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BUILD partners with Etsy to offer craft entrepreneurship classes in Detroit

Etsy is coming to Detroit thanks to a partnership with a local nonprofit.

BUILD Institute, which teaches the basic building blocks of business to Detroit entrepreneurs, will offer Etsy’s Craft Entrepreneurship Program in Detroit this spring, providing micro-business training for underemployed, low-income adults with creative skills.

Etsy is an online marketplace for crafts and homemade goods. Its Craft Entrepreneurship Program will not only help people harness their creative skills to earn extra income, but will teach them how best to market and sell their goods and connect with local entrepreneurial resources. The five-week course costs $75 for BUILD graduates and $100 per person for the general public.

"We're assessing the program as we go through it," says April Boyle, executive director of BUILD Institute. "If this pilot goes well, we will run it again."

The BUILD Institute got its start in 2012 as a program of D:hive, a multi-faceted welcome center that connected Detroiters and visitors with various opportunities in the city. BUILD specializes in helping aspiring entrepreneurs learn the basics of starting their own businesses and has grown into an independent organization since it spun off of D:Hive earlier this year. It has graduated 460 people since its inception. It graduated 160 people last year and is currently running six classes of about 60 people. Most of them are from Detroit, but some come from suburbs as close as Ferndale or as far away as Ann Arbor.

"There is a waiting list," Boyle says. "We can't keep up with demand."

Source: April Boyle, executive director of BUILD Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

$500K Skillman grant will help connect 5,000 Detroit kids with summer jobs

The Skillman Foundation is giving $500,000 toward helping put 5,000 young Detroiters to work this summer.

The Riverfront-based foundation’s money will go toward further developing the Grow Detroit's Young Talent youth employment initiative. The funds will be split into two grants: $400,000 will go toward the downtown-based nonprofit City Connect Detroit to administer the Grow Detroit's Young Talent program. The remaining $100,000 goes to the Philadelphia Youth Network, which is providing a state-of-the-art employment portal for Grow Young Detroit Talent.

"It's a tremendous help," says Shuna Hayward, program director of City Connect Detroit. "The portal has been one of the big missing links."

Grow Young Detroit Talent is a collaboration between local employers and the city of Detroit, led by Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration. It aims to connect 5,000 14-to-24-year-olds with jobs this summer. The Philadelphia Youth Network is supposed to help streamline that process by enabling both employers and young people to sign up for the program and connect the best candidates for the right jobs.

Last year, private and public efforts were able to pair 3,600 young people with jobs in the city. Among the major companies participating this year are DTE Energy, Quicken Loans, and CVS. The jobs ranged from manual labor positions to office internships.

"We try to match it with where the young people are developmentally," Hayward says.

Source: Shuna Hayward, senior program director for City Connect Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit startup Slope makes cut for prestigious Microsoft Venture Accelerator

Slope, a startup creating a video production platform for everyday people, made the cut for the newest class in the Microsoft Venture Accelerator program. The 1-year-old company is one of 14 startups from across North America to earn an invitation to the accelerator (more than 500 applied) and the only Detroit-based startup.

This is the second class for the Microsoft Venture Accelerator. The residency begins this week and takes place over four months in Seattle. Each startup receives $25,000 in seed capital without giving up any equity. Check out a Fast Company story about the newest class for the Microsoft Venture Accelerator here.

Most importantly for the Slope team, it receives a front-row seat on how to build and launch an enterprise-level software platform from the corporation best known for it.

"It was really a no-brainer for us to go for this accelerator," says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of Slope.

Slope, formerly TernPro, is creating a video-creation platform so simple and accessible that everyday people can produce online videos and track the public's interaction with them. The platform also allows the user to store their photos, graphics, and videos so they are available to create more online content. The startup's platform is currently in private Beta.

"We hope to have a public launch at the end of the accelerator," Bosche says.

Bosche co-founded Slope with Dan Bloom shortly after the pair completed their fellowship with Venture For America, a program similar to Teach For America that pairs talented young people with startups in economically challenged cities. The two recent college grads were part of the first class of VFA fellows in Detroit in 2012.

Bosche worked at the Bizdom accelerator in downtown Detroit, helping startups in the incubator tell their stories through short videos. That work served as the inspiration for the Slope, which has grown its staff to seven people. Bosche (who lives in the tax foreclosure house in Virginia Park that VFA fellows are renovating) and Bloom plan to return to Detroit after the accelerator program is finished and continue building out Slope in the Motor City.

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

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

Fathead adds 44 people, staff hits triple digits

Fathead got its start by selling kids life-size decals of the athletes they idolize. Today the 9-year-old firm is finding some of its biggest gains from business-to-business sales.

Business-to-business work helped lead Fathead's growth spurt in 2014. It is now a $50 million company.

"That continues to be a very big area of focus for us," says Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead.

Business-to-business work included custom work for large companies and institutions. Among that subset is work for universities, such as the University of Michigan, which use Fathead’s custom decals for athletic and other events.

"Universities are really finding that we can transform their spaces," Cline says.

Fathead makes poster-size decals of everything from famous athletes to major brands. Dan Gilbert acquired the firm eight years ago, making it a member of the Quicken Loans family of companies.

Fathead has expanded its business by licensing major brands, such as Martha Stewart and John Deere. It is also getting ready to launch a new venture called Studio F, which allows artists to sell their work online as a fathead decal poster while Fathead keeps a percentage of each sale.

That work has enabled the downtown Detroit-based firm to add significantly to its staff. It has hired 44 people, bumping its staff size to just over 100 workers. It is currently looking to hire two software engineers. More info on those openings here.

Source: Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

GreenLancer hires new CEO, begins raising Series B financing

GreenLancer is making some big hires and raising some big money this year. The downtown Detroit-based startup has hired its first CEO and is in the midst of raising a significant round of seed capital.

The new CEO is Zac MacVoy, a graduate of Lake Superior State University and most recently a vice president of sales at United Lighting Standards. MacVoy is leading GreenLancer's efforts to raise a multi-million dollar Series B round. It has closed half of its goal and will close on the rest later this spring.

"We feel he will be a key component as we scale to meet demand," says Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer.

GreenLancer is a product of the Bizdom accelerator program. It developed a software platform that guides businesses through the process of integrating green technology into their operations, such as solar panels. The platform provides high quality solar system designs needed to build and install solar electric systems, enabling contractors to manage projects, get quotes, order, and receive design services from one centralized place.

"We produce the design that the contractors use to install solar systems," Sharber says.

GreenLancer started by offering these services to commercial clients. It is now looking to expand into the residential market. The Series B will help the company with marketing, product development, and staff expansion. It has hired 14 people over the last year and now employs a staff of 22. It is also looking to hire a handful of web developers.

Source: Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Atomic Object looks for bigger space in downtown Detroit

Atomic Object is adding positions to its office in downtown Detroit and keeping an eye out for more space to house its new hires.

"We are looking for a new space that will give us some room to grow," says Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object.

The Grand Rapids-based software firm opened an office in Harmonie Park a couple of years ago and has since grown to a staff of six people. It has hired three people over the last year, including two young women who recently graduated from Michigan State University and Wayne State University. It's also looking to hire a couple of software developers.

"We are always open to hiring high-quality people," Erickson says.

The company is looking at moving to a bigger office in Detroit later this year, but a new space hasn’t been picked out yet. Erickson plans to keep the company downtown.

Atomic Object's work with large and small companies in Detroit has helped fuel its growth. One of the firm's clients is a startup called SingleThread, a company that helps car dealership service managers better communicate with customers to let them know the status of car repairs.

"It's getting some excellent traction," Erickson says.

Source: Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Jones Day, the lawfirm that guided Detroit through bankruptcy, to open downtown office

The law firm that guided the city of Detroit in and out of bankruptcy is staking a claim in the Motor City. Cleveland-based Jones Day plans to open a satellite office in downtown Detroit later this summer.

"Part of being invested in Detroit is being in Detroit," says Tim Melton, partner in charge of Jones Day's Detroit office. "There was never a question we would be in downtown Detroit."

Melton is a graduate of Wayne State University Law School and a former clerk to Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich when he served as a District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. Melton has been with Jones Day since 1980 and will move to Detroit from Chicago to open the new office.

The location of Jones Day's new office has yet to be selected, but Melton says that decision will be made in the next few weeks and the office will open by July. Melton expects the Detroit office to grow to six attorneys and as many support staff.

"The beauty of being a part of a 2,400 person law firm is there isn't a specific skillset I need in my office in Detroit that we don’t already have in Cleveland or elsewhere," Melton says. "Our hiring in Detroit will be more opportunistic."

Source: Tim Melton, partner in charge of the Detroit office for Jones Day
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Exxodus Pictures adds staff thanks to more commercial and film work

Exxodus Pictures is growing from its base in downtown Detroit thanks to more work in both film and commercials.

The M@dison Building-based company released the movie "Jinn" last year. It has also made three commercials and is gearing up to make the first of a slate of three movies later this year.

"Our main thing is movies," says Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-owner of Exxodus Pictures. "But if we get contacted for a commercial job, we don't turn it down."

The 5-year-old firm's first theatrical release, "Jinn," came out last spring. The movie is about an elite class of warriors/monsters who are ancient, supernatural, and made of fire. (Check out the trailer for the film here.) The film was released in 210 theaters in North America. It is set to release across multiple channels like Dish Network and Amazon this week.

Exxodus Pictures employs a core staff of 10 people after hiring two editors and two graphic designers. The company will also crew up to 30 people when it shoots commercials and up to 50 people while shooting a movie.

Exxodus Pictures recently received $1.3 million in tax incentives from the state of Michigan to film three made-in-Michigan movies. Those include "My Soul to Keep," "Swish Master," and "Golem." "Swish Master" is a story about Max Sheffield, a boy who unleashes black magic to put a stop to the bullying he is experiencing at school, but realizes along the way he may not be the one in control after all.

"Golem" centers around Adina Akhavan, who witnesses the annihilation of her village by Nazi soldiers. But then an otherworldly beast emerges and decimates the barbarous soldiers and Adina escapes into the forest. Weeks later, she is befriended by Captain Jaeger and his elite team of SS relic hunters who were sent to investigate the disappearance of the brigade and to secure the ancient beast. Adina has no choice but to hide her true identity, help Captain Jaeger secure the beast, and wait for the perfect moment to enact her revenge.

"My Soul to Keep" follows 9-year-old Eli Braverman, who is terrified of his basement and the evil that he thinks is living there. When his older sister Emily abandons her babysitting duties, Eli is left home alone to confront the darkness and the creature that may be lurking in it.

"We're looking to start shooting that in the spring," Ahmad says.

Source: Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-owner of Exxodus Pictures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HealthCure looks to raise $3M for infection prevention tech

HealthCure is making a big ask of investors this year, though the Detroit-based startup believes it has the stats to back up its request.

The 5-year-old company's platform helps hospitals reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections. Its software team works with the staff of medical centers to find places where infections can be prevented and helps the institution meet Affordable Care Act benchmarks. HealthCure recently finished a pilot program with Oakwood Healthcare System and is publishing a paper with the results.

"We reduced infections by 20 percent in areas we worked," says Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure. "[Oakwood] saved more than $1 million."

HealthCure plans to use that report as it works to raise a Series A round of seed capital. The firm is hoping to raise $3 million by this spring. Arizmendi believes that is possible as he continues to pitch investors from Chicago.

"We'd like to be in several healthcare systems in the Chicago and Michigan markets," Arizmendi says.

HealthCure is also looking at expanding into other markets over the next year, including California. To accomplish that, the company has hired one person over the last year, expanding its staff to eight people. It is also looking to hire two more executive-level staffers.

Source: Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Compass aims to connect freelancers with small businesses

A couple of Venture For America fellows are looking to better connect small businesses with local freelancers with their new startup, Compass.

The downtown Detroit-based startup aims to draw upon a network of well-vetted freelancers to help small businesses flesh out their online presence with better websites, digital marketing, and social media. Compass clients are guided through an easy process where they get a dedicated freelancer to create an affordable, agency-quality website for their business. In return the startup takes a percentage of the bill for doing the business-side work so the freelancers can focus on their specialty.

"We manage the project," says Mike Wilner, CEO of Compass. "We handle all of the things a freelancer doesn’t want to handle."

Wilner launched Compass with Taylor Sundali seven months ago. Both are part of the 2013 class of Venture For America, a Teach For America-like program that pairs promising recent college grads with startups in economically challenged cities on two-year fellowships. Wilner worked for Social Proof and Sundali worked at Doodle Home before launching Compass.

The inspiration came from the parents of the fellows. Both sets of parents are small business owners and have been asking both 20-somethings for more and more help with beefing up the online presence of their companies.

"My parents sat me down and asked me for a lot of advice," Wilner says. "More than they ever had before."

The Compass team is currently going through the Venture For America Accelerator out east but plans to return to Detroit later this spring. They are already working with four local freelancers to pair with small businesses and plan to expand that stable of independent contractors markedly over this year.

"We want to have a lively community of freelancers working with us," Wilner says.

Source: Mike Wilner, CEO of Compass
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AutoHarvest goes global by adding more Asian clients

AutoHarvest got its start with the idea of growing Michigan's new economy by enabling local entrepreneurs to leverage the intellectual property coming out of the universities and major corporations in the Great Lakes State. Today the nonprofit is aiming beyond the state's borders.

"We've been growing," says Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest. "We have been increasing our membership and database...[which] now contains about 90,000 intellectual property opportunities."

AutoHarvest has been targeting Asian-based firms to engage with its membership and plans to continue that expansion throughout this year by connecting more international businesses with the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The four-person nonprofit (it has hired two people over the last year) fosters collaboration and innovation in the auto industry by making things like tech labs and intellectual property more accessible. The 4-year-old organization has offices at the University of Michigan and TechTown.

Despite its recent foray into internationalism, AutoHarvest still regularly engages with local firms and entrepreneurs. For instance, Optimal Process Technologies is developing technology that improves the weldability of dissimilar materials. The processes will support the production of multi-material structures, reducing vehicle weight and improving vehicle fuel efficiency.

"The entrepreneur who licensed the technology came across it as a member of AutoHarvest," Pankin says.

Source: Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Creative firm Agency 720 expands across U.S., adds staff in downtown Detroit


For a creative agency, it's good to work with a major automaker’s brand. It's even better when you’re the recommended tier 2 marketing agency for Chevrolet.

That's the case with Agency 720, which has been growing its presence across North America steadily over the last year. It is now in 141 markets across the continent, mainly handling advertising work for Chevy dealerships across the U.S.

"They are a fabulous partner," says Harold Kobakof, president & CEO of Agency 720.

The downtown Detroit-based firm’s has added seven markets over the last year. It has also added work outside of the automotive industry, handling work with Pulte Homes. Most of Agency 720’s work, however, comes from Chevrolet dealerships.

"We're looking to expand into seven more markets this year," Kobakof says.

That expansion has allowed the four-year-old firm to expand its staff to 110 people after hiring 10 over the last year. Those new jobs include account managers and directors. Agency 720 is also in the process of hiring a graphic designer.

Source: Harold Kobakof, president & CEO of Agency 720
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Truscott Rossman adds four new employees at RenCen office

Truscott Rossman's Detroit office has come a long way since its opened a little more than a year ago. The public relations agency now employs a staff of four people in the Renaissance Center.

"We felt a commitment to go above and beyond for our Detroit clients rather than just working out of the Lansing office," says Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

The Lansing-based firm got its start four years ago when Rossman-McKinney and John Truscott merged their well-known PR firms into what is now Truscott Rossman. The new company now has satellite offices in Grand Rapids and Detroit.

It has hired nine people over the last year, including four former interns, expanding its staff to 25 employees. Among its recent hires in Detroit are digital media director Chad Cyrowski, account executive Dan Herrick, account executive Matt Brady, and strategic communications leader John Bailey.

Truscott Rossman currently serves a number of clients in Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Some of those include DTE Energy, Detroit Medical Center, the city of Detroit, and the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department.

"I expect we will have at least 10 clients coming out of southeast Michigan," says Rossman-McKinney, who describes the Detroit market as "bursting with opportunities."

"I would like to add at least two more professionals."

Source: Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ash & Anvil to offer Detroit-made clothes for short men


Steven Mazur isn't a tall man. At 5 feet 6 inches, he’s not exactly Peter Dinklage-size, but he is familiar with the challenges people of shorter stature face. It served as the inspiration for, Ash & Anvil, the men's clothing company he co-founded with Eric Huang.

"We were thinking about the challenges we face," Mazur says. "Finding clothes has not been easy."

Ash & Anvil specializes in making clothes for men 5 feet 8 inches and under, addressing many of the challenges shorter people face when buying clothes. For instance, when Mazur buys pants he knows the average inseam is 30 inches, but his measures 28 inches. Ash & Anvil's first line of clothing will launch with a line of casual, button-down shirts. It hopes to expand into jeans, dress pants/shirts, and athletic apparel later this year,

Mazur and Huang are Venture For America fellows who came to Detroit in 2013 as part of the second class of aspiring entrepreneurs in the Motor City. Venture For America pairs recent college grads with startups in economically challenged cities. Detroit was one of the programs first participating cities.

Ash & Anvil are currently working on a crowdfunding campaign to fund its first run of clothes, which will be made in Detroit. The campaign as a goal of raising $10,000 and has already raised more than $9,000.

Source: Stevem Mazur and Eric Huang, co-founder of Ash & Anvil
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

H2Bid aims to grow business through analytics in 2015

For most of its eight years, H2Bid has been know as a place for water utilities to save money by taking their business online. Now it’s looking to bring those utilities more savings through data analytics.

"We have a ton of data we have collected over the years," says Glenn Oliver, president & CEO of H2Bid. "Basically it's procurement information from water utilities."

The four-person firm's software platform helps water utilities bid out projects over the Internet, enabling them to strike the best deal in the most cost-effective manner. It is now looking to work with some of Michigan research universities to add data analytics to its list of services. The idea is to help the downtown Detroit-based firm’s customers make smarter decisions about everything from pricing to procurement.

H2Bid hopes to execute on that pivot later this winter and spring. It is also looking at developing a procurement platform later this year to help add more value to its customers.

"It's kind of a natural fit for us," Oliver says. "It's something we're excited about."

Source: Glenn Oliver, president & CEO of H2Bid
Writer: Jon Zemke

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