI.
Over the next year, we will focus on those success stories, identifying the fastest-growing local companies that are scaling their businesses and going on hiring sprees. We'll tell you the behind-the-scenes stories of the entrepreneurs who are building these startups, the investors backing them, and the resources they are leveraging. These are the stories about the companies that are the cornerstones of Michigan's new economy.
Investing in Michigan's New Economy
When Michigan's economy ground to a halt during the Great Recession, a conglomeration of mostly Michigan-based foundations responded with a bold plan to rethink how business is done in the state. Led by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
, the group assembled more than $100 million to create the New Economy Initiative, a program tasked with investing in the best ways to reinvent Michigan's economy.
"Our focus is on building the ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs," Egner says. "We have been industry agnostic and growth agnostic."
The Detroit-based nonprofit put millions into entrepreneurship programs that helped build up businesses -- big and small, scalable and lifestyle.
After a few years' worth of investment and learning, the NEI is re-focusing its efforts on gazelle companies. That is a broader range than it seems, however, and includes companies like McClure's Pickles and software startups like Ann Arbor-based Duo Security
, the golden child of local venture-backed firms.
"I sit here watching them thinking, 'If they end up in a national market, what will that mean for their job growth?'" says Egner.
But companies don't become gazelles overnight. It takes more than just hard work, seed capital, and a bit of luck. NEI has determined that the gap in Michigan's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem is providing a comprehensive set of options for scalable startups to reach second state.
"There are limited resources to help these companies go from $1 million or $2 million to $10 million," Egner says. "That's where the job growth is. The biggest gap is finding the expertise and mentors. It's why NEI brought Endeavor
to Detroit. Endeavor is the ultimate connector."
A global nonprofit that specializes in finding high-impact entrepreneurs and giving them the tools they need to reach their potential, Endeavor has affiliates around the world in places as close to home as Mexico and as far away as South Africa.
Endeavor opened an affiliate in Detroit last fall. Its first job was to assess the local entrepreneurial landscape and find its strengths and weaknesses. Next it will select the best gazelles in that ecosystem and help them make the connections needed to become the big businesses of tomorrow.
"Growing companies are the ones that generate the greatest impact," says Antonio Luck, managing director of the Detroit office for Endeavor. "They create eight times as many jobs, and twice as fast."
This year, Endeavor will select a handful of startups with second-stage potential and provide them with the connections, mentors, and guidance they need to scale. Potential Endeavor companies need more than a track record of double-digit revenue growth and aspirations for even more expansion. They need innovative products, scalable business plans, and a willingness to learn outside of their comfort zones.
"There is a timing component as well," Luck says. "It's much more about finding the right companies and the ones that fit in with Endeavor."
The Startup team will be reporting on those companies for the rest of this year. We'll be profiling the ones that leverage Endeavor's resources and even more that fit the gazelle profile. We only ask our readers to do one thing: keep up.
Jon Zemke is the statup news editor with Model D and its sister publications Concentrate and Metromode. He is also the managing editor of SEMichiganStartup.com.
Photos of Dave Egner and Antonio Luck by David Lewinski Photography.
Photos of Joe McClure/McClure's Pickles by Marvin Shaouni.
Photo of Dug Song by Doug Coombe.