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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.

Venture for America Detroit fellows launch Castle, a startup for landlords

Venture for America came to Detroit two years ago, bringing about a dozen talented young people with entrepreneurial ambitions to work in startups in the city. This summer members of that first cohort of fellows are launching their own startup.

Castle is a software play that aims to make the lives of landlords easier by bringing the property management process into the 21st century. Three Venture for America fellows are launching the startup out of their Virginia Park house that helped serve as the inspiration for the company.

Venture for America pairs recent college grads from across the U.S. with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. The idea is modeled off of Teach for America, which brings talented young college graduates to teaching positions in inner city schools. Participants, or fellows, of both programs agree to work the jobs for two years. Where Teach for America works to bring talent to the teaching profession, Venture for America paves a way into entrepreneurship for 20-somethings.

A couple of members of VFA's first Detroit cohort started Rebirth Realty, which is taking an abandoned, tax-foreclosed house on Virginia Park in New Center and renovating it into a home for future Venture for America fellows, the first of whom are are moving in this summer. The experience inspired the renovators to build a better landlording system.

"We didn't like the way things are being done," says Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle. "We didn't see anything out there that worked."

Nussenbaum and two other VFA fellows began working on the startup six months ago as they neared the end of their two-year fellowship. They interview landlords to find the best pain points on which to capitalize. They have since left their jobs, or are in the process of doing so, to build out the software platform. They are aiming to launch a closed Beta in early September with 10-15 landlords. They are doing it all in the house they bought for a few thousand dollars last fall.

"That's one of the great things about being in Detroit -- it's super cheap,” Nussenbaum says. "We're all in out early 20s, so we don’t need a lot."

Source: Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Big project roundup: Motor City Mapping and M-1 Rail gear up this summer

A pair of big projects in Detroit made news last week. Motor City Mapping, the effort to catalogue the condition of each property in Detroit, debuted its software platform. M-1 Rail is building the first streetcar line along Woodward Avenue in Detroit's greater downtown area in half a century. Here are some highlights from each press conference.

Motor City Mapping

- The Motor City Mapping website now displays an image and lists the condition of every property in the city. It’s designed in a similar fashion to the WhyDontWeOwnThis website.

- The Detroit Land Bank Authority and city workers are using the Motor City Mapping website to help identify blighted property and fast-track it toward renovation or demolition.

- The pictures and property description are based on data collected by street teams that fanned out across the city last winter.

- The Motor City Mapping team is working with local residents to refine its survey data to better determine the state of each property. More information on that effort here.

“It helps us make more accurate, and informed decisions,” says Charity Dean, community relations manager for the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

M-1 Rail

- The 3.3-mile streetcar line between Jefferson Avenue and Grand Boulevard is modeled after U.S.-based systems like Portland’s streetcar line.

- The line will have 12 stops with 20 stations. Some of the stops are in the center of Woodward and will utilized a shared station, while the majority of the line runs along the sides of Woodward and requires separate stations on each side of the street. The stations are still being designed.

- The 60-feet-long, driver-operated streetcars will feature street-level boarding for easy handicap access and come with space to park bicycles. Riders will enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi access. Fares will be sold at the stations, but there are no turnstiles to get on the train. Roaming field agents will randomly check passengers to confirm they paid their fare.

"It will be high-tech and have the things the kids are looking for now," says Matt Cullen, CEO of M-1 Rail.

- The trains will run at 7.5- to 10-minute intervals during peak times and 12-minute to 15-minute intervals during off-peak hours. Specific hours of operation for the train have yet to be determined.

- Construction of the M-1 Rail line will begin Monday, July 28. You can follow the project's progress on this interactive map.

Source: Matt Cullen, CEO of M-1 Rail, and Charity Dean, community relations manager for the Detroit Land Bank Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Former Compuware tech unit rebrands as Lochbridge

A former business unit in Compuware has a new name and brand related to its relatively new ownership.

The former Professional Services Division of Compuware is now known as Lochbridge, a stand-alone full tech-service integration firm. Los Angeles-based Marlin Equity Partners purchased the division from Compuware in February, spinning it out as its own company. It was briefly known as CW Professional Services before becoming Lochbridge.

"It [the transition to a stand alone company] has been going quite well," says Bob Kennedy, vice president of strategic services for Lochbridge. "Our customers have taken very positively to it."

Lochbridge serves as a full-service systems integrator in the IT and software sectors. It builds custom tech platforms for large businesses and organizations. Those range from big-data platforms to mobile apps. About 1,000 employees work for the company (mostly former Compuware staffers), with about 200 of them toiling away at the Compuware Building in downtown Detroit.

"We're hiring people every day," Kennedy says. "We have new people coming into the organization every week."

Source: Bob Kennedy, vice president of strategic services for Lochbridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ASquared Legal Group sets up shop in downtown Detroit

Alari K. Adams has been spending an increasing amount of time in downtown Detroit over the last few years, so it’s little wonder she moved her legal firm down here with her.

ASquared Legal Group, formerly based in Bloomfield Hills, now calls the Motor City's Central Business District home. Adams, the firm's managing attorney, moved to downtown Detroit in recent years. After a few months living there, she knew she would be bringing her law firm with her.

"I'm able to hop on the People Mover to get to work now," Adams says.

Adams got her start practicing corporate and employee law at a firm in Grand Blanc. She started ASquared Legal Group four years ago as her primary way to practice law with small businesses. The company focuses on advising businesses with their legal matters and human resources management.

"I get much more enjoyment out of small business practice," Adams says. "I help them grow their businesses and they help grow my business, too."

ASquared Legal Group currently employs two people after Adams hired an assistant over the last year to help her juggle the growing caseload. Adams wants her law firm to continue growing downtown and hopes to eventually add more staff.

Source: Alari K. Adams, managing attorney for ASquared Legal Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

140 Proof expands team in Elevator Building on riverfront

140 Proof is growing its presence in Detroit. The social media advertising startup has grown its Motor City staff to three people after making a couple of hires this year.

"It's been a huge year for us because social media and big data are big parts of our business," says John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof.

The 4-year-old company is based in San Francisco. One of its big claims to fame is serving as one of the early development partners with Twitter. It currently employs 30 people, including a handful in the Elevator Building.

140 Proof was one of the first tenants in the Elevator Building, a century-old warehouse turned loft-style office building overlooking the intersection of the Detroit RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut. It has recently hired two sales professionals for its office here. It also has served as a sponsor of the Detroit City Football Club this year.

"We love being in the Elevator Building," Manoogian says. "We have great neighbors here. It's nice being in a creative space down there on the waterfront by the Detroit River."

Source: John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

NextEnergy scores $745K grant for clean-tech startups

NextEnergy is receiving several hundred thousand dollars in federal grant money to help it further entrepreneurial outreach and develop clean-tech startups.

The New Center-based nonprofit is splitting a large grant with Clean Energy Trust. The $745,000 grant comes from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It will fund the creation of The Bridge, which will offer a suite of services for early-stage technology companies in Michigan, Illinois and the Midwest region.

"It will be predominately based here at NextEnergy," says Jean Redfield, NextEnergy's president & CEO.

The Bridge will offer incubation services for startups and entrepreneurs specializing in transportation, the grid, and the built environment. The program will offer entrepreneurial training, access to technology partnerships, and demonstration platforms. The idea is to work with local entrepreneurial communities to help accelerate the process of turning more research into viable commercial ventures for the region’s existing manufacturing base.

"There is a significant amount of supplier and OEM activity in these three areas (Michigan, Indiana and Illinois)," Redfield says.

Source: Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Joseph Wesley Black Tea leverages new partnership for growth

Joseph Wesley Black Tea and Anthology Coffee, a Detroit-based specialty coffee roaster, are partnering with Rip van Wafels in a move that should get the Detroit-based craft beverage companies some expanded exposure across the U.S.

San Francisco-based Rip van Wafels makes small wafels designed to sit atop your coffee or teacup so that while the coffee or tea cools, the steam heats the filling and infuses the aroma of the coffee or tea into the wafel. It started a monthly subscription box earlier this year where it pairs its wafels with a different craft coffee and tea selection. Joseph Wesley Black Tea and Anthology Coffee are the selections for a Detroit-themed month of July.

"We'll see where it takes us," says Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea. "We're happy that they recognize what we’re doing."

The partnership got its start in when Anthology Coffee founder Josh Longsdorf met Rip van Wafels' Marketing Manager Ruth La Roux at the 2014 Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Annual Exposition. They recognized each other's committment to the slow food movement and decided to create a partnership. Longsdorf brought in Joseph Wesley Black Tea to complete the partnership.

"We have been working with Josh," Uhl says. "I have a similar outlook on beverages as he does."

Joseph Wesley Black Tea and its team of three people celebrated its first year in business this summer. The slow-tea company specializes in selling high-end, hand-harvested teas. Joseph Wesley Black Tea just released a product line of hand-made teas in teabags. It is also aiming to begin bottling pre-made tea drinks later this year.

Source: Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Endless Crowds raises money for military veterans, first responders

Roger Mensah and his team aren’t trying to reinvent the crowdfunding wheel with their latest start-up, Endless Crowds. They're trying to carve out a niche for a group of public servants that is too often overlooked.

"We're opening up a niche for military veterans and first responders," says Mensah, who co-founded Endless Crowds with two partners.

The team of three launched the company at the end of the January, creating a crowd-funding portal specifically for military veterans, first responders, and their families. The idea is to help them make a space for their own projects where they don’t have to compete for attention with the rest of the world.

Mensah was inspired to create the site a few years ago when President Obama was speaking about the draw down of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mensah knew they would be coming home to the deepest recession in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

"It occurred to me that the economy was so bad then, especially for the guys and girls coming back, that I thought they should have a (crowd funding) site just for them," Mensah says.

Mensah and his team built Endless Crowds at Bamboo Detroit in downtown Detroit. Among the projects that have gone through the website are an effort to build a home for homeless women veterans and projects with the Detroit Public Safety Foundation. Mensah hopes to do work with Detroit Police Department and the Detroit Fire Department over the rest of the year and establish the website as a presence in Metro Detroit.

Source: Roger Mensah, founder of Endless Crowds
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Stik aims to hire 10 as it debuts SocialProof

Stik is looking to hire 10 new employees now that it is publicly launching SocialProof, a new version of its marketing platform designed for large clients.

"This is aimed at bigger companies, whereas Stik is focused on smaller companies," says Nathan Labenz, CEO of Stik. "It does all the same things, like help companies tell their success stories."

Those success stories range from online reviews to customer testimonials. It's a new form of marketing Labenz and his team are branding as "customer success marketing." SocialProof is a more robust version of Stik's customer success marketing platform that already is being used by Quicken Loans and General Motors.

"We would love to be known as the leader in this new form of marketing that we are sort of pioneering," Labenz says. "When people think about customer success marketing, we want them to think about us."

Stik recently won a $100,000 investment from Steve Case, the former CEO of America Online, during Case's Rise of the Rest Road Tour in late June. That money will accelerate Stik’s hiring for its 10 openings. The company already has a staff of 25 employees and a summer intern after hiring 15 people over the last year.

Labenz and Stik co-founder Jay Gierak went to Harvard together and were housemates with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Labenz and Gierak launched Stik in 2010 in Silicon Valley. The pair moved it to downtown Detroit (it's a Detroit Venture Partners portfolio startup) in 2012, landing in the  M@dison Building.

Source: Nathan Labenz, CEO of Stik
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Refinement Group blends parties with grassroots

The Refinement Group describes itself as "a lifestyle branding company with strong efforts geared toward philanthropy, event production, social awareness, positive influence, music, film, entrepreneurship, mentoring and more. A refined culture."

Put simply, it's a collective group of creatives that are looking to do good by combining events with grassroots causes. The end result is money raised and awareness created for good causes.

"We wanted to give people a purpose for their celebration," says Darren Brown, co-founder of The Refinement Group. "It's celebration with a purpose."

Since Brown and Darius Mitchell started the Refinement Group, the company has grown to a team of 17 people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, ranging from actors to philanthropists. Brown is a filmmaker.

The organization has thrown parties for the Big Brothers Big Sisters and Lupus Walk. It is currently throwing a party on Sunday at the Post Bar in Dearborn called the Summer Fling.

"In the last year, I want to say we have raised about $8,000 for numerous charities," Brown says.

Source: Darren Brown, co-founder of The Refinement Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Clark Hill adds a dozen attorneys in downtown Detroit

Go to the Clark Hill website, click on the "About" tab, and the first thing that appears is an option called “Our DNA” that details the law firm’s core values.

They are summarized in a few bullet points, such as "Count on More," which describes the firm’s attitude toward embracing change, and "Don't Call Me Mr./Ms.," which details the practice’s open door mentality. Those bullet points are the key to the firm's growth, which includes the recent addition of a dozen new attorneys in downtown Detroit.

"Our secret sauce is we -- as a team -- built a strategic plan around our DNA," says Don Lee, chief marketing officer for Clark Hill.

Clark Hill's addition of 12 employees to its Detroit office marks an 11 percent increase in the firm's downtown workforce in just one year. It now employs 120 people in downtown Detroit. The firm's total number of employees has grown from 100 a decade ago to 300 today.

"We're striving to be a great place to work," Lee says. "We want to be a great place to work for everyone, not just lawyers."

Clark Hill got its start in 1890 and made its name serving the manufacturing sector in Michigan. Its oldest customer, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, has been with the law firm for more than a century. Today the law firm has 12 offices in seven states and the District of Columbia.

Source: Don Lee, chief marketing officer for Clark Hill
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Challenge Detroit welcomes third cohort of 33 new fellows

Challenge Detroit is welcoming its third cohort of fellows this month, which includes a few more fellows than previous classes.

Challenge Detroit fellows, predominately recent college graduates, participate in a year-long program where they are paired with local companies to live, work, and play in Detroit. The fellows are given a living stipend and opportunities to volunteer and sink roots in the Motor City. The hope is that the talented young people turn their fellowships into longterm commitments to the city. This year 33 fellows will take part in program, which is up two from previous years.

"We have seen a lot of interest in companies that want to participate in our program," says Shelley Danner, program director for Challenge Detroit. "They have seen a lot of our participating companies have a lot of success with our fellows."

Among the new companies participating in the Challenge Detroit program are Campus Commandos, Penske, and Clark Hill. Fellows will also join firms that have been participating in the program throughout its first three years, such as DTE Energy, Hello World, and Team Detroit.

Challenge Detroit fellows take part in six community engagement projects over the course of the program.

"We're really focused on connecting our fellows with the community," Danner says.

Source: Shelley Danner, program director for Challenge Detroi
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit startups dominate Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Detroit-based startups took the lion’s share of prizes at this year's Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The business plan competition, organized by Michigan Corps, recognizes up-and-coming social entrepreneurs. It awards a total of $60,000 in prizes to 11 companies. Detroit-based companies took four of the top siz prizes in the competition. The fifth went to a Flint-based firm, and the sixth to a Pontiac-focused social enterprise. Several companies in the competition focused on helping youth find work and tackling longterm unemployment.

"The chronic unemployment issue is something we definitely (targeted for this competition)," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps. "The youth piece was a pleasant surprise."

Among the Detroit winners are:

- Wheels for Workers, which teaches volunteer mechanics in their teens and twenties how to be mechanics and auto body repair professionals. It won the Michigan Social Entrepreneur of the Year Prize.

- Welding Artisan Center, which provides career-ready training to returning veterans, job-
shifting adults, former inmates, and at-risk teens. It won the Community Transformation Prize.

- On The Rise, a business sponsored by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which is a bakery that employs men who have recently been released from prison or have completed a substance abuse treatment program and desire to truly change their lives. It won the PNC Social Innovation Prize.

- City Girl Soap, which manufactures hand-crafted body soap, lotion, and laundry flakes from goats milk. It won the Women Rock Prize.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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