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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.

Midtown Concierge opens pilot site in Henry Ford Hospital

Balance Concierge expanded into Detroit with the opening of Midtown Concierge earlier this month.

The East Lansing-based firm specializes in providing concierge services at hospitals. It launched a pilot location in Henry Ford Hospital in New Center called Midtown Concierge. The year-long pilot will offer free concierge services to Henry Ford Health System employees, helping them strike a better work-life balance by taking care of everyday tasks, such as oil changes and getting tickets to events.

Midtown Concierge is staffed by two people and is only available to hospital employees during the pilot phase.

"It has the potential to serve clients outside of the hospital after the pilot phase," says Jennifer Cooper, vice president of marketing & new programs for Balance Concierge.

Balance Concierge came to Detroit on the invitation of Henry Ford Health System. The move was facilitated by Midtown Detroit.

"They were a key player in setting this up," Cooper says.

Source: Jennifer Cooper, vice president of marketing & new programs for Balance Concierge
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

URBN Technologies establishes itself with software work

A 6-month-old software startup spinning out of TechTown is starting to get the attention of some big corporations.

URBN Technologies recently graduated from TechTown’s DTX Launch Detroit program, a 10-week summer accelerator for college students and recent graduates aspiring to launch a technology startup. It's now working on IT and software consulting with some big automotive players.

"We're working on projects with GM and Chrysler," says Pradeep Bhat, CEO of URBN Technologies. "We just enjoy programming. We wanted to come with our own projects."

URBN Technologies and its team of six people is currently working on a software platform that allows users to control all of the electronics they own from a single device. Think of it as a TV remote for your TV and every other electronic gadget in the house.

"We're going to narrow the scope of what we’re doing later on," says Matthew Verkin, CMO of URBN Technologies.

Source: Pradeep Bhat, CEO of URBN Technologies and Matthew Verkin, CMO of URBN Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cosmo Branding and Marketing launches out of Pony Ride

Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson launched Cosmo Branding and Marketing last fall to provide services to small businesses starting up in Detroit.

Today, the Corktown-based company -- it calls Pony Ride home -- has established itself as a firm that helps startups and entrepreneurs tell their stories.

"We saw the need was there for branding for startups, especially in downtown Detroit," Watson says.

Both Morman and Watson have backgrounds in creative and entrepreneurial ventures. They have been able to help their clients with everything from product designs to guerilla marketing to event planning. The whole idea is to help businesses build better brands by executing well-thought-out marketing strategies. Among its clients are Caledonia Capital Partners and Infinite Mile.

"We like to work with a variety of different businesses," Morman says. "It allows us to diversify and sharpen our skills."

Cosmo Branding and Marketing currently is composed of Watson and Morman, two independent contractors, and an intern. The team is now looking to take on clients outside of Michigan during its second year.

Source: Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson, co-founders of Cosmo Branding and Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wallace Detroit Guitars turns reclaimed wood into guitars

Reclaimed wood from disassembled houses in Detroit is popping up everywhere these days. It can be found in trendy coffee houses, in table tops, even in the frames of sunglasses. And it's about to be found in guitars.

Wallace Detroit Guitars is making electric guitar bodies from wood reclaimed from Detroit’s abandoned houses. The Corktown-based company is working to create high-end guitars with recycled materials meant to inspire memories of the Motor City's heritage and musical legacy. Mark Wallace, owner of Wallace Detroit Guitars, was inspired to launch the venture early this year when he started noticing reclaimed materials becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the local creative community.

"I got interested in seeing how far we could push that," Wallace says. "What can we build with reclaimed materials from Detroit?"

An instrument from Wallace Detroit Guitars is meant to emphasize that the quality of the wood (taken from Michigan's virgin forests a century ago) and the advanced skill set of Wallace’s team of eight craftsman. Each guitar will feature high-quality hardware and hand-wound pickups. All of the wood is from reclaimed material, except for the neck of the guitar, which Wallace is sourcing from maple trees harvested in Michigan.

"I'm in the process of finishing the first prototypes," Wallace says. "They're working out great."

The first guitars are expected to come to market later this month. Each will retail for $2,000. Wallace acknowledges that the starting price point means they won't be someone's first guitar, but he eventually wants to make them accessible to a broad range of people -- not just folks who appreciate quality guitars with cool backstories and end up hanging them on a wall, but to musicians and others who will bring the instrument to life in a variety of places.

"I'd like to sell these to everybody," Wallace says. "I'd like to sell them to people who love Detroit and love making music."

Source: Mark Wallace, owner of Wallace Detroit Guitars
Writer: Jon Zemke
Photos: Jesse David Green, MammothReach

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

Banza turns chick peas into next big thing in pasta

Brian Rudolph ran into a something of a conundrum early in his adult life. The Detroiter is gluten free and loves to eat healthy, but he also loves to eat pasta. He reconciled these contradictions by creating his own gluten-free pasta and bulding a business, Banza, around it.

"I stopped buying pasta and started making my own," says Rudolph, a Venture for America fellow who co-founded Banza with his brother, Scott Rudolph. "The more I worked on it the more I realized this could be a $1 billion company."

Banza's pasta is made from chickpeas, so it is more akin to hummus and falafel than traditional pasta. It is gluten, grain, and soy free. While normal pasta lacks in providing nutritional value, Banza contains a load of nutrients. It has seven grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein in a serving.

"It's more (protein) than you get in a protein bar," Rudolph says.

The 8-month-old company and its team of three people are currently working to get their pasta-replacement food to market. It is currently in the Eatly fine food stores in the U.S. and should be on the shelves of the 200 Meijer stores by September. The Rudolphs also just participated in a taping of Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show for entrepreneurs on CNBC.

"Our goal is to do to pasta what Chobani did to yogurt," Rudolph says.

Source: Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Barre brings ballet barre fitness studio to riverfront

Ballet barre classes have made their way to Detroit with the opening of Detroit Barre on the Motor City’s East Riverfront neighborhood.

The 1-month-old fitness studio opened in a refurbished carriage house at 2217 Franklin St. near Chene Park, Atwater Brewery, and the Dequindre Cut. The space is 1,500 square feet, half of which is a dedicated workout area. Three instructors teach barre fitness, which is designed to work out the muscles of a dancer with low impact, isometric exercises that combine ideas from ballet, pilates, and yoga.

"It's accessible to people of all ages and ability levels," says Laura Davis, a teacher at Detroit Barre. "It provides a space where people of all walks of life can come together and improve their fitness level."

Detroit Barre currently welcomes a couple dozen regulars to its class. Davis and her partners would like to grow that clientele over the next year as they establish the business.

"We'd like to have a regular 50 students come in on a weekly basis," Davis says.

Source: Laura Davis, teacher at Detroit Barre
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Aircraft grows to 12 people, eyes acquisition

There was once a time when Detroit was the center of not only the automotive world, but the aviation world, too. Back in the early 20th century, the Detroit Aircraft Corp produced more aircraft than any other company and owned a number of subsidiaries, including the company that is now Lockheed Martin. The Detroit Aircraft Corp didn’t survive the Great Depression.

"It struck me that if it had survived that time we would have an automotive industry and an aerospace industry," says Jon Rimanelli.

That inspired Rimanelli to launch Detroit Aircraft Corp, the 21st century version of its namesake company specializing in unmanned aircraft (drone) technology and operating out of Detroit City Airport. Rimanelli first started playing with the idea when speaking to NASA officials about how the U.S. aviation and radar systems need to be reformed to accommodate to 21st century technology. Rimanelli believes that such reforms could open up the vast majority of U.S. airports to most of the populace, which currently doesn't have access to them because its members can’t facilitate commercial flights.

"99 percent of the population gets access to one percent of the airports while one percent of then population gets access to the whole system," Rimanelli says.

He launched Detroit Aircraft Corp in 2011 with the idea of enabling that access through unmanned aircraft. He sharpened that vision earlier this year when Detroit Aircraft Corp won a contract with Lockheed Martin to manufacture battery charger stations in Detroit. It is currently looking to lock down another contract with Lockheed Martin to make drones.

That work has allowed Detroit Aircraft Corp to hire seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to 12 people. It is currently looking to acquire A3 Electronics in Livonia as it prepares to begin building hundreds of units and employ several dozen people.

"We'd like to lead the world in aircraft manufacturing not once, not twice, but three times," Rimanelli says.

Source: Jon Rimanelli, founder & CEO of Detroit Aircraft Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ENT Biotech Solutions scores $100K from Michigan Pre-Seed Fund

ENT Biotech Solutions recently secured $100,000 in seed capital from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0, which is part of a $1 million angel round for the TechTown-based startup.

"We are in the process of closing it," says Andrea Roumell Dickson, CEO of ENT Biotech Solutions.

The two-year-old startup is developing the Elasso, a single-use, disposable device designed as a cost-effective too for reducing the tedious nature of adenoid and tonsil surgery. The one-step tool cuts, cauterizes, and removes tissue, combining the advantages of heating and cutting technologies.

ENT Biotech Solutions is currently waiting for a clearance from the FDA to move ahead with commercialization. That clearance could come as soon as this fall.

"As soon as we receive that we have a green light to manufacture. Our tooling is already cut," Roumell Dickson says. "We are able to very rapidly ramp up for production."

Source: Andrea Roumell Dickson, CEO of ENT Biotech Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Venture for America fellows launch video production firm TernPro out of Bizdom

Brian Bosche came to Detroit two years ago as part of the inaugural class of Venture for America, a two-year program that pairs talented college grads with startups in economically challenged cities. Bosche ended up working on the leadership team at Bizdom and noticed a common challenge all of the entrepreneurs in the program were facing.

"They all struggled to tell their story," Bosche says. "Especially with video because video is really hard."

That inspired Bosche to start TernPro, a full-service video production company. Along with Venture for America fellow Dan Bloom, Bosche launched the company earlier this year. TernPro is currently going through Bizdom's startup accelerator program, but is already producing videos for a variety of clients, including Come Play Detroit, Quicken Loans, and Grand Circus.

"[We do] everything from real-estate to travel, both in Detroit and across the country, as well." Bosche says.

That workload has allowed TernPro to hire two employees and bring on an intern. Bosche expects to continue adding staff this year, possibly bringing the firm’s intern on as a full-time employee.

TernPro is also developing a video creation platform so everyday people can produce videos and track the public's interaction with them. Bosche hopes to have a Beta version of the comprehensive video creation platform up and running by next year.

"That entire process is one I’d love to have on one platform," Bosche says.

Source: Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of TernPro
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

M-1 Rail construction comes alive, Duggan calls for expansion


Doubt clouded the prospects of bringing streetcars back to Detroit for years. Starting yesterday, however, work crews are actively erasing that doubt as they start construction on the M-1 Rail project in Detroit's central business district.

M-1 Rail is leveraging $140 million in both public and private money to build a streetcar line along Woodward Avenue between Larned Street downtown and Grand Boulevard in New Center. The 3.3-mile-long line will have a dozen stops when it opens in the fall of 2016. The build out of the line between Larned Street and Adams Street is scheduled for the next 120 days.

M-1 Rail will be the first streetcar to operate in Detroit since 1956 when the city uprooted the last of its light rail lines in favor of bus system. Proponents of the streetcar line (a conglomeration of local business executives, elected officials, and foundation leaders) claim it will streamline mass transit along Woodward Avenue, "Michigan’s Main Street," and accelerate economic development along the lower Woodward corridor. M-1 Rail is projecting that the streetcar will catalyze 10,000 new housing units and more than $3 billion in economic development along its route, attracting thousands of new residents and jobs to the Motor City in the process.

"We are seeing a time in our country where people want to move back to urban areas," says Mayor Mike Duggan. "They want to be connected."

M-1 Rail is a key piece of Detroit’s formula for capitalizing on that trend, yet the project's fate was uncertain when former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declared the proposed Woodward Light Rail line between 8 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue dead just a few years ago. But the M-1 Rail group was resolute and brought the project back from the dead, scrapping the longer configuration favored by the Bing administration and returning to the group's original proposal of a streetcar connecting downtown Detroit, Midtown, and New Center.

While M-1 Rail leaders remain focused on the greater downtown portion of the line, Mayor Duggan reignited the idea of extending the streetcar further up Woodward during the ground breaking press conference.

"Ultimately, we want to build this rail to 8 Mile and then to Pontiac," Duggan says.

Source: M-1 Rail, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rebuild Nation moves to New Center with 10 employees

Rebuild Nation is a young company getting started in a new home in Detroit's New Center neighborhood this summer.

The full-service advertising agency moved its 10 employees from Royal Oak to the Boulevard West building on West Grand Boulevard (across the street from the Fisher Building) last month. The reason: Detroit's greater downtown area has momentum and a competitive edge over the surrounding suburbs.

"The whole company, everyone here, believes in Detroit and wants to be a part of it," says Josh Gershonowicz, owner of Rebuild Nation. "There is a certain energy here you can’t find in the suburbs."

Gershonowicz worked in advertising for a few years, collecting side projects along the way and looking for the right opportunity to strike out on his own. The right opportunity turned out to be Bright Side Dental. The dental practice has nine locations across Metro Detroit and recently decided to turn its marketing efforts over to Gershonowicz, who in turn launched Rebuild Nation.

"It allowed me to merge other small projects I had into an agency," Gershonowicz says. "We started in Royal Oak but moved to New Center six weeks ago."

Today Rebuild Nation has several dozen clients, including The Masonic Temple and Michigan Dental Assisting School. The company has carved out a niche serving the marketing needs of health-care clients. That has allowed Rebuild Nation to grow its staff to 10 employees, about a dozen independent contractors, and two interns. The company recently hired four employees in social media, design, operations, and account management.

Gershonowicz choose to move to New Center specifically because he felt the Midtown/New Center neighborhoods offered the best place for the company to carve out a niche for itself. Gershonowicz believes a boutique firm like his could easily get lost in the mix of big creative firms downtown. Midtown and New Center offer the central city vibrancy with a chance to mix with a growing number of small businesses, while also providing a dynamic place to attract talent.

Source: Josh Gershonowicz, owner of Rebuild Nation
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Franco PR adds 2 people, aims to hire 3 more in Ren Cen

Franco Public Relations Group turns 50 years old this year and is celebrating with a handful of new hires.

The downtown Detroit-based boutique agency has been in the Renaissance Center since the building opened in the late 70's. This year, the company has hired two people, bringing its staff to a total of 15 employees and one intern. It's also looking to hire three more people right now, including an administrative assistant, an account executive, and a manager.

Making that growth possible is a solid bump in clients. Franco Public Relations Group has added a dozen new clients over the last year, including Southfield-based intellectual property law firm Brooks Kushman and The Oakland, a bar in downtown Ferndale.

"It's been a really good mix of clients," says Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group.

A number of those new clients are automotive suppliers riding the bump in the economy and the resurgence of the automotive industry. The rest come from a wide variety of sectors and include nonprofits and accounting firms. The diversity of clientele is no accident.

"It keeps us balanced," Kozak says. "For a long time we have been very diverse."

Source: Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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