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Red Panda starts selling next generation of digital guitar pedals

Red Panda's claim to fame is building the next generation of guitar pedal that relies on digital technology. After this year it's going to have several claims to fame as the Midtown-based startup releases a new line of products.

Guitar pedals normally utilize analog technology. Red Panda started selling digital guitar pedals four years ago as a way of bringing the technology into the 21st century. They sold well, enabling the company's owner to quit his day job as an electrical engineer and focus on growing Red Panda.

"We have a couple more in the works," says Curt Malouin, owner of Red Panda. "This year we will release 2-3 more products."

One of Red Panda's most recent product releases is the Raster, guitar pedal with a digital delay with a pitch shifter integrated into the feedback loop. The company's website describes the Raster as delivering "a wide range of sounds including harmonized delays, reverse delays, chorus, arpeggios, infinite descents, chaotic self-oscillation, and continuously evolving soundscapes."

Red Panda's guitar pedals are built in the company’s recently expanded space in the Green Garage by a staff of four people. Growing demand for the guitar pedals has prompted Red Panda to add a new hire over the last year and fill out its 600 square feet of space.

"It's getting a little more crowded in there now," Malouin says.

Red Panda has been profitable over the last year after clocking consistently strong sales growth of 60 percent. It sells its guitar pedals directly to retailers in North America, but recently moved to selling to distributors in Europe. The company is looking to increase sales by beefing up both sales channels in 2016.

"We're expanding production and adding new dealers," Malouin says.

Source: Curt Malouin, owner of Red Panda
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fast-growing tech firm QStride moves into One Woodward Avenue

QStride recently made the move from Troy to downtown Detroit, taking up the 16th floor of the One Woodward Avenue.

The Minoru Yamasaki-designed skyscraper was a predecessor in design to the World Trade Center's twin towers. It offers panoramic views of the Detroit River and the central business district. The new space, designed by dPOP!, will offer enough room for the tech firm to grow.

"We needed to expand and get additional office space," says Shane Gianino, CEO of QStride. "We feel Detroit and its tech community is where we needed to be and where we can grow even more."

QStride specializes in everything from business intelligence solutions to IT staffing services. It currently employs 25 people, 15 of whom are internal employees. It has hired eight people over the last year and is looking to fill 30 positions right now. The company’s revenue climbed from $1.3 million 2013 to $1.7 million in 2014 to $2.1 million last year.

QStride is not a stranger to downtown Detroit. The firm, which turns four years old in April, opened a sales office in the Chrysler House in downtown Detroit three years ago. It has been steadily gravitating toward consolidating its operations in Detroit ever since. Moving its headquarters to downtown brings another 10 people to the central business district.

"We want to make a point that we are here," Gianino says. "We believe in this city."

Source: Shane Gianino, CEO of QStride
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Inventev halfway to raising $1.5M seed round for commercial truck tech

Inventev recently landed a $500,000 federal grant, which represents a large chunk of the TechTown-based startup's upcoming seed round.

The 4-year-old clean-tech startup has raised $750,000 in seed capital, including the half-a-million-dollar grant, a matching $50,000 grant from the state of Michigan, and $200,000 worth of in-kind contributions. The $500,000 grant is from the ARPA-E agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

"This satisfies about 50 percent of our seed round," says Dave Stenson, founder and CEO of Inventev. "We hope to close that as soon as possible."

Inventev and its team of four people are developing a hybrid-electric system for commercial trucks. Unlike traditional plug-in electric technology that helps propel a vehicle, Inventev's new transmission architecture allows electric machines to operate other aspects of the trucks. That way the trucks' diesel engines don't need to idle while operating their hydraulic lift to dump a load material.

The $1.5-million seed round, which Stenson hopes to close by at least the second quarter of this year, will go toward building out the first prototype of the platform. Specifically it will be a lab-based delivery vehicle. The second half of the seed round is expected to fund the creation of a road-worthy prototype.

"This is our first hardware set," Stenson says. "It's fair to call it proof of concept prototype."

Source: Dave Stenson, founder & CEO of Inventev
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit startup Castle kicks off first month at Y Combinator

One of the more promising startups in Detroit's tech scene is making a splash several time zones over. Castle, the property-management startup, is nearly done with its first month of work at the Y Combinator accelerator in Silicon Valley.

The world-famous startup accelerator is the cream of the crop when it comes to tech incubators. More than 1,000 startups have passed through its program since its launch in 2005. Its alumni include some current tech heavy hitters like Reddit, AirBnB, and Dropbox. Getting in is no easy task. It took the Castle team three tries before it got its invitation to the Winter 2016 batch. About 5,000 startups applied and only 89 were selected.

"While we're thrilled that leaders in the startup community have recognized what we've accomplished so far, we know that the real work is yet to come," Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle wrote in a recent email. "YC is an opportunity that we’re going to have to work incredibly hard to make the most of, and that’s exactly what we plan to do!"

Castle's software platform streamlines the property management process for landlords and tenants. It provides services for quick fixes, rent collection, and finding new tenants for a flat, monthly fee of $79. The company got its start when three fellows of the first Venture For America class in Detroit were renovating a tax foreclosure in Virginia Park into a future home for VFA fellows.

Castle has since taken over management of hundreds of rental units in Detroit, and it consistently grows its client list by double-digits each month. The company raised a $300,000 seed round in early 2015.

Source: Castle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Famed Pinkerton detective agency opens downtown Detroit office

Pinkerton has opened an office in downtown Detroit that will serve as the headquarters for its Michigan operations.

The private security guard and detective agency has taken 1,800 square feet in the Globe Building (407 E. Fort St.) near Greektown. Four people will work out of that office on a consistent basis, along with a handful of other employees who pass through. The office will serve Pinkerton's Michigan clients, primarily in the manufacturing and technology sectors.

Pinkerton has been a household name in detective agency and security work since the mid-19th century when it was first known as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Its agents were commonly known as Pinkertons and did everything from guard President Lincoln to chasing wild west outlaws like Jesse James.

The company moved its national headquarters to Ann Arbor last year, and has been eyeing opening an office in downtown Detroit ever since. The firm was attracted downtown's rebirth as a tech hub.

"It's something we identified a while ago that we wanted to be a part of," says John Lawrence, vice president of central region for Pinkerton. He adds, "this building (the Globe Building) was a great fit for us."

Source: John Lawrence, vice president of central region for Pinkerton
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Sidewalk Ventures works to connect businesses with local investors across Michigan

Sidewalk Ventures spent its first year helping a local entrepreneurs connect with local investors, but now the Midtown-based company is looking to spread its business model across Michigan.

"It's been a year of educating people and helping people across the state understand what this new phenomenon is," says Jeff Aronoff, principal at Sidewalk Ventures.

Sidewalk Ventures, which calls the Green Garage home, bridges the funding gap for small businesses looking to get their ventures off the ground. The firm pairs clients with local investors to create community-based investment and a smart profit to their backers.

The 1-year-old company helped Sister Pie, a seasonal baked-goods company, lock down five figures of investment last year. The money, which came from local investors, helped Sister Pie secure its retail location in West Village, giving it space for future growth. Sidewalk Ventures is also helping the Detroit City Football Club raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate its new stadium in Hamtramck.

"The investment deal will be open until the middle of February," Aronoff says. "It will be between $400,000 and $750,000. We have already raised $360,000."

Aronoff is currently working to attract more potential small businesses from across Michigan. It's also looking to attract more community organizations, like downtown development authorities, to help it make inroads in neighborhoods across the Great Lakes State.

"This is a tool that can be used by anybody in the state of Michigan," Aronoff says.

Source: Jeff Aronoff, principal at Sidewalk Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Crafting high-quality stories propels Final5's growth

When Matt Dibble goes to his job each day, he isn't thinking about the work he has to do as much as the stories he gets to tell.

The founder of Final5 has learned a lot in the five years since launching his creative agency, first and foremost that the biggest successes come when his clients better connect with their community through stories.

"We realized that our unique ability is in the designing and crafting of stories," Dibble says. "For us it's a little bit more about the story."

Dibble launched his company, which was originally called Final Five Productions, as a video-production firm that made short videos for companies at a premium. The business model worked for a time, but Dibble found a way to create something bigger.

He moved his firm to the Green Garage and started to working with mentors there on how to grow it. They taught him to look beyond his narrow scope of work -- to stop focusing on making video and start telling stories.

"First we find and craft the story," Dibble says. "Then we build it according to the best medium for it. It has opened us up to a larger client base in Detroit"

Now Final5 produces a variety of content for a variety of clients, which includes for-profit companies, social entrepreneurs, and nonprofits. One of its most recent projects was to create an employee handbook for The Empowerment Plan, a social venture that hires previously homeless women to make sleeping bag coats for homeless people.

The diversification of clients and media has helped the firm grow its team (two new hires) and its revenue, setting up Final5 for its best year yet. Dibble and company recently opened up their own office in TechTown with the idea of helping more companies and nonprofits tell their stories.

"We do our best work and have the most fun when we are helping people," Dibble says.

Source: Matt Dibble, founder of Final5
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Denim Co. moving out of Corktown's Ponyride and into bigger digs on riverfront

If there is such a thing as craft, artisinal jeans, then the Detroit Denim Co. is making them, and it's about to start making a lot more.

The 5-year-old company is in the process of moving to a larger facility on the Detroit riverfront. The new commercial space is in a freshly renovated building at 2987 Franklin. It offers nearly triple the space as its current 1,200 square feet in the Ponyride building in Corktown.

Detroit Denim Co. currently produces an average of six pairs of jeans per day in its current workshop in Corktown. It expects to triple that production when it moves to its new home in the coming weeks.

"Our goal with the new shop is to get up to 20 pairs of jeans a day," says Eric Yelsma, founder of Detroit Denim Co.

The Detroit Denim Co. makes its jeans with vintage and new sewing machines. Its team of six people does everything from choosing, cutting, and sewing the fabric to fitting the completed jeans specifically to individual customers. Though making each pair of jeans is intensive and takes a long time, it's all part of a controlled-growth philosophy that enables Detroit Denim Co. to maintain high standards of quality. For context, Levis makes 1.2 million jeans per day.

"We tend to be pretty selective," Yelsma says. "We want to do what we do best."

That doesn't mean Detroit Denim Co. isn’t growing. It has clocked double-digit revenue gains every year and hired two people in 2015. Yelsma has plans to to add a handful of people this year.

Detroit Denim Co. has made those sales through e-commerce and local retail shops. It's looking to open its own retail shop in its new home later this year.

"We will have a full retail environment there," Yelsma says.

Source: Eric Yelsma, founder of Detroit Denim Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Girls With Guts founder grows nonprofit into full-time job

Jackie Zimmerman helped launch Girls With Guts in 2012 with the idea of helping women battling Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Today her side project has turned into her full-time job.

Zimmerman has been working as a contractor for one of the Big Three in recent years while working to establish Girls With Guts on the side. Last fall the organization grew to the point where she was able to leave her day job to serve as the nonprofit's full-time executive director.

"We had this great problem of having a lot of money but not enough time to do anything with it," Zimmerman says. "We had to make a change of risk losing everything we had built."

Girls With Guts got is start at Wayne State University, where Zimmerman recently graduated from, with the help of Blackstone LaunchPad. The initial concept was simple: create a haven for women dealing with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It accomplished that by helping educate these women on the basics of managing the disease, finding new solutions to live a healthier life, and sharing information.

One of Girls With Guts' most popular programs is its annual retreat, which attracts dozen of women every year. The nonprofit’s online presence has steadily grown, too. Its Facebook page had 7,000 likes a little more than a year ago. Today it has more than 10,500.

Zimmerman and her team of volunteers are now working on grant applications to raise more money. They are also working to expand the offerings of Girls With Guts, including planning its fourth annual retreat.

"Our growth plan for 2016 is extensive and will likely grow exponentially the further we get in," Zimmerman wrote in an email. She adds, "We have expanded our programming a lot in the last two months."

Source: Jackie Zimmerman, executive director of Girls With Guts
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Boots on the Ground puts veterans to work making boots in Detroit

Boots on the Ground sees an America that doesn't only help its veterans find work but helps them create a career by making boots in Detroit.

The downtown Detroit-based nonprofit is working to create a jobs program for veterans through manufacturing an urban utility boot.

"There is a large population of veterans and young people who are unemployed or underemployed," says Jarret Alan Schlaff, co-founder and CEO of Boots on the Ground.

Boots on the Ground wants to help put those veterans to work. The organization has designed a high quality, ecologically conscious boot. The goal is to create the world's most sustainable boot. It is also aiming to create other products like shirts and hoodies.

Boots on the Ground has been working with New Work Collective in Detroit and has come up with prototypes and logos. Now it’s working on its manufacturing process and is aiming to launch a crowd funding campaign this summer.

"We will be doing a limited run [of boots] this year," Schlaff says, adding he expects them to sell out quickly.

The important part is to help transitions veterans into quality jobs and then careers. The 1-year-old non-profit wants to help the veterans fighting things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other challenges overcome to find a job, housing, and whatever else they may need to lead a successful life. The nonprofit has already hired its its first veteran and gets help from another 17 volunteers.

"It's more than just a job," Schlaff says. "We don't want to just pay a living wage. We imagine what it means to wage a living."

Source: Jarret Alan Schlaff, co-founder & CEO of Detroit Boots
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tweddle Group opens up 30-person tech office above Fillmore

For a long time Tweddle Group's tech workforce worked everywhere. A few staffers were in its Clinton Township-based headquarters, while more worked here and there at other offices. They really didn't have one place to call their own until a few weeks ago.

That's when the automotive communications and publishing firm opened its newest office in downtown Detroit. Tweddle Group took over the 8th floor of the Palms Building, which is known as the home of The Fillmore Detroit theater. The 7,000-square-foot space will house 30 tech workers, with more to follow.

"Within a year we expect it will be up to 50 people," says Paul Wilbur, president & CEO of Tweddle Group. "If we keep growing we will add more."

The 65-year-old business specializes in information and publishing for automotive suppliers -- things like owner and user manuals. Tweddle Group has spent recent years moving these into different digital platforms, such as mobile apps or interactive systems in vehicles.

Tweddle Group currently employs 700 people, half of which work at its headquarters in Macomb County. The company also has offices throughout North America and in China, Italy, and Belgium. It recently closed its Novi office as part of the effort to consolidate its tech development team in downtown Detroit, choosing the Palms Building because of its location on Woodward Avenue near the concentration of tech startups on between Campus Martius Park and the stadiums.

"It feels like that is the tech hub that is just starting to boom right now," Wilbur says. "We want to be a part of that."

Source: Paul Wilbur, president & CEO of Tweddle Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bareo's mobile inventory app targets small food businesses

Karen Timmermann got her inspiration to launch her current startup when she tried to launch her first small business, a salsa company, out of her kitchen. Not long into the process she discovered that selling salsa made in your home didn't meet the numerous regulations that go with running a small food business, so she shut it down. But the venture caused her to realize that keeping track of ingredients, knowing how much food they would make, and where to source them from are all pressing questions every food business needs to answer every day.

"We had more trouble with inventory management that we did with finding distribution networks or suppliers," Timmermann says.

That's when she and two other friends started working on Bareo. The West Village-based startup released a mobile app last month that helps small food companies manage inventory and supply of raw ingredients. It not only analyzes how far ingredients will go with production but where to source them locally to maintain a steady flow of supplies. The idea is to limit supply trips where the business owner is hoping to get lucky and find the right ingredient in an aisle.

"It's infinitely easier that going to Costco or Gordon Foods and searching for ingredients," Timmermann says.

Timmerman worked as a graphic designer for a startup in Ann Arbor before starting her own company. She attended the 30 Weeks entrepreneur program in New York earlier this year. She moved back to Detroit last summer to focus on building out Bareo. That team of three people is now working on signing up 10-20 new local food businesses per month to get the platform off the ground.

Source: Karen Timmermann, CEO of Bareo
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Creative Circle moves Detroit office downtown to join "creative community"

Creative Circle has moved its metro Detroit office from Southfield to downtown Detroit for one big reason: to take part in the creative rebirth of the Motor City's central business district.

"We believe in the re-emergence of downtown Detroit's creative community," says Adam Bleibtreu, chief marketing office of Creative Circle.

The Los Angeles-based creative staffing agency is taking space on the 11th floor of the Chrysler House building, which is managed by Bedrock Real Estate Services. It is moving seven employees there, primarily account executives and recruiters. Creative Circle's executive team wants its staff to be close to its clients and a concentration of other creative professionals.

Creative Circle specializes in staffing services for business of all sizes in a variety of industries. The company places professionals in more than 125 job titles in a variety of fields, including advertising, design, web development, copy writing, and marketing. It can fill both freelance and full-time roles.

Bleibtreu is optimistic about growing Creative Circle Detroit staff in the near future as the company adds new clients and grows with the core of downtown Detroit.

"We would like to see our headcount there expand by four people," Bleibtreu says. "We want to ride the future wave of growth there."

Source: Adam Bleibtreu, chief marketing office of Creative Circle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lawrence Hunt brings breathable material to dress clothes

Most people don't want to think about anything on a hot and humid summer day, but on Jeff Schattner came up with an idea for a new business at a wedding on such day in the summer of 2013.

"I was sweating my butt off," Schattner says. "It was one of those 90-degree days and I was in a full suit."

The business became Lawrence Hunt, a clothing startup that makes dress shirts for men that employ breathable material, like what's used in work-out clothes to help keep the user cool and limit the amount of sweat that sweeps through.

"I wanted something that was more professional," Schattner says. "I wanted that crisp, 100 percent cotton look."

Lawrence Hunt pulled off a successful crowdfunding campaign a little more than a year ago to produce a few thousand shirts. That experience prompted Shattner to go back to the drawing board and redesign a better shirt. It relaunched the new design this month, and it is now for sale online.

"That has really brought down our costs between 50-75 percent," Schattner says.

He plans to keep building up the brand of the downtown Detroit-based clothing company in 2016. Splitting his time between Lawrence Hunt and his day job as a CPA, Schattner will focus on Internet sales to help keep costs low and create some brand recognition.

Source: Jeff Schattner, founder of Lawrence Hunt
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit furniture maker Floyd finds a few good legs to stand on as it scales sales

Floyd, formerly The Floyd Leg, found a leg to stand on nearly two years ago when it created a versatile furniture leg that can turn any flat surface into a table. Today the Corktown-based startup is gaining its footing as it prepares for a big growth year in 2016.

Floyd recently released its biggest product to date, a bed, while fleshing out its staff at its home in Ponyride. Now the startup is raising a seed capital round and laying the groundwork for a large global sales push in 2016. But first it’s enjoying some significant sales gains since its launch nearly two years ago, clocking more than $1 million in revenue so far.

Its core product, the Floyd Leg, is leading those sales. The Floyd Leg is a steel table leg with a clamp that can attach to any flat surface, turning it into a table. The legs are sold in groups of four and serve as the support system for a light-to-medium-use table.

"That makes up the core of our sales," says Kyle Hoff, co-founder and CEO of Floyd.

Floyd ships these Michigan-made table legs all around the world. About 30 percent of its sales are international and go to 20 different countries. Some of the most popular destinations include New York City, San Francisco, and Tokyo.

"It's places were people are living in very dense areas," Hoff says. "They don't want to go to a big-box store to buy a chair and then pitch it when they have to move."

Floyd also kicked off a crowdfunding campaign for its newest product, the Floyd Platform. The bed features a frame made of honeycombed core panels, steel supports with design inspiration from Floyd Legs, and straps to hold it firmly in place.

The Floyd Platform retails for $495, and the first are expected to be delivered in February. Floyd is also working on other furniture concepts, but is sticking to its knitting when it comes to co-debuting new products in 2016.

"Right now it's tables and beds," Hoff says. "But anything in the apartment is fair game."

Floyd currently has a staff of seven people working on the company's product catalog and growing sales. That staff also includes two Venture For America fellows, promising recent college grads who are paired with equally promising startups in economically challenged areas like Detroit.

Floyd's team is also working on raising a $550,000 seed capital round to fund its expansion by early next year. That money will go toward efforts to further open up markets in Europe and Asia, along with solidifying domestic gains.

"The goal is to open up some market channels," Hoff says. "Up until now it’s been pretty organic and word of mouth."

Source: Kyle Hoff, co-founder & CEO of Floyd
Writer: Jon Zemke

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