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Paxahau picks up pace, moves to larger office in Corktown

Paxahau is most well known for producing electronic music shows, in particular Movement Electronic Music Festival. But they put on a lot more, and the number of those shows has spiked.

Paxahau had averaged about 15 events annually until recently. But in 2014, it hit a new high with 25 events. Last year was even better with Paxahau producing 45 shows, including its signature events like Movement, the Detroit Jazz Festival, and two Detroit Restaurant Week events.

"Last year was very active," says Jason Huvaere, president of Paxahau. "We also produced our first out-of-area show."

Movement Getaway Puerto Rico was an electronic music festival held in San Juan with a local partner in mid November. It was so successful that Huvaere plans to do it again this year.

Paxahau's current workload of nearly one event per week has meant that the company needed to grow. It moved its offices to a larger location in Corktown earlier this year. About two thirds of the 12,000 square foot space is dedicated to warehousing and the rest is office space for its core team of a dozen people. Paxahau usually staffs up to a couple hundred people when its putting on its big events, such as Movement.

"It might be more than that now," Huvaere says. "With our contractors it could get up to 350 people."

Huvaere plans to keep growing Paxahau by sticking to his knitting and focusing on its core business of event production. He also is looking at expanding the Movement Getaway brand with more shows.

"We love what we do," Huvaere says. "I would say if anything we want to maintain the course we are on right now."

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

Tech startup aims to raise $1M for visual content platform

This is the year tech startup TernPro expects to take off.

They believe its visual content software platform, Slope, will gain traction with customers and hit some significant milestones. The biggest one TernPro is closing a $1 million seed round later this spring. It's also looking to bring its platform, which is currently in private Beta, online to the public.

"This year it's really about product development and customers," says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of TernPro. "Once we close this round we want to perfect the product and get it out in the field."

Bosche is a member of the inaugural 2012 class of Venture for America, a two-year program that pairs talented college grads with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. He worked with the leadership team at the Bizdom startup accelerator in downtown Detroit during his fellowship, helping many of the startups in the incubator tell their stories through short videos.

Bosche and fellow VFAer Dan Bloom launched TernPro in downtown Detroit two years ago, primarily as a full-service digital video agency. Not long after they started developing Slope, a software platform that enables novice digital media users to design, store, produce, and collaborate on creating visual content.

TernPro was accepted to the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator last year, a program that helps startups build their technology and scale their products. The TernPro team was attracted to it because of Microsoft's expertise in developing enterprise software, and opened an office in Seattle after completing the accelerator.

"We still work very closely with them," Bosche says. "It's been a great relationship."

TernPro has a team of eight people after hiring three in UIX design and software development in the last year. The company recently moved to the Elevator Building overlooking the Detroit Riverfront.

The company released Slope in private Beta in late 2015, and plans to make it public later this year to start building out its customer base.

"It's a fully functioning product but we are still building it out," Bosche says. "We even got our first paying customer."

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

Exxodus Pictures expands workload with 3D modeling, animation

Exxodus Pictures made a name for itself when it premiered its first feature-length film, "Jinn," a couple years ago. Since then, the 6-year old firm has expanded into several other areas, including developing television commercials and handling 3D modeling and animation work for the auto industry.

"A lot of our business comes from the commercial side," says Ajmal Zaher, co-founder & owner of Exxodus Pictures.

The downtown Detroit-based firm, whose offices are in M@dison Building, has done a lot of regional commercial work. Its largest customer for television commercials, however, is One Reverse Mortgage, for which Exxodus Pictures handles all of its national spots.

Exxodus Pictures has also taken on work creating computer graphics for industrial clients. That includes General Motors, which hired Exxodus Pictures to do 3D modeling and animation work.

Even though Exxodus Pictures has diversified its revenue streams, it still hasn’t stopped making movies. The firm received $1.3 million in tax incentives from the state of Michigan to film three made-in-Michigan movies last year. One such film is "My Soul to Keep," which follows 9-year old Eli Braverman, who is terrified of his basement and the evil that might lurk there.

"Remember when you were little and thought there was something living in your basement?" Zaher says. "This movie explores that."

Exxodus Pictures and its core team of five people -- which staffs much more when a film is in production -- has finished shooting "My Soul to Keep" and is in the process of editing it. Zaher expects to release the movie in late 2016 or early 2017.

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

ASTI Environmental targets urban work with new downtown office

Put simply, ASTI Environmental is a company that specializes in urban restoration. So the decision for the Brighton-based firm to open an office in downtown Detroit, the center of urban restoration in Michigan today, seems obvious.

ASTI specializes in the technical side of urban redevelopment, such as working on incentives for real-estate development or brownfield redevelopment.

The firm is also no stranger to Detroit. Its first project in the city involved working in the Crystal Mines -- the enormous salt mines underneath Detroit -- 30 years ago. Since then, ASTI has played a part in 1,500 projects in Detroit, including the redevelopment of former Stroh's Headquarters into Stroh River Place on Jos. Campau.

"With our history in the City of Detroit since 1985, it's high time that we hang a shingle there," says Tom Wackerman, president of ASTI Enironmental. "We've been instrumental in so many redevelopment projects in the city and see a great future for Detroit as it redefines what it means to be an American city. I couldn't be more pleased to be in the middle of one of the Nation’s best urban comeback stories."

ASTI is opening up its Detroit office in another former Stroh building: the brewing company's former headquarters at 28 W. Adams in Detroit. The 19-story building is currently known as the Grand Park Centre building overlooking Grand Circus Park.

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

Local chip-maker expands its operations

Uncle Ray's is one of those bags of chips you can find in just about any party store or grocery in Detroit. But the people behind the potato chip maker are optimistic that it could become a go-to brand of chips in retailers across the country.

"We think Uncle Ray's has the kind of upside where we could double our current volume in the short-term," says Brian Gaggin, vice president of Uncle Ray's. "We could probably do that within five to six years."

Uncle Ray's is named for Ray Jenkins who started selling potato chips out of the back of his car in 1965. The chip maker became a wholly-owned subsidiary of The H.T. Hackney Co, one of the largest wholesale distributors in the U.S., in 2006. Uncle Ray's is now based on the city's west side, near the intersection of I-96 and Wyoming, where 175 of the company's 200 employees works. Over the last year, it's hired over 20 new employees for production work.

"About 80 percent of our employees are city residents," says Gaggin. "If our growth trend continues, we'll be adding even more people."

Uncle Ray's has lodged close to 20 percent growth over the last two years, expanding sales of its low-priced chips into a number of new retailers across middle America, including Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama. They also recently signed a deal with Minor League Baseball to become the league's official potato chip.

"It's an ideal fit," Gaggin says. "It's a family event, a reasonably priced, family fun activity."

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

Solar panel work powers triple-digit growth at GreenLancer

To say GreenLancer has been on a growth streak in recent years might be a bit of an understatement.

The alternative energy startup watched its revenue jump 340 percent last year, including a 1,440-percent spike in permit-ready plan sets for solar projects produced in that time. That allowed GreenLancer to hire a couple dozen people, going from 10 employees in January 2015 to 34 today. The new hires included solar engineers, software developers, human resources, and accountants.

"Really all across the board," says Zac MacVoy, CEO of GreenLancer.

The downtown Detroit-based startup, with offices in the Ford Building, facilitates the design and execution of permit-ready plans for installing solar panels. Its software platform and team provides its customers with everything needed to install alternative energy infrastructure. That ranges from feasibility studies to concept designs to permit packages to installers.

"GreenLancer helps solar panel installation companies scale and be more efficient," MacVoy says. "We help them sell and install more, and improve their inefficiencies."

GreenLancer works primarily in solar energy, which has become increasingly popular now that costs to install a solar array have dropped significant in recent years. Almost all of GreenLancer’s projects are on the residential side, but GreenLancer is looking to generate more work from commercial projects in 2016.

"It's all going to depend on the traction we can get," MacVoy says.

MacVoy came onto the GreenLancer team as CEO early last year shortly after the startup raised a $5 million Series B round. The company is currently looking to raise a "substantially bigger" Series C in 2017, but MacVoy wants to spend more time in the interim on building up the company's clientele and fine-tuning its business model.

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

Detroiter invents cooker that makes diabetic-friendly rice


Swad Komanduri isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with his first startup. He's just trying to reinvent the rice cooker.

Komanduri came up with the idea after his father was a diagnosed with diabetes. His father is a vegetarian who eats Indian dishes composed mainly of rice, which his doctor suggested he cut from his diet.

The Komanduri family had a better idea. Instead of preparing the rice in traditional cookers, they started cooking the rice al dente, so it's still slightly firm. The end result is a significant reduction in its glycemic index -- as much as 30 percent. Within a few months, Komanduri's father returned to pre-diabetic health levels.

"It immediately improved my dad’s health," says Komanduri.

But cooking rice in a pot requires some maintenance. Given his family's proclivity for the grain, that added up to a couple of hours each day of watching rice cook.

"You can't just put it on the oven and go to the gym," he says.

So Komanduri, who worked in robotics in high school and got an engineering degree, started to tinker.

He is also a fellow with the 2014 class of Venture for America in Detroit. The nonprofit pairs promising college graduates with startups in economically challenged areas like Detroit in search of talent. Komanduri has spent the last two years working for NextEnergy and is nearing the end of his fellowship. He had been weighing different opportunities to launch his own company, and then the rice cooker idea popped into the center of his family’s life.

Komanduri launched a crowd-funding campaign to produce the initial prototypes with an eye on commercializing them within the next year. He hopes to raise $5,000.

Source: Swad Komanduri, founder of Simple Kitchen
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

After leading the city through bankruptcy, Jones Day grows its Detroit office

White-shoe law firm Jones Day made a splash in early 2015 when it announced plans to open an office in Detroit after successfully guiding the city through municipal bankruptcy. A year later, the growth of the firm's Detroit business has led Jones Day to lease 25,000 square feet in the 150 W. Jefferson Building in downtown Detroit.
 
"Over the last year we have built the personnel from three lawyers to 10," says Tim Melton, partner in charge of Jones Day Detroit.

In addition to its 10 staff attorneys, Jones Day's Detroit office employs two full-time support staff and hosts a steady rotation of legal personnel from the multinational firm's other offices.

"We have enough space for 25 lawyers," Melton says. "The expectation is we will have that many lawyers by 2018."

Based in Cleveland, Jones Day has 43 offices around the world. The law firm made a name for itself locally when it helped shepherd Detroit through municipal bankruptcy in 2013. One of its partners, Kevin Orr, left the practice to serve as Detroit emergency financial manager during that time. He eventually rejoined Jones Day after the city exited bankruptcy.

The law firm opened a Detroit office last year to help better serve its clients in the area. Melton declined to discuss its current roster of local clientele but did say the firm has been adding new clients and new work from existing clients over the last year.

"We're starting to do work with more companies on the automotive side and other large businesses that are headquartered here or have large operations in Detroit," Melton says.

Source: Tim Melton, partner in charger of Jones Day Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Corridor Sausage conquers Midwest markets one weenie at a time

Corridor Sausage is a staple in metro Detroit. Go to Detroit's Eastern Market or the Royal Oak Farmers Market and you will find people crowding around a stand to buy Corridor's gourmet sausages. Same thing with events at Ford Field or jet setters at Metro Airport. It's almost to the point where it's hard not to stumble across a Corridor Sausage product in the Motor City.

But what's making life good for the Eastern Market-based food startup is that its brand is spreading far beyond the region, and even Michigan. The 6-year-old business recently launched into the Chicago and Wisconsin markets through new distributors, and it is planning to make headway into major metro areas in Pennsylvania through another new distributor this year. And then there is Ohio.

"Ohio has been really great for us the last 12 months," says Will Branch, co-owner of Corridor Sausage. "We are adding as much geographic territory as fast as we can."

Corridor Sausage specializes in making artisan sausages from fresh, local ingredients. Its selection of links ranges from chorizo to bacon and beer brats to Morrocan lamb and fig. Demand for these sausages has jumped 30 percent over the last year as the Corridor Sausage team works to keep up with the mix of local customers it has cultivated over the years and new clientele just discovering the brand.

"We're still tracking similar growth for 2016," Branch says. "It's always a mix of those two things. The last thing you want to do is start covering new ground and forget about your existing territory."

Corridor Sausage has made four hires (two full-time, two-part-time over the last year, all on the production end. It now employees seven full-time people, two part-time employees, and an intern from the Detroit Food Academy.

"We will definitely start hiring again in a month," Branch says. "Our busy season starts off in April, May."

Corridor Sausage also recently opened a stand in the McNamara Terminal of Metro Airport. The small venue opened near Gate A in November. It joins Corridor Sausage's two retail stands at Ford Field.

"It (the Metro Airport location) has been excellent," Branch says. "It's been really exciting for us."

Source: Will Branch, co-owner of Corridor Sausage
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Three Lyons Creative aims for big third year in Corktown

Three Lyons Creative is in the middle of its small business evolution. The media production firm is in that dynamic stage where it’s no longer just a small group of friends trying to make a job for themselves, but not quite to the point where it's an established small business in the community.

"We're in the in-between stage where we are going from startup to a legitimate business," says Tony Eggert, co-founder of Three Lyons Creative.

Two years ago, Eggert, his brother Daniel, and his cousin Mike Williams, launched the company in Hamtramck. They quit their day jobs so they could work to support Detroit brands and businesses through video, web, audio, and graphic artwork creation. The first year was all about getting on their feet. Last year was about something more than that.

"We have grown substantially over the last year," Eggert says. "We have worked with a lot of clients in and around the city."

Three Lyons Creative added four people to its team this year, including a CFO out of Chicago, rounding it out to seven people. Its workload has grown exponentially with Mercy Education Project, which offers support for low-income women and girls in education, and the Sugar Law Center, a legal aid nonprofit based in Midtown. Three Lyons Creative is also working on its own projects with a focus on improving the quality of life in the city.

"We designed a zine that's all about the state of the parks in the city," Eggert says. "It should launch this spring."

Three Lyons Creative moved to a Bee Hive co-working space inside the St Peter Episcopal Church in Corktown last May. The space is a little bit smaller than its previous home, but it puts the firm at the center of its client base.

"We have really been lucky to work with some fabulous local businesses and organizations that are inline with us ethically," Eggert says.

Source: Tony Eggert, co-founder of Three Lyons Creative
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bon Bon Bon grows into own storefront in downtown Hamtramck

Bon Bon Bon turns 2 years old this summer, and the maker of delicious chocolate snacks has become so successful in such a short time that it has to limit the ways people can give it money.

"We can't meet demand for our products," says Alexandra Clark, founding chocolateer of Bon Bon Bon. "We limited the ways people could get our product. We only sell them through retail."

That’s about to change now that the Hamtramck-based company is moving into a newer, bigger home on Jos. Campau, the city’s main drag. The new location will provide Bon Bon Bon with a retail space and a large production area with enough space for future growth.

"We definitely needed more space and we definitely weren't leaving Hamtramck," Clark says.

Bon Bon Bon purchased the building at 11360 Jos Campau earlier this year. It came with 3,000 square feet of commercial space -- six times bigger than its old home -- on the first floor. There is also residential space on the second floor and more space further into the bowels of the building.

"Downstairs will be our full production space," Clark says. "There is also a basement we can expand into."

Bon Bon Bon has grown into a staff of 10 people in the nearly two years since its founding. About half of that staff works on a full-time basis, while the rest is part-time. That workforce has allowed Bon Bon Bon to double is sales over the last year. Clark expects production to pick up now what she has the room to grow.

"Hopefully this is something that can house us for a very long time," Clark says.

Source: Alexandra Clark, founding chocolateer of Bon Bon Bon
Writer Jon Zemke

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

Bundled finds success making gift baskets from Michiganís best products

Courtney Taylor and Chelsea Gheesling have been writing a blog called Chick in the Mitt for the past few years, covering food, fashion, and social life.

Chick in the Mitt became so popular that retailers and brands started sending them products to review on the blog. What started as a cool fringe benefit turned into a regular routine, and then it became a business idea last fall.

"We decided to put the products together and sell them," Taylor says.

Bundled finds the best products in Michigan and offers to bundle them into themed and customized gift boxes for men, women, and babies. The variety of bundle themes include housewarming goods and Michigan grab bags. The bundles cost between $35 to $50 (shipping included) and are filled with items that retail for roughly double that amount. The idea is to help introduce more of the great products made in the Great Lakes State to a broader audience.

"Customers can choose from a catalog of 30 items and ship them anywhere they want," Taylor says.

A special education teacher for her day job, Taylor employs young people with special needs to help package and ship the bundles. Bundled now ships an average of 50 bundles each month, but the three co-founders of the company plan to scale that number later this year.

Source: Courtney Taylor, co-founder of Bundled
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroitists wanted: Challenge Detroit, DTX, NextEnergy seek applicants

The new year is well underway and that means one thing for current and aspiring Detroiters looking for an opportunity: it's application time.

Several of the Motor City's top fellowship programs and incubators are currently taking applications, including Challenge Detroit, TechTown's DTX Launch Detroit, and NextEnergy.

DTX Launch Detroit is accepting applications for its student tech accelerator. The 10-week program is geared toward college students and recent graduates, helping them figure out their startup's value proposition, conduct customer discovery, and build a team. An information session for the program will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at TechTown, 440 Burroughs in New Center.

NextEnergy is looking for entrepreneurs and researchers for its I-Corps Energy and Transportation program. The commercialization training program equips researchers and entrepreneurs with tech-to-market skills to move their ideas out of the lab and into the market.

Challenge Detroit is recruiting applicants for its yearlong leadership-development program aimed at attracting and retaining talent in Detroit. The fellowship program, which is aimed at recent college graduates, provides a living stipend, a full-time job, and community development opportunities.

Challenge Detroit has been bringing in dozens of fellows each year since its launch in 2012. It currently has 90 alumni and 30 people in its 2015-16 fellowship class. It plans to bring on another 30 fellows starting this summer. To shake it up, the nonprofit is recruiting participating host companies to nominate existing employees this year.

"We realized we want to be more inclusive of companies that want to participate in Challenge Detroit but can't afford a new hire," says Shelley Danner, program director for Challenge Detroit. "It's also a way for us to broaden our network."

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

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

Apprentice program keeps talent pipeline gushing at Detroit Labs

Creating jobs for software developers is not difficult. It seems like every company with a toe in the new economy pool needs at least a developer or two on its team. Creating software developers, on the other hand, is not so easy.

But Detroit Labs is making the difficult look easy these days. The downtown Detroit-based tech firm makes custom apps for clients both big and small, such as DTE Energy and Fathead. To meet those needs the company has grown to 90 employees since its launch in 2011, including a dozen new hires over the last year.

"We're always looking for new talent," says Bill Camp, planning and development overlord with Detroit Labs.

Many of the firm's new hires come from the company's apprentice program, which trains software developers and paves the way for full-time employment at the company. It has helped professionals from a number of different industries make the career switch to software. Detroit Labs has run three classes of its apprentice program, which have resulted in 20 new hires in each of the first two and 11 hires in the most recent. Those new hires end up working at Detroit Labs or for one of its clients.

"We highly value our developers," Camp says. "We offer them a great package at Detroit Labs, like flexible schedule and time to work on their own projects. We are also a very flat structure so people can take charge in leading their projects."

It also comes with a number of other perks, such as an in-house fitness program. There employees can sign up for everything from a masseuse to yoga to cardio workouts.

"We had 20-30 people at one point in this fitness program," says Will McDowell, an analyst for Detroit Labs.

All of this has added up to a growing business. Detroit Labs' income has doubled over the last year. That has resulted in it filling out its two floors at1520 Woodward in the M@dison Block of downtown Detroit. The company can still fit all of its employees in its current offices, but it is starting to explore ways to expand that space.

"There is some space in the building we are looking at, but nothing official," Camp says.

Source: Bill Camp & Will McDowell, Detroit Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit redevelopment work leads to growth for Giffels Webster

There are lots of signs that real-estate development in Detroit is back, from rising home prices to the construction of the M-1 Rail line moving ahead at full steam. And then there is growth of an infrastructure consulting firm like Giffels Webster.

The downtown Detroit-based firm has watched its revenue grow by up to 40 percent over the last five years, including a 15 percent jump over the last year. Its staff has spiked from 55 people in 2010 to 86 people today, including 10 new hires. It also promoted three of its managers to partners in a move to assure its future growth.

"We have had a very sustained growth over the last five years," says Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster.

The Giffels Webster team is made up of everyone from civil engineers to landscape architects to city planners to surveyors. The firm typically handles the macro end of real-estate development, such as helping municipalities figure out long-range development plans or developers maximize what they can get out of redeveloping property.

Work typically divides into public works and private land deals. The public portion has played a critical role in the firm’s growth, providing a solid base for it to profit from.

"It helped keep us on an even keel during the recession," Clein says.

But the private land portion is where the growth is at today.

"There has been great growth on all segments," Clein says. "But it has been mainly driven by the private-land side."

While Giffels Webster has enjoyed private-sector growth at its satellite offices in Macomb and Oakland counties, its Detroit work, most of which is coming from redevelopment of existing buildings and even some new build work, is leading the way.

Source: Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster
Writer: Jon Zemke

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