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Downtown Detroit’s foodjunky spreads across U.S.


Last year, foodjunky was a startup trying to gain traction for its 21st century food ordering platform. It had big ambitions and a small customer base, mainly in downtown Detroit. This year, that customer base is much wider.

"In January, we were in one state," says Travis O Johnson, co-founder of foodjunky. "Now we're in nine states. We’ve been growing pretty rapidly."

The 1-year-old company's platform helps large groups make orders from restaurants, simplifying the error-prone process of one person relaying lots of food orders to another over a phone line. Check out this video of how foodjunky works: 



Foodjunky currently has a few hundred restaurants in its network, mainly in the Midwest and Texas.

"We will be hitting 1,000 pretty soon," Johnson says.

Foodjunky, which graduated from Bizdom last fall, has hired two people over the last year, and is currently looking to hire a software developer. The startup employs a staff of six people.

Those number could grow quickly as foodjunky gets ready to close on a seed round. It originally aimed for $250,000 but became over-committed. Johnson hopes to close on a bigger round later this year. He also hopes to hit $1 million in revenue next year.

"We should have a majority of the U.S. states covered," Johnson says.

Source: Travis O Johnson, co-founder of foodjunky
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BoostUp grows staff to 6 people in M@dison Building

Finding the money for the down payment on a car or a home is never as easy as it sounds. It's a challenge one Detroit-based startup is turning into a business.

BoostUp provides an online platform that helps users to save up enough money for the down payment on the house or car of their dreams. The platform lets the user tell their family and friends about their goal through social media and gives them an option for people to donate toward that cause in the form of birthday or holiday gifts.

"We have recently put the emphasis on cars and homes," says John Morgan, founder & president of BoostUp. "We are focused on the downpayment phase."

The 1-year-old company spun out of Synergy Marketing Partners and was originally named Motozuma. It scored an angel investment from Detroit Venture Partners, which prompted it to move from Chicago to the M@dison Building. It is working with a number of large corporations, such as Hyundai and Quicken Loans.

BoostUp currently has 40,000 users. They spend about 4-6 months saving for vehicles and 6-12 months saving for homes. Morgan hopes to scale those numbers significantly over the next year hitting six-figures of users.

"We think a goal-based interface is important for consumers," Morgan says.

BoostUp currently employs a staff of six full-time employees and another three part-timers. It has hired four people over the last 12 months, including positions in marketing, sales and customer support.

Source: John Morgan, founder & president of BoostUp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TechTown’s AiirShare brings sharing economy to private planes

The sharing economy has made its way into most facets of everyday people's lives. Today, it's not uncommon to rent out your car for cab rides or a spare room for hotel stays. A TechTown-based startup now wants to take that concept airborne.

AiirShare brings sharing economy to aircraft and flying, helping people with private planes rent out empty seats to fliers. Those seats can range from single-engine Cessnas to private jets.

"I always loved aviation and always wanted something to do with it," says Joe Tuchman, co-founder & CEO of AiirShare.

Tuchman participated in TechTown’s DTX Launch program last summer. He said it gave him a lot of basic tools to get his startup off the ground, such as identifying customers and networking with other resources.

"That was a huge help," Tuchman says.

AiirShar's team of two people currently is working with a few dozens pilots flying out of Michigan. The flights go to nearby places, such as Indiana and Chicago. Tuchman hopes to reach further over the next year.

"I want to completely saturate Michigan with flights to Chicago and Indiana," Tuchman says.

Source: Joe Tuchman, co-founder & CEO of AiirShare
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DC3‘s Creative Ventures looks for a few good service firms

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) is looking for a few young creative service firms for the latest cohort of fellows in its Creative Ventures Residency program.

The New Center-based organization specializes in helping grow the creative economy in Detroit, specifically in the Woodward corridor between downtown and New Center. This fall, the Creative Ventures Residency invites creative service firms (e.g. interior design and graphic design companies) to apply for the mentorship program.

"We felt we had the most to offer to design service providers," says Ellie Schneider, associate director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

The Creative Ventures Residency has been helping creative firms grow into stable companies that create jobs in the greater downtown Detroit area. It has incubated 45 early stage creative startups, creating 89 jobs and generating $2.1 million in revenues.

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center has reformed the program a little, shrinking its total length from 12 months to six months. It is also focusing on service-providing firms instead of startups. It is also looking for firms that are just beginning to establish themselves and want to move to the organization’s headquarters in New Center.

"We think they benefit much more from being based in our offices," Schneider says.

For information on applying, click here.

Source: Ellie Schneider, associate director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

App maker Locqus goes on hiring spree after raising $2M

Everything was lining up nicely for Sandy Kronenberg when he launched his latest tech startup, Locqus.

Kronenberg liked the tech hub under development at the M@dison Block in downtown Detroit, especially the talent that was flocking there. Having worked as either a principal or CTO at Netarx, Yottabyte, and Logicalis, Kronenberg had a few nice exits under his belt. He also knew he had enough cash to get Locqus off the ground.

"I wasn't looking for outside capital at all," Kronenberg says.

In fact he had turned down funding offers from local venture capitalists. They were only bringing money to the table. Then Moneris came calling and it was too hard to say no to one of the largest electronic payments firms in North America.

"They do 40 percent of all digital transactions in Canada," Kronenberg says. "It's kind of a big deal."

Locqus is developing Field Manage, a mobile app that helps small businesses in the service industry (think skilled trades people or mom-and-pop ventures) handle the back end of the business. The app manages time clocks, scheduling, inventory, etc, and it synchronizes many aspects of the business between employees on everyone’s personal mobile device or computer.

"At the end of the day we're a mobile solution for the service industry," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has also formed a strategic partnership with Samsung, which will recommend Locqus as an must-have app with some of its mobile devices. That effort will work hand in hand with the $2 million is has raised.

"For the most part it (the $2 million) is for hiring more folks and raising awareness through marketing," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has expanded its staff to 16 employees and an intern since it launched last year. The company is also looking to hired four more people in software development or customer service. Kronenberg expects the employee count to be closing in at 25 people by the end of the year.

For now the staff is working at the co-working space of Bizdom at 1528 Woodward. Kronenberg expects he will move Locqus into its own space within the next few months, but he is trying to maintain his startup’s presence in Bizdom's home for as long as he can.

"We're going to hold out as long as we can because it's a great group of people," Kronenberg says. "It's a collaborative environment. It's a great culture. It's a natural fit."

Source: Sandy Kronenberg, CEO of Locqus
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hygienic Dress League art project goes public with IPO


The Hygienic Dress League is blurring the lines between business and art with its latest art project, going public.

The Eastern Market-based street-art collective is soliciting 36 investors to purchase stock in the Hygienic Dress League corporation with the idea of eventually going for an initial public offering.

The husband-wife duo behind Hygienic Dress League, Steve and Dorota Coy, launched the organization as a corporation in 2007 so it can be used as a medium of art commenting on advertising with its art installations. They are all public art installations, so there is no gallery or operations or even a consumer product created. New work that will be part of the initial public offering includes "projects inspired by corporate processes such as interactive 1-800 numbers and augmented reality videos broadcast onto billboards," write the Coys in their investor pitch.

"We're trying to do something that has never been done before," says Steve Coy. "It rides the line between serious and satire."

The solicitation of investor money is serious. The Coys will have five Class A shares in Hygienic Dress League. They will sell 100,000 Class B shares as part of the investor solicitation. They are looking for up to 36 investors because that is the maximum allowed by SEC rules. Those shares will be able to sold on the open market when the Hygienic Dress League offers an initial public offering either in a marketplace it has created or a low-barrier stock exchange.

"This is really a big experiment," Steve Coy says. "We don't know how much money we're going to raise."

Don't expect this transaction to be completely 21st century. The Hygienic Dress League will give out gold papered stock certificates. Think of it like a deed to a house. The certificates will be made in the same way they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for stockholders. These certificates will serve as both legal documents of ownership and pieces of art from the Hygienic Dress League. The Coys like to describe the certificates as their conceptual commentary on art value.

"It gets to the idea of how value can be arbitrarily assigned to art," Steve Coy says.

Check out examples of Hygienic Dress League’s public art installations here, here, and here. For information on investing in Hygienic Dress League, send an email to investor.relations@hdlcorporation.com.

Source: Steve and Dorota Coy, co-founders of Hygienic Dress League.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Birdhouse app for autism shares focus with caregivers

Birdhouse for Autism is looking to set itself apart from other autism technologies by not only helping the person living with the condition but the loved ones taking care of them.

"Unfortunately there isn't much focus on the family involvement," says Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism. "The parent is the center of the child’s development."

The downtown Detroit-based startup -- it graduated from Bizdom in September -- has created a mobile app that helps track the behavior of autistic children so the people taking care of them can better manage the disorder.

The Birdhouse for Autism app is available in both laptop software and for mobile devices. Thousands of families have downloaded it as the startup works through its public beta and prepares for larger releases.

"I like to say we're outgrowing our prototype," Chutz says. "We're redesigning everything at the moment."

Birdhouse for Autism has landed a $250,000 angel round this spring, using the funds to grow its team to three full-time people (Chutz plus co-founders Dani Gillman and Adam Milgrom) and seven part-timers.

Source: Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Guidesmob grows as its app introducing students to college towns takes off

Guidesmob, a startup product from Bizdom, is gearing up to release the second generation of its higher-education guide app, and it's looking to take over the Big Ten with it.

The downtown Detroit-based firm’s mobile app helps students discover and learn more about their new college towns. Daniel Kerbel, CEO of Guidesmob, started working on the app after going to Michigan State University as an international student from Costa Rica.

Guidesmob launched the Spartan App for Michigan State University in 2012. It has been downloaded 27,000 times since. The company is now looking to release a new version of that app for Michigan State University, along with Central Michigan University and the University of Michigan later this year.

"We're getting ready to launch a new platform," Kerbel says "Basically a Spartan App 2.0."

Kerbel and his two co-founders went to Michigan State and Central Michigan universities. They choose to focus on those schools (and U-M) because of the number of connections they have built there over the years and because many of those students co-mingle. It’s a big reason why Guidesmob is going to target Big Ten and MAC schools for expansion first.

"The approach is to take over conferences of universities," Kerbel says.

Guidesmob is in the process of hiring two people right now. It's also working to raise a seed capital round to finance its expansion and to build out its team. The company hopes to raise a Series A of $750,000 to $1 million by next spring.

Source: Daniel Kerbel, CEO of Guidesmob
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Family biz VernDale Products doubles down on Detroit, opens second factory


LaVerne and Marlene Johnson started VernDale Products in 1958, using the Detroit-based manufacturing business to feed and employ their family. Today, a third generation of Johnsons is helping the company execute its biggest expansion in decades.

"It takes a big team to put it all together," says Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products. He adds that many members of the family had to dig deep to open a second plan on Detroit's west side.

VernDale Products makes roller dried milk powder, which is primarily used by premium chocolate manufacturers. The company was originally based near the Detroit River in the footprint of what is now the Renaissance Center. It’s currently based at 8445 Lyndon on the city's west side. It is currently working on building out a new facility at 18940 Weaver St., also on the city's west side, north of Joy Road between the Southfield Freeway and Evergreen Road.

VernDale is investing $20 million to build out the production facility with the help of a $436,000 business development incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corp and tax abatement from the city of Detroit. The new space will allow the company to keep up with its organic growth of 5-7 percent annually.

"The new plant will add about 60 percent of capacity," Johnson says. "There are times of the year when we definitely need it and sometimes we don’t need it."

VernDale Products, which was founded by Johnson’s parents, currently employs a handful of his siblings, in-laws, and other members of his extended family. The company has hired eight people over the last year, ranging from maintenance workers to management. It now employs 49 people who will work between both facilities when the second one opens later this month.

"The plant is highly integrated and automated," Johnson says. "The jobs we provide are good jobs. We need people who think, not just sweat."

Source: Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit firm Quikly seeks to disrupt online marketing industry

Quikly is casting a wide net to find its niche in the digital world.

The downtown Detroit-based startup (it calls fourth floor of 1528 Woodward home) has been expanding into a number of new verticals, such as casino gaming, professional sports, and retail.

"It's been a large-scale effort to reach into these verticals," says Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly. "We're really trying to figure out where we fit best at this point."

Quikly helps brands attract new customers with online deals. It delivers randomly released promotions which reward customers who act quickly to seize the opportunity. It moved to Detroit a little more than a year ago and became one of the portfolio companies of Detroit Venture Partners after raising a $900,000 seed round.

It has since gone to work for a number of different companies in the Quicken Loans family of companies and other large corporations including Domino's Pizza, Moose Jaw, Pet Supplies Plus, and Greektown Casino.

"That industry (casino gaming) is ready for disruption," Geller says.

Quikly has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 14 employees and three interns. The startup is set to clock $500,000 in revenue this year and is aiming to hit $3 million to $5 million and 20-30 employees in revenue in 2015.

Source: Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit's Savorfull is showing pro sports teams how to eat healthier

Savorfull, a New Center-based startup that connects businesses with healthy eating options, is growing after landing a number of prominent clients, the foremost among them being professional sports teams.

"Some of the best successes we have had is with professional sports," says Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull, whose clients include the Cleveland Cavaliers (an NBA team) and the Cleveland Gladiators (an Arena Football team).

Savorfull helps professional sports teams and other large organizations provide healthy food to their fans, workers, and clients by lining them up with packaged healthy allergen friendly foods such as energy bars, snacks, trail mixes, cereals and beverages. 

Savorfull has also been working with arenas, casinos, and wide variety of businesses both big and small. Many (but not all) of them are part of the Quicken Loans family of companies. All of them are interested in making smart decisions about what their employees eat.

"They are feeding team members all day," Goldberg says.

Savorfull is currently working to win one of the Chase Small Business Mission Main Street grants. The startup’s team of three people plans to use the money to create a comprehensive marketing plan that includes a digital marketing campaign, a trade show presence, and adding more staff. You can vote for Savorfull here.

"We want to work with these companies that understand that choosing food is proactive and is a form of healthcare," Goldberg says.

Source: Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Social media startup Social2Step gears up for national stage

Social2Step is starting to land clients locally and across the U.S.

The downtown Detroit-based social media startup recently completed a pilot with Quicken Loans and has a longstanding relationship with a Lake Tahoe-based concert promotion company.

"They're using my platform to get the word out on social media when an act comes into Lake Tahoe," says Susan Burke, founder & CEO of Social2Step. "They have been a fun client."

Burke launched Social2Step early last year when she joined Bizdom. Her startup empowers employees to become ambassadors for their company's products online. The hope is that more sales makes a healthier business and in turn makes the jobs of the employees advocating for the products and services more secure.

Social2Step and its team of three people is currently closing in on $50,000 in annual revenue for this year. Next year Burke hopes to hit $150,000 as she works to grow the company's customer base.

"We're in client acquisition mode," Burke says.

Source: Susan Burke, founder & CEO of Social2Step
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

UHY plans to open 25-person office in Chrysler House


Accounting company UHY is opening another Metro Detroit office in downtown Detroit, a move that will bring 25 new jobs to the city’s central business district.

The CPA firm provides a variety of accounting services for businesses, ranging from tax consulting to forensic auditing. Some of its clients include the likes of downtown Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions. UHY has offices in Macomb and Oakland counties that employ more than 300 people.

UHY will move 25 of those employees to the new office in the Chrysler House near Campus Martius. The company will occupy the sixth floor of the 23-story building, occupying 4,000 square feet. It plans to execute the move in November.

"We've always wanted to make the move downtown and figured now is as good of a time than ever," Krystina Borrocci, director of marketing for UHY, wrote in an email. "There's lots of momentum, and a lot of movement both in the city and into the city. We have a significant client base there, as well as ties to the local community."

Rock Ventures, part of the Quicken Loans family of companies owned by Dan Gilbert, bought the Dime Building in 2011 and renamed it the Chrysler House. It has since renovated the structure and created space for a number of new businesses. That work was a primary reason why UHY decided to open downtown.

"One of the reasons we wanted to be in a Gilbert building was so that we could grow out of it before the lease is up, and continue to take more space in Chrysler House or in one of his other buildings," Borrocci wrote in an email.

Source: Krystina Borrocci, director of marketing for UHY
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grand Circus celebrates first year in downtown Detroit


Last year, Grand Circus opened its doors in downtown Detroit to any and all interested in learning about software development. One year later, the company found hundreds of people willing to take them up on their services and has its sights set on deepening the local tech talent pool.

"Our business is developing talent for high-growth, high-demand jobs," says Damien Rocchi, CEO of Grand Circus.

Grand Circus occupies about 5,000 square feet in the Broderick Tower overlooking Grand Circus Park. Two of its three floors in the skyscraper are occupied by classroom space. The third floor is a co-working space for tech entrepreneurs.

About 500 people have leveraged Grand Circus’ variety of classes and workshops, ranging from eight-week classes in software development to boot camps on mobile app development. For instance, Grand Circus recently held an eight-week class in .NET development that wrapped up in August. Since then, more than 70 percent of the 42 people who took the class have been hired, and the job prospects of the remainder of the students are looking up.

"We're optimistic we can get the number up to 85 percent," Rocchi says.

Grand Circus has expanded its staff to 10 full-time employees, 30 instructors, and three summer interns. Rocchi believes those numbers will grow as the demand for software developers continues to go up. Rocchi declined to comment on the status of Grand Circus' revenues beyond acknowledging that the numbers are trending in the right direction.

"We're ahead of where we want to be," Rocchi says.

Source: Damien Rocchi, CEO of Grand Circus
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Eastern Market lands $250K grant for strategic planning

A quarter of a million dollars will help fund strategic planning efforts for Eastern Market that will help grow businesses in the district.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded the $250,000 grant to Eastern Market Corporation to pay for an update of the district’s development plan. Much of the plan from six years ago has already been implemented by the non-profit that manages the market and surrounding business district, such as renovating the farmers market sheds and protecting the character of the historic district.

"We want to make sure we engage our broad range of stakeholders in a more robust way," says Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp.

That includes fostering more entrepreneurship in the community. The farmers market now operates both Saturday and Tuesday and includes more space for a broader variety of vendors. Now there is more room for food entrepreneurs trying to get lifestyle businesses off the ground.

One of those challenges is modernizing the built infrastructure in the market. Many of the buildings are over a century old and were not constructed to accommodate 21st century businesses. Eastern Market's leaders wants to find a way to maintain the authenticity that plays a critical part in attracting 2 million visitors annually while also providing a solid foundation for young businesses to grow.

Eastern Market Corporation expects the new strategic plan to encompass the central market itself, along with the Gratiot commercial corridor and adjacent light industrial area. The new report is set to be released in late spring of next year.

Source: Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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