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Rebel Nell exceeds expectations in 1st sales season

The women behind Rebel Nell planned to start their jewelry-making business slowly and build it steadily last year. They ended up growing and hiring their Woodbridge-based business faster than they expected.

Rebel Nell is a low-profit limited liability company that makes jewelry from the paint chips that flake off of graffiti murals. It aims to also create jobs that empower and educate disadvantaged women in Detroit. The 1-year-old business mainly goes through COTS Detroit to find its employees, which it did for the first time last fall.

"At the time we were only going to hire one because we were cautious," says Amy Peterson, who co-founded Rebel Nell with Diana Russell. "Diana and I fell in love with three of them and hired them. We said we were going to find a way to make it work."

Rebel Nell hired all three of them and went to work at its space at the Grand River Creative Corridor's 4731 building. Sales of the firm’s jewelry fought to keep up with demand during the holiday season.

"It far exceeded our expectations," Peterson says. "It got to the point we sold the pieces off our necks there was so much demand."

Rebel Nell plans to continue its growth curve in 2014. Peterson and Russell hope to find space for their jewelry in more local stores and add more employees.

"Our goal is to have two more women by the end of the year," Peterson says.

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

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

WSU-based DragAroundMe places at Michigan Innovation competition

DargAroundMe took third place at the recent Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize competition, setting the stage for the startup to score a run of business plan competition wins.

The 7-month-old startup, which is made up of Wayne State University students, is creating software that enables people to quickly share documents with others in their immediate vicinity. It won the Web/IT prize at the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize, giving it a few thousand dollars in seed capital and some valuable experience.

"It was a journey for us," says Kun Wang, co-founder of DragAroundMe. "We learned a lot from the program."

The team of five people learned how to grow DragAroundMe through landing customers, validating adoptions and keeping customers. It also gave the team a platform to present the latest additions to its technology.

"We added quite a few features," Wang says. "We're making sure it’s compatible with all of the different platforms."

Source: Kun Wang, co-founder of DragAroundMe
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Startgrid brings more collaboration in local new economy

The Detroit Regional Chamber launched Startgrid, an online platform to encourage more collaboration between entrepreneurs, last week at the Detroit Policy Conference in North Corktown.

"Changing the world is no small feat," says Peter Gardner, founder & CEO of Startgrid. "No one can do it alone."

The Startgrid platform enables entrepreneurs to create a collaboration page that fleshes out their idea or business plan. The users can incrementally expand their page to their circle of friends, mentors and industry experts throughout Metro Detroit. The idea is to create an environment where people help each build their business in southeast Michigan.

Startgrid plans to complement the region's existing assets in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. It will work with the likes of Bizdom, TechTown, Detroit Venture Partners, Insyght, Ann Arbor SPARK and Automation Alley, among others.

"We have one of the most mature and well-built entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world," says Dave Egner, executive director of the New Economy Initiative, which is helping fund the creation of Startgrid. "What happened is we have been fragmented. There are gaps."

Startgrid wants to fill those gaps to accelerate the formation and growth of local businesses. To watch a video about what Startgrid is about, click here.

Source: Peter Gardner, founder & CEO of Startgrid, and Dave Egner, executive director of the New Economy Initiative
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Marketing Associates adds 50 people to staff

Marketing Associates has hired dozens of people over the last year while one of the downtown Detroit-based firm’s divisions partners with one of data analytics bigger movers and shakers.

Magnify Analytic Solutions, a division of Marketing Associates, entered into a strategic partnership with Cloudera. The Silicon Valley-based data analytics firm will be able to utilize Magnify Analytic Solutions’ data scientists and web hosting capabilities. In return, Magnify will have access to Cloudera’s open-source software platform Apache Hadoop and Cloudera's Fortune 500-filled client list.

"It (Cloudera) is the market leading data management firm for the big data movement," says Mark Petroff, president & CEO of Marketing Associates.

Magnify Analytic Solutions is one of the primary drivers of Marketing Associates growth (revenue is up 15 percent) over the last year. The Magnify Analytic Solutions division has hired a dozen people over the last year and currently employs 56 people. "It's a combination of Magnify’s analytic’s capabilities and its technology services," Petroff says.

That has allowed Marketing Associates to hire 50 people in the last year. Those hires include positions in data analytics, IT, web development and creative. The firm currently has a staff of 262 employees and a handful of interns.

Marketing Associates was founded in 1967 and moved to downtown Detroit in 2007. It has added a number of new clients in recent years, including Whirlpool and KitchenAid.

"We have diversified our business outside of automotive," Petroff says.

Source: Mark Petroff, president & CEO of Marketing Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Downtown Detroit-based Giffels Webster hires 18

Giffels Webster has added 18 people to its staff over the last year, and the planning and engineering firm is becoming more entrenched in the Motor City each year.

The 62-year-old company moved its headquarters from the burbs to downtown Detroit a couple years ago. Since then it has been actively trying to hire more Detroit residents. "We would live to increase that representation," says Scott Clein, president & partner of Giffels Webster.

Giffels Webster specializes in placemaking. That ranges from providing civil engineering services to landscape architecture. It still has satellite offices in Birmingham and Washington Township. Of its 18 hires over the last year, about 40 percent now work in downtown Detroit and another 40 percent work in Birmingham. The balance works in Washington Township.

Giffels Webster has a staff of 71 employees and two interns. Most of the new hires work in engineering and planning. About six of them are recent college graduates.

"We believe within the next few months we will be looking for another 3-5 hires," Clein says.

Chances are many of those new hires will be working in downtown Detroit. Clein explains those people will be headed toward downtown because of the growing amount of redevelopment work cropping up in the Motor City.

"There continues to be a ton of opportunity in Detroit," Clein says. "It's an exciting time."

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

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

Qstride expands Detroit office to 8 people in first year

Qstride is looking for a bigger office in downtown Detroit a year after the Troy-based software firm opened a satellite office in the Chrysler House.

Qstride has grown its Motor City office from five people to eight over the last year, and it has eyes on a bigger presence in the Central Business District.

"We're exploring additional options in Bedrock’s property portfolio," says Shane Gianino, CEO of Qstride. He adds that a move could happen within the next 90 days.

"We want to have our corporate headquarters located here," Gianino says. "We want to have our sales and marketing staff here, and a call center here."

Qstride specializes in business intelligence and analytics services that integrate with its customer's IT systems. The 20-month-old firm has clients across the U.S. and it now employs 22 people. Gianino expects the downtown Detroit office to grow to 15 people within the next year.

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

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

Campus Commandos moves to First National Building

Like many young, small firms, Campus Commandos spent much of its youth jumping from office to office. It has spent time at TechTown and the Chrysler House, among other places, before settling into a more permanent home in the First National Building last summer. The company moved its staff of four employees (it has hired two people in the last year) and one intern.

"We invested a lot of money into the design," says Adam Grant, CEO of Campus Commandos. "We are an advertising agency and I wanted to work in a place that fosters creativity."

Campus Commandos specializes in marketing for the college environment, creating campaigns for everything from students to university staff. Grant, a Bizdom graduate, got his start in the business while attending Michigan State University in the mid-2000s.

Campus Commandos' client list includes the like of eBay, Nike and Kaplan. It is currently working on a mobile app that helps pair companies with college students to do everyday tasks. Work like that has allowed Campus Commandos to continue growing at a double-digit rate in recent years.

"We have maintained a 50-percent rate of growth," Grant says. "A large part of that is listening to our clients and executing on exactly what we say we’re going to do."

Source: Adam Grant, CEO of Campus Commandos
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mobile startup Spincard creates 21st Century biz card

Startups have been trying to digitize business cards for about as long as smart phone have been in the mainstream. None have really proven successful. The five people behind Spincard think they have cracked the code.

"We're trying to find a better way to connect with people beyond the business card," says Anthony Montalbano, co-founder of Spincard.

Montalbano and four other local tech entrepreneurs were discussing how cumbersome and difficult it was to remember everyone they ran into at networking events from the pile of business cards spread out on a desk. They knew the software platforms meant to help alleviate this problem also came up short.

Spincard is a mobile app that gives each user a six-character code, or spin. That way users can give a new contact at a networking event the code. The new contact enters in the code to Spincard app and it immediately shows a picture of the user, their contact info and links to their social media outlets. Users can then sort through contacts by flipping through head shots of users. You can watch a video on it here.

"That allows you to find people by face," Montalbano says. "Then you can flip it over and see all of their information."

The Spincard crew built the app for Apple and Andriod users in less than three weeks at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit. They launched it earlier this month and are looking to get traction in local startup circles in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids this year.

"Our focus is to concentrate on small niche markets like Detroit and Grand Rapids," Montalbano says. "It only works if it's used by groups of people."

Source: Anthony Montalbano, co-founder of Spincard
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Windmill Pointe Brewing Co mixes beer, bikes and sustainability

Question: How far can you ride a bike while hugging a tree? Answer: All the way to Windmill Pointe Brewing Co.

Make sense? It will after you watch the crowdfunding campaign video for Detroit’s newest microbrewery by clicking here.

"We thought, 'How can we make ourselves standout right off the bat?'" says Shawn Grose, co-founder of Windmill Pointe Brewing Co. "How can we be different?"

For those of you who haven’t clicked on the video, this is how Windmill Pointe Brewing Co brews its beer. The microbrewery harnesses electricity generated from riders of stationary bicycles and uses that power to brew its beer. It's a process Shawn Grose and his brother Aaron Grose, the co-founders of Windmill Pointe Brewing Co, are calling pedal-powered beer. They have also developed a patent-pending technology that tracks how many beers each rider’s power has brewed.

"It keeps track of how many beers they have produced for us," Shawn Grose says. "They can spend these credits in the brewery."

So riders who help produce 10,000 beers worth of electricity will receive a gold jersey, a party thrown in their name and have their name etched into the Kilowatt Cup at Windmill Pointe Brewing Co.

The 1-year-old micro brewery plans to open in Eastern Market sometime next year. It has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000 to make that happen. So far it has raised a little more than $1,000 as of Monday evening. To find out more about the campaign, click here.

The Grose brothers want to open Windmill Pointe Brewing Co in Eastern Market because of its proximity to the Dequindre Cut greenway and the cluster of slow-food businesses in the neighborhood. Shawn Grose points out Windmill Pointe Brewing Co will be the first brewery in Eastern Market since Stroh's closed its brewery a few decades ago.

Source: Shawn Grose, co-founder of Windmill Pointe Brewing Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Skidmore Studio scores more national biz as it grows in Detroit

When Skidmore Studio made its move to the M@dison Building in downtown Detroit two years ago, work from local companies drove the growth at the creative agency. The firm looked beyond the Motor City in 2013.

"Growing national work," says Tim Smith, president & CEO of Skidmore Studio. "We brought in five new clients with national scope."

Those new clients include Dave & Busters, Expedia and Chrysler. Skidmore Studio is doing everything from print and TV and digital work for those companies. Smith explains that they were attracted to Skidmore Studio’s heartland characteristics.

"It's that Midwestern work ethic," Smith says. "They are finding it a refreshing change of pace."

Skidmore Studio
also clocked a significant chunk of work from local big-name firms, such as DTE Energy and Quicken Loans. It is also working on a marketing campaign for Detroit Public Schools.

"We're still finding a lot of local firms that need help," Smith says.

That has allowed Skimore to hire three people over the last year, including a vice president, digital producer and interactive designer. It is also looking to hire an account executive. The firm currently has a staff of 29 employees and a couple of interns. Smith hopes to make a few more hires in 2014 as it works to land more mid-sized companies with a national scope.

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

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

Bizdomís Cribspot helps connect college students with housing

Tim Jones knows how much of a pain in the ass it is for college students to find off-campus housing. It’s why he and a group of three other undergrads at the University of Michigan started Cribspot, an Internet startup that helps connect students to off-campus rental housing.

"It's archaic (looking for off-campus student housing in Ann Arbor)," Jones says. "It's inefficient for most people. People talk to a friend or walk around in the cold and dial the numbers on the house."

Cribspot's website acts as one central location for landlords and students to offer and find rental housing around universities. Jones launched the startup a little more than a year ago, then called A2cribs, with Evan Dancer, Jason Okrasinski and Alex Gross. The idea of helping Ann Arbor students at U-M. It is now being used at half a dozen campuses across the U.S., including the University of Iowa, Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"Our main goal is to get all of that (housing) data on a map," Jones says.

The quartet of entrepreneurs took Cribspot to Bizdom in downtown Detroit and are working on turning it into a national brand. It wants to create a mobile app for its software and generate revenue from referrals for things like meal plans and furniture sales for students.

"We want to focus on just off-campus housing in college towns," Okrasinski says.

Source: Tim Jones and Jason Okrasinski, co-founders of Cribspot
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Car crash into Perkins Picklesí store helps biz regroup

Fate and an errant driver nearly closed the doors of Perkins Pickles last year.

Tom Perkins, owner of Perkins Pickles, grew his slow food business since he left Chicago for Detroit at the end of the last decade. He opened up his own retail location in Hamtramck, 2635 Caniff, early last year. A few months later, a driver suffering from a medical condition crashed into the front of his pickling facility, Perkins says.

That forced Perkins to temporarily shut down his business a few months last year and reorganize. At the time he was working full-time hours as a freelance reporter for The Ann Arbor News covering Ypsilanti and working another full-time job growing Perkins Pickles. The accident and subsequent temporary closure gave Perkins the opportunity to restructure the way he did business that didn’t involve him working 80-100 hour weeks.

"It was good to have a little break and restructure the company," Perkins says.

He moved his retail sales to The Rust Belt Market in downtown Ferndale. Perkins is now working with Henrietta Haus Coffee to renovate a vacant space on Jos Campau on the south end of the city the two businesses will share.

"We hope to be moving in down there in April," Perkins says.

Perkins Pickles currently employs a staff of three people. Perkins choose to stay in Hamtramck because he lives there and it’s more cost-effective to grow a young business from the inner-city suburb.

"Rent is a lot cheaper here than in Midtown," Perkins says. "You get a lot more bank for your buck in Hamtramck."

Source: Tom Perkins, owner of Perkins Pickles
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

My Graffiti Removal Guy targets SW Detroit

Robert Sheppard worked for a masonry restoration company for 10 years before he moved to Detroit. He and his wife made the move to the Motor City about a year ago after she took a nursing job at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital. That was about the same time Sheppard started My Graffiti Removal Guy.

"There wasn't a lot of graffiti removal in Detroit, so I got the ball rolling for myself," Sheppard says. He adds that "it's a skill I acquired in masonry restoration. When I got to Detroit I noticed a lot of graffiti. It was an opportunity and I ran with it."

My Graffiti Removal Guy has done most of it work in Southwest Detroit, mostly in the area of Springwells and West Vernor for the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

The firm takes graffiti and tags off the sides of businesses and homes in the area, along with other places throughout the city. It is enough work for Sheppard to employ himself. He is looking to really establish the company in 2014.

"I want my business to continue to make people happy and provide a quality service," Sheppard says. "I would like to hire a guy within the next year and have my name known across Detroit."

Source: Robert Sheppard, owner & operator of My Graffiti Removal Guy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

New president pushes Fusion Coolant Systems forward

Fusion Coolant Systems executed a pivot in its business plan from new leadership in the clean-tech startup over the last year, which is setting the stage for growth later this year.

The 5-year-old startup, which calls Focus: HOPE's job training campus home, makes an environmentally friendly cutting fluid for industrial uses that help improve performance while reducing the wear. The technology aims to eliminate the toxic cutting fluids that are standard today in sectors like aerospace and automotive. The firm is also looking to focus on machining parts made of exotic materials, such as titanium.

"We have a lot of changes going on right now," says Brad Darr, president of Fusion Coolant Systems. "More specifically we have begun to focus on the end user. Before we were focused on machine tooling. We realized no one is going to sell our product like us."

One of those changes is Darr. He came on to lead the startup last June and now oversees a team of four. He hopes to add another 2-3 people later this year to help accommodate the company’s expected sales growth. Focusing on end users is the leverage Darr and his team hope to take advantage of soon.

"We are at the point where 75 percent of our focus is on this type of customer," Darr says.

Fusion Coolant Systems is also looking to raise a Series A round of venture capital later this year. It is aiming to lock down $1 million that Darr hopes will expedite the company’s growth.

"We're looking to get traction early in the year," Darr says. "We're looking to scale midway through the year."

Source: Brad Darr, president of Fusion Coolant Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wedit hires 2 people, looks to add another

Wedit is one of those startups that launched out of the early days of Bizdom and has been knocking around the Quicken Loans family of businesses ecosystem for a few years. This last year is when it started to gain traction and then some.

The 4-year-old startup made its name by offering affordable wedding videography solutions that are shipped to the happy couple in a box and then edited upon their request. It hired two people (a video editor and project manager) last year and is looking to hire another person who specializes in customer service now. It currently employs a team of three full-time employees and eight independent contractors. It is looking for summer interns.

"We tripled our sales," says Sarah Brithinee, CEO of Wedit. "It was our first cash-flow positive year."

The new economy startup made that happen by harnessing some new economy tricks to grow its revenue.

"It's all through social media," Brithinee says. "Ninety-seven percent of our sales come from Pinterest."

Wedit currently works out of the co-working space at Bizdom at 1528 Woodward. It is looking to move into its own space in the First National Building before the end of the winter. Wedit is also planning to rebuild its website and build up the company brand in this year.

"We're setting the table for a big 2015," Brithinee says.

Source: Sarah Brithinee, CEO of Wedit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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