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Atwater Brewery aims to become Detroit's iconic brewery


Mark Rieth sees his company, Atwater Beer, as Detroit’s brewery. It's a big vision for the microbrewery situated on Detroit's east riverfront, but it’s an ambition with increasing merit as the 17-year-old venture grows.

"Being Detroit's brewery is important for us," Rieth says. "We want to be the iconic Detroit brewery, the way Stroh's used to be in the late 1800s and early 1900s."

Rieth wants Atwater to be known for local brews that are both high-quality and ubiquitous. Atwater Brewery is well on its way to both of those targets. It doubled its sales over the last year and is on pace to do it again. It sold 12,000 barrels in 2012 and 26,000 barrels last year. It's on track to sell 45,000 to 50,000 barrels in 2014 with sales of Dirty Blonde and Vannila Java Porter leading the way.

Atwater Brewery is at capacity at its main brewing facility at the corner of Atwater and Jos Campau streets, and is in the process of adding more brewing capacity there. The company is also a partner at the Brew Detroit operation in Corktown, which has helped it up its keg distribution.

"We have tripled our sales of Dirty Blonde kegs," Rieth says. "It's not slowing down anytime soon."

That has enabled Atwater Brewery to hire a dozen people over the last year, including brewers, sales professionals, and office staff. It now has a staff of 36 employees and one intern. It also recently opened a brewpub in Grosse Pointe Park in June, creating another 28 jobs. Atwater in the Park has proven so successful that Rieth is still looking at opening a tap room in downtown Detroit.

"That should happen within the next 12 months," Rieth says. "It will be downtown proper. Anywhere between the Campus Martius and Grand Circus Park areas."

Atwater Brewery is also entertaining the idea of expanding beyond Metro Detroit. Rieth is considering options in places like Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Traverse City. Although no specific plans have been made, the idea is appealing to Rieth.

"It's something we would like to do if the right opportunity presented itself," he says.

Source: Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Friends launch video production firm, The Right Brothers

A couple of friends recently launched a video production firm out of a Detroit neighborhood just beyond Hamtramck’s northern border.

Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller started The Right Brothers in April by helping produce music videos for local artists. The two-person operation now does everything commercial work to informational videos.

"We decided we had to move forward and do bigger things," Miller says. "We kept the momentum and moved forward."

Miller and Townsley met in Ferndale when Miller moved next door to Townsley in 2004. The two became fast friends and ended up sharing a passion for video work. Since launching The Right Brothers, they have created seven music videos and expanded into other work, such as short videos for Signal Return Press and another that appeared recently in Model D.

"We definitely want to keep supporting local artists we believe in," Townsley says.

Source: Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller, co-owners of The Right Brothers
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Linkies turns social media conversations into a startup

A new startup based in downtown Detroit is making a name for itself.

Linkies made its debut at a recent Lion’s football game, collecting social media conversations about the event for a national audience. The startup’s platform works as a social media aggregator, capturing hashtags across major social networks. It organizes and displays them so the user (usually a major organization) can show off the social media conversations.

"It's all hashtag centric," says Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies.

Linkies roots can be traced back to the campaign to bring the X Games to Detroit. Priest and his team were also trying to create their own social network, an effort that petered out. The X Games Detroit initiative gave them the inspiration to try a new way to capture public support through social media.

"It kickstarted us to make our own platform," Priest says.

Linkies launched just seven months later. Today, Priest and his team of three people are building their startup from the LCE Labs incubator, which is run from the Lowe Campbell Ewald headquarters at Ford Field. Linkies is the incubator’s first startup tenant and Priest expects to stay at the space at least through the end of the year.

"Hopefully that will be extended," Priest says.

Source: Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Stik Pocket combines stickers, cell phones to create a wallet

Brian Owen doesn't like having things in his pockets. He loathes the feeling. In the 21st Century, most men carry both a wallet and a cell phone in their pockets, so Owens decided to combine the two with a new cell phone accessory called Stick Pocket.

"For years I have been trying to eliminate my wallet altogether," Owen says. "I hate having things in my pockets."

Stik Pocket is a sticker that attaches to a cell phone case, making just enough room for the essentials of a wallet. Think a drivers license, credit cards, and cash. Check out a video showing Stik Pocket in action here.

Owen was inspired when he bought a high-end wallet/cell phone combo made of leather. A few weeks after purchasing it, the leather cracked and started to fall off. Soon after Owen was left with just the plastic case. He decided he could do better by making a cheaper version that was made to last two or three weeks.

"It worked, so I started selling them," Owen says. "Now we're in 200 stores."

Owen launched Stick Pocket eight months ago and employs four people. The Bricktown-based startup also uses adult special needs students from Macomb Academy to help produce its products. Owen is also looking to introduce new sticker products later this year.

Source: Brian Owen, president of Stik Pocket
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Kraemer Design Group creates 10 jobs as Detroit work grows

Kraemer Design Group is returning to its core business over the last year by taking on more renovation design work in downtown Detroit.

"We have half a dozen projects in Capitol Park alone that we are working on," says Bob Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group.

Among those projects are the rehabs of the Detroit Savings & Bank Building and the Farwell Building.

The 17-year-old architecture firm has made it mark doing design work for a number of high-profile renovations in downtown Detroit, such as the Broderick Tower and The Lofts at Merchant Row. The downtown Detroit-based firm took a hit during the recession and construction practically ground to a halt, forcing it to take on more out-of-state work in the hospitality industry, including designing hotels.

Kraemer Design Group has rebounded with the economy and taken on an increasing share of work in the Motor City’s center. Among its more recent projects are the David Whitney Building overlooking Grand Circus Park and The Auburn in Midtown.

"We definitely see ourselves incredibly busy for the next couple of years," Kraemer says.

The increase in conctracts has allowed Kraemer Design Group to grow its staff. The firm has hired six people over the last year, expanding its staff to 28 employees and two summer interns. It is also looking to hire four more design professionals right now.

Source: Bob Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Dalton & Tomich creates new home in downtown Detroit

In recent years, lots of companies have scored easy headlines when they announce that they are moving to downtown Detroit. Dalton & Tomich is one of companies that made the move first and worried about making headlines later, if at all.

The 4-year-old practice, which specializes in business law, moved from Bloomfield Hills to downtown Detroit a year ago. The fledgling firm moved its five employees, four of which are attorneys, into the Chrysler House to be closer to its clientele.

"We were spending part of every day in downtown Detroit (before making the move)," says Daniel Dalton, founding member of Dalton & Tomich.

The firm hasn't looked back. It has hired one replacement worker since making the move and grown its workload. The firm has also established itself as an authority in RLUIPA law, which protects religious entities from discrimination in land use.

"We're at that point where we are really busy here," Dalton says.

That is part of the reason Dalton & Tomich made the move. One of the firm's other motivations to move downtown was to play a role in the city’s rebirth.

"It's just a great city," Dalton says. "There are a lot of opportunities, and it's a fun place to be. You can tell from the lack of parking and how it can be hard to find a place to get lunch."

Source: Daniel Dalton, founding member of Dalton & Tomich
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Retiree finds second act with cooking company, AVC Kitchens


Vazilyn Poinsetta isn’t the stereotypical senior citizen. The Midtown resident retired from a mortgage company a few years ago and decided to do something different. She went back to school and eventually opened her own business.

"I might as well be 70 and get a degree in nutrition instead of waiting around saying woulda, coulda, shoulda," Poinsetta says.

The lifelong Detroiter started classes at Wayne State University soon after retiring. In 2012, she started taking advantage of the entrepreneurial education classes at Blackstone LaunchPad on campus. That inspired her to start AVC Kitchens, which teaches cooking classes in the city.

"They (Blackstone LaunchPad's staff and participants) are just wonderful," Poinsetta says. "I'm not very tech savvy, but I can still ask anyone in the program and they will show me what to do."

AVC Kitchens aims to combine education of cooking and healthy living. Poinsetta hosts cooking classes at Eastern Market and Focus: HOPE, teaching people how to create cost-effective meals with everyday ingredients -- meals that are both affordable and nutritious using ingredients local people can find just about anywhere.

"Not anything that is super expensive," Poinsetta says.

Source: Vazilyn Poinsetta, owner of AVC Kitchens
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

826michigan expands Detroit presence with new hires

826michigan is sinking its roots deeper into Detroit, hiring more staff and expanding its presence in the state's largest city.

The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit supports K-12 students with creative and expository writing skills and helps teachers inspire their students to write. The organization started expanding into Detroit last year, helping connect volunteers, teachers, and students to create a more literate population of young people.

"We have a significant and growing student and volunteer population in Detroit," says Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan.

826michigan currently employs 10 people and has hired four new staffers over the last year. It recently hired two new people to help augment its expanded programming and fundraising in Detroit.

"We are really growing at an accelerated pace," Uhle says.

About three people work in Detroit at any one time for 826michigan. She hopes to expand that by another two people over the next year, which should help 826michigan meet the demand for its services.

"The demand and desire for our programs is much greater than the supply," Uhle says.

Source: Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

FutureNet Group hires 80 as revenues grow by double digits

FutureNet Group once relied on a trifecta of industries for triple-digit revenue growth. Now that the 20-year-old company is maturing, its growth remains robust, though not quite as numerically impressive.

The Detroit-based firm (it makes its home on the city's far west side) clocked triple-digit revenue gains for several years as it grew its market share in the construction, IT/technology, and energy/environmental industries. Now it's aiming for double-digit growth as it continues to grow.

"We are expecting at least 20-30 percent growth," says Jay Mehta, senior vice president of FutureNet Group.

That growth has allowed FutureNet Growth to hire 80 people over the last year, expanding its staff to more than 300 people. The new jobs are in a variety of positions across the entire company.

Helping continue the company's growth is its new expansion in the security field. FutureNet Group acquired the perimeter security division from Smith & Wesson in 2012 and has since transformed that unit's losses into profits.

"We have been able to grow it quite a bit," Mehta says.

FutureNet Group’s perimeter security solutions include new technology to keep people and vehicles out of a facility by stoping them at the perimeter (Think access control gates). FutureNet Group’s access gate solutions have matured to the point where they focus on stopping an intruder while minimizing harm to that person.

"The whole intent is to catch the person alive," Mehta says. "No matter what's their intent."

Source: Jay Mehta, senior vice president of FutureNet Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

The Pod Drop opens in New Center, eyes downtown

The Pod Drop is starting to pop up in Detroit greater downtown area this year. The fix-it store for iPods, iPads, and iPhones opened a location in New Center earlier this year and is aiming to open another in the Detroit’s central business district before the end of the year.

"We want to grow in Detroit's downtown area," says R. Carter, founder of The Pod Drop. "It's booming."

Carter started The Pod Drop from his basement in 2006. The company now has 12 locations across Metro Detroit that work in a franchise-like business model. Each location employees 3-4 people and is independently owned. Each owner pays Carter a royalty to use the brand and other services associated with the company.

The Pod Drop opened up a location in New Center One last winter, where it currently employs three people. It takes care of walk-in customers (think people with a cracked iPhone screen) and does a lot of work with some major downtown institutions like Henry Ford Health System.

"We have a lot of work we do with hospitals, Dan Gilbert's team at Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan," Carter says. "We're down here to take care of the big fish."

That's why the company is looking at opening another location downtown to be closer to the likes of the Quicken Loans family of companies. The Pod Drop is not only looking for a space to lease, but a new owner to head up the facility.

Source: R. Carter, founder of The Pod Drop
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Husband-and-wife team launches urban design firm, City Form Detroit

About a year ago, James Fidler left his job at a downtown Detroit-based architecture firm to launch his own urban design company, City Form Detroit. This summer, his wife is joining the growing business.

"It was time for us to have new challenges and pursue some projects we are interested in," says Virginia Stanard, co-principal of City Form Detroit. "The timing was just right."

Stanard worked as the director of urban design at the University of Detroit Mercy’s Detroit Collaborative Design Center until this month. Now she is leaving that post to join Fidler, her husband, as co-principal of City Form Detroit. The downtown Detroit-based company specializes in providing urban design services, such as strategic planning and design guidelines, among others.

City Form Detroit's early projects include design and implementation work on Grand Circus Park. Stanard, Fidler, and their one employee are working on other similar projects in both downtown and out in the Detroit’s neighborhoods.

"We want to continue to contribute to the growth of greater downtown and the neighborhoods," Stanard says. "We want to make the city a better place to live and play."

Source: Virginia Stanard, co-principal of City Form Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

A pair of best friend tailors open 1701 Bespoke in downtown Detroit

Max Schmidt and Tom Daguanno have been close for about as long as the two of them can remember, so it’s not that surprising the pair of friends since the 3rd grade are launching a business, 1701 Bespoke.

"We grew up together and always hung out," Schmidt says. "We have been best friends for a long time."

Last summer, Schmidt stood up as best man during Daguanno's wedding. The friends wanted to wear custom tailored suits to the festivities, but were unable to find any options they liked. So they decided to make their own and 1701 Bespoke was born.

"We started getting orders after the wedding just from word-of-mouth references," Schmidt says.

1701 Bespoke had its own pop-up store in the First National Building in downtown Detroit late last year. Schmidt and Daguanno wanted to use it as a way to get the word out about their company to the business class.

"I remember saying if we got four customers in those six days, I’ll be happy," Schmidt says. "We got two weeks of appointments in those six days. We really overbooked ourselves."

1701 Bespoke, which made it to the semi-finalist stage of this year's Hatch Detroit competition, currently has a temporary space in the Chrysler House, where it makes custom suits, coats, and other fine clothes. The partners hope to open a permanent home in downtown before the end of the year. In the meantime, Schmidt and Daguanno are servicing business executives, attorneys, doctors and athletes.

"We fit those types of guys, but also college kids like medical students looking for a really good suit," Schmidt says.

Source: Max Schmidt, co-founder of 1701 Bespoke
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

LevelEleven scores $2 million more in venture capital

LevelEleven is adding a couple more million dollars to its pile of venture capital cash in downtown Detroit.

The nearly 2-year-old tech startup has landed an extra $2 million from its original investors, bringing the total amount of seed capital it's raised to $5.6 million. The $2 million is part of a convertible note that will be part of its Series A round, which the company expects to close later this year. The money will be put toward research & development of the firm’s app, sales and marketing efforts, and growing the staff.

"We're going to be investing it in all fronts," says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven. "It's really for everything."

LevelEleven spun out of HelloWorld (formerly Ferndale-based ePrize) in 2012. LevelEleven sells an enterprise gamification app (native to the salesforce platform) that helps motivate sales professionals and tracks their progress.

It currently has 175 customers, which is up from just under 100 a year ago. Some of those customers include Comcast, eBay, Tiffany & Co, Forrester, Cardinal Health, the Detroit Pistons, Shutterstock, and Microstrategy.

"It ranges from large enterprises like Comcast and eBay to small businesses," Marsh says.

LevelEleven has also hired 18 people over the last year. It currently has a staff of 26 employees and two interns. It is currently looking to hire two more people and plans to bring one of its interns (a University of Michigan student) on as a full-time employees after that person graduates next semester.

"We are literally always hiring for sales and engineering positions," Marsh says. "Anytime we can find good people we hire them."

Source: Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Detroit Bikes expands staff as bike sales gain traction

People started to have their doubts about Detroit Bikes last year when the bicycle startup issued temporary layoffs at its production facility only a few months after starting to sell its first bikes.

Those doubts are gone this summer. The two-year-old company called back most of those workers this spring and is hiring new people this summer after debuting its second version of a classic, American-style bicycle.

"Sales are really strong," says Zak Pashak, founder & president of Detroit Bikes. "It's not exactly what I predicted, but we’re back-ordered right now. It's a good position to be in."

Pashak moved to Detroit from Calgary with the idea of building a simple, streamlined bicycle for riding in urban environments in the heart of America's manufacturing mecca. The result was the A-Type, a bicycle with thinner/smoother tires on larger wheels, a frame made of chromoly steel, and only three speeds. The idea: keep it simple.

So far that idea is working. Detroit Bikes has sold nearly 1,000 of the A-Type model, prompting it to release the B-Type last week. The B-Type features a step-through frame that's easier to mount and dismount. It also has a glossy white finish (the A-Type only came in black, a la Henry Ford's Model T). "We use a powdered coat, which is more environmentally friendly," Pashak says.

It's all part of Pashak's plan to start with a good product and harness some word of mouth buzz to drive sales. That materialized slower than Pashak expected, but Detroit Bikes has come out with a better marketing plan and expanded its distribution network across the continent.

"I think we have a shop in every state now," Pashak says.

And they are accepting product from Detroit Bikes’ 50,000-square-foot facility on Elmira Street near Schaefer Highway on the city's far west side. The company now employs 10 people at the facility and is looking to hire four more. Pashak expects to sell between 3,000 and 4,000 bikes by year’s end and 10,000 by the end of next year. He is also looking to add some international sales to the mix later this year.

"I want to sell bikes to anybody who will buy them," Pashak says. "I also like the idea of exporting them. Anything we can do to bring more money into the local economy."

Source: Zak Pashak, founder & president of Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Qstride continues to hire, grow in downtown Detroit

Qstride at an interesting point on its growth curve. The tech company is successful, landing large customers and spiking its revenue; however, the company doesn’t have the resources it needs to scale itself.

Qstride, which has offices in Troy and downtown Detroit, has grown its revenue by 130 percent over the last year. It now clocks sales in excess of $2 million -- something it has achieved entirely through bootstrapping.

"We have a model that is proven," says Shane Gianino, founder & CEO of Qstride. "Of course, it's a marathon, not a sprint."

The 2.5-year-old firm specializes in business intelligence and analytics services that integrate with its customer's IT systems. It also provided staffing services for the technology sector. It currently employs 20-odd people, half of whom work in downtown Detroit.

"We're looking at potentially expanding our presence downtown," Gianino says. "We're trying to figure that out."

Qstride has hired three people three people in downtown Detroit and Gianino is optimistic that the number can grow quickly over the next year as he begins to entertain offers for venture capital investment in the company to help scale it.

"We have an opportunity to add a lot of jobs in Detroit," Gianino says.

Source: Shane Gianino, founder & CEO of Qstride
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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