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NEIdeas makes final push to solicit applicants for $100K prize before June 25 deadline


The New Economy Initiative is making one final push to attract applicants to NEIdeas, a competition that will award two Detroit-, Hamtramck-, or Highland Park-based businesses $100,000 each in prize money. The winners will also receive a suite of business services.

Now in its second year, NEIdeas aims to provide longstanding businesses in inner city neighborhoods capital to help them grow and create more jobs. Last year's winners include everything from an urban farm to a cleaning company to a pallet maker. The competition is industry agnostic with the only requirements being that the company is poised to grow.

"We're looking for the best opportunities that are innovative and can lead to accelerated growth," says Jim Boyle, senior program officer for New Economy Initiative. "We don't pretend to know people's businesses."

The deadline for the competition's $10,000 challenge has already passed, but applications for the $100,000 challenge are still open until June 25. Businesses based in Detroit, Hamtramck, or Highland Park grossing $750,000 to $5 million are eligible to apply. The NEIdeas competition received 80 applications for the $100,000 Challenge last year, and has already collected a few dozen so far. But the New Economy Initiative is still looking for more applicants to help broaden its impact on the local inner city economy.

"The more companies that apply, the more we can circle back with after the competition and offer further assistance," Boyle says.

For more information on applying, click here.

Source: Jim Boyle, senior program officer for New Economy Initiative
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Parjana's pilot project on Belle Isle 'reboots Mother Nature' to naturally drain standing water

There are large swaths of mowed fields on Belle Isle that practically become swamps after a hard rain with ankle-deep muddy water pooling with nowhere to go. And then there is the small section of the island where all of the rain filters into the soil where it should go.

That approximately 24-acre section of Belle Isle near the old police station building is where Parjana Distribution is conducting a pilot program for its technology to channel rain water runoff away from sewer system and into the ground’s natural filtration system.

The downtown Detroit-based startup is commercializing a filtration technology that opens up the  earth’s natural ground filtration system to clean water. Underground aquifers fill because gravity takes rain water through the different layers of ground, filtering out contaminates, similar to how a Brita filter works. Parjana Distribution’s platform, Energy-Passive Groundwater Recharge Parjana, accelerates that filtration by utilizing water's properties of adhesion and cohesion.

"It's all about stabilizing the moisture levels so Mother Nature can accommodate the water when it rains," says Gregory McPartlin, co-founder and managing partner of Parjana Distribution. "All we’re doing is rebooting Mother Nature."

Parjana's platforms are currently being used in 150 sites around the world. The company just finished projects for the Mott Foundation at the Ruth Mott Gardens and is working toward doing the same at Midland Country Club for Dow. The projects would help rid both facilities of pooling rain water runoff.

"We provide open green space for people by ensuring it will be dry," McPartlin says.

Parjana Distribution’s team of 20 people (it has hired four people in the last year and is looking to add three more employees) is also working on the same sort of project at Belle Isle. It’s currently in search of a large strategic partner to expand its pilot project into something much bigger.

"Our next goal is to partner with a bank to do the entire island," McPartlin says.

"We're actually pretty darn close," McPartlin says.

Source: Gregory McPartlin, co-founder & managing partner of Parjana Distribution
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Motor City Muckraker fights to turn passion for journalism into profits

Steve Neavling is good at his job -- damn good at it. The former investigative reporter for the Detroit Free Press and co-founder of Motor City Muckraker was recently named the "Best Journalist" in Metro Detroit by The Metro Times because his reporting consistently makes waves in the region. When it comes to journalism, few people are as passionate about it as Neavling.

Turning that passion into profit is where Neavling comes up short. Motor City Muckraker has been running for nearly three years and has yet to turn a profit despite its steady rise in popularity. It has consistently clocked an average of 180,000 unique page views per month over the last two years, yet Neavling can only monetize a few grand out of it each year.

"You know how Twitter kept getting more popular but never figured out how to generate revenue?" Neavling says. "Motor City Muckraker is becoming more popular, but we still haven’t figured out how to generate revenue from it."

Click ads from the website aren't the answer. Neavling and his girlfriend/MCM co-founder Abigail Shaw are considering a variety of different options to generate revenue, including paywalls for premium access, sponsorships, merchandise, and fundraisers/crowdfunding. Neavling and Shah don't know the answe but are happy to keep trying.

"You need to have something more than click ads," Neavling says. "You need to be able to offer them something else."

Figuring out a revenue model that makes local print/digital journalism profitable is a 21st century conundrum, and newspaper executives will watch Neavling and Shah closely if they figure out a business model that works. In the meantime, the partners are even seriously considering making Motor City Muckraker a nonprofit to keep it afloat, although that plan has been shelved for now.

"It really limits what you can do to raise money," Neavling says.

So Neavling continues to trudge forward financially. He has gone from making about $60,000 annually at the Freep to an annual average of $12,000 while running Motor City Muckraker and freelancing for the likes of Tickle The Wire. Neavling and Shah get by on what comes in from Neavling's writing, Shah's day job, and affordable rent for an apartment in Midtown.

But don't expect that the financial grindstone will force Neavling from journalism anytime soon.

"We pay to write things others won't write," Neavling says. "The news just keeps coming out. There are so many stories I am sitting on. Right now I am having so much fun I am forgetting about the money."

Source: Steve Neavling, co-founder of Motor City Muckraker
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Horse Power teaches teens life skills by having them care for horses

It stands to reason that if someone can handle riding and taking care of a horse, that person can manage the unexpected ups and downs of life.

That is the thought process behind Detroit Horse Power, a New Center-based nonprofit specializing in teaching life skills to teens in Detroit through learning how to ride and care for horses.

"The idea is that this horse-person relationship serves as a springboard for interpersonal growth," says Paul Mack, board president for Detroit Horse Power. "Dealing with an animal that big teaches you how to deal with things you can’t control."

Mack is co-founder of Detroit Horse Power with David Silver, a Teach For America fellow who recently graduated from Build Social, a program that teaches the basics of running a socially-focused business or nonprofit.

"I started Detroit Horse Power after reflecting on my two years teaching elementary school in Detroit," Silver says. "I felt that I could work as hard as possible to create a supportive learning environment for my students, but all too often stresses from outside of school would spill over into the classroom and inhibit students’ abilities to learn.  The mission of Detroit Horse Power is to give Detroit's youth a safe and enriching space that furthers their future development. Horses taught me so much in my childhood - important lessons about confidence, responsibility, empathy, determination and much more."

Detroit Horse Power is launching its first week-long class with a group of about a dozen teenage girls. They are partnering with the Buffalo Soldiers, who are providing the horses and facilities. Silver and Mack would one day like Detroit Horse Power to acquire its own facilities.

"We're looking for the perfect property," Mack says.

Source: David Silver and Paul Mack, co-founders of Detroit Horse Power
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Woodbridge resident launches sustainability consultancy, 3030

Chris Haag never intended to go into business for himself -- he just wanted to quit his job.

The Woodbridge resident had been working for a company doing retrofit work for energy-efficient lighting. He reached the point where he didn’t want to do it anymore and quit without a plan for what to do next. He thought he would take some time off to figure out what he wanted to do next.

"I intended to take a couple of months off work and find something new," Haag says. "Within 72 hours after I quit, my old job called me and asked if I would do some side projects. That went on for a couple of years."

That was 2012 and the time Haag started his next gig as a freelance consultant. When that work started to peter out, Haag interviewed for a few more jobs. By that time he knew he was not at his best working for someone else. So he started his own company, 3030.

Haag describes 3030 as a craft consultancy that helps clients develop unique solutions to a variety of issues to foster growth and flexibility. It specializes in everything from energy efficiency to tax work for distilleries. Its main thrust is working in sustainability, but Haag wants to keep an open mind about its future.

"In three to five years, it will probably be completely different than what I am trying to do now," Haag says. "I let the business pull me in the direction it’s going."

Source: Chris Haag, owner of 3030
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wayne State student re-invents the crossbow, launches a company

A recent Wayne State University graduate is launching a new business based on his invention, a new-and-improved version of the crossbow.

Adam Skornia graduated from Wayne in December with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, but he never played video games until he went to college. Those hours spent in front of a screen playing first-person shooter games inspired him to invent a patent-pending design for a new crossbow.

After a couple of years fiddling with the design, the idea started to become real.

"I started thinking this could happen -- this could be built." Skornia says.

The crossbow design allows the bowstrings to run internally, prohibiting fingers from coming across the path of the strings. The design is safer, more efficient, and compact. It is just shy of 3 pounds, about half the weight of the typical crossbows.

Skornia launched Skore LLC to commercialize his invention. He has a prototype after working with Wayne State's Blackstone LaunchPad program. The company recently won $5,000 in seed capital from Wayne State's Blackstone LaunchPad Warrior Fund Competition. That money will be put toward getting the Skore crossbow to the market.

"I want to start off in Michigan," Skornia says. "This is a Michigan-based company and I am big on Michigan-made products."

Source: Adam Skornia, founder of Skore LLC
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Urban redevelopment work leads to 12 new hires at Giffels Webster

When the economy tanked during the Great Recession, planning and engineering firms like Giffels Webster turned to public work to stay afloat.

They did everything from parks to transportation projects in those lean years immediately following 2008. That has started to change again as Giffels Webster has begun taking on more private projects, such as urban redevelopments and residential construction. Now its workload includes everything from charting out bike lanes to helping plan commercial developments.

"It's nice to see a balance between public and private work again," says Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster.

A lot of that work is taking place in urban centers. Many of the firm's projects are being done in places like downtown Detroit, Midtown, and downtown Ferndale.

That has led the way for the downtown Detroit-based firm to expand its staff. It has hired a dozen people over the last year, including two former interns, expanding its staff to 85 employees and a couple of interns. Those new hires include civil engineers, urban planners and landscape architects. It is also looking to hire another three people in engineering right now.

"We have hired a lot of young people over the last few years," Clein says. "There has been a big spike in our energy."

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

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

Skidmore Studio adds staff thanks to new work from entertainment brands

Skidmore Studio has carved out an interesting niche for itself over the last year, taking on a growing amount of work for entertainment brands like Dave & Busters.

"We're focused on going national and landing these clients," says Tim Smith, president & CEO of Skidmore Studio.

The creative agency has been doing advertising and branding work for Metro Detroit companies since it opened in 1959. It took on Dave & Busters as a client a little more than a year ago, handling some of its advertising and creative work. Since then it has grown that workload by 30 percent, handling everything from print to digital to broadcast work.

Skidmore Studio has also landed other similar clients, including CiCi's Pizza in Dallas. Skidmore Studio is working with companies like this to help them attract more millennials to their venues. Smith sees that sort of work as empowering because so many marketing professionals are still trying to figure out how to effectively reach young people.

"Marketeers are mystified and confused by it," Smith says. "We have demystified it."

Growth in areas like that has allowed Skidmore Studio to add to its staff. It has hired six people over the last year, including a former intern that recently graduated from the College of Creative Studies. The company now employs 32 people at its office in the M@dison Building in downtown Detroit.

"We are bursting at the seams here, but we're still here," Smith says.

Skidmore Studio moved to downtown Detroit from downtown Royal Oak a few years ago, becoming one of the first anchor tenants in the then recently redeveloped M@dison Building. It has since filled out its office space with a handful of hires each year, a pace Smith plans to maintain.

Source: Tim Smith, president & CEO of Skidmore Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Slope scores $395K in seed capital for video production platform

Slope, a software startup launched by Venture For America fellows in Detroit, has landed $395,000 in seed capital from a variety of sources.

The downtown Detroit-based tech startup -- it calls the Bizdom accelerator home -- has raised $100,000 from Bizdom and $295,000 from the Venture For America Innovation Fund and angel investors in Detroit, Cincinnati and New York City.

"This gives us about 10 months of runway,"  says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of Slope. "It should be enough to build up Slope and get it out to the market."

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 photos, graphics, and videos so they are available to create more online content.

"Slope is a video-collaboration platform for creative and marketing users," Bosche says.

Slope was admitted to the second class for the Microsoft Venture Accelerator earlier this year for a four-month residency in Seattle. The startup and its team of six people is gearing up to release its platform for a private Beta in July and then a public Beta later this fall.

"We have more than 700 companies signed up to test our platform," Bosche says.

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

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

Rebel Nell doubles sales of jewelry made from recycled graffiti flakes

Rebel Nell started out as both a business and a social cause to help empower women in Detroit. Two years later, it is accomplishing both of those goals in spades.

The jewelry-making company specializes in turning discard flakes from graffiti murals into things like necklaces and earrings. Rebel Nell sells these wares everywhere from online to local retail outlets like the Rust Belt Market in downtown Ferndale. Sales of the jewelry have doubled each year since its launch.

"We're projecting to double what we did last year," Amy Peterson, who co-founded Rebel Nell with Diana Russell.

Rebel Nell is a low-profit limited liability company, which means it can turn a profit but its main focus is on its social mission. For the Woodbridge-based business -- it calls the Grand River Creative Corridor's 4731 building home -- that means empowering disadvantaged women in Detroit.

Rebel Nell accomplishes that by creating jobs for women, often single mothers, looking to climb their way out of poverty. Those jobs often include making jewelry and helping sell it. So far the company has hired five women out of homeless shelters and employs a total staff of seven people. It is also working to help educate those women and point them on a path toward financial self-sustainability, such as purchasing a house.

"It has been a tremendously exciting year," Peterson says. "I can't wait to see what happens next year."

Source: Amy Peterson, co-founder & CEO of Rebel Nell
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Floyd Leg expands furniture offerings, sharpens brand

The Floyd Leg made a name for itself last year when it raised six figures in a crowdfunding campaign to produce its invention, a versatile furniture leg. In 2015, the Corktown-based startup is expanding its product line and sharpening its brand.

The Floyd Leg's namesake product consists of four steel table legs with clamps that can attach to just about any flat surface, for instance a door, transforming it into light-to-medium-use table. The Floyd Leg raised $256,000 in a crowdfunding campaign last year that allowed the company to make 2,000 sets of legs.

"We consider that a pilot program of a larger piece of work," says Kyle Hoff, co-founder of The Floyd Leg.

The Floyd Leg now has a handful of different table leg products, ranging from small legs for end tables to large legs for dining room tables. It also has a a shelf kit. Hoff plans to release more products later this year.

"We're working with some different manufacturers around Detroit to make more styles of pieces," Hoff says.

The Floyd Leg is also getting ready to rebrand itself as simply "Floyd" later this year. The new brand is expected to play off the simplicity and adaptability of the original product, which targets young people living in big cities where small living spaces and the ability to move quickly are realities of their lives.

"Cities are becoming more and more dense," Hoff says. "People are living in smaller spaces these days."

The 1-year-old company currently employs six people at the Ponyride co-working space in Corktown. It is also looking to hire two more.

Source: Kyle Hoff, co-founder of The Floyd Leg
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit retailers to host pop-up market at Mackinac Policy Conference

A handful of Detroit-based entrepreneurs will make their pitch for the importance of small business in the future of the city's economy at this week's Mackinac Policy Conference.

"The Mackinaw Policy Conference is always about big things -- big politicians, big lobbying firms, big issues," says Rachel Lutz, owner of The Peacock Room in Midtown's Park Shelton building. "If we're going to have a conversation about the state's economy, we should also speak about small business."

Lutz and a few of her peers (all women who are owners of Detroit-based small businesses) will facilitate that conversation through a small business pop-up market on Mackinac Island during the conference. The other three business participating are Cyberoptix Tie Lab (a scarves and tie maker), Sweet Potato Sensations (a second-generation family-owned bakery), and Rebel Nell (a jewelry company with a social mission).

"You go with who you know," Lutz says. "These are women I have great admiration for. They know how to build a business."

Cynthia J Pasky, CEO of Downtown Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions, also played a critical role in making the pop-up market a reality at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

The "Building Bridges to Small Business" pop-up market will take place on Thursday, May 28, from 3-7 p.m. at Mackinac Island’s Mission Point Resort.

"We want participants to acknowledge small business as an important driver of Michigan's economic growth, while learning about four of the many businesses that are growing globally from Detroit," Lutz says.

Source: Rachel Lutz, owner of The Peacock Room
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lovio George adds staff as it grows with local PR work

Lovio George Communications + Design has been around Midtown for a long time -- 33 years to be exact, long before the brand Midtown was ever dreamed up. And in that time, the boutique communications and design agency has made it mark with local work.

That is as true now as it was 33 years ago. Last year, Lovio George Communications + Design grew its staff and its bottom line by helping longtime staples like the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and National Coney Island, along with newer big names like Shinola.

"We're working on Shinola Ann Arbor, which should open by the end of June," says Christina Lovio-George, CEO of Lovio George Communications + Design.

Lovio George Communications + Design also helped Shinola open its Chicago store and is doing work with the newly renovated Cobo Center.

Local work like that has allowed Lovio George Communications + Design to grow its revenue over the last year. It has also hired two people, including an agency coordinator. The company currently has a staff of 13 employees and an intern.

Source: Christina Lovio-George, CEO of Lovio George
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Corbe Company moves to Detroit from island off Washington coast

One of the newest tenants in the Russell Industrial Center traveled a great distance to set up shop in Detroit.

Originally located on an island off the coast of Washington state, Corbe Company is a ceramics design studio specializing in making housewares and custom products. Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless (partners in business and life) started the studio three years ago, not long after graduating college. Kaitlyn has family in metro Detroit and the pull of the Motor City was too much to resist for them and their growing company.

"We outgrew our old space," Kaitlyn says. "A better opportunity presented itself here. The Russell Industrial Center has a lot of space so we seized it."

"Everything is happening in Detroit these days," Ryan says. "Artists and creatives are moving here, so we wanted to be a part of that."

Corbe Company now employs a staff of three people in the Russell Industrial Center. That team works on several projects, including its flagship line of products 50 United Plates. Each plate is made in the shape of one of the 50 states. Check out a video featuring the plates here.

Corbe Company's products can currently be found online, at its studio, and in some local retailers like City Bird in Midtown. The Lawlesses plan to get their products into more retailers this year and expand its sales across the country.

Source: Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless, co-founders of Corbe Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bromberg & Associates finds the right words for growth in Hamtramck

Bromberg & Associates has figured out a smart way to talk its way into more work, more clients, and more growth. The language services firm has all three and more these days.

The Hamtramck-based company has grown its revenue by 25 percent, bringing in more work from existing clients and adding new customers. It has also hired six people, expanding its staff to 15 employees and four interns. Those new jobs include a interpreting project manager, a cultural awareness coordinator, a business development specialists, and language experts. It’s also looking to hire two more people to keep up with demand for it services.

"We're rapidly growing," says Catherine Radloff, director of operations for Bromberg & Associates. "We have a couple more huge clients in the pipeline."

Bromberg & Associates offers technologically advanced language services to corporations and government institutions. Its services include onsite telephonic and video remote interpreting, document translation, website localization, language training, relocation services, and bilingual staffing for more than 150 languages.

However, the 16-year-old firm’s recent growth has more to do with its business philosophy than its services or new technology offerings. Radloff credits Bromberg & Associates customer-oriented approach to doing business with its ability to add more clients like the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and Mountain Park Health Center.

"Being consistent, reliable, and dedicated means so much," Radloff says. She adds, "The team of people we have in place is the best Bromberg has ever seen. All of the arrows are pointed in the right direction."

Source: Catherine Radloff, director of operations for Bromberg & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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