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After5 Detroit looks to expand staff with new work

After5 Detroit is launching a new version of the websites for all of the downtown Detroit-based company’s offshoots, such as Connect After5 and After5 Intern Program.

“We were looking at four separate websites,” says Kerry Doman, founder & CEO of After5 Detroit. “Now we’re putting together a new foundation that is much more user-friendly.”

The 7-year-old company has made a name for itself has a gateway for helping introduce young people who live or work in the greater downtown Detroit area to playing there more often with events "after 5." It serves everyone from full-time employees to summer interns that toil downtown.

Its After5 Intern Program has been one of its biggest success in recent history. This year it helped facilitate activities for more than 2,000 summer interns working at 22 companies in downtown Detroit. The interns were for both large corporations and small startups.

After5 Detroit
is now working with the Detroit Economic Growth Corp and the Downtown Detroit Partnership to launch a new program later this year that will help bridge the corporate and small-business communities downtown. That is expected to be launched in a few weeks along with a new hire to After5 Detroit’s team of five people to work with that program.

"That will be a big addition to our team," Doman says.

Source: Kerry Doman, founder & CEO of After5 Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelEleven scores $2M in VC, expands staff to 13

LevelEleven has closed on $2 million in venture funding, seed capital that is expected to fuel the next stage of growth for the mobile app startup.

The downtown Detroit-based company was spun out of ePrize last year, producing enterprise software focused on helping motivate sales professionals track their progress. Compete, it’s newest platform, gamifies the sales experiences by providing a leaderboard that tracks with realtime information.

LevelEleven raised $1.5 million in seed capital last year. The startup’s investors include Detroit Venture Partners, Hyde Park Venture Partners, salesforce.com, Mashburn Justice Capital Partners, and angel investor David Fry. The company is looking at raising a Series A round of venture capital in 2014. The current round of funding is expected to help develop more features, such as helping monitor their employees and maximize their sales performance.

“We’re very, very focused right now on evolving the product and adding more customers to our client roster,” says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven.

The 1-year-old company now has grown its client list from 20 companies to 100 firms over the last year. Its customers include Comcast, CVS, Delta Airlines and the Detroit Pistons. "It's a broad mix," Marsh says.

That increase in clients has allowed LevelEleven to grow its revenue nine fold over the last year. The company has also grown its staff to 13 employees. It is currently looking to hire a head of sales.

Source: Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

VernDale Products hires 6 as it adds 2nd Detroit plant

VernDale Products is in the process of building out a second production facility in Detroit, an investment that is expected to lead to the creation of more than a dozen new jobs in the Motor City.

The 55-year-old company makes powdered milk that is used by premium chocolate manufacturers. It was originally located near the Detroit River in the footprint of what is now the Renaissance Center. It now has a production facility at 8445 Lyndon on the city’s west side. It is currently working on building a new facility at 18940 Weaver St, also on the city’s west side.

"We're limited at our production capacity at this facility," says Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products. "We have a need for a redundant site in case there is a problem at one site."

The company has hired six people over the last year to keep up with production demands, expanding its staff to 41 employees. The company expects to hire another 13 when the new production facility opens up midway through next year. The $16 million investment also comes with a $436,000 business development incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The city is is also offering a property tax abatement.

VernDale Products looked at a number of different sites across the region and the Midwest. It chose to stay in Detroit because of the existing milk-production infrastructure. Johnson also adds that milk production in Michigan is on the upswing, which isn't necessarily the case in other midwestern states.

"We looked at a lot of different options," Johnson says.

Source: Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Good Cakes and Bakes set to open on Ave of Fashion

April Anderson is opening a bakery on the Avenue of Fashion later this week, fulfilling the entrepreneurial ambitions of the resident of The Villages.

Anderson worked in the human services field (think social work) until she co-founded Good Cakes and Bakes nine months ago with her wife. Anderson has been baking since she was a kid and eventually attended Macomb Community College to study pastry arts. Opening up her own bakery will be the culmination of a nearly lifelong ambition to own her own business and share one of her great joys.

"Everybody loves sweets," Anderson says. "They always make people happy."

Good Cakes and Bakes is the product of the FoodLab Detroit entrepreneurship program out of the Green Garage. It helped the company develop its all-organic line of sweets.

It also is part of the Revolve Detroit retail program at the Detroit Economic Growth Corp, which helped it secure its new storefront at 19363 Livernois in the University District. Anderson grew up in the University District area and is looking forward to opening up her business there.

"I have had great response from the community," Anderson says. "I love the environment over here."

Source: April Anderson, pastry chef & co-owner of Good Cakes and Bakes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ashur Collective launches Detroit-themed graphic novel

A pair of young women are making a go of it in the graphic novel business with Ashur Collective, a company that is producing stories about rogues and their adventures in Detroit.

Kelly Guillory, a Wayne State University undergrad studying industrial design, and her friend from New Jersey, Jaime Acocella, met online while exploring their fandom of the graphic novel genre. Guillory and Acocella have been writing their own books for years so they decided to take a stab at their own series with Ashur Collective. Guillory handles the illustration. Acocella does the writing.

"We have four books worth of manuscripts so we thought, 'let's make some money off of this,'" Guillory says.

The partners have participated in Wayne State University's Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurship program. They have collected a few thousands dollars worth of seed capital from a crowd-funding campaign and winning a grant from the Blackstone LaunchPad’s Warrior Fund. They plan to put the finishing touches on their first book this month and publish it later this fall.

"We want to turn it into a series if we get the interest," Guillory says. "First we have to get the interest."

Source: Kelly Guillory, co-founder of Ashur Collective
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

COR aims to commercialize new heart-rate monitor tech

Phillip Coleman may be studying marketing at Wayne State University but the undergraduate student has his sights set on something bigger: building his own startup.

He and three other people launched COR five months ago. The bio-tech firm is working to commercialize new heart-rate monitor technology developed at Wayne State University. The monitors can be worn on the user’s ear, making the heart-rate measurement easily accessible and unintrusive.

“It’s unlike anything else on the market,” Coleman says. “The opportunity to work with something raw and fresh was very exciting to me.”

Coleman got started with COR while undergoing training at the Blackstone LaunchPad at Wayne State University. The program helps students take the first steps toward turning entrepreneurial ambitions into real businesses. That led to Coleman’s team joining the first class of TechTown’s DTX Launch Detroit program this summer with an eye on commercializing the technology.

COR is currently testing its technology. Coleman hopes to begin selling the first units of it early next year.

“We’re just proving the device actually works so we can put it on the path to commercialization,” Coleman says.

Source: Phillip Coleman, co-founder of COR
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Cookie App creates new way to expand e-commerce biz

It’s not everyday that an entrepreneur names a fortune cookie as the inspiration for his business, but that is the case with The Cookie App.

Jeff Ponders II has always been fascinated with fortune cookies. Not so much the taste of the cookie, but the odd little words of wisdom, lucky numbers and Chinese phrases that come with them. He loved the anticipation and surprise of finding out these obscure little tidbits of information, so he created a tech startup on capitalizing on that idea.

The Cookie App is a mobile app to gives users a daily chance to score a surprise deal. “You never know what you could get,” Ponders says. “But you know it’s going to be cool.”

The Cookie App greets the user each morning with an alert. Inside that alert is a prize, that could range from higher-end prizes to the more common deals with online retailers. Getting users to capitalize on the deals is where the Cookie App makes its money.

“The real value is when that coupon is redeemed and the customer tries a product for the first time or buys an extra item,” Ponders says.

The Cookie App just graduated from the summer class of Bizdom and its one employee and two intern staff is based out of Bizdom’s offices at 1528 Woodward Ave in downtown Detroit. Ponders plans to launch the public Beta version of the service in November in time for the holiday shopping season. It will initially focus on the Metro Detroit and national brands, which should allow the startup to scale in size quickly.

People can sign up for The Cookie App's private Beta version now by clicking here.

Source: Jeff Ponders II, founder & chief cookie monster at The Cookie App
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wayne State student launches America-style tea company, Eli Tea

Elias Majid is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition & Food Science at Wayne State University this fall, but the young man isn’t waiting for someone to hire him out of college. He is taking matters into his own hands with his own company, Eli Tea.

“I decided to create my own job and start this company,” Majid says.

Eli Tea is the product of Majid’s work with the Blackstone LaunchPad program at Wayne State University. The program helps students jump start their own business with free training, consulting services and sometimes seed capital. Eli Tea is one of the fortunate companies to score a few thousand dollars in seed capital from the program’s Warrior Fund.

Eli Tea makes its own organic teas in Detroit. It launched its first tea 10 months ago and now has 30 selections to choose from, including Traverse City Cherry Festival Tea which is available at Always Brewing Detroit coffee house in Grandmont Rosedale. That tea is made up of Traverse City cherries, hibiscus, rose and sunflower oil. Majid is working to create an American-style brand of tea with Eli Tea.

Majid is leveraging the Warrior Fund seed capital into making Eli Tea’s products available in more retail spaces later this year. “It (Blackstone LaunchPad) has been great at advancing my business and helping me get my product out and understanding my balance sheets,” Majis says. “It’s helping me scale up.”

Source: Elias Majid, owner of Eli Tea
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

D:hive BUILD graduates hit 200, launches next class this fall

D:hive’s BUILD program has graduated 200 aspiring entrepreneurs since its inception last year and is gearing up to welcome its next class in October.

The downtown Detroit-based nonprofit launched the program with the idea of giving everyday people the tools to start their own lifestyle business or community project. Some of the more notable graduates include Hatch Detroit finalists Detroit Vegan Soul and SpielHaus Toys, along with popular events like Tashmoo Biergarten in the Villages.

BUILD graduates are also setting up shop across Detroit. They make up some of the new retail businesses along Livernois and in the Villages.

"We represent at least 10 different zip codes in the city and a few outside the city as well," says April Boyle, director of small business initiatives for D:hive. "It's not just Detroit residents but inner-ring suburb people who are interested in exploring how to build a business in the city."
 
The newest BUILD cohort will be split into three separate classes that will meet weekly on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It costs between $100 and $300 to attend the class, with the amount owed dependent on income and family size. D:hive is also offering the BUILD Institute for graduates of the class to receive continuing support to establish and grow their business.

"We want to keep the alumni engaged and learning," Boyle says.

Source: April Boyle, director of small business initiatives for D:hive
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MSX International plans to move HQ to downtown Detroit

MSX International is moving its world headquarters to downtown Detroit, a move that will bring up to 15 people of the firm's executive team to the Motor City's Central Business District.

The consulting and technology company will take 5,000 square feet on the 19th floor of One Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue, just south of Campus Martius. MSX International will execute the move in late October or early November, bringing 12-15 employees with it.

"The city is experiencing a transformation, a positive one, and we want to support that," says Charlie Streeter, vice president of sales & marketing for MSX International. "There is a vibe. We are very excited about it."

Plans to expand the headquarters will coincide with the firm's overall growth. "We have a strong commitment to the city of Detroit," Streeter says.

MSX International was spun out of MascoTech in the 1990s. It has a number of facilities across Michigan and around the world. The headquarters is moving from Warren, but the firm's 300-person facility will remain in the suburb.

Since 2010, MSX International has opened new offices in China, India, Hungary, South Africa and the Czech Republic. Its newest office is in Bangkok, Thailand. These new offices are supporting the company's 60 percent revenue growth.

"We have seen a lot of growth in our company," Streeter says. "We have people that work in 51 countries and we have brick-and-mortar operations in 24."

Source: Charlie Streeter, vice president of sales & marketing for MSX International
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Quikly loses a K, adds to team in M@dison Building

Quikly is sliming down its name as it grows its business in the M@dison Building and pivoting its business model.

Shawn Geller moved the Internet marketing startup from Philadelphia to downtown Detroit last year after scoring an investment from Detroit Venture Partners. The 1-year-old company has since landed another seed capital round (a $900,000 Series AA from Detroit Venture Partners and Penstro Ventures) and grown its team to seven employees and two summer interns. It is also looking to move into its own office in the near future to help accommodate its growth.

"We have been able to find awesome talent," Geller says. "We just brought on a senior person who just left Compuware."

Quikly also slimmed down its name by dropping the extra "k" (it was originally Quikkly) and expanded its team by adding Mark Ellis, North American vice president of ad sales for Yahoo and a Grosse Pointe resident, as an advisor. Quikly also has expanded its customer base to include the likes of Moosejaw, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons. Quikly's software helped the two professional basketball teams up their ticket sales and attendance last season.

Quikly's work with outdoor retailer Moosejaw represented a pivot in the start-up business plan. Quikly's software started out with the idea of helping brands harness their customers' motivations, such as getting the people who stand in line in front of stores on Black Friday to take advantage of similar deals online with the same vigor. Since then it has switched to helping brands attract new customers with deals.

In Moosejaw's case, Quickly helped the retailer sell $10 giftcards online. About 25 percent of those purchasers were new to Moosejaw. About 25 percent of those new customers came back and spent $155 on non-discounted merchandise. Quikly is now focusing on giving giftcards for $5 to $25 that are only good for a day or two to reward quick-to-resond customers as a way of helping brands grow their reach.

"It's a great way to bring in new customers," Geller says.

Source: Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CourseHack.it app pairs syllabus with digital calendar

CourseHack.it is startup made up of four recent graduates of Michigan State University who all shared the same frustration: entering in the reading assignments from their course syllabus into their digital calendars. It was a tedious task that could only be done manually before they launched CourseHack.it.

The four partners entered Bizdom in the spring of 2012 and used the start-up accelerator's resources to build and perfect their software. CourseHack.it helps students organize their course assignments into their electronic calendars by enabling students to upload their electronic syllabus into their iCal or Google Cal.

"This software can be a powerful tool to helping students," says Chris Roszell, co-founder & CEO of CourseHack.it.

The downtown Detroit-based startup launched its software last fall and has compiled 1,300 users since then. It is currently working with a handful of local universities to help integrate CourseHack.it's software with more students. The company also plans to do some direct marketing to students and universities.

"The long-term plan is to bring on some large universities," Roszell says.

Source: Chris Roszell, co-founder & CEO of CourseHack.it
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Guidesmob app makes new homes familiar for users

Not too long ago, Daniel Kerbel was an international student coming from Costa Rica to go to Michigan State University. It was an experience that at first proved difficult to adjust to but eventually inspired him to start his own business, Guidesmob.

The 1-year-old start-up makes a mobile app that helps students discover and learn more about the college towns they just moved to. The idea is to streamline the adjustment period for young people who are excited to discover a new place but too often don't have much of a clue of how best to live life there.

"The toughest thing was the weather," Kerbel says. "It got really cold really quickly. Coming from a tropical climate it was hard to adjust to." He adds that "if you didn't discover something while it was warm you won't be able to do it until it's warm again."

Guidesmob's app offers everything from Google Maps to weather forecasts. It also lets students know what options they have there for social functions, such as restaurants, bars and other gathering places or events.

Guidesmob, which went through Bizdom's start-up accelerator curriculum last fall, launched its first app last year. The Spartan app focused on helping new students adjust to life at Michigan State University and had 12,000 iPhone users. This fall it plans to expand its newly redesigned app to include Central Michigan University and the University of Michigan.

Source: Daniel Kerbel, CEO of Guidesmob
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Growing patent work prompts IP law firm to expand Detroit office

Intellectual property looks like it has a bright future on the Detroit River. A future that is creating more knowledge workforce jobs now.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark office opened its first satellite office in Detroit last summer. The Elijah J. McCoy United States Patent and Trademark Office, which overlooks the Detroit River, quickly attracted the likes of Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione. The Chicago intellectual property law firm opened a Detroit office in the same building.

It has been growing since then, expanding to four attorneys and two administrative staff members. It is hiring one more employee now.

"The growth has been as planned," says Kelly Burris, managing shareholder of the Detroit office of Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione. "We planned to add a new attorney in 2013 and we did that." She adds that the office's business plan also calls for hiring another attorney in 2014.

Each attorney represents about 2,000 billable hours annually. The office's work has steadily increased to support the growth and make Burris optimistic for the office's near future.

"Having a presence in Detroit has been received well by Detroit companies," Burris says.

Source: Kelly Burris, managing shareholder of the Detroit office of Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Social2Step helps employees broaden their employers' sales

Susan Burke was working in social media and marketing in Grand Rapids when she heard how there were higher buy rates for online products if recommendations come from a trusted family member or friend. That got Burke thinking of creating a new startup around this idea.

"Why don't we empower employees of a company to be brand advocates?" Burke says.

That's the idea behind Social2Step. The 6-month-old startup helps companies empower employees to become ambassadors for their products online. The hope is that more sales makes a healthier business and in turn makes the jobs of the employees advocating for the products and services more secure.

"The whole idea is to keep the company successful with this platform by keeping the employees engaged," Burke says.

Burke launched the company and was accepted into the spring class of Bizdom, a downtown Detroit-based startup accelerator and incubator. It is now based in Bizdom's new home, 1528 Woodward, with Burke splitting time between her Grand Rapids home and an apartment in downtown Detroit.

Social2Step's software platform is available both online and as a mobile app. It enables employees to advocate for their company's products through social media channels. Social2Step charges a monthly fee and start-up costs to its customers. Social2Step is in the final stages of prepping for the launch of its commercial version and aims to have 30 to 50 clients and more than $1 million in revenue within the next year.

Social2Step currently has a staff of two employees and three interns. Burke hopes to be at a staff of 15-20 people within the next year.
 
Source: Susan Burke, founder & CEO of Social2Step
Writer: Jon Zemke

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