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Why stop now? Joe Spencer has big plans for Louisiana Creole Gumbo

In the early parts of 2014, the infamous polar vortex descended over Detroit, bringing temperatures that made the North Pole seem downright tolerable. With sub-zero temps combined with above average amounts of snow, it was the type of weather that inspired people to stay indoors, to avoid going out whenever possible. For a restaurant owner, it's the type of weather that means trouble.

At Louisiana Creole Gumbo, sales were down 20 to 25 percent that year, says the restaurant's president and co-owner Joe Spencer. The New Orleans and southern style kitchen is located at 2051 Gratiot Ave.just on the outskirts of Eastern Marketand has been since 1970. Spencer says it was one of the first, if not the first, Creole-style restaurants in Detroit.

The polar vortex threatened to put Louisiana Creole Gumbo out of business. Instead, Spencer has managed to turn the restaurant around, in part by taking advantage of the many small business programs in Detroit. Starting in 2014, Spencer enrolled in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses program. He's since received funding from Invest Detroit and Motor City Match. Most recently, Louisiana Creole Gumbo won the $100,000 NEIdeas award.

With the help of those programs, Spencer recently opened a new location on the city's northwest side at 13505 W. Seven Mile Rd., near Schaefer Highway. The Goldman Sachs program helped Spencer conduct a survey, determining that 25 percent of his customers live in northwest Detroit.

"Detroit has a really terrific system that's designed to help small businesses, to help people start businesses as well as help businesses that already exist," says Spencer. "I've been benefited greatly from that."

The restaurant was first established in 1970, though not by Spencer. That distinction goes to Joseph Stafford, a chef who learned to cook from his mother in Bayou Laforche in New Orleans. Spencer, who's lived most of his life in Detroit, had never even tried Creole-style food before a fateful flip of a coin set the course for the second part of his career.

Before he purchased Louisiana Creole Gumbo, Spencer had made a name for himself in broadcast media. In 1972, he worked for WWJ, becoming one of the first black radio producers in Detroit. In 1975, Spencer became the program director at WGPR-TV 62, the first black-owned television station in the nation. He stayed with channel 62 through its purchase by CBS in 1994, eventually taking an early retirement opportunity in 2001. He's since focused on the restaurant full time.

It was in 1982 when Spencer and business partner Doug Morrison purchased the restaurant from original owner Stafford. Wanting to go into business for himself, Spencer had originally approached Morrison about purchasing an eight-unit apartment building on the city's westside. Morrison, on the other hand, had his eyes on Louisiana Creole Gumbo. A coin flip decided the duo's fate.

"Joe Stafford, having sold us the restaurant, spent the next year coming in to work every day to teach us how to prepare the product," says Spencer. "How to maintain his proprietary spice blends that he had, to control the taste of the food, how to manage the product, to introduce us to the vendors, create a relationship with the vendors, so we could continue his legacy. He really had a great product."

The restaurant's continued success, now edging towards 50 years since first opening, is a testament to Stafford's original product. And now that Spencer has gone through a number of Detroit's small business programs, both educationally and financially beneficial, he's gearing up for a major expansion of the business.

The new Louisiana Creole Gumbo in northwest Detroit is just the beginning. Spencer has an ambitious ten year plan to open 100 new locations throughout the I-75 corridor. He's also going mobile, having pegged the NEIdeas award money for two food trucks. The menu, too, is expanding; the new location features healthier options like red beans and quinoa, rather than rice, and vegetarian gumbo, in addition to the traditional favorites.

For Lousiana Creole Gumbo, just a couple of years removed from that nasty polar vortex, it seems that a new season has arrived.

If you don't evolve, you die: How Jacob Bishop re-energized the Mr. Alan's brand

Despite having grown up in and around his father's shoe stores, Jacob Bishop showed little interest in joining his dad's company once graduating from Michigan State University. 
 
He wanted to strike out and build something of his own—an understandable impulse for a 22-year old. So Jacob and his brother Adam did just that, opening Soles Inc., a small high-end sneaker boutique in Miami's South Beach that grew to five locations throughout Florida.

But Bishop would eventually move back north and take over the family business, re-branding and re-energizing the decades-old company by drastically shaking up the business model. And it seems to be working. Mr. Alan's is now Elite Mr. Alan's, a place for finding the latest trends in shoes and clothing, not just the best bargains.

It's a quality over quantity approach. Some told him it wouldn't fly. Michigan is not Florida, they said. Keep it simple and don't get too colorful. But as incremental changes proved successful, Jacob was emboldened. It was time for change.

"If you're either not growing or evolving, you're dying," says Bishop.

Jacob is the son of Alan Bishop, founder of the Mr. Alan's chain of shoe and clothing stores. Like his son, Alan also split off from the family business at an early age. In 1974, Alan opened his first shoe store when he was 18-years old. Alan's father, Robert, had his own stores, specializing in women's shoes. So as not to compete with his dad, Alan opened a shoe store that carried men's shoes.

As with any successful business, Mr. Alan's changed with the times. Starting out in men's dress shoes, the company eventually began carrying men's casual shoes and even a few sneakers. Clothing was later introduced. As the decades wore on, Mr. Alan's shifted to a price-point-driven model offering good products at good prices, nothing too fancy. Sneakers became the focus. This shift is best identified by one of the catchiest slogans to be transmitted across Metro Detroit's broadcast airwaves—Mr. Alan's: $29 or two for $50.

Somewhere around 2012, the brothers Bishop merged their Soles Inc. brand with their father's Mr. Alan's chain of stores. Soon, Jacob would be making the trek up north to help with the strategic merging of companies. What he thought would last one month turned into three and then six. Following his father's departure from day-to-day duties, Jacob did something he never thought he'd do. Along with his brother, he became Co-CEO and Co-President of Mr. Alan's.

"The company was doing fine; they were doing great—everything was pretty much consistent," says Jacob. "We weren't necessarily growing, we weren't necessarily declining, but we were not, for a good chunk of time, evolving as a company. Which, I think, leaves you very vulnerable. So even though we were flat, we were a sitting target."

To change that, Jacob took what he learned in Florida and applied it to the Mr. Alan's stores here in Michigan. Though some told him it wouldn't work, Jacob started small. He introduced higher end and better quality products into one section of the store and waited to see how customers would respond. 
 
"If I only mess up 20 percent of the store, I only mess up 20 percent of sales, right?"

Sales, in fact, only grew. Soon the higher end concept took up half of Mr. Alan's stores and eventually would come to take over the whole store. Drastic updates and improvements were made to the furniture, displays, and overall designs of each store. To reflect that evolution, Jacob changed the name from Mr. Alan's to Elite Mr. Alan's.

The company is now in expansion mode. The older Mr. Alan's stores have been re-designed and re-branded as Elite Mr. Alan's. New stores have been popping up throughout Metro Detroit, including the latest at McNichols and Grand River, near the new Meijer development. It's the thirteenth Elite Mr. Alan's store. The company plans to open six more over the next 18 months and 24 more over the next three years.

Like his father before him, Jacob Bishop is proving that in business, evolution is key.

Name and title: Jacob Bishop, Co-President and Co-CEO of Elite Mr. Alan’s

Year Mr. Alan's opened: 1974

Year Elite Mr. Alan's opened/began: evolution into Elite began in 2012

One interesting job he had before running Mr. Alan's: Jacob started his own car detailing business in high school. His niche was that he would pick up the cars from his customers (wherever they were), detailed the cars at his house and then returned the cars to his customers.

Your favorite shoe of all time: White-on-white Nike Air Force 1

Biggest lessons you learned from his dad about running a business: To treat your brands with the same respect used to treat the customers

Local semi-pro soccer player one of area's youngest non-profit execs by day

There are a lot of remarkable things about Ezekiel Harris.

The 24 year old Flint native graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Michiganand a semester early, no less. Harris plays the Right Back position for Detroit City FC, the local semi-professional soccer team. He's worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Flint. He started a crowdfunding consultant company called Crowd Flint.

He's also a former Challenge Detroit Fellow, which is what initially brought him to the city. As a fellow, Harris was part of the team that launched United Way X, a research and development division within United Way here in Detroit. He was later named a senior fellow at Challenge Detroit. Yet for all these accomplishments, perhaps none is more remarkable than the fact that Harris was named executive director of MACC Development before his 24th birthday, becoming one of the youngest executive directors in the local non-profit sector.

In the Community Development Corporation world, Harris's peers are more likely to be twice his age than they are to be anywhere near it. But it's his youth, Harris believes, that will only benefit the neighborhoods of the 48214, the zip code that is the focus area of MACC.

"It's the perfect time to start not only looking at the best practices, but the next practices," says Harris.

Challenge Detroit prepared Harris to take on MACC at such a young age, a sort of masters degree program in non-profit leadership and social impact work. The numerous projects in which he took part, the community leaders he met throughout the city, and the networks he was able to build all prepared Harris for leadership. And he's still involved with Challenge Detroit today, having just wrapped up a five-week challenge in which he led 42 Challenge Detroit Fellows working on community development in the 48214.

MACC has three focus areas: youth and education, housing and blight, and economic development. It's an economically diverse area that MACC represents. While the commercial districts of West Village continue to grow and attract new businesses, others, like the Pingree Park neighborhood, have yet to see the same level of development occurring on Agnes and Kercheval streets. Harris believes that instead of waiting for change, organizations like his must push for it.

It's one of the reasons he's so excited for The Commons, a 12,000 sq. ft. building located at 7900 Mack Ave. The Commons will be a laundromat, coffee shop, and community center all in one. A general lack of laundromats in the neighborhood is an opportunity for MACC to provide an obvious need for nearby residents. A coffee shop and the size of the space serve as a place for neighbors to meet casually or hold community meetings and other events.

Halfway through construction with a planned opening in the summer of 2017, The Commons is a business that works on multiple levels. It's an example of addressing the neighborhood's needs by asking residents what they want, rather than prescribing a solution on to them. Harris hopes it to be a domino that triggers a chain reaction of development along Mack Avenue.

"It's a risk to start any business, but it's even more of a risk to start a business in the area that we are," says Harris. "But at the end of the day, that's what non-profits should be about. We can't be afraid to take those chances because if not us, then who will?"

Name, title: Ezekiel Harris, Executive Director of MACC Development

Year MACC Development opened: 2010

What is one interesting job you held before running MACC: Years before I was at MACC Development I founded a crowdfunding start-up in Flint, Michigan. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people and learned how to fail and get back up.

Who's your favorite soccer player: Theirry Henry

One of your favorite things about living in Detroit since moving here: I love that Detroit is a big little city. It's incredible how in a few short months you can meet some of the most talented, passionate people working on some of the most interesting projects in the country.

Boots with a mission: Detroit non-profit launches footwear line manufactured by local veterans

It's been nearly two years since a chance meeting on the streets of downtown Detroit left Jarret Schlaff inspired and searching for a way to help empower homeless veterans. What resulted is Boots on the Ground, the non-profit arm of Pingree Manufacturing. The boot-making organization employs and benefits veterans, focusing on worker well-being rather than profit margins.

After months of wrangling designs and logistics, Schlaff and his line of multi-purpose urban utility boots, Boots on the Ground, will open its first round of pre-sales on Friday, November 11Veterans Day. With only 500 pairs available and around 2,000 orders already pledged, the first round of boots should go fast. Luckily for those interested in purchasing a pair, a successful first round of sales means that Boots on the Ground will be able to keep manufacturing and selling their boots well into the future.

Schlaff started Boots on the Groundand its parent company, Pingree Manufacturing, named after former Detroit mayor Hazen S. Pingreeout of a desire to address the difficulties many U.S. veterans face in finding employment. Currently in its beginning stages, Boots on the Ground employs two veterans on a part-time basis; more opportunities for employment will open up as the non-profit grows. All of the boot material is made in the U.S., including many Detroit-made materials, and the ultimate goal is for all of the materials to be made in Detroit and in a sustainable way.

The idea for Boots on the Ground arose out of a chance encounter. Schlaff was walking around downtown Detroit when he got in a conversation with a veteran seeking employment. Though he may have been homeless, that veteran was more than qualified for employment, possessing a masters degree in engineering. Inspired by their meeting, Schlaff decided that he was going to help that man and others like him.

"We want to create these jobs, we want to create employment for veterans. What can be handmade, what can we make? And I literally said this in a conversation, I said, what can be the boots on the ground in Detroit?" Schlaff says, snapping his fingers as the thought is triggered. "And then I said: boots."

Armed with good intentions but a lack of know-how, Schlaff began to research manufacturing boots. He was told that it couldn't be done. Production would have to occur abroad if they were going to keep the boots affordable. But thanks to some helpful partnerships along the way, Schlaff figured out how to make Boots on the Ground happen. He's put about $10,000 to $15,000 of his own savings and an additional $15,000 from donations into the project, he says. Schlaff estimates that Boots on the Ground has also received nearly $250,000 in in-kind services.

In starting Boots on the Ground, Schlaff says he's encountered a chicken-and-egg scenario. While there's been plenty of interest in the concept, Schlaff hasn't had the funds to get it off the ground. He's turned away investors because he doesn't want to give away equity and control. Also, investors haven't been incredibly interested in a worker-owned company that puts the emphasis on employee well-being over profit margins.

So Schlaff figured out a way to do it himself. Once the first round of 500 boots sell, Schlaff will take that money and operate Boots on the Ground full time, moving into a manufacturing facility connected to the Avalon Bakery building on Bellevue Street.

Instead of investors, it's been local partnerships that have helped Boots on the Ground get up and running. A storage facility in Pontiac has donated space. A retired engineer from Chrysler with a passion for shoes and a workshop in his basement offered his assistance. Southwest Solutions, Michigan Veterans Foundation, and local VFW halls are among those who have partnered with the organization. Bates Footwear of Rockford, Mich. has acted as a sort of mentor, and without asking for anything in return.

"How do we find a way? It's allowing for the best kind of collaboration, which is that relationships are our main currency. It's been a lot of volunteers, a lot of people seeing an opportunity to support our work without necessarily a return on funds," says Schlaff.

"We've gotten where we are because of the relationships we've built. It's inspiring."
 
Name and title: Jarret A. Schlaff, co-founder & CEO Pingree Mfg & Project Boots on the Ground

Years business has been open: 2

What is one interesting job you held before owning/running your own biz: In 2009 I worked for Senator Carl Levin in Detroit supporting veterans with their disability claims. I was introduced to the maze called the VA that veterans have to navigate and fight through to get the support they deserve.   

Favorite book: It's a tie between Ishmael by Daniel Quinn & 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell 

Advice for new non-profits: Anything is possible. Remind yourself at least once a day what you're committed to and what's possible because of you and your team's unique contribution. Embrace relationships as your primary currency and since we're all in this together, seek out opportunities to amplify the people, groups, and organizations around you doing good work without expecting anything in return.

How Canine to Five's Liz Blondy grew her dog daycare business from city to suburb

Liz Blondy has gone from zero to 250 dogs in eleven years' time. 

Owner of the Canine to Five dog daycare, boarding, and grooming company, Blondy has shepherded the business through a slow start on Cass Avenue in Detroit into a thriving company. She purchased a nearby pet grooming business, grew the Detroit location, and expanded with a second location in Ferndale. She's now ramping up for a 8,500 sq. ft. addition to the original Detroit facility. 

And she now has two dogs of her own.

It all started over a couple of drinks with friends. With no plans to start a business of her own, Blondy was content with her job as a business-to-business sales rep. But she had met some friends at a bar in downtown Detroit in 2003 and eventually learned that her friends dropped their dog off at a daycare facility in Farmington Hills every morning, a considerable distance from their homes in Detroit. 

Intrigued, Blondy went home and declared that she would open a facility in the city. After visiting a company in Canada and writing a business plan in November 2003, Canine to Five Detroit opened at 3443 Cass Ave. in May 2005.

"Fortunately, Canine to Five Detroit grew really, really slowly," says Blondy.

Having never owned a business or managed a pack of 100 dogs, Blondy is grateful for the slow start. Two dogs showed up the first day she opened, and she'd average about nine a day the rest of the year. In the second year, Blondy cared for about 18 a day. In the third year, Canine to Five averaged about 30 dogs a day. 

Blondy used that time to learn how to run a business; how to order office supplies, how to break up a dog fight, and how to manage a staff. Since Canine to Five is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, Blondy spent most of her time there those first few years, often sleeping and doing laundry at the building.

It took Canine to Five Detroit seven years to average 70 dogs a day. In contrast, it only took ten months to average 70 dogs a day in Ferndale. The Ferndale location was such an immediate success, in fact, that Blondy was already planning to move to a bigger facility within a year of opening in 2013. She left her lease at the 5,700 sq. ft. building on Hilton Road and purchased the 22,000 sq. ft. facility Canine to Five Ferndale now calls home at 1221 E. Nine Mile Rd.

"When I opened Canine to Five Ferndale, for the first six months, I was very hands-on there, too. But I quickly realized that I couldn't be spending 60 hours a week at Ferndale and still grow both businesses and serve as the COO of Detroit still," says Blondy. "Having good managers and a good supervisory team at both places has been really essential."

Blondy recommends taking existing employees to help open a new location. It's something that will help you grow, she says, stabilizing the expansion.

Having two locations has allowed Blondy to take lessons learned from each and apply them to the other. The slow start in Detroit gave her the time to find out how to run a business. And she says she's learned a lot from the Ferndale relocation, so she's now better prepared for the future Detroit expansion. The two Canine to Five locations now employ approximately 60 full-time and part-time workers that care for about 250 to 270 dogs a day.

Blondy has also learned that a business with a Detroit location and a suburban location are two different beasts. Each city has its own personality, wants, and needs. It's important not to treat the multiple locations with a one-size-fits-all approach. 

There is one thing, however, that needs to be the same.

"Both businesses can have very different personalities, but exceptional customer service has to be the constant between the two," says Blondy. "I'm not gonna try and have everything be super cookie-cutter because I want the locations to have different personalities. But I want, no matter what, the customer to feel good when they leave."


Gwen Jimmere makes all-natural hair care product and list of 100 influential African-Americans

LeBron James. Beyonce Knowles-Carter. Serena Williams. These are household names throughout the United States and even much of the world. They're also members of the The Root 100 for 2016, a list of the 100 most influential African-Americans as put together by the Washington Post-owned publication The Root. In November, a gala is being held in New York City to celebrate those that have made the list.

Also attending that gala will be Gwen Jimmere, a local entrepreneur that has seen tremendous growth in her all natural line of beauty products, Naturalicious. In just three years, Jimmere has quickly gone from creating an all-natural hair care product in her Canton, Michigan kitchen to being picked up by international beauty product distributor Jinny Beauty Supply and the first African American woman to hold a U.S. patent for a natural hair care product. She's now based out of the ponyride facility in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, where she and her team make all the products by hand.

Jimmere comes from a corporate communications background where, before even creating Naturalicious, told a friend who worked at The Root that she would one day make it to their 100 list. It only took her four years to do so.

"To find out that I'm actually on it is a full circle moment for me," she says.

Jimmere hails from Cleveland, Ohio. After attending Kent State University for both her undergraduate and master degrees, she was recruited by Ford Motor Company to become their Global Digital Communications Manager. She would later leave Ford to become the Digital Marketing Director for Uniworld, and soon after make her Root 100 proclamation.

An influential moment for Jimmere was seeing Chris Rock's documentary movie "Good Hair" during her pregnancy. She cites a scene that shows a pop can being submerged in a typical hair relaxer product and subsequently disintegrating. Concerned about what she was exposing her body and her unborn child to, Jimmere decided to create a safer and more natural hair product. She experimented, researched, and honed her product. Still, she treated it as a hobby, something she might one day give to family and friends.

A couple of years later, with a two year old son and about 30 days from divorce, Jimmere was laid off from Uniworld. What some might see as a dead end turned out to be a window of opportunity. With little left in the bank, Jimmere decided that it was now or never.

"Having your back against the wall forces you to not doubt yourself. You don't really have the luxury to doubt yourself," says Jimmere. "It's like, I might as well just try everything because the worst that can happen is nothing."

That attitude, coupled with a desire to make her son Caiden proud, got Naturalicious off the ground. Jimmere called the Whole Foods Market in Detroit to set up a meeting, eventually convincing them to carry her product. Now several Whole Foods locations carry Naturalicious. And Jinny Beauty Supply just signed on to distribute, starting out in 1,500 stores and eventually growing to 7,000.

Naturalicious currently carries 10 products, all made by hand, designed for people with curly hair. The company is becoming known for both its all natural ingredients, and 3-in-1 and 5-in-1 products that help cut down on time. The clay comes from Morocco, the oils from Italy, Spain, and Argentina.

Jimmere moved the company out of her kitchen and into ponyride this past May, making her first hires. Three of her six employees are supplied through Services To Enhance Potential, or STEP, which connects employers with people with special needs looking for work. She anticipates having to hire more people soon.

Another member of the team is her son Caiden, now five years old. Caiden holds the title of Chief Candy Curator, making sure that each order is accompanied by a piece of candy.

As Jimmere relates Caiden's enthusiasm for Naturalicious, there's no need to question whether her son is proud of her. She's got it.

Quick Facts on Gwen Jimmere

Title: CEO + Founder, Naturalicious

Date of opening: 2013

One interesting job before Naturalicious: In grad school I was an editor at a risque book publisher. Every book I was responsible for editing was basically 50 Shades of Gray on steroids. When I interviewed for the job, they just told me it was for an editing position. It wasn't until the day I started that I realized I'd be editing freaky books.  It was a pretty interesting gig, though, and my co-workers were really cool. It was a very laid back office; we could bring our pets in whenever we wanted and wear pajamas to work every day of the week if we chose to. The culture was nothing like you'd expect for that sort of business. 

Favorite music to work to: 70s Funk (i.e. The Gap Band, Earth Wind & Fire, The Commodores, SOS Band, etc.)
 
One indispensable beauty care tip: Coconut oil is good for practically everything. It's an incredibly effective makeup remover, it's perfect for helping your nails grow faster and stronger, and it's a phenomenal conditioning ingredient when found in hair care products. I can think of at least 10 excellent beauty uses for coconut oil. I always keep a jar of unrefined, virgin coconut oil in my bathroom cabinet and another in my suitcase for when I'm traveling.

This Detroit manufacturer is making pre-fabricated houses cool -- and green

There's a hundred year-old manufacturing building on Detroit's near east side not unlike many on that side of town. Drive by it and one might have little idea that behind those old brick walls is a company at the forefront of a potential trendsetting technology. 

What once was an automobile manufacturing plant a century ago is now home to Phoenix Haus, a designer and builder of prefabricated building components for super-high efficiency homes.

Phoenix Haus subscribes to the Passive House approach of high energy efficiency building design and construction. This means that the building envelopes are super insulated, air-tight, consider the angle of the sun, and have high standards of ventilation. By pre-fabricating the components at their Detroit warehouse and then shipping the products to the construction site, Phoenix Haus is able to keep prices down and the technology more attractive.

Of course prefabricated building envelopes weren't invented yesterday. But it's a construction method yet to be embraced in the United States, and especially the Midwest, says Bill McDonald, founder and principal of Phoenix Haus. It can, however, be found all over Europe. 

But McDonald thinks that Detroit is primed for their style of building and is considering a parcel in the city, perhaps Corktown, where they can construct one of their homes as a demonstration of the finished product.

"Pre-fab is the answer," says McDonald. "There's a ton of companies looking into this mindset. There's a ton of pent-up demand for it. It's the next step.

"It's a level of innovation that hasn't existed in the housing industry in years," he adds. "We've been building houses like we have since the 1940s and 50s, basically. There've been a few changes here and there but it's basically the same theory. It's like building your car in the front lawn."

While pre-fab is important to McDonald, the ultimate goal is to make buildings as energy efficient as possible—pre-fabrication is simply the means by which Phoenix Haus can make it happen. By employing the Passive House method, net zero energy homes is that much more attainable. A net zero building is one that matches the energy it consumes by producing its own energy, typically through methods like super efficient insulation and solar power.

Phoenix Haus is a family business, owned and operated by the McDonald family of Saginaw. It was borne out of another family business, Cech Corp., founded in 1936. The mother, Hilde, who still runs Cech, is an investor and co-owner of Phoenix Haus. The son, Bill, started Phoenix in 2011. And Kate, his sister, recently joined on as project manager.

The McDonalds purchased the building at 1000 Mt. Elliott St. in 2015, renovating for both their offices and production facility. The high ceilings and open space give the office a contemporary feel—and that's not to mention Bill's drum kit, set up just outside his own office. They're excited about Detroit and their place in it, hoping to see the city be at the forefront of another industry yet again.

"Detroit has a manufacturing mindset," Bill says. "So the people we're looking to hire, CAD designers or the people working in the shop—the city lends itself well to that kind of manufacturing. We've got a good pool of people to hire from."

It's a mindset that started a century ago, in buildings like the one they currently occupy. 

Quick Facts on Bill McDonald
 
Title: Principle of Passive Haus
 
Date of Opening: 2011
 
One interesting job held before Phoenix Haus: cafeteria dish washer, Marquette University 
 
What's your favorite TED talk: Sir Ken Robinson (Education reform activist)
 
Favorite drummer: Patrick Carney of the Black Keys

Bill McDonald will be giving a TED Talk on the Passive House methodology at the TEDxDetroit event at the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Dessert Oasis' Nathan Hamood pioneers coffee and pomade in Rochester and Detroit

Nathan Hamood isn't very good at sitting still. That's not to say he's an angsty or fidgety sort of person. He just doesn't stop working.

Hamood spends 13 to 14 hours a day between his family's two Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters locations, one in downtown Rochester and one in downtown Detroit's Capitol Park. And when the shops shut down for the night, he somehow finds the time to develop his own hair pomade company, Ace High.

Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters is a family business. Hamood's parents opened up the shop in 2009, and he his sister Stephanie soon became partners. Today, each Hamood remains involved. Dad Jamal is a business law attorney who handles business administration duties for Dessert Oasis. Mom Charlene can often be found helping out around either shop. Sister Stephanie, a talented musician working in the music industry in Nashville, books the music acts. She's turned the two locations into destinations for live music, especially for fans of Americana and roots music.

Hamood's role has increased substantially. He began to study coffee in earnest and by 2010 was experimenting with coffee roasting techniques in a small rotisserie oven. A year or two later, the Hamoods purchased a full-size coffee roaster.

"People started to seek out our coffee more and more," says Hamood. "I was beginning to become really proud of the coffee we were putting out, because what we do next year will always be better than what we do this year."

Dessert Oasis first opened on the edge of downtown Rochester in 2009. After a couple of years in that location, the family began to develop a new business model emphasizing craft coffee and moved to a central location within downtown Rochester. The first day they re-opened, sales doubled. A few months later they tripled. 

While Dessert Oasis remains a family affair, Hamood is the face of the business. He says he does as much as he can, including buying coffee, roasting coffee, training employees, quality control, and day-to-day administrative work. 
 
He also regularly works behind the coffee bar. Being hands-on is important to him. While sitting down for this story, Hamood left the interview for ten minutes, joining an employee to help make lattes behind the counter.

"There isn't a job here we ask our staff to do that isn't something I'd do," he says.

The success of Dessert Oasis in Rochester led to the Hamoods opening a second location in Detroit's Capitol Park in late 2015. While the brand remains consistent between the two, each has its own vibe. The Rochester location feels warm and living room-like, while the Detroit shop has a more stark, contemporary style.

The Hamoods are excited about Detroit and their place in it. With several residential projects undergoing construction around Capitol Park, Hamood certainly got in at the right time.


Hamood plans on continued growth for Dessert Oasis. He'd like to increase wholesale coffee sales to other shops as well as online. This past spring, Hamood took his beans to America's Best Espresso Competition in Dallas, where he placed second in the contest, qualifying Dessert Oasis for the final round in Nashville later this year.

There might even be more locations in the family's future, though Hamood says he won't do it at the sacrifice of identity and quality.


And then there's Ace High hair pomade, which Hamood developed with a Dessert Oasis employee. The pomade, which is sold at both Dessert Oasis locations, is named after old cowboy slang for someone being first-class and well-respected. It fits the country and western theme present in both shops, something he picked up from his musician sister in Nashville.

"Over time, me and one of our guys started playing around with making our own pomade. We thought we could come up with something kind of cool and brand it cool. We've just been chipping away at it whenever we had spare time," says Hamood. "After hours, late at night if I couldn't sleep, I'd just work on the pomade."

While coffee and pomade may seem a surprising combination, it's that craftsmanship, that attention to detail, that keeps Hamood's imagination. Even when he's trying to sleep.

Quick Facts on Nathan Hamood

Title: President, Director of Coffee Roasting Operations at Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters


Date of opening: July 2009 (Rochester), December 2015 (Detroit)

First job: "The business in a way was actually my first job. Before that I played drums, though I never did so all that professionally."

Favorite musician: "It's hard to name one favorite musician. I listen to all sorts of stuff, anyone from the Clash to Ray Price, but I'd maybe have to say Hank Williams overall."

Favorite western: "It's a toss-up between 'Stagecoach' and 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'"

Big gets bigger: September 6 jobs news roundup

Underwear is the answer at the Shirt Box

Frank Witsil of the Detroit Free Press asked the question, "How does a business grow when demand for its key product is shrinking?" A men's clothing store in Farmington Hills, the Shirt Box, has done just that. In an interview, co-owners Ron Elkus and Rod Brown explain how they've kept up with the times as demand for men's business fashion has waned over the decades. While dress shirts are still a focus, the Shirt Box has stayed relevant since opening 35 years ago by being at the forefront of changing fashions. One way they've done it? Start selling high-end, $30 underwear, a shift from the "tighty-whities" they first carried. [Detroit Free Press]

Size adjustments for garment growth in Pontiac  

In just one year since starting up, cut and sew manufacturer Detroit Sewn has grown from one client and one employee to 80 clients and 14 employees. In the beginning of 2017, Detroit Sewn will move to a 5,000 sq. ft. facility in downtown Pontiac, twice the size of its current building. The company expects to hire up to five new employees to complement the move. [dBusiness]

Big and getting bigger in Southfield

Metaldyne Performance Group, one of the world's biggest automotive suppliers, just got bigger. The Southfield-based powertrain components supplier has acquired Brillion Iron Works of Brillion, Wis. CEO George Thanopoulos says Metaldyne has completed ten acquisitions in the past ten years, consistent growth for a company ranked 76th in the top 100 global suppliers as put out by the Automotive News. [Crain's Detroit Business]

Quote of the week: "I love it." -- Bill Clinton, when the Detroit News asked his opinion of the city during a Labor Day parade down Michigan Avenue in Corktown. The former president marched in the parade and later spoke at the UAW Solidarity House on E. Jefferson Avenue. [The Detroit News]

Jobs news roundup: August 30 edition

Surf's up: the "China wave" crashes on Michigan shores

In an op-ed written for the Battle Creek Enquirer, Tom Watkins, president and chief executive of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, celebrates the recent opening of the Michigan-China Innovation Center in downtown Detroit. Chinese investment in the United States has created tens of thousands of jobs here and the Innovation Center will work to bring more of those jobs to Michigan. According to Watkins, "Michigan has nearly 200 Chinese-owned firms that contribute over $3 billion in foreign direct investment." [Battle Creek Enquirer]

Please, don't go

Inteva Products, a Troy-based auto supplier, is creating 77 new jobs, and perhaps 50 more, through its $23 million investment in an Adrian, Mich. plant. The Michigan Strategic Fund awarded the $1.27 million grant to woo the company away from threats of relocation to neighboring Indiana. [Plastics News]

Towing the line in Troy

Another Troy-based auto company, Horizon Global Corp., is growing to become an $800 million global player with the purchase of Germany-based Westfalia Group. The companies are big in the world of towing and trailering products and accessories, designing, manufacturing, and distributing the auto-related products. [Dbusiness]

Success at Southfield's Nexcess

The Southfield-based data center and web hosting services company Nexcess celebrated the opening of two new facilities next to its Melrose Avenue headquarters. The growing company, which has hired 42 new employees over the past five years, is doubling its presence in the city, expanding from its 13,000 sq. ft. facility to over 26,000 sq. ft. [Crain's Detroit Business]

Recent RenCen news

Franco Publication Relations Group has hired a new account manager, marketing specialist, and assistant account executive, drawing the three new hires to its Renaissance Center offices. Franco was founded in 1964 in Detroit and is Michigan's oldest independent public relations firm, the company says.

Numbers game: $245,150 – the average salary of surgeons in Michigan, topping the list of 100 highest paid jobs in the state. Journalist and editor failed to crack the top 100. [ClickOnDetroit]

Jobs news roundup: August 23 edition

Zen and the art of motorcycle sales

Motor City Harley-Davidson of Farmington Hills is growing and the dealership is revving up for the grand opening of its new $15 million facility this Friday, Aug. 22. At 106,000 sq. ft., the dealership is more than three times the size of its previous facility. And it's more than just a dealership. In addition to a showroom, the new Motor City Harley-Davidson complex will contain a brew pub, a gathering place for bikers of all stripes, and a riding academy complete with a state-certified road course. The new facility, located at 24800 Haggerty Rd., will employ 70 people. [dBusiness]

Mcity plays Pied Piper, lures Silicon Valley to Michigan

The TechLab at Mcity, the University of Michigan testing center for driverless vehicles, has inspired three Silicon Valley startups to move some of their employees from their California homes to the Michigan facility. One of those firms, Civil Maps, recently received a $6.6 million investment from Ford. Zendrive and PolySync round out the group, all three of which are developing different technologies to put driverless vehicles on the road. [Detroit Free Press]

Domino's pizza expands, yet neglects to bring back the noid

The Ann Arbor-based pizza company Domino's Pizza recently celebrated the opening of its 13,000th store worldwide, marking another quarter of growth for the company. Domino's execs credit a return to simplicity for the expansion. They've let go of "fancy models" in determining the location of new stores and started focusing on opening locations based on population sizes. Domino's has also developed technologies to make ordering pizza easier. [Crain's Detroit Business]

Tax law firm continues growth and hiring

For the third year in a row, the Southfield-based boutique tax firm Ayar Law Group has hired a new attorney and support staff for the growing company. Venar Ayar, principal and founding tax attorney for the firm, says that they're outgrowing their office for the fifth time. And they're not done yet. Ayar Law Group has already announced that they're seeking additional tax law attorneys to join the firm. Visit AyarLawGroup.com for hiring information.

Quote of the Week:

"A lot of industries in the U.S. died because they didn't continue to freshen themselves and continue to face what's next. I'd like to think that … the encouragement of the city, state and federal government have helped to keep the auto industry alive by not keeping it a captive of the past but by looking for the things to take it into the next generation."

- Fred Hoffman, recipient of the Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award [Detroit Free Press]

Jobs news roundup: August 16 edition

Michigan jobs and the presidential election

Michigan jobs received national attention last week as presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton visited Detroit and Warren, respectively, to tout their economic plans. Trump's speech at the Detroit Economic Club used Detroit's history of economic troubles to malign Democrats, while Clinton's speech at advanced manufacturing company Futuramic Tool and Engineering in Warren used that company's success as an example of the direction of manufacturing in the United States. [The Detroit News]

Lear may move jobs from Mexico to Detroit

Nearly 5,000 manufacturing jobs could arrive to metro Detroit by way of Mexico, thanks to ongoing talks at the Lear Corporation. Conrad L. Mallett Jr., chief administrative officer for the Detroit Medical Center and board member of Lear, discussed the matter at the recent NeighborWorks Training Institute in Detroit. The international auto-supplier Lear is headquartered in suburban Southfield. [Detroit Free Press]

The biggest trend in Michigan jobs reporting lately isn't the creation of jobs or a jobs shortage, but the lack of a skilled workforce.

Short on workers

Sherri Welch writes that the Michigan agriculture industry faces difficulties in staffing many of the jobs required to keep the food stream running, from produce pickers to farm equipment mechanics. Much of this has to do with the more isolated, rural locations of farms, far from the population centers of Michigan, she says. [Crain's Detroit Business]

In a guest column for mLive, Chad Cushman, vice president of Owosso-based motorcoach business Indian Trails, Inc., scratches his head over the difficulties his and similar companies face in hiring drivers—and it's not for lack of trying. Cushman says the company offers paid training, competitive wages, and full benefits as part of its compensation package. Lisa Katz of Crain's agrees, writing that with more than 7,000 online job postings, truck drivers were the most in-demand occupation in the second quarter of 2016. [MLive.com]

Prominent public relations firm Berg Muirhead transitioning to new name and ownership

The transition seemed almost instantaneous. Last week Berg Muirhead and Associates was one of Detroit's most recognizable boutique public relations agencies. This week it has a new name, Van Dyke Horn Public Relations, and new owners. But this change has been a longtime coming.

"It wasn't a quick turnover process," says Peter Van Dyke, CEO & co-owner of Van Dyke Horn Public Relations. "We have worked toward this slowly and carefully for the last five years."

Berg Muirhead and Associates is one of the household names in Detroit public relations. The company was founded in 1998 by Bob Berg, a public affairs advisor for former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, and Georgella Muirhead, a public relations administrator for the cities of Detroit, Southfield and Ann Arbor. The company built an enviable client list that included everything from Detroit Future City to Strategic Staffing Solutions to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Successful businesses like this are often built on the shoulders of their founders, and too often live and die with them. But Berg Muirhead/Van Dyke Horn seems like it has a better shot than most of surviving because it's been preparing for this moment for a long time.

Van Dyke started as an account executive at Berg Muirhead a decade ago, becoming an account supervisor a year after that. Five years ago Van Dyke made the move to vice president. He became a partner in the firm about two years later. Marilyn Horn, the co-owner and president of Van Dyke Horn, has been working at the company for even longer as director of administration before becoming a vice president in 2013. All four people became practically interchangeable over the last few years in preparation of this transition.

"Bob, Georgella, Marilyn and I work very close together," Van Dyke says. "If we can work closely together and leave each day as good business colleagues and friends, then we have something special going on."

That group of four will continue to work together. While Horn and Van Dyke are the new owners, Berg and Muirhead are staying on as "of counsel" senior staffers. The company's staff of nine will remain the same and continue to work in its offices in the Fisher Building in New Center. In fact, Van Dyke expects to hire another account executive or two before the year is over.

He and Horn have set a goal of raising the firm's annual revenue to $1 million this year. Van Dyke expects to announce new clients within a few months, and hints they many will come from developers building up the greater downtown area and the rest of Detroit.

"There will be a lot of growth in the next six months," Van Dyke says.

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

Lawrence Hunt signs Tigers catcher endorsement to power brand growth

Lawrence Hunt needed a big name, but not too big, when it came to finding an endorsement for its clothing line. The name that fit that bill: James McCann.

McCann is the starting catcher for the Detroit Tigers, and just the right size of celebrity for the clothing startup: big enough to be known in Metro Detroit, which is where the company is trying to gain a foothold for its breathable-material clothing.

"Helping accelerate the brand's growth is the key," says Jeff Schattner, founder and CEO of Lawrence Hunt. "We wanted to find someone local so we can focus our growth on Metro Detroit."

Lawrence Hunt got its start a little more than a year ago making dress shirts for men that employ breathable material, like what's used in work-out clothes. The idea is to help keep the person wearing them cooler and limit the amount of sweat that sweeps through, while maintaining a professional appearance. An athlete like McCann appears to be a perfect fit for that.

It now offers six different styles of dress shirts, including four for men and two for women. All of Lawrence Hunt's clothing sales take place on the Internet. Schattner and his team are working to optimize the company's online profile to maximize its sales. They're also working to set up relationships with local boutique retailers and clothing distributors to increase their sales through traditional retailing channels.

"We want to start testing out the distributors and boutiques," Schattner says.

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

DC3 launches Detroit City of Design initiative

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) wants to help figure out how best to harness the Motor City's flair for design to improve its local economy, and it's launching the Detroit City of Design initiative to make that happen.

"We want to build a community vision for what the designers can achieve," says Olga Stella, executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

This effort comes shortly after Detroit was recognized as an UNESCO City of Design, the first and only one in the U.S. The Detroit City of Design initiative's goal is to bring together design professionals in industry, academia, policy, and community to collectively build an innovative, equitable, and sustainable city through the power of design.

According to Stella, they'll ask and answer questions like, "What is unique about Detroit? What are our assets and opportunities?"

The Detroit City of Design initiative will take place over 10 years. In its first year DC3 wants to lay the groundwork for creating a common vision on how design can best impact the region. Specifically, organizers want to see how such a vision can boost Metro Detroit's economy.

Other cities with UNESCO City of Design designations have harnessed them for a variety of purposes. Since 2004, the creative sector in Buenos Aires has grown by 90 percent. It now makes up nearly 10 percent of the city's gross domestic product and employs nine percent (almost 150,000 people) of the city's workforce. Since 2009, Montreal has invested more than $225 million in public projects hosting 25 public design competitions that resulted in $17 million in revenue for the local design community.

DC3 hopes to make similarly big gains by harnessing the UNESCO designation.

"For us, it's about economic development," Stella says.

DC3 will host a series of events celebrating design in the Motor City throughout this year, including the annual Detroit Design Festival on Sept 22-24. The three-day citywide celebration of design has attracted more than 100,000 people the past five years.

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

Patronicity expands its platform outside Michigan

Since 2013, Patronicity has made a name for itself as a potent local crowdfunding tool in Detroit.

While many other crowdfunding platforms focus on scaling fundraising through a worldwide audience, Patronicity believes that many of those campaigns get lost in the white noise of too many projects. Their local-first business model helps each civic-and-community-minded project stand out.

This worked well for the Midtown-based startup—it brokered a deal with the state of Michigan to help promote local crowdfunding projects across the state and grew its staff to four. Now it's expanding further into the Midwest.

Patronicity has landed a new partnership helping Local Initiatives Support Corporation Indianapolis where it will provide the crowdfunding platform, which it likes to call crowdgranting, for projects targeting three neighborhoods in Indianapolis as part of the Great Places 2020 initiative.

"That's our first project outside Michigan," says Ebrahim Varuchia, president and co-founder of Patronicity.

Patronicity is working with more than a dozen Indianapolis area sponsors to transform strategic Indianapolis neighborhoods into dynamic centers of culture, commerce and community by improving quality of life and spurring urban revitalization.

"We are excited about this new partnership to help create better neighborhoods in Indianapolisone of our great American cities," Varuchia says. "Since Patronicity is based in the industrial Midwest, Detroit, we know the struggles. But, being a part of Great Places 2020 means we can help Local Initiatives Support Corporation and their partners to unlock the power of crowdgranting to create more vibrant communities."

Patronicity is also working with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation chapters in Michigan on projects in Kalamazoo and Detroit. The startup is also looking to expand elsewhere in the Midwest and East Coast later this year.

"We're still ironing out the final details to grow," Varuchia says.

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

Greening of Detroit program helps unemployed harvest careers

The Greening of Detroit is heading up a new initiative that aims to give the chronically unemployed careers, while also beautifying the city.

The Detroit Conservation Corps provides unemployed residents in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park job training and certification in the landscape industry. It's recruiting people who have struggled to overcome barriers to maintaining a full-time job, such as incarceration, substance abuse, homelessness, lack of education or job skills.

Helping these people become part of the everyday workforce isn't a simple task.

"Being able to recreate hope in the first couple of weeks is the biggest challenge," says Devon Buskin, workforce development director of the Greening of Detroit. "We have to build a trust because they have been disappointed so many times before."

The Detroit Conservation Corps does this by harnessing the wrap-around services and resources of several partners, including Focus: HOPE, Neighborhood Services Organization, and the McGregor Fund

The hope is for members of the Corps to start over and stabilize their lives. Participants receive training in landscaping, forestry, snow removal, and floral decor. Each eight-week session provides participants with technical training, work readiness skills, and case management services. Upon graduation, trainees are placed directly into jobs. It graduated 54 people from the program in June.

The Detroit Conservation Corps is partnering with the city of Detroit so they can work on local projects that are transforming the neighborhoods where the participants live into healthier, greener spaces. One such project is clearing and prepping nearly 300 vacant lots in the Fitzgerald neighborhood on the city's west side.

Greening of Detroit has set a goal to train and employ 2,500 Detroiters by 2020.

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

Lake Brothers Beer Co. begins brewing lagers in Corktown

With the launch of Lake Brothers Beer Co. this spring, Sean Farrell and Mike Grodecki are two of the newest craft brewers in Detroit. They only produce a lager, but they have high expectations for it.

The brothers-in-law see the lager as their ticket into the micro brewing industry. It's a light, crisp beer that's been historically popular in the U.S. All of the marco brewers mass produced lagers for for much of the 20th Century, and it wasn't until the birth of the micro-brewery movement in the last 20 years that ales came back into favor.

"We have been inspired by the lagers of the old days," Farrell says. "We're trying to replicate that in today's market."

Brewing lagers is easier said than done. They typically need to brew longer and in colder temperatures, meaning they take more time and resources to produce.

"It's a hard beer to make," Farrell says. "Any imperfections shine through."

Lake Brothers Beer Co. is making a classic lager with a light amber color. It's brewed out of the Brew Detroit facility in Corktown, packaged into 12-ounce cans and sold in boxed six packs. Patrons can buy them at independent retailers, bars, and restaurants across Metro Detroit, such as Mudgie's Deli in Corktown or Honey Bee La Colmena supermarket in Mexicantown.

The company hopes it can be the regional lager of choice, like Shiner Bock in Texas or Brooklyn Brewery in New York or Yuengling in Virginia.

"We want to be the premier lager brand for the Great Lakes region," Farrell says.

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

Build Institute hits road with Build Bazaars pop-ups and Open City forums

Build Institute has made a name for itself with classes that help aspiring entrepreneurs in Detroit learn the basics of building a company or small businesses. To complement that, they're hosting a number of Build Bazaars pop-up marketplaces and Open City small business forums across the city this summer.

"We are more than just classes," says Christianne Sims, program manager for Build Institute. "People can go through our programs but they also have other resources available to them."

Build Bazaars are rotating pop-up marketplaces featuring products from small businesses in Detroit. Graduates of Build Institute's classes use the bazaars to help drive initial sales and get their businesses off the ground. The products range from artisanal candles and soap, to fresh baked goods and handmade wares.

The first Build Bazaar was held last week at the 24th Annual Congress for New Urbanism at the Detroit Opera House. Two more will be held at the MASH Detroit soft opening at 14711 Mack on June 25 and the Concert of Colors diversity themed festival at the Max Fisher Music Center in Midtown between July 14 and 17.

Open City is where Detroit's aspiring and established small business owners go to network. The small forum is composed of a panel of speakers (selected by Build Institute) that discuss small business topics. The free gatherings take place on the third Monday of every month at the downtown bar Cliff Bells. (For more on Open City, check out this Model D article from 2015)

The first "on the road" event is the Brick By Brick: Building Community Through Small Business, which will focus on how small businesses are the anchors of their communities and the socio-economic hubs of the surrounding neighborhoods. It starts at 6 p.m. on June 20 and will be held at the Detroit Blues Café, 14493 Gratiot Ave.

"Detroit is more than downtown," Sims says. "We have so many commercial corridors."

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

Prestigious fellowship for founder of Building Hugger demonstrates the firm's growth

Amy Swift is going on vacation soon. It may not be a full-on vacation, but she'll take it. That's because it will be the first time Swift has been away from her fledgling business, Building Hugger, for an extended-period of time.

"I have never left this work for this long since I started," Swift says. "Frankly, it scares me. But I'm not going to pass on this opportunity."

Building Hugger is a preservation-focused construction firm that does a lot of work in the lost trades of historic preservation like woodworking, but specializes in window restoration.

It's also growing quickly. Building Hugger currently employs 11 people with a goal of hitting 15 by the end of the year, up from four a year ago.

"It's not like there is a trade school for windows," Swift says. "We have to train everyone in-house."

This is not the time to take the hand off of the tiller of a fast-growing business. But the opportunity, a fellowship with the Tory Burch Foundation, is too good to pass up. 

The New York-based foundation helps women entrepreneurs grow their businesses by providing access to capital, entrepreneurial education, mentoring and networking opportunities. The year-long fellowship comes with a three-day workshop, a $10,000 grant for business education, and the chance to pitch for a $100,000 investment.

Building Hugger is no stranger to finding clever ways to raise seed capital. It won a $10,000 challenge grant from NEIdeas last year and has raised thousands of dollars from Kiva Zip loan drives. Building Hugger also received a Motor City Match design grant to build out a specialty hardware store.

That money helped Building Hugger grow and create jobs over the last year. It recently moved into a bigger shop, which included its new hardware store, on Chene near Eastern Market. 

Building Hugger has taken on a number of window restoration projects that have helped it double its revenue over the past year. Those projects include work on the Henry Ford Fair Lane Estate, the George Ladve House in Brush Park, and the Michigan State Capitol dome.

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

Family-owned consulting firm moves to bigger office downtown to accommodate growth

LoVasco got its start in 2013 as a small, family-owned consulting firm specializing in insurance, employee benefits and retirement services. The father-son team started out in a small space in the Buhl Building in downtown Detroit. Today it has grown to a point where it needed to move.

LoVasco recently relocated to 8,000 square feet of office space in the One Woodward Avenue building at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson avenues. It brought 20 employees with it to the 15th floor of the Minoru Yamasaki-designed skyscraper overlooking Hart Plaza and the Detroit River.

"It's really starting to feel like a home," says Michael LoVasco, executive vice president of LoVasco. "Everyone has a view of the water."

The LoVasco family went into business for itself in 1956 when John LoVasco (Michael LoVasco's grandfather) started selling insurance. Gene LoVasco (Michael LoVasco's father) joined the business in 1986. The family grew the company before selling it in 2007.

John LoVasco retired but Gene LoVasco kept working for the larger firm until his five-year contract expired. Then he and his son decided to give a family business another try.

"He was ready to be his own boss again," Michael LoVasco says. "We had talked about launching a business together."

So far it's working out quite well. The company grew its revenue by 50 percent in its first year and then another 30 percent the following year. This year LoVasco is on track to hit another double-digit revenue increase.

It's achieving this growth by serving primarily privately owned family businesses based in Michigan. Those companies range in size from a couple hundred employees to five-figure staffs.

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

NextChallenge aims to smarten up urban infrastructure tech

Technology upgrades are an everyday part of our lives. New phones, computers, and entertainment centers are practically a rite of passage in the 21st Century. Cutting edge technology in public infrastructure, not so much.

It's why NextEnergy is hosting NextChallenge: Smart Cities, a competition to find new hardware and software solutions that address unmet challenges facing urban areas. 

"These are 15 to 30 year assets," says Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy. "People expect a return for their decisions. And it can be hard for tech companies to penetrate these environments."

NextEnergy is partnering with DENSO, DTE Energy, and Wells Fargo to launch the challenge. The winner will receive up to $80,000 in seed capital from the Wells Fargo Foundation to demonstrate and validate its solution. Potential winning ideas could range from developing smart parking technologies to smart building solutions.

Developing those technologies is one thing. Getting the market to adapt to them is another. Most of those technologies are big-ticket items with, at best, a limited track record. It's a bet most aren't willing to make on their largest purchases.

"People have to see that they work in the context of the existing system before they are willing to try it," Redfield says.

NextChallenge: Smart Cities wants to bridge that gap. It is accepting applications through July 28. An information webinar will take place on June 9 between 2 and 3 p.m. For information, click here.

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

Castle closes $2M seed round from Silicon Valley investors

Castle, a property management software startup, hit a big milestone last week, locking down a little more than $2 million in seed capital. Model D recently profiled Castle, just before it announced this seed round.

The Detroit-based company has raised $2.75 million to date over its first two years of business. The startup's seed round was led by Kholsa Ventures out of Silicon Valley. SV Angel, and Point Judith Capital, also participated in the round.

"It's an incredible opportunity," says Max Nussenbaum, co-founder & CEO of Castle. "But it's not a success in and of itself. This is the fuel in the tank, not the end game."

Nussenbaum was part of the inaugural class of the Venture For America, serving his two-year fellowship in Detroit. He co-founded Castle with two other VFA Detroit fellows (Tim Dingman and Scott Lowe) while the trio renovated a tax foreclosed mansion in Virginia Park. Today that house is their home and the headquarters of Castle, but the company is also looking to move into its own offices in the greater downtown Detroit area later this year.

The trio of VFAers also used the experience renovating that house as a compelling story to help get Castle admitted to Y Combinator, arguably the most prestigious startup accelerator in the world, earlier this year.

Castle has developed a software platform that makes property management easy by automating communication between tenants and property managers, rent collection, and repair requests. It currently manages 525 units, almost all of those are single-family homes or small multi-unit buildings. All of the rentals are in Metro Detroit and about 60 percent are in the city of Detroit.

Castle's leadership teams plans to use the seed capital to continue building out its software platform. It's also looking at expanding outside of the Detroit market, potentially opening up a new market early next year. It hasn’t chosen a specific one yet, but among the candidates are Baltimore, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Florida.

"The early markets will be in line with Detroit," Nussenbaum says. "They are the ones that are underserved by our competitors."

Castle currently employs a team of about a dozen people and is still adding staff, including a head of growth in Detroit. The company’s team is currently aiming to double its units under management by the end of the year. Most of its new customers come from word-of-mouth recommendations.

"It's an incredible vote of confidence in us and we are so appreciative of it," Nussebaum says.

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

Longtime Detroit attorneys launch own firm

Patrick F. Hickey, Mark E. Hauck, Thomas S. Bishoff and Benjamin W. Jeffers have seen a lot of Detroit over the years. The four attorneys have more than 100 years of practicing law between them, all of it spent downtown. And now they're launching their own law firm, Hickey Hauck Bishoff & Jeffers.

"The two words I use to describe this are exciting and energizing," says Hickey.

Hickey and his partners like to draw a parallel between the birth of their new law practice and the rebirth of downtown Detroit as a vibrant city center. They have seen downtown Detroit have starts, and stops, and pauses over the last few decades. This time they believe it's the real thing, and want to be a part of it.

"We've found a lot of clients share our enthusiasm," Jeffers says.

The four co-founders of Hickey Hauck Bishoff & Jeffers previously served as members of Dykema law firm, one of Michigan's oldest law practices. They're now launching their own firm to focus on business law and employment litigation. It has expertise in a wide variety of areas ranging from automotive counseling and litigation to privately owned business disputes to non-compete counseling and litigation.

Hickey Hauck Bishoff & Jeffers is located at One Woodward Avenue. A team of seven people currently work from that office -- which is big enough to house nine attorneys and five support staff --  and the firm expects to add more.

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

Dťtroit Is the New Black finds a home at Ponyride

Roslyn Karamoko didn't love Detroit at first. Plus, she had plenty of other city suitors.

Karamoko grew up in Seattle, and graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in fashion merchandising. She worked in corporate retail buying in New York City and then around the world. When she got married a few years ago, Karamoko and her husband moved to his hometown of Detroit. Then she fell hard for the Motor City. So much so that she launched her own fashion label here: Détroit is the New Black.

"I just love this city," Karamoko says. "I wanted to create something that captures the optimism here."

She describes Détroit Is the New Black's aesthetic as Detroit history and minimalism combined into a dynamic, modern design for urban clothing. The 2-year-old company's website put this way: "Détroit Is the New Black is a mantra for rebirth, inspiration, authenticity and culture."

"It's something that speaks to all of the different layers here in the city," Karamoko says.

Détroit is the New Black moved into the Ponyride incubator in Corktown in mid-March. The fashion label's team of four people are working on producing a wide variety of clothes for both men and women, ranging from hoodies to varsity jackets to maxi dresses.

"It's a great incubator," Karamoko says. "It offers a great opportunity to cross pollinate with a lot of different brands here in the city."

Those clothes can be purchased online, at Detroit Historical Museum, the Charles Wright Museum, various boutiques across Metro Detroit, and at the company's factory store in Ponyride. Détroit is the New Black is working to open its own store in downtown Detroit later this year.

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

Corktown's Beard Balm goes global as it nears $1M sales

When Jon Koller first thought of turning his homemade beard balm into a business, he imagined how he would market it. Four years of business building and bootstrap pulling later, he gets to do that with Beard Balm.

And it's not just because Koller wants to do it -- he needs to. Beard Balm, based in Corktown's Ponyride, is selling its products around the world and closing in on $1 million worth of sales this year. Koller expects to hit the seven-figure milestone by the third quarter.

"We're about even now in sales with what we did all of last year," Koller says.

Beard Balm makes an all-natural, leave-in conditioner for beards and facial hair. The company uses natural products like lanolin oil, coconut oil, and beeswax from a Traverse City farm. Beard Balm sells in 1.5-ounce tins for $16 to $18 a pop. The regular balm and the "Naked," fragrance free version sell for $18 a piece. 

Since releasing its Heavy Duty version a year ago, Beard Balm has focused on expanding sales by hooking up with a national distributor. Beard Balm's products can be bought in every state in the U.S., every country in the European Union, and 12 other countries around the world. Beard Balm has tripled the number of stores carrying its products in the last two months.

"We will probably double it again in the next three months," Koller says.

That success has prompted Beard Balm to grow its team to five people, and will likely add more soon. New hires will do everything from production work to helping with marketing and branding.

"Everything but sales," Koller says.

Sales growth seems to be taking care of itself these days.

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

Software platform simplifies ride-sharing

No one likes the dreaded daily commute to work, which is often costly and tedious. Thanks to the ride-sharing platform SPLT, there will be a little less dread in the morning.

The downtown Detroit-based startup is developing a software platform so companies can make it easier for their employees to ride-share. The mobile platform employs a social search feature to identify commuters -- both drivers and passengers -- going in the same direction for simple synching.

Workers save money in transportation costs, and companies do as well in having to provide less parking. SPLT has a couple of pilot projects underway and the initial results are encouraging.

"We have seen a 15 percent adoption rate for SPLT," says Anna Isachenko, operations czar at SPLT. "It's much better than the industry standard."

SPLT launched a paid pilot project with DTE Energy in November and started a second pilot project in February. It's getting ready to launch another pilot project in Ohio later this spring. That work has enabled SPLT to grow its team to seven people, along with an intern from Detroit Cristo Rey High School on the city's southwest side. SPLT is also looking at adding more interns this summer and a couple more employees.

"We might bring on more developers very soon," Isachenko says. 

SPLT has a presence in San Francisco, New York City, Austin, Atlanta, Denver and Detroit. Its headquarters is in the Techstars incubator next to Ford Field. SPLT was part of Techstars Mobility’s first class in Detroit last summer.

The incubator program showed SPLT the potential behind a major pivot. Before graduating, the startup was aiming its platform straight at consumers. Techstars Mobility helped it target large companies instead.

"It created a strong foundation for the company," Isachenko says.

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

Investment group adds staff downtown as it spreads seed capital across Michigan

Invest Michigan is nearing its second year in June and the non-profit that makes and manages small investments in early stage tech startups is celebrating by rounding out its team.

The downtown Detroit-based investment organization has hired a new associate out of Chicago to help with financial market and industry research. Invest Michigan now employs a team of six people from its perch in the Guardian Building, overseeing a growing number of angel investments in startups.

"We've had really good growth in the last 21 months," says Charlie Moret, president of Invest Michigan. "We have had 33 transactions in that time."

Invest Michigan oversees the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0, a multimillion dollar angel investment fund capitalized by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. It invests in Michigan-based tech startups, typically between $50,000 to $150,000. It has worked with a growing number of institutional investors (25 as of this spring) and Michigan's growing pool of angel investors. The combined power of these different factions helps spread more money around to more startups.

"Having a group of us to support these companies helps reduce the risk," Moret says.

The total size of the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0 grew to $10.5 million fund after a $2.5 million follow-on capital infusion by the MEDC last year. Moret says Invest Michigan has about between three and four years worth of investment capital in its reserves, including money put aside for follow-on investments in startups.

Follow-on investment -- worth between $50,000 and $150,000 -- is an increasingly used phrase at Invest Michigan. Of its 33 transactions so far, seven have been follow-on investments. These include fast-rising startups like TechTown-based ENT Biotech Solutions, along with Ann Arbor-based AdAdapted and Genomenon. The latter happened shortly after it placed second at last fall's Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Moret expects more of those follow-on investments to continue as the fund matures.

"We hold the additional capital from MEDC as a reserve so we can continue to support our startups with more investment," Moret says.

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

Detroit tech community leads venture capital boom in Michigan

Michigan's venture capital community continues its rise with another year of growth, and Detroit's tech scene is playing a significant role.

With $328 million in 2015, Michigan enjoyed its best year of venture capital investment. That's up from $224 million the year before, and $246 million from the second highest year in 2012, according to a new report from the Michigan Venture Capital Association. In total over the last decade, Michigan has seen a 150 percent increase.

Detroit's rise as a center for tech mirrors that climb. There was little to no venture capital activity downtown 10 years ago. Today, it's home to several venture capital firms that make early stage investments in tech firms, many of which are based in or near Madison Block. One of Michigan's two largest VC funds, the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, a fund so large it only invests in smaller VCs, is also located downtown.

"Detroit is a big area of focus," says Maureen Miller Brosnan, executive director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association. "Automotive and IT technologies are a great areas of growth."

VC growth is happening at a time when it's on the wane across the U.S. According to the same Michigan Venture Capital Association report, the number of venture capital firms headquartered in Michigan, their total capital under management, and number of venture capital investments made in Michigan, has doubled and in some cases tripled while those numbers have decreased nationally.

That build up has come from a combination of capital from private and public sources. While the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund has accumulated its money from private funds, it's counterpart the Venture Michigan Fund got its backing from government. The Michigan Department of Treasury helped establish local VC infrastructure over the last decade, including the Venture Michigan Fund, by providing investors with up to $450 million of tax-voucher certificates.

Future support from the state of Michigan, however, is not guaranteed. That doesn't mean anyone is deterred. Rather, they're striving for greater self-sufficiency.

"Firms are looking at this and saying we’re going to have to do this on our own," Brosnan says.

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

PR agency rides renewed growth in Detroit

Detroit's economy has gotten some good press in recent years. That has helped power growth at longtime Detroit PR firm, Franco Public Relations Group.

Based in the Renaissance Center, the firm's revenue spiked nearly 30 percent in 2015 after taking on new clients like Granite City Food & Brewery and a medical device company that is gearing up to launch its brand to the public.

"It's all tied back to the city and region growing again," says Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group. "Companies moving to downtown will come to us because we are an agency that has been in the region for a long time."

Franco Public Relations Group has been around downtown Detroit for 52 years. It was one of the first tenants in the RenCen when it opened in the 1970s. Since then it has been a fixture in downtown Detroit through thick and thin. One of its longtime clients is the RenCen itself, where it helps new retail businesses make the biggest splash possible.

That work has allowed Franco Public Relations Group to expand its staff -- it has 22 employees after hiring two more over the last year.

"We want to keep building this team really strong," Kozak says. "We have the best team players in the city."

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

Paxahau picks up pace, moves to larger office in Corktown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exxodus Pictures expands workload with 3D modeling, animation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASTI Environmental targets urban work with new downtown office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local chip-maker expands its operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solar panel work powers triple-digit growth at GreenLancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroiter invents cooker that makes diabetic-friendly rice


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corridor Sausage conquers Midwest markets one weenie at a time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Lyons Creative aims for big third year in Corktown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Bon Bon grows into own storefront in downtown Hamtramck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bundled finds success making gift baskets from Michiganís best products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroitists wanted: Challenge Detroit, DTX, NextEnergy seek applicants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apprentice program keeps talent pipeline gushing at Detroit Labs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit redevelopment work leads to growth for Giffels Webster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

First Class Committee provides high fashion without high price

When Terrance Jones went to start a clothing company, he had more than one theme to base it on in mind. To Jones, craftsmanship, music, and affordability all play integral role in the hand-sewn clothes he makes at First Class Committee.

"I want to give people access to high fashion without paying high prices," Jones says.

The Midtown-based clothing label got its start when Jones was studying at Louisiana State University and was in its infancy when he moved to Austin, Texas, after college. First Class Committee started to come into its own when Jones made the move to Detroit a little less than a year ago. He is now a part of the Fashion Incubator at the Detroit Garment Group.

There he is working on developing his label's production and branding. For now, his line is primarily made up of shirts, sweaters, and hoodies. He designs them with an urban aesthetic that draws inspiration from contemporary music, often hip hop, but also from other genres like alternative rock and techno.

Jones hand-makes all of First Class Committee's clothing, cutting and sewing it entirely himself. To him that's a competitive advantage because it lowers the production costs and enhances the craftsmanship.

"It cuts out the middlemen," Jones says. "I can make it more affordably."

Jones currently sells First Class Committee's clothing online and in local retailers like Bob’s Classic Kicks. He wants to spend 2016 establishing the brand in Detroit and pumping up sales, though he doesn't see himself giving up the sewing until his brand success mandates it.

"I like making them myself," Jones says. "It's one on one with me and my clients. It's a unique and personal feeling."

Source: Terrance Jones, founder & CEO of First Class Committee
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

VizBe aims to help employees achieve their goals through visualization

Natalia Petraszczuk believes that people can will themselves to better things by consistently visualizing their goals -- so much so that last spring she launched a startup, VizBe, around the idea.

"I saw a very big niche in the self-development industry," Petraszczuk says. "It's an $11-billion market."

A client of the Macomb-OU INCubator and a tenant at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit, VizBe is creating a goal-setting platform that helps people achieve personal and professional success through visualization, specifically assigning visual imagery to goal-setting in a practice called vision boards. The platform helps instill motivation and accountability into people.

"It allows them to easily create vision boards, set due dates, and prompts them to help them realize their goals," Petraszczuk says.

The three-person team is currently working on an enterprise model for companies to use with their employees. It is also looking at adding some clients in education next year, but first is focusing on its commercial end.

"We're piloting with a few companies in the area," Petraszczuk says.

Source: Natalia Petraszczuk, founder & CEO of VizBe
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bogobrush remakes toothbrush with bioplastic from Michigan farms

Bogobrush made a splash a few years ago, selling its first run of biodegradble toothbrushes thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. Today Bogobrush is debuting a better, more sustainable toothbrush.

The original Bogobrush toothbrush featured a shaft made of sculpted bamboo and bristles composed of bio-plastic nylon. The idea was to use materials that grew quickly (bamboo) and decomposed nearly as fast. The idea turned out to be better on paper than in reality.

"We ended up losing half of our first product run (due to problems with using bamboo)," says John McDougall, who co-founded the Midtown-based business with his sister Heather McDougall. "We knew it wouldn’t be a suitable material for us."

So the McDougall siblings went back to the drawing board, and it’s a decision they are happy they made. They switched the shaft material from bamboo to bioplastic, specifically a flaxseed oil-based plastic from local farms. It allowed Bogobrush to move production of the toothbrushes from overseas to Michigan.

"We were able to get the same compostability as we did with the bamboo, but we could do it locally," John McDougall says.

The new Bogobrush toothbrush comes with a stand (also made of the bioplastic) and compostable nylon bristles. The whole package is just as biodegrable as the previous version, meaning it can return to the earth within a few months if tossed out into a compost pile.

"You should expect it to break down as fast as a piece of wood," John McDougall says.

Bogobrush started off with an order of 5,000 brushes and has done two more new orders. John McDougall hopes to send out 10,000 in orders by the end of this holiday shopping season. Currently it is running a social mission special where for every toothbrush purchased, one is donated to a person in need. It has already sent more than 2,000 toothbrushes through partner health clinics like Covenant Community Care, which provides dental care to patients throughout Metro Detroit, regardless of their ability to pay.

"The more we can sell, the more we can give to our partners," John McDougall says.

He hopes grab a toehold in the metro Detroit market this year, selling a few ten thousand toothbrushes over the course of 2016. That would leave a lot of room for growth in a market where 450 million toothbrushes end up in landfills. Bogobrush's new toothbrushes retail for $14.25 and can be purchased here.

Source: John McDougall, co-founder of Bogobrush
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ash & Erie makes big bet on making clothing for shorter men

Note: This article has been modified to reflect a change in the name of the business. 

Steven Mazur and Eric Huang’s big idea was to make everyday clothing for shorter men. The Venture For America fellows capitalized on it by launching Ash & Erie last spring. This week they are set to ship the first articles of clothing to their first customers.

The downtown Detroit-based startup specializes in making clothing for men 5 feet 8 inches or shorter. Its target customers are young people in their 20s and 30s. The idea is to capitalize on a market segment that is largely overlooked by mainstream clothiers, leaving millions of men with clothing that doesn't fit comfortably. Ash & Erie is starting out by selling casual button-down shirts.

"For the spring and summer we are looking at some knits, t-shirts, and polos," says Mazur, co-founder & CEO of Ash & Erie. "For the fall we’re looking at doing jeans and chinos."

Mazur and Haung are members of the second-annual class of fellows from Venture For America, a program that pairs promising college graduates with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. It drew its inspiration from Teach For America, which pairs college graduates with teaching positions in big city school districts. Venture For America tries to provide a fast-track to entrepreneurship for recent college grads who want to work with startups.

Mazur and Haung completed their two-year fellowship with Venture For America earlier this year. They launched Ash & Erie shortly thereafter and participated in the Venture For America accelerator program in Philadelphia last summer. They returned to Detroit this fall planning to roll out their clothing line in 2016.

"A lot of the focus and time was spent on the back end of the business," Mazur says.

They started with a crowdfunding campaign that raised $26,461. That let them place Ash & Erie's first order for 1,000 casual button-down shirts, which arrived earlier this month. The first 250 recipients of the shirts will go to the crowdfunding backers. Another 100 people have placed pre-orders, and those total 350 orders will be shipped on Thursday.

Mazur and Haung plan to sell the rest of those shirts by the end of this year through online orders. Ash & Erie offers free shipping, returns, and exchanges as part of its effort to focus on customer service in its first months of operations. It's a modest-yet-important goal in what they consider a big opportunity.

Source: Steven Mazur, co-founder & CEO of Ash & Erie
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Build, DC3 focus on raising revenue for fledgling businesses

Build Institute and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center have made names for themselves by helping aspiring entrepreneurs realize their dreams. This fall they are helping dozens of small business they played a role in launching keep the dream alive.

Build Institute and Detroit Creative Corridor Center are launching new programs or emphasizing existing programs that help these new businesses generate revenue and establish themselves as long-term staples in their communities.

"We think of it as incubation/proof of concept," April Boyle, executive director of Build Institute, wrote in an email. "It allows new businesses to interface with customers, build their brand, make mistakes and pivots with low overhead, and make some money."

Build Institute provides support and training for aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs so they can build small businesses in Detroit. It has produced more than 600 alumni in its first few years. This year it started hosting its Build Bazaars, events that feature Build Institute graduates selling their products.

This fall Build Institute is announcing a holiday shop local initiative that highlights local small businesses and entrepreneurs with a handful events centered around its Build Bazaars. There are 173 vendors at all of the five Build Bazaars. About 90 are grads of Build Institute programs. The next two bazaars are on Nov. 28 at One Campus Martius for Small Business Saturday and on Dec. 5 during Noel Night at the Majestic Theater.

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center, a nonprofit focused on building up Detroit’s creative economy, is launching a new program for creative firms and freelancers in Michigan called Creative Co.

"It connects freelancers with one another and the larger creative community," says Ellie Schneider, interim executive director of Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

The new program provides design firms and freelancers the with business development opportunities, community, and networks they need to thrive. Among the benefits are:

- Access to exclusive request for proposals from the Creative Co. Services Fund.
- Quarterly workshops, speaker series, and social events.
- Promotional opportunities and exposure through Detroit Creative Corridor Center channels.
- A private, online forum for Creative Co. members to share experiences and speak with mentors/advisory board.
- Discounts at local businesses and service providers

Applications for the new Creative Co program are open through Friday. For information, click here.

Source: April Boyle, executive director of Build Institute, and Ellie Schneider, interim executive director of Detroit Creative Corridor Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Trading Co. opens large downtown Detroit office

A high-profile Oakland County tech company is expanding south of 8 Mile Road, opening up a new office in downtown Detroit.

Detroit Trading Co. has leased an over 10,000-square-foot space at 601 W. Fort St. that it is using as a call center. So far that space has been filled with 20 new employees, and the company still has plans to grow next year.

"We're renovating another 30,000 square feet," says Matt Clayson, vice president and general counsel for Detroit Trading Co. "It's available for future growth and leasing to compatible companies."

The Southfield-based company got its start creating technology platforms that gathered, analyzed, and organized Internet sales leads for car dealers a decade ago. It sold them on an exchange to automotive dealerships. It has since grown to a staff of 47 employees, including the 20 new hires in Detroit.

"A majority of the firm’s growth is happening in the city limits," Clayson says.

One of its most recent projects is creating what Clayson describes as experiential centers, which is being branded as a car show. That basically means Detroit Trading Co is building out an automotive showroom that features a combination of brands of vehicles.

Today auto buyers can only see different cars within the specific brands offered by an auto dealership. Detroit Trading Co. leverages its connections in the auto dealership world to bring all of those brands under one roof. Detroit Trading Co. recently debuted its first iteration of the concept as a pop-up in Eastern Market last weekend.

Source: Matt Clayson, vice president & general counsel for Detroit Trading Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pasta startup Banza wins big prize at this yearís Accelerate Michigan

When they started handing out the big checks at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week, the biggest went to small food startup working out of an old tax foreclosure in Virginia Park.

Banza, which makes gluten-free pasta, won the grand prize worth $500,000 in seed capital at Accelerate Michigan, the most prestigious business plan competition in Michigan. The firm has come a long way, and it's done so a lot faster than most people thought it would, including its founders.

"We totally did not expect to win," says Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza. "From our perspective (Accelerate Michigan) was geared toward tech companies. We have some intellectual property, but we are not the gold standard for tech companies."

Brian Rudolph formed Banza with his brother, Scott Rudolph, in January of 2014. At the time Brian was a fellow with Venture For America, a Teach For America-style program that pairs promising college graduates with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit.

The Rudolph brother’s big idea was making gluten-free pasta from chickpeas. They aspired to make Banza to pasta what Chobani (a popular brand of Greek yogurt) was to yogurt. By August of last year they were launching Banza and had boxes on store shelves by January 2015.

Banza is headquartered out of an century-old mansion renovated by members of the first class of Venture For America fellows based in Detroit. The group, working under the name Rebirth Realty, bought it at Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction in 2013. They spent the next year renovating it and moved in late last year. A couple of the startups co-founded by members of that first class are also based out of the house. Many of them spent months saving money eating free boxes of Banza that were edible but deemed not worthy for store shelves.

Banza is the startup taking off the fastest in that house. Its pasta can now be bought across the U.S. and its team has grown to eight people. Banza raised a $1.3-million seed round in March and is working with a Michigan-based manufacturer to pump up its production.

"We have been break-even or cash-flow positive since (landing the seed round)," Brian Rudolph says. "We plan to use it to increase our capacity."

Banza recently increased its production capacity by 60 percent. It is now working on plans that could double or even triple its capacity next year. Banza can currently be found in 1,700 stores across the U.S., mainly in regional retailers like Meijer, Jewel Osco (Chicago area), and Sprouts Farmers Market (California).

"It has been a good, quick start," Brian Rudolph says. "We're starting to build some density in the Northeast and we have some good density in the Detroit area. We also are building a lot of density in California."

Source: Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Bikes offering limited-edition fixed-wheel bike exclusively through crowd funding campaign

Detroit Bikes is preparing to release a new model of bicycle, the C-Type, next year with the help of a crowdfunding campaign.

The Detroit-based bicycle manufacturer's newest product is a fixed-wheel bike with a diamond frame and drop handlebars. The frame is made of 100 percent U.S.-made lightweight chromoly that comes with a lifetime warranty. The C-Type also comes with knobby tires for use in all weather conditions. It will retail for $599.

"We want to keep it really simple and affordable," says Zak Pashak, president of Detroit Bikes. "It's a really good city bike."

It’s also Detroit Bikes' first fixie. Its earlier models, the A-Type and B-Type, came with a similar simplistic design but three gears. Those retail for $699. All three models are made in Detroit Bikes' factory on the city's west side.

The C-Type is available exclusively through Detroit Bikes' crowdfunding campaign. There funders will have a choice of choosing the color (hunter green, fluorescent yellow, flat black, royal blue and mint green) by donating the retail price of the bike. Detroit Bikes will manufacture 200 bikes of each color, which will be delivered in May of next year. Funders can also purchase just a frame for $300. People who give $1,000 will have an opportunity to buy a chrome edition, only 30 of which will be produced.

This project is part of Detroit Bikes' new strategy to boost sales, which are on track to exceed 1,000 bikes this year. To help reach its sales goals, the company opened a storefront in downtown Detroit and hired a national sales director. The company now employs 30 people after hiring 20 this year. Pashak expects Detroit Bikes' combined efforts to lift sales significantly next year.

"We expect to get up to 5,000 or 10,000 sales next year," Pashak says.

Source: Zak Pashak, president of Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit dried milk manufacturer sees serious growth after expansion

VernDale Products made a big bet on itself last year, sinking several million into a new food production facility on the city’s west side. The family business is now reaping the benefits with more production, modernized processes, and lots of new hires.

"We had figured on hiring nine total people for our new place," says Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products. "We have already hired 14 people. We had to staff up for a whole new operation."

The 57-year-old company and its team of 58 employees makes roller dried milk powder, which is primarily used by premium chocolate manufacturers. The firm got its start in the footprint of what is now the Renaissance Center before moving to the west side at 8445 Lyndon. Last year VernDale Products built out a new facility at 18940 Weaver St., north of Joy Road between the Southfield Freeway and Evergreen Road.

The new facility added 60 percent to VernDale Products' production capabilities; however, that extra ability to make more roller dried milk powder went more to reassuring the firm's customers that it could keep up with their needs.

"It was more a case of us needing redundant production." Johnson says.

The ancillary benefit to the expansion is what it did for VernDale Products that management wasn't expecting. The expansion enabled it to modernize the firm's backend processes, such as updating plant procedures, guidelines and logistics.

"The company has become more mature," Johnson says. "We have addressed a lot of issues we needed to address."

That came at a price. VernDale Products dropped $20 million into the new production facility, an investment that also came with the help of a $436,000 business development incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and tax abatement from the city of Detroit. The original budget was $12 million, but Johnson and his team decided to make the best long-term decisions with an idea of positioning the company for future growth, including a projected 5-10 percent jump in revenue next year.

"We had to decide to take shortcuts or do it right," Johnson says. "We did it right but at a greater expense."

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

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

Detroit urban ag startup raises edible insects

When people think of insects the initial reaction is often not a positive one. When the co-founders of Detroit Ento think of insects, they see opportunity.

The Eastern Market-based startup is working to build a business around turning locally sourced insects into food and other similar products.

"We are an urban sustainable protein R&D firm for food, feed and pharma," says Theodore Kozerski, co-founder of Detroit Ento.

Kozerski and Anthony Hatinger launched Detroit Ento six months ago. They both worked in urban agriculture before that, including Kozerski working in the farm-to-cafeteria program at Detroit Public Schools. They both were intrigued by the ideas of pushing the urban agriculture envelope beyond raised beds and fish farms.

They found an opportunity to do so in Detroit Ento, a startup is raising insects that are eventually turned into edibles. Insects can serve as alternative sources of protein in both human food (cricket tacos, anyone?) and animal feed. They can also be sold to pharmaceutical companies for research purposes.

Detroit Ento currently is figuring out how to create a product line of insects bred, grown, and sold in Detroit. It's currently researching how to create processes that will make that happen in an economical way.

"The main thing is to get production going," Kozerski says.

Source: Theodore Kozerski, co-founder of Detroit Ento
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Birmingham/NYC dental practice opens downtown Detroit location

Dr. Robert Di Pilla isn't your average dentist with a suburban practice. The dental surgeon caters to a list of high-profile clientele at his offices here in metro Detroit and in New York City. And he’s opening a third office in downtown Detroit this fall.

"I have a great affinity for Detroit," Dr. Di Pilla says. "One of my first jobs was at J.L. Hudson's downtown store in the packing department."

Now Dr. Di Pilla is expanding his dental practice to a new location in Suite 1625 at One Woodward Avenue. The new office measures out to 2,000 square feet on the 16th floor and features sweeping views of downtown and the Detroit River.

Dr. Di Pilla is opening the downtown Detroit office with Kevin Groth as a partner. They aim to create an office that offers comprehensive dental services, ranging from general dentistry to advanced restoration dentistry. They also plan to offer a small residency program for local dental students.

Source: Dr. Robert Di Pilla, president of Robert Di Pilla, DDS, SAGD
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pristine Impressions wins seed capital from Warrior Fund

Demetrius Dixon used to work as a carpet cleaner. He was the on-the-ground man in Detroit for a New York-based company. It was a good gig -- so good that it inspired him to launch his own business, Pristine Impressions.

That was a year ago. It started with Dixon just working on carpet cleaning. He then brought his brothers who has worked in things like property management and landscaping into the business. Now Pristine Impressions has expanded into a full-fledged property management firm with a list of a couple dozen clients.

"We're just growing," Dixon says.

Dixon is also a junior at Wayne State University, pursuing a bachelors degree in business management. He got some help from Blackstone LaunchPad, a university program that helps students turn their aspirations for launching a business into reality.

"It gave me all sorts of experience that will help me be a better business owner," Dixon says.

It also gave the Woodbridge-based company some seed capital. Pristine Impressions won $5,000 from Blackstone LaunchPad's Warrior Fund earlier this month as part of the program's pitch competition. Dixon and his brothers plan to put the money to use by purchasing $3,000 in new equipment and spending $2,000 to develop a software database to better run the back end of the business.

"I want to be a leading property management firm in Detroit," Dixon says.

Source: Demetrius Dixon, founder of Pristine Impressions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit startup's app tracks behavior to help people manage disorders

For the last three years, Birdhouse has made a name for itself as a startup that helps the loved ones of people with autism with a behavior tracking app. Now the downtown Detroit-based company has its sights set on a bigger audience.

"We have expanded beyond autism," says Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse. "That's the easiest way to put it."

Chutz launched Birdhouse after spending time with his girlfriend and her autistic daughter. The startup’s platform helps track the behavior of autistic children so the people taking care of them can better manage the disorder. Birdhouse graduated from Bizdom last year and landed a $250,000 angel round to help it scale its online/mobile technology. That work inspired Chutz to expand its reach.

"We saw all sorts of different diagnoses coming in," Chutz says. "We saw ADHD and epilepsy and everything else under the sun."

Birdhouse is working to expand its mobile app to include a wide variety of disorders and chronic conditions -- everything from developmental disabilities to chronic illnesses. The idea is to enable the caregivers to better help the people who need it. Chutz can even see it being used by special education teachers.

"That way teachers can work with parents on providing the best care for their child," Chutz says.

Birdhouse currently has a staff of three employees and a handful of independent contractors. Chutz and his team are in the midst of raising a $250,000 seed round for Birdhouse.

Source: Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Healthy food company Savorfull grows product line, client base exponentially

Savorfull has found a number of ways to grow this year. The New Center-based startup has grown its product lineup, client base, and head count.

The 3-year-old company has found its place helping professional sports teams and other large organizations provide healthy food to their fans, workers, and clients. It pairs them up with packaged, healthy, allergen-friendly foods such as energy bars, snacks, trail mixes, cereals, and beverages. Savorfull has since expanded to include more professional sports teams, some universities, and airlines.

"A lot of sports teams have private planes," says Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull. "A lot of airlines also have higher-end clients that want nutritious foods."

Savorfull has helped make its services more attractive by greatly expanding its product lineup. It now offers thousands of products across 30 brands.

"We have really grown in terms of our product lineup," Goldberg says. "It has grown exponentially."

Which has allowed Savorfull's revenue to quadruple over the last year. It has also hired two people, expanding its staff to six people. Its new hires include a business development and content editor professionals. It's looking to hire a sales person.

Source: Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Varnum moves into new office in downtown Detroit

The Varnum law firm quietly opened its newest office in downtown Detroit over the weekend, bringing another 20 jobs to the Motor City.

The Grand Rapids-based law firm is taking over 10,000 square feet in the old Federal Reserve Building. It chose the space because of the unique aspects of the historic structure and the proximity to current and potential clients.

"We thought it was a very unique space, a very progressive space," says Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum. "It's a Dan Gilbert building. We hope to do some work with Gilbert in light of everything that is going on downtown."

Varnum is 128-years-old and bills itself as a full-service law firm for businesses and organizations of all sizes. Its largest client in Detroit is Henry Ford Health System.

Varnum plans to maintain its current metro Detroit office in Novi, however, that office will shrink a little to grow the downtown Detroit office, which will have eight permanent attorneys, six visiting attorneys, two paralegals, and another 10 people in support staff.

"A number of the attorneys from the Novi office are seeding our Detroit office," Hewlett says.

Source: Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Artesian Farms' produce production ramps up as temps drop

October is the month urban farming in Detroit starts to wind down in earnest. The falling temperatures mean there are only a limited number of harvest days left as the growing season wraps up.

The exact opposite is happening at Artesian Farms Detroit in Brightmoor.

"We're just now getting to the point where we are getting these growing controls right," says Jeff Adams, owner of Artesian Farms Detroit. "We will be scaling up in the next couple of months."

Artesian Farms Detroit is a vertical farm that grows its crops indoors year-round. It uses a hydroponic system that uses significantly less water than traditional forms of farming.

Artesian Farms Detroit took over an old industrial building at 12843 Artesian last year and turned it into a facility that could support vertical farming. Adams and one worker are currently using 1,500 square feet of the 7,500-square-foot space. Adams hopes to expand to using 5,200 square feet by next year as he continues to scale production. Artesian Farms Detroit is currently growing a couple of small crops, including basil, kale, and a mix of three kinds of lettuces it's calling Motown Mix.

"It's lettuce you normally don't see in a grocery store," Adams says. "It has a unique color and flavor."

Artesian Farms Detroit currently harvests about 16 pounds of kale per week, 12 pounds of basil per week, and 70 pounds of Motown Mix every three weeks. It sells its crops at the Northwest Detroit Farmers Market and a couple of local restaurants. It is also making its first delivery to three Busch's supermarkets this week.

"We are harvesting that today," Adams says. "It should be on store shelves tomorrow."

Source: Jeff Adams, owner of Artesian Farms Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Building Hugger: woman builder, home preserver, job creator

People who spot Amy Swift on a construction site are just as likely to see her wearing a pearl necklace as holding a hammer and nails.

The owner of Building Hugger, a preservation-focused construction firm, is hands-on with her work. She puts in long hours in clothes that are more likely dirty than not. Like most construction workers, these sorts of days mean that showering isn’t an everyday occurrence. The pearls help her strike a balance between maintaining her femininity and working in construction.

"It's been a challenge and a half on some days," Swift says about being a woman in construction. "Other days it’s really rewarding."

The pearls are part of her identity -- a subtle reminder that she is a woman making her way in a male-dominated industry not known for its political correctness. The reminder is more for everyone else. A statement that Building Hugger is growing quickly because of its quality work while a woman is running the show.

"Once you prove yourself in the field you are accepted in the field," Swift says. "But there are still some social dogmas that make it hard to feel comfortable."

Comfort is becoming less and less of an issue for Swift, mainly because Building Hugger's business model is blowing up. Swift hired her first employee in January. She now has five full-time people, along with two part-timers.

"It would be more but I lost two people this month to other opportunities," Swift says. "We are starting our biggest month yet (for workload) and I need to add more people."

Which is quite the change for Swift. She had a bachelor's in architecture from Lawrence Technological University, a master's in historic preservation from Columbia University, and no job when she launched Building Hugger in 2012 in Detroit during the Great Recession. She initially hustled a variety of part-time jobs in the local built environment to make her way, such as teaching architecture at Lawrence Tech, writing for Curbed Detroit, and giving tours for The Detroit Bus Co entitled, "Paradise Paved: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Detroit Land Development."

Swift found a niche with window restoration in the last year or so. It led to more work in the lost arts of construction, like plaster repair and wood working. Window preservation, however, has turned into Building Hugger’s cash cow. Today it accounts for 90 percent of the firm's revenue. The company works across the city in neighborhoods like Rosedale Park, Woodbridge, Palmer Park, Boston-Edison, and Indian Village.

"We just pulled 22 sashes out of a house in Midtown," Swift says. "We used the whole crew and brought them back to the shop."

That shop is Building Hugger’s new home, which Swift affectionately calls the Hug Factory, in Islandview Village by Belle Isle. Swift moved Building Hugger into the 2,000-square-foot space this summer. The shop is big enough to help the business keep growing and allow Swift to perfect her business model. She wants her window restoration work to be competitive with other local window options like Wallside Windows.

"I am focusing on the process," Swift says. "I want us to be very good at what we do."

Souce: Amy Swift, founder & principal of Building Hugger
Writer: Jon Zemke

- Photo of Amy Swift courtesy of Francis' Fotos.

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

Reclaimed blight powers End Grain Woodworking Co's growth

Chris Behm entered a contest in early 2012 that led him to launch a business and changed his life.

Behm won the Detroit Renailed competition, which challenged participants to make a consumer good out of materials reclaimed from blighted buildings in the Motor City. The $500 prize provided the seed funding for Behm and his friend Sam Constantine to start End Grain Woodworking Co.

"We bought some more wood and some tools," Behm says. "People seemed to like what we were doing."

End Grain Woodworking Co. makes a variety of different products from reclaimed wood, including picture frames, tables, lamps, and chess sets. They can be purchased over the Internet and at independent arts retailers across the region like Pewabic Pottery. One of End Grain Woodworking Co.'s latest ventures is making beer tap handles for Atwater Brewery from reclaimed materials.

Demand for these products has spiked over the last year, so much so that Behm and Constantine quit their day jobs and moved into their own maker space to do this full-time. They are looking to make their first hire this fall to make sure production keeps up with demand.

Behm and Constantine know they aren't alone in this industry, but they aren't intimidated by the growing number of businesses turning reclaimed wood into consumer products in Detroit.

"We welcome it because it finds uses for the wood," Behm says. "We don't want it to end up in a landfill."

Souce: Chris Behm, co-owner of End Grain Woodworking Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

OST fills out downtown office as it launches IT staffing services

OST has come quite a ways since it opened a satellite office in downtown Detroit.

In two years, the Grand Rapids-based tech firm has doubled its staff in the Motor City to 15 people. That includes four hires (sales people and technical staff) over the last year. The firm now employs 190 people in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Ann Arbor. Most of its staff is based in Michigan.

The staff growth is accompanied by a significant expansion in services for OST. The new IT recruiting division, OST Recruiting Solutions, will focus on helping other companies find IT talent.

"It's a huge area of growth for us in Detroit and elsewhere," Mike Lomonaco, marketing manager for OST. "Southeast Michigan is where we see our greatest growth opportunity."

OST has made a name for itself providing tech services, such as IT, database security, and software development. It has also provided tech staffing services for its customers on a project-basis. The growing demand for the services got OST to expand even more.

"Our clients have been asking for it," says Beth VanSlyke, recruiting practice manager for OST. "We have been doing contract staffing for years, but after a lot of requests from our clients we are making a practice out of it."

Source: Mike Lomonaco, marketing manager for OST; and Beth VanSlyke, recruiting practice manager for OST
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Venture Partners investment brings sneaker startup to Detroit

Camping is sort of a right of passage for sneaker collectors. These footwear fanatics, commonly known as sneakerheads, are known for camping out in front of stores to make sure they get the latest and the greatest in collectable shoes.

Sneakerheads are known to spends hours, even days, camping out in line in front of shoe stores to get the newest Jordans or Yeezyes. A new startup, Campless, wants to minimize the time sneakerheads camp out on sidewalks, and it's moving to Detroit.

"Our motto is 'know more, camp less,'" says Josh Luber, CEO of Campless. "The more information you have the less time you can spend camping outside of a store."

The 3-year-old startup's software platform serves as a Kelly Blue Book for the secondary sneaker market. It collects, analyzes and distributes data about the industry. It launched in Philadelphia while Luber worked for IBM and built up a following of consumers, businesses, and financial experts. Its current customer base includes the likes of Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

And Luber built that up while working full-time for IBM. He attracted attention from a variety of major corporate partners who wanted to help him scale the Campless business model. He choose to take an investment from Detroit Venture Partners, the venture capital arm of the Quicken Loans family of companies, this summer.

The investment prompted Luber to move Campless to the former Compuware Building in downtown Detroit. Today all of Campless’s eight employees have made the move and Luber has left his job at IBM to lead the company full-time.

"At some point it was obvious that we have something here and I needed to do this full-time," Luber says. "It all just really worked out well. It just made a lot of sense."

Source: Josh Luber, CEO of Campless
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Urban Science acquires AutoHook, moves staff from Ann Arbor to Ren Cen

Urban Science has added staff in downtown Detroit through organic growth. This fall it's adding some through acquisition.

The automotive retail consulting firm acquired AutoHook, a digital marketing division of New York City-based HookLogic. The division called downtown Ann Arbor home until the acquisition, when its 17 employees relocated to Urban Science's offices in the Renaissance Center.

"They are already here," says Jim Anderson, CEO of Urban Science. "We didn't waste any time."

Urban Science provides analytical and software solutions for automotive OEMs and their dealers. It got its start in 1977 with a few thousand square feet of newly built Ren Cen. Today is occupies several floors of the skyscraper. Urban Science has a staff of 870 people, about 370 of whom are based in its Detroit headquarters, which is up about percent over the last year.

AutoHook provides digital marketing solutions, specifically focused on driving in-market shoppers directly to dealerships. This sort of sales lead generation is meant to help move Urban Science's business model to a more digital orientation.

"It's part of the evolution of our product," Anderson says. "It's one more step that leads to a more robust solution for us."

Source: Jim Anderson, CEO of Urban Science
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroiter turns passion for cities into business, Human Scale Studio

Chad Rochkind has an interest in big cities, how they work, and what can be done to improve them. It's what motivated the Detroiter to launch his own company.

Human Scale Studio works with businesses, nonprofits, local governments, and community groups, providing consulting services that help them make community plans and conduct research. The common denominator is all of this work makes big cities better places to live.

"My passion is cities and making cities more livable for people," Rochkind says.

The 1-year-old company has worked with a variety of Detroit organizations, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Corktown Business Association. One of its projects included putting a temporary parklet in front of Astro Coffee in Corktown. The idea was to put the excessive width of Michigan Avenue into a human context.

Human Scale Studio is looking to expand its clientele across a variety of sectors. The idea is that spreading its work around will mean a greater impact on raising the quality of life in Detroit.

"I'd like to take on another government entity, like the city of Detroit," Rochkind says. "I think I have a lot to add."

Source: Chad Rochkind, founder & CEO of Human Scale Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Flyball aims to grow staff, clientele with move to Midtown

Flyball is moving its headquarters from Ferndale to Midtown, a place where the IT firm hopes to grow. That's why the 10-year-old company is taking over a space that is larger than what it currently needs.

"We want to have a presence here and grow it out," says Courtney Griffith, manager of Detroit affairs for Flyball. "We can fit another 10 people in this space comfortably. That’s our goal."

Flyball specializes in offering managed IT services for businesses. Over its decade in business, the company has expanded to 10 employees after hiring two people in systems administration. It is also looking to hire another systems administrator.

Flyball, which established itself in Ferndale, is now moving its headquarters to Midtown, where it will take up 1,000 square feet of 4160 Cass, the small retail building at the corner of Cass and Willis. Flyball still plans to maintain a presence in Ferndale.

The company made the move to be closer to some of its core clients, even though most of its clients are based outside of Michigan. The firm is working to change that, aiming to grow its client base in Michigan now that the state's economy is growing stronger. It's also looking to hire more people who are firmly planted in Detroit.

"We want to find people who want to work and live in Midtown," Griffith says. "We feel we will get a better performance out of them."

Source: Courtney Griffith, manager of Detroit affairs for Flyball
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Work Department grows with purpose in Corktown

The Work Department has been making complex information more accessible for six years, but the Corktown-based consultancy didn’t end up where it is today by accident.

"We have grown quite organically," says Libby Cole, partner at The Work Department. "It's a slow but steady growth. It's quite purposeful."

Cole and Nina Bianchi launched The Work Department as a studio that specializes in design, communications, and strategy, using human-centered and participatory design processes. The idea is to give clients the tools to make a more effective impact.

The Work Department has collaborated with 35 organizations since its founding, including the Allied Media Projects (a longtime client) and Detroit Future City (a new client). It now employs a team of six people after hiring a new designer over the last year thanks to nearly 300 percent growth since its founding.

"The relationships we form are typically longterm," Bianchi says. "We stay away from transactional relationships. We grow with our clients."

Source: Libby Cole and Nina Bianchi, partners at The Work Department
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Afterhouse turns blighted buildings into urban agriculture hot spots

When most people talk about urban agriculture in Detroit, they say it with the idea of putting vacant land to use. Afterhouse, however, wants to grow the city's urban agriculture sector by putting vacant buildings to use.

The Detroit-based company, which calls the Banglatown neighborhood just north of Hamtramck home, is working to take the worst of the worst when it comes to blight and turn them into new urban farming hotspots. The idea is to raze the building and turn the leftover basement into a subterranean greenhouse.

Steven Mankouche and Abigal Murray are partnering to get Afterhouse off the ground -- or under it, really. Murray was inspired to launch the venture after seeing subterranean hoop houses in South America.

"She thought it would be cool to revive the basement of an old house in Detroit instead of digging another new hole," Mankouche says.

Afterhouse received a $135,000 Kresge Innovation Grant to bring its vision to life. They are starting by taking over a burned-out hulk of an abandoned home and installing a 25-foot by 25-foot hoop house that is four feet below grade.

"We'd like to start planing our first crop in the house by this fall," Mankouche says.

Source: Steven Mankouche, co-founder of Afterhouse
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Food Academy starts selling student-made products through Small Batch Detroit

The Detroit Food Academy has always been about helping aspiring young Detroiters launch their own craft food business. Now the Midtown-based nonprofit has the means to make that possible.

The DFA recently launched Small Batch Detroit, a subsidiary company that will feature a line of products created by academy students. The idea is to provide a proven avenue for these young people to test their products in a real market, and to help raise some funds for the nonprofit. Small Batch Detroit's first featured product is Mitten Bite, a sweet snack that will be sold in local Whole Foods markets and online.

"They are soft, chewy chunks of all-natural goodness," says Noam Kimelman, co-founder and board president of Detroit Food Academy. "They come in chocolate peanut butter and cranberry."

Mitten Bite was designed by a Cody High School student a couple of years ago when he was one of DFA's earliest enrolees. He is now a high school graduate and the newest addition to the DFA's staff, where he is charged with helping build the fledgling organization. The DFA currently has a team of 10 people, including four recent additions, who are figuring out how to get their products in front of more consumers.

"We will be in 10 to 15, maybe 20, grocery stores (by the end of the year)," Kimelman says. "We are figuring out how to wholesale to grocery stores."

Source: Noam Kimelman, co-founder & board president of Detroit Food Academy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Foodjunky expands across U.S. with help of $750K seed round

Foodjunky launched as a small startup with grand ambitions. Now it's starting to realize them.

The downtown Detroit-based company, a product of the Bizdom accelerator, helps simplify the food ordering system online. It landed a $750,000 seed round earlier this year and is using that money to help grow its presence across the U.S. Last year it was in nine states. Today it's in 100 cities across 20 states, and growing.

"We are adding 50 restaurants a day," says Travis O Johnson, co-founder & CEO of foodjunky. "Most of them are independents, but there are chains as well."

The nearly 2-year-old company's platform helps large groups place restaurant orders with a simple process that eliminates errors and streamlines food delivery. Watch a video where Foodjunky aptly describes its service here.

Foodjunky doesn't charge restaurants for its service, which is why Johnson expects to be in all 50 states by next year while also launching a new version of the startup’s platform.

"We are imminently releasing Verison 3.0 in the next 4-6 weeks," Johnson says. "It will have more functionality and a whole new look."

Foodjunky currently employs a team of 10 employees. It has hired three people in customer service and marketing over the last year and is looking to hire another three. That team is also working to raise a seven-figure Series A by next year.

Source: Travis O Johnson, co-founder & CEO of foodjunky
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

1xRUN grows globally through mural festivals, brings one to Detroit

It may sound like an odd thing to say but mural festivals around the world are playing a key role in powering the growth of one of Detroit's most promising startups.

1xRUN, a firm that sells artwork online, watched its revenue jump by 98 percent in 2014, and it's on track to grow by 35 percent this year. The startup has also hired seven people over the last year, expanding its staff at its Eastern Market headquarters (which it moved to from Royal Oak two years ago) to 24 people. The driving force behind that growth can be summed up with one word: frequency.

"It's the product and the frequency of product releases," says Jesse Cory, CEO of 1xRUN. "We release a new product five times a week."

1xRUN sells limited-edition prints and other pieces by contemporary artists online. This system creates scarcity for its artwork, yet its pieces are easily accessible and affordable. A couple of years ago it was selling two or three new releases each week. That number is now at five a week and still growing.

1xRUN has also carved out a niche for itself by timing some of its releases around mural festivals. The 4-year-old company partners with mural festivals around the world from places as close as the U.S. and as far away as Taiwan and Israel.

"We will release a series of prints around a mural festival," Cory says. "We will also run a popup at the mural festival to attract new customers."

That success over the last year has inspired Cory and his team to launch Detroit's own mural festival this summer. Murals in the Market is 9-day event that will bring in muralists from near and far to create murals in Eastern Market. Cory hopes Murals in the Market will help boost local tourism and the art community.

"It's pretty ambitious," Cory says. "We're flying in 25 artists and some international media. We're also pairing the international artists with local artists."

Source: Jesse Cory, CEO of 1xRUN
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ribbon Farm Hops hopes to fill niche in Michigan's booming craft beer industry

Ribbon Farm Hops is cultivating its own niche within Michigan's rapidly growing craft brewing industry. The southwest Detroit-based firm specializes not only in hop production, but also in developing trellis systems used to grow hops.

The new business is growing hops at the Detroit Tube Products facility at Junction and Harvey streets a few blocks from Fort Wayne. It is also developing a trellis system that it hopes will help spread hop production across Michigan.

"We're going to stay small for small batch brewers and home brewers," says Susan McCabe, president and head farmer of Ribbon Farm Hops. "We're also going to sell trellises to people who want to grow hops on their own."

Hops have experienced increasing demand as the craft brewing industry has grown. More and more farms across Michigan are starting to grow the crop again to help meet demand from local brewers. Michigan is one the largest craft brewing states in the U.S.

This is Ribbon Farm Hops' third growing season and the first when its plants are starting to produce some significant yield. McCabe currently has 14 people working on her farm in a variety of capacities.

McCabe worked in museum industry for 30 years (most recently working as the curator of the Henry Ford Estate) before starting Ribbon Farm Hops. She is a longtime gardener who became interested in craft brewing and started home brewing.

"I was always fascinated by the plants," McCabe says. "It seemed like a really good adventure to begin."

Source: Susan McCabe, president & head farmer of Ribbon Farm Hops
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

GOLFLER launches concierge service app for golfers

Jason Pearsall has spent more than his fair share of time around golf courses. He grew up on a golf course where his father worked as a general manager.

"I am very familiar wit the golf industry and the problems golf courses have," Pearsall says. "I also play a lot of golf myself."

Which makes sense why he would start a business based around golf. GOLFLER is launching mobile app that features an all-inclusive, on-course concierge service for golf courses and players.

GOLFLER's app aims to speed up course play, help golf courses generate more revenue, and make golf more enjoyable for its players. The app offers players on-demand access to course menus, equipment, and cart delivery during rounds. It also features a 3D rangefinder, live weather updates, digital scorecards and real-time direct messaging.

GOLFLER launched last March and is currently made up of a team of 35 people. It has information for 12,800 golf courses across the U.S. and is working directly with 20 courses in Michigan, Florida and Arizona. GOLFLER aims to sign up another 5-10 golf courses each month for the rest of this year.

"We're trying to grow at a pace that is realistic," Pearsall says.

Source: Jason Pearsall, president & chief legal officer for GOLFLER
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

High school students turn study lessons into new startup, High School 101

Many high school students spend their time working hard to graduate. A small group in Metro Detroit are doing that and making a business out of it.

High School 101 is an educational resource created by students that teaches other students how to learn. The idea is that students are more likely to relate and follow the advice of their peers.

"When a student in high school tells them what they did to succeed, they will use those tools," says Jonah Erlich, founder & CEO of High School 101.

Erlich is a senior at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield. Last year he noticed his younger sister was having a harder time with school, so he helped teach her how to be a better student.

"After helping her I thought, 'Why don’t I try to help other people out?'" Erlich says.

He worked with school administrators to put on a small seminar teaching other students how to better learn in class. More than 20 students showed up and the idea took off. Now Erlich and team of four other people (high school and college students) are working to put this idea into an online learning tool through High School 101, which is based in downtown Detroit where Erlich shares an office with his father.

The High School 101 team is currently working on building out a user base and developing more educational products over the next year.

Source: Jonah Erlich, founder & CEO of High School 101
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lazlo employs returning citizens to make sustainable clothing

T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen in Detroit, but Lazlo, a new company in Corktown, is working to set itself apart from that pack.

Brother and sister partners Christian and Kathryn Birky are doing so by employing formerly incarcerated Detroiters to make high-end, socially conscious t-shirts and paying them a living wage.

"A large portion of the prison population ends up back in prison after it gets out," Christian Birky says. "There are many reasons for this, but the difficulty in finding a job is part of it."

Christian Birky spent time working as a tutor in a prison in New Jersey before starting Lazlo. He knows there is a large pool of untapped potential in that section of the population that only needs a pathway to success, which to him includes a well-paying job.

The Birky siblings think they can provide that by making high-end clothing in Detroit. Lazlo's first product is a white t-shirt. The Birkys are using high-end, organic cotton produced in America to make shirt, which is designed to better fit each user and comes with a life-time guarantee. Prices start at $120 and top out at $198.

"I was looking for clothing I wanted to wear made in a way that I wanted to support," Christian Birky says. "There was a disconnect between what I was wearing and the values I held in my life."

The Birkys plan to expand their product line into more menswear items by next year. They also want to expand their production team to 10 people by next year. In the meantime they are working to raise $27,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to get their venture off the ground.

Source: Christian Birky, co-founder of Lazlo
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Secure Beginnings sees significant growth after 'Shark Tank' appearance

For its first five years, Secure Beginnings was a sleepy little company making breathable mattresses for infants with the intention of preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Then it went on TV.

Specifically, it went on "Shark Tank," a reality TV show on ABC that features entrepreneurs pitching the next great business idea to investors. Secure Beginnings appeared on the show in May and its visibility immediately took off.

"In the first day we had it up (a video describing its product), we had 2 million views," says Julie Andreae, founder and president of Secure Beginnings. "The growth just took off."

Detroit Riverfont-based company makes a mattress for babies that is more like a trampoline than a normal mattress. It is made of a porous frame and bedding material that allows greater air circulation for both infants and toddlers. It contains no fiber-fill. The fabric the child sleeps on enables airflow to prevent harmful levels of carbon dioxide from building up near a baby's head, even if the child is on its stomach.

Secure Beginnings is now three months behind on filling its orders thanks to the spike in demand from its turn on reality TV. The company went from making $40,000 a month selling its mattresses to $70,000 a month. It is now aiming for $80,000 a month and profitability.

Secure Beginnings is also now looking to add to its staff, which is has double to six people over the last year. It's also looking to hire three more people now to keep up with demand. The firm is also looking to expand its sales reach to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada this year.

"We have a lot of growing left to do," Andreae says.

Source: Julie Andreae, founder & president of Secure Beginnings
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Downtown projects now the bulk of Kraemer Design Group's workload

Kraemer Design Group has played a pivotal role in transforming downtown Detroit over the last 20 years. Now downtown Detroit is playing an increasingly important role in the architecture firm's bottom line.

The downtown Detroit-based firm did a lot of marquee projects in its early years, including the Lofts of Merchants Row and Harmonie Park commercial buildings. When the Great Recession hit, more and more of Kraemer Design Group's workload came from outside of Michigan, so much so that only 20 percent of the company's workload came from Detroit four years ago.

That has changed in recent years with downtown Detroit’s rapid rebound. Kraemer Design Group has served as the architect for a number of marquee projects in recent years, including the Broderick Tower and the David Whitney Building renovations. That work pushed the share of its revenue from Detroit project past 50 percent two years ago. Today it's nearly 80 percent.

"Now it's coming back and coming back incredibly strong," says Robert Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group.

That has allowed Kraemer Design Group to hire seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to 29 employees and an intern. That team is working on a number of historic renovations in downtown Detroit, including 28 W. Grand River, 1201 Wooward (the new GSTV headquarters), and an expansion of the Lofts of Merchants Row.

That's going work for now but Kraemer expects the historic rehab work to start tailing off and turning into more new construction over the next few years.

"There are not too many of the big empty buildings left in downtown Detroit," Kraemer says.

Source: Robert Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fresh Corner Cafe begins popping up in Detroit community centers

Fresh Corner Cafe has long been an innovator when it comes to improving the availability of healthy food in inner-city neighborhoods. Now the company is introducing a couple of new programs, including one that is bringing healthy-eating pop-ups to community centers across Detroit.

The Midtown-based startup has launched its Fresh Food Pop-up in a handful of Detroit's community centers, starting with one in Brightmoor (the Detroit Achievement Academy) this summer. The weekly pop-up eatery will feature its freshly made sandwiches, wraps, and other eatables.

"Every community center we partner with will have a weekly pop-up," says Noam Kimelman, founder & president of Fresh Corner Cafe.

The 5-year-old startup, which is based out of the Green Garage, got its start with the idea of bringing fruits and vegetables to inner city corner stores, where food choices are often unhealthy, prepared foods. The idea was bring more healthy-eating options to stores where working class people only had a few shelves of junk food to choose from.

Fresh Corner Cafe switched to selling its own sandwiches and wraps from those bodegas, and eventually went with selling them from their own coolers. The business also started its own catering service.

"Catering has become an important part of our business," Kimelman says.

The Fresh Food Pop-up program will start in half a dozen community centers this summer. Kimelman and his team of five people hope to grow it to 40 community centers by the end of the year.

"This model takes us directly to the consumer," Kimelman says. "We can sell it to the consumers at the wholesale price."

Fresh Corner Cafe also recently launched a new lunchbox catering website called "Small Batch that Box," which allows customers to add locally made foods to their lunch. The options include Detroit Friends' authentic farm-to-table potato chips and a dark chocolate peanut butter granola bite made by the Detroit Food Academy.

Source: Noam Kimelman, founder & president of Fresh Corner Cafe
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Peck Produce aims to sell 20,000 pounds of vegetables from its urban farm

Peck Produce is growing a lot of vegetables this year. So much that the urban farm expects to sell 20,000 pounds of produce after everything is harvested this growing season.

"We're trying to do as much as we can with what we have right now," says Noah Link, co-owner of Peck Produce.

Link and Alex Bryan launched the urban farm in 2011 after purchasing a four-acre lot from the Michigan Land Bank. The one square block sits on the 1600 block of Lawrence Street. It previously served as the home Peck Elementary School before it was torn down.

Today Peck Produce, also known as Food Field, grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on the site, including leafy greens, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, ginger, artichokes, and parsnips. Last year the urban farm sold 16,000 pounds of produce.

Peck Produce also has chickens it uses to produce fresh eggs and turkeys for butchering later this year. It also has an aquaponics operation that is growing all sorts of native fish.

"We have 400-500 catfish and blue gill growing in the fish pond," Link says.

Peck Produce has a staff of four people, including two new team members it has brought on over the last year. Link and his team are starting to host community dinners this summer with food grown on the farm to help bring more people into urban agriculture as either practitioners or patrons.

Source: Noah Link, co-owner of Peck Produce
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

In its 95th year, Kowalski Companies invests in Hamtramck home, aims to hire 200

Few things say Hamtramck as much the Kowalski sausage sign on Holbrook. It has been an iconic part of the inner-city enclave for generations. This year it's getting a new lease on life as the Kowalski Companies embarks on an ambitious expansion of its operations.

In addition to restoring its iconic sign, the sausage maker is celebrating its 95th anniversary by upgrading its production facilities and adding staff with the goal of expanding its market share.

"We have had many offers to sell the facility in Hamtramck, mostly from out-of-state companies," says Michael Kowalski, president and CEO of Kowalski Companies. "But we have declined these offers because we want to stay where our roots are and give employment opportunities to those who live in the area."

Michael Kowalski is the fourth generation of the Kowalski family to run the business started by his great-grandparents, Zygmund and Agnes. The Polish immigrants first owned a small grocery store on Chene Street in Detroit. They added a smokehouse to the store and began making Kielbasa and other sausages. Demand for those sausages prompted the family to open its factory on Holbrook in 1920.

Michael Kowalski and his sister, Linda Kowalski Jacob, now run Kowalski Companies. The firm has been acquiring other foods companies since 2002. It now has 55 varieties of prepared foods distributed in grocers throughout the Midwest. The brands in the Kowalski Companies' portfolio include Dudek, Tassos, Amhurst Kitchens, Just Sweet 'Nuff Chicken'n'Rib Sauce, Our Famous Sweet'n'Spicy Chicken'n'Rib Sauce, Yiayia's Famous Greek Salad Dressing, Consumer Guild Supreme, Home Style Foods, and The Original Hunters Sausage.

About 2,000 people have worked at the company over its history. It now employs a staff of 160 people after hiring 25 people in production, sales, and truck driving over the last year. It is looking to hire a handful more in production right now. Kowalski Companies is aiming to hire another 200 over the next five years as it expands its production capabilities and adds new equipment and renovates its facilities.

"We'll take a look at anybody who is good," Michael Kowalski says.

Part of the improvements include investing $1.5 million into the Homestyle Foods production facility in Hamtramck. Kowalski Companies is also looking to finish work on refurbishing the Kowalski sign that has stood vigil over Holbrook since the 1940s.

"Once it's done everyone is going to love it," Michael Kowalski says.

Source: Michael Kowalski, president and CEO of Kowalski Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Bikes hopes to make leap to national brand with key hire

Zakary Pashak has been the face of Detroit Bikes since he moved to the Motor City and launched the bicycle manufacturer in 2011. He set up the firm's production plant on the west side of Detroit, served as its spokesman, and made sale after sale. That's starting to change this summer.

Detroit Bikes has hired former Electra Bicycle Company founder Justin Manthe as its director of sales with the idea of setting up a national sales network for its classic American bicycles. Manthe spent close to 15 years building Electra into a top leisure and lifestyle bicycle brand in the U.S. before coming becoming a part of the Detroit Bikes team.

He's already on the job.

"There are 160 million American who don't ride a bike but could," Manthe says. "We want to build a bike for them."

Detroit Bikes specializes in building accessible, quality bicycles for everyday cruising. It is leveraging Detroit's manufacturing heritage by producing thousands of bikes at its 50,000-square-foot facility. It also recently opened a flagship store in downtown Detroit at 1216 Griswold. The firm’s team of a couple dozen people can produce up to 100 bicycles a day.

"Our goal is fill this facility (with bicycle production) one day," Manthe says.

Source: Justin Manthe, director of sales for Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Loveland Technologies launches custom mapping platform, Site Control

For several years, Loveland Technologies has been a startup without a steady revenue stream, relying on custom projects creating digital tools to document property ownership in cities across the U.S. Now the downtown Detroit-based software firm is opening what it hopes will be a new pipeline of consistent business.

Loveland's newest product is Site Control, a software-as-a-service platform that enables users to open personal accounts within Loveland Technologies software and create their own custom maps. The company is offering two Site Control subscription levels: a scaled-back package costing $30 a month and more robust one at $1,000 per month. Loveland is targeting municipalities, neighborhood groups, real-estate developers, and researchers as its initial customers.



"We're trying to get on this track of many more people paying us less money," says Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder & CEO of Loveland Technologies. "We want to grow that pipeline."

The inspiration for Loveland hit Paffendorf and his friends a few years ago when they bought a vacant lot in Detroit and sold square inches of it online. That evolved into a software startup that mapped out every parcel for sale at the Wayne County Tax Auction. WhyDontWeOwnThis.com came online when Wayne County started selling tens of thousands of tax-foreclosed properties, mostly in Detroit, a few years ago.

Since then, Loveland Technologies has monetized its technology by doing custom projects, mapping out things like property ownership or property condition for municipalities. Its highest profile project was working on Motor City Mapping last year. It has since expanded to mapping out close to 500 counties across the U.S. (out of about 3,200 counties), including most of the country's major metropolitan areas. 

"Why would we stop at Detroit?" Paffendorf says. "This is an interesting way to view the world."

Loveland Technologies is also growing its team. It has doubled its employee base to 20 people over the last year and is bringing on two more people (Venture For America fellows) this fall. The company also landed an angel round of investment early last year worth a little more than $1 million from investors like the University of Michigan Social Venture Fund. The firm is funding its expansion with that cash and its own revenues.

Source: Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder & CEO of LOVELAND Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IT firm CBI moves to downtown Detroit

CBI, also known as Creative Breakthroughs, is making the move to downtown Detroit, taking up a large chunk of office space in the city’s central business district.

The IT firm is taking up three floors of 1260 Library St., which is every bit of the 4-story building except for the ground floor retail. CBI is moving 50 people into the 10,000 square feet of office space this summer.

"We looked in downtown and Midtown," says Steve Barone, CEO of CBI and a Detroit native. "We couldn't find anything in Midtown."

CBI specializes in IT risk management. It helps protect its customers from hacking and other dangers in the IT world. It's a space in which the 26-year-old firm has grown rapidly.

"We have been doing it a for a long time," Barone says. "It's finally out there that this is something companies need to spend money on. We are in the right place at the right time."

CBI has been averaging 30 percent revenue growth in recent years. It's on track to grow another 40 percent this year. That means more hires. The firm has hired 40 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 120. Despite those hires, CBI is currently looking to fill 20 new open positions.

"We are in rapid-growth mode," Barone says. "We think we will hire 40 more people this year."

About 50 of those people will make the move to downtown Detroit. Thirty more work remotely across the U.S. The rest are staying in CBI's current temporary offices in Ferndale. It moved there from Troy last year, but downtown Detroit is the company's final destination, according to Barone.

"I am glad we're moving back to the city," Barone says. "It's a lifelong dream to get back to the city I love."

Source: Steve Barone, CEO of CBI
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Woodward Throwbacks scores major order with Nordstrom

Lots of aspiring entrepreneurs start lifestyle businesses with big dreams of selling their wares across the country. Woodward Throwbacks is starting to live that dream.

The small business that turns reclaimed wood into consumer goods can now be found in more than a dozen Nordstrom stores across the U.S. The luxury retailer is helping the Corktown-based business launch its line of products nationally.

"They really like what we're doing," says Kyle Dubay, co-founder & CEO of Woodward Throwbacks. "They like the authenticity of it. They think it's a great fit for their stores."

Dubay and his partner Bo Shepherd launched Woodward Throwbacks after they began making products from wood they found at illegal dumping sites across Detroit. The products ranged from bottle-opener signs to six-pack containers that resemble lunch boxes from the early 20th century. Prices for these products range from $20-48.

The four-person operation makes the items by hand at its Corktown studio. It raised $12,000 in a crowdfunding campaign last year to build out its new permanent home just west of Corktown. That project is still ongoing, but Dubay the business will move there within the year.

Nordstrom will sell Woodward Throwbacks products in 27 of its 118 full-line stores. They can be found in stores as close as the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi and as far away as Anchorage, Alaska.

Source: Kyle Dubay, co-founder & CEO of Woodward Throwbacks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Southwest Rides fine tunes Springwells Village storefront, programs

This last winter was a long one for Southwest Rides, and that's a good thing. The southwest Detroit-based low-profit-limited-liability company, also known as L3C, is starting to reap the rewards of a long winter’s nap.

"In the winter time we did a lot of preparation in both our retail and programs," says Isaac Gilman, board member of Southwest Rides. "We want to provide more value for the neighborhood."

Southwest Rides operates a bike/skateboard shop in Springwells Village neighborhood at 1824 Springwells St. The retail spot serves two purposes: It offers bicycles, skateboards, and similar equipment at reasonable prices to local kids, and it provides youth programs focused on teaching inner city kids life skills, such as entrepreneurship. Demand for both sides of the business has spiked so far this year.

"We have been busy every day since March," Gilman says.

The 1-year-old L3C has grown its presence through word of mouth in the community, social media marketing and a little bit of marketing efforts. The four-person operation's biggest success is with its Earn a Bike program, a short class that teaches young kids how to fix bikes.

"It's a six-week program for young people to better understand bikes," Gilman says. "Instead of them paying us to fix their bike they can fix it themselves."

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan-sponsored program has already completed one class this year and is in the process of teaching another. Southwest Rides hopes to expand it to two class at a time soon.

"We're excited about where things are headed," Gilman says.

Source: Isaac Gilman, board member of Southwest Rides
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ellis Infinity Beverage Co grows 300%, expands presence across Midwest


Seven years ago, Nailah Ellis-Brown was selling tea made from a family recipe out of the trunk of her car. Today, her Ellis Island Tea can be found in Whole Foods supermarkets across the Midwest.

"There are only 22 (Whole Foods) stores in the Midwest region that we are not in," Ellis-Brown says. "They want to put us in all of those stores."

Ellis-Brown launched Ellis Infinity Beverage Co. shortly after leaving college. She took an old family recipe for herbal tea made with hibiscus passed down from her great grandfather, Cyril Byron. The Jamaican immigrant came to the U.S. through Ellis Island in the early 20th Century and worked as a master chef on the Black Star Line, a shipping line started by Marcus Garvey.

At first, Ellis-Brown started selling bottles out of her parent's home and eventually found a way to get them into local stores. She caught the attention of Whole Foods a little more than a year ago. Supplying Whole Foods store shelves helped her grow her Ellis Infinity Beverage Co by 300 percent last year, selling 150 cases per month.

"Our goal is to quadruple that," Ellis-Brown says.

And it's possible. Ellis Infinity Beverage Co. moved into its own production space near the Russell Industrial Center last year and has add three people to keep up with production. Ellis-Brown is now looking to hire a handful more people to be brand ambassadors and work in production.

Ellis Infinity Beverage Co. is also working on adding some new flavors to its line of teas. Ellis-Brown's team is currently working on branding and packaging for those items. She hopes to launch them either later this year or early next year.

Source: Nailah Ellis-Brown, owner of Ellis Infinity Beverage Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Atwater Brewery adds liquor to its adult beverage lineup

Atwater Brewery has specialized in craft beer ever since it opened in Detroit's Rivertown district in 1997. This summer, it is expanding its product line to include craft spirits.

The Detroit-based firm, the third largest brewery in Michigan, is now selling craft spirits at its biergarten in Grosse Pointe Park, including rum, vodka, gin, and whiskey. The whiskey is an 8-year-old whiskey Atwater Brewery purchased in bulk from a distiller in Tennessee and bottled itself.

Atwater Brewery has also purchased a 250L Reflux Distilling System to produce its own spirits and begin selling them at its biergarten, Atwater in the Park, later this year under its own brand. Its first release will be an Atwater Dirty Blond vodka. Gin, rum and whiskey drinks will follow later on.

"We want to get into whiskey and further on down the road some bourbons," says Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery.

Atwater Brewery acquired a state permit to allow it to make both beer and liquor. However, state regulations say the brewery can only make one at a time, so one shift at its facility will make beer and then the next will work on liquor before the next shift goes back to making beer.

Atwater Brewery has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 52 people. Most of those new hires include production and sales employees. The company is currently looking to fill six more positions. Rieth expects to hire more as the brewery begins making and selling spirits en masse.

"We think it's a normal extension of our brand," Rieth says. "The laws now allows to make some unique products."

Source: Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Huron Capital Partners goes on acquisition tear

Huron Capital Partners recently announced one of its portfolio companies, Albireo Energy, had acquired GxP Automation, a small provider of building automation solutions predominately for the life sciences industry. It is the latest in a long string of acquisitions that has made this a newsworthy year for the downtown Detroit-based private equity firm.

Huron Capital Partners and its portfolio companies have made a dozen acquisition so far this year. Last year the number of acquisition hit 20.

"We really are on a tear," says Gretchen Perkins, partner with Huron Capital Partners. "We have a couple of platforms that lend themselves to this."

Those two portfolio firms, also known as platforms, are Jensen Hughes and Albireo Energy. Albireo Energy specializes in making commercial and institutional buildings more energy efficient and streamlined. Jensen Hughes provides fire protection engineering services.

Jensen Hughes and Albireo Energy have been acquiring small companies, a practice often called add-ons, to build a larger, more efficient business operating on a national level. The team at Huron Capital Partners looks for fragmented industries and then rounds up a number of small but significant players in the space to create larger businesses that can be sold at significant profit.

"We're doing it the hard way," Perkins says. "It's hard to do 12 add-on acquisitions. They're small companies with less sophisticated systems."

Huron Capital Partners has become more sophisticated itself, expanding its team to 22 employees. It is about to welcome three new people, including two analysts and one administrative assistant. Those new team members are expected to continue to help Huron Capital Partners keep expanding its company portfolio at a rapid pace.

"We seek to continue this pace," Perkins says. "There should be more add-ons for other platforms."

Source: Gretchen Perkins, partner with Huron Capital Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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.

Endeavor report calls for focus on gazelle startups to spur job growth

Two things are evident after reading Endeavor’s Detroit office's assessment report of metro Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem: the region has lost a lot of jobs since the Great Recession and metro Detroit's best chance to get them back come from gazelles, i.e. young, fast-growing companies.

Gazelles, also known as scaleups, are small businesses that with tremendous growth potential. They traditionally grow from a couple of employees to a staff of a few dozen people in a matter of months. These are the companies that attract large sums of venture capital investment and make headlines as the new darlings of the local business world.

"Scaleups are a really important part of creating new jobs," says Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight. "They have the most potential for creating new jobs."

However, the "Scaling Up In The Motor City" report, supported by the New Economy Initiative, points out that gazelle growth declined by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2012, going from 674 to 323. That is the same time Michigan's unemployment rate went from 7.6 percent to 10.1 percent. Michigan needs to create 6,000 more jobs to get back to its 2007 employment levels.

Endeavor opened an office in Detroit with three direct employees and seven members of its board of directors earlier this year with the idea of helping reverse those job-loss numbers. The New York City-based nonprofit helps build regional entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world by helping gazelles grow even faster, introducing them to talent, mentors, and, eventually, investors.

The office in downtown Detroit is currently evaluating a broad range of local gazelles with the idea of picking half a dozen to enter into Endeavor's network by the end of the year. Endeavor's Detroit office will start taking on up to eight gazelles each year after that with an eye on supercharging metro Detroit's economic engine.

"We are aiming to accelerate and support the growth of high-impact entrepreneurs and in being successful we expect to contribute to the growth of the the region," says Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office.

Source: Antonio Luck, managing director of Endeavor’s Detroit office and Mike Goodwin, project leader with Endeavor Insight
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Diversity of projects leads to significant growth for Motor City Electric Co.

Motor City Electric Co. has been in Detroit for a long time. Since it formed in 1952, the company has seen several of the city's comebacks and renaissances start and founder. Despite those experiences, the commercial electrical company is more optimistic than ever before about growth in its hometown.

The firm, which is headquartered near City Airport, has secured work on a growing number of large projects throughout Detroit that have allowed it to hire 200-300 union electricians and another 25 office workers, bringing its administrative staff to at total of 145 people.

"It just seems like things are starting to click," says Thomas McGrail, executive vice president of Motor City Electric Co.

The company has scored work with the Detroit Public Lighting Authority’s street lamp project. It has also done lighting work at local Chrysler plants and the Detroit Medical Center. It's biggest score, however, is with Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio.

"We do numerous projects for them and their remodels," McGrail says.

Motor City Electric Co.’s work isn't limited to Detroit. The firm has subsidiaries across the U.S. in seven states as far west as Nevada and as far south as Florida. It also has a subsidiary in Ontario. McGrail expects his firm’s workload to grow both here and across the country.

"We think the construction industry will continue to grow over the next year or two or three," McGrail says.

Source: Thomas McGrail, executive vice president of Motor City Electric Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelEleven spins out of M@dison Building and into bigger downtown offices

LevelEleven is leaving the nest where it was formed, the M@dison Building, and moving into its own office a few doors down on Woodward Avenue.

The software startup is taking the third floor of 1520 Woodward, one of the recently renovated commercial buildings on the same block as the M@dison Building. The block of buildings is being branded as the M@dison Block. It is primarily owned by Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio, and occupied mostly by Gilbert-affiliated startups.

"We want to stay in the tech community that is building here," says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven. "Detroit Labs (another early occupant of the M@dison Building) is on the floor above us."

The 2-year-old startup has hired 10 people over the last year, including two that started this week. The new positions include sales professional and client services people. LevelEleven is looking to hire another three people currently.

"We have about 25 people and this space will allow us to grow to about 50 people," Marsh says. "There is a lot of room to grow."

HelloWorld spun out LevelEleven to sell an enterprise gamification app (native to the salesforce platform) with the idea of motivating sales professionals and tracking their progress. It recently added the Scorecard feature, which offers personalized analytics and historical trends for salespeople that allow managers and teams to assess and respond to key pieces of data.

"It tells the sales person exactly what they should be spending their time on," Marsh says. "It's a huge evolution for us."

LevelEleven, a portfolio company of Detroit Venture Partners, is looking to close on a 7-figure Series A in the next 60 days. That money will help it scale its business. It is already growing at a 200 percent annual growth rate and has added a number of new clients, such as Staples, Pandora, and Ford.

"We work with companies that have 25 sales people to companies that have a couple thousand like Comcast," Marsh says.

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

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

Video production firm Detroit Lives! moves into Penobscot Building

Philip Lauri launched his creative agency, Detroit Lives!, just as the Great Recession was getting started in 2009. It turned out to be the right move despite the dour time.

The video production company has doubled its revenue every year since its launch. It recently moved into bigger offices in the Penobscot Building (the former offices of the Detroit Stock Exchange) to accommodate its growing staff.

Detroit Lives! has expanded to five people, including hiring an editor over the last year. Lauri is also looking to add another editor to help enhance his team and its story-telling abilities.

"We make sure we always do our best work," Lauri says. "Whether its a big project or a little project, we want to be the best."

Detroit Lives! has made videos for a variety of customers over the years. Some of its more recent work includes videos for the Kresge Foundation’s Innovation Project and the NEIdeas competition.

"We are currently working with Chrysler on some video content," Lauri says.

Lauri plans to expand Detroit Lives!'s clientele by doing more work with traditional advertising firms.

Source: Philip Lauri, founder & creative director for Detroit Lives!
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CCS grads return to Detroit to launch boutique creative firm, Space Camp

Scott Waraniak and Marcus Mullins followed a fairly typical path when the graduated from the College of Creative Studies a few years ago. They took their graphic designs degrees and headed for creative class jobs on the coasts.

Waraniak spent a couple of years in Los Angeles and spent more time thinking about where he came from instead of where he had moved to.

"The entire time we were out there Marcus and I talked about starting our own studio in Detroit,"  Waraniak says.

Words turned into ideas which turned into action. Waraniak and Mullins came back to the Motor City a year ago and launched Space Camp. The fledgling boutique firm specializes in design, branding, and animation work for video productions. Check out Space Camp's demo reel:



Some of Space Camp's initial projects include the creation of videos on behalf of Team Detroit for the launch of the new Ford Explorer. It has also done other automotive work, but the company is looking to diversify its client base this year.

"We just want to keep growing," Waraniak says. "We want to find a way to bring new people on."

Local job creation was a significant factor in the inspiration for Space Camp. Waraniak and Mullins lament that many of the job opportunities for them and their peers were on the coasts and not closer to home. The company recently moved to Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit to make some room for its first employees.

"It was frustrating watching all of this talent being outsourced to Los Angeles and New York," Mullis says. "We want to create reasons for people to stay."

Source: Scott Waraniak and Marcus Mullins, partners, designers and animators of Space Camp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Bikes to open retail space on Capitol Park as its sales grow

Later this week, Detroit Bikes will open its first retail space in a storefront overlooking Capitol Park in downtown Detroit.

"It's an opportunity for us to sell bikes the way we want them to be sold," says Zakary Pashak, founder & CEO of Detroit Bikes.

The Detroit-based startup aims to make the Motor City the home of the classic American commuter bicycle -- a bike whose streamline design employs thinner, smoother tires on larger wheels, a frame made of chromoly steel, and only three speeds.

Detroit Bikes bicycles will be showcased at 1216 Griswold in the ground-floor retail space of The Albert starting on Friday. The store will also serve as a place for Detroit Bikes to tell its story and showcase other local businesses the firm works with.

Pashak moved to Detroit a couple of years ago from Calgary to start Detroit Bikes. He bought a vacant 50,000-square-foot factory on Detroit’s west side and retrofitted it to manufacture the classic American commuter bicycle. The company currently employs 25 people after making 12 hires over the last year, including welders, marketing professionals, and product managers. It’s now looking to hire a couple of welders and a national sales director.

Detroit Bikes sold 1,000 bikes in its first year through bike shops across the U.S. Its bikes can also be found at at a few retail locations in Switzerland and Canada. This year Pashak has loftier sales goals. He brokered a deal with New Belguim Brewing to promote its Fat Tire Amber Ale.

"This year we'll do 4,000 to 5,000 sales," Pashak says. "We already sold 2,500 to New Belgium."

Source: Zakary Pashak, founder & CEO of Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Campus Commandos launches mobile app for college students

Campus Commandos, the college student marketing agency, is launching a mobile app called Go Commando that it expects will help it expand its reach to an even wider audience.

Go Commando pairs big name brands and with enterprising college students. The users (the students) can earn money and build their resume by performing simple tasks on the mobile app on behalf of the brands, including posting on social media and filling out surveys.

"It allows you to put your brand in the hands of millennials within minutes," says Adam Grant, CEO of Campus Commandos.

Go Commando is available at 460 colleges across North America. Grant hopes to have 100,000 downloads of it by the end of the year. The plan is to get a high percentage of active users of the app rather than just focus on achieving a blanket download with little usage.

"We're more interested in the quality of the users," Grant says.

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. The firm’s client list includes huge brands like eBay and Nike.

The 5-year-old firm is based in downtown Detroit in the First National Building. It currently employs a team of about 10 people after making two hires in sales over the last year. It is currently looking to hire another sales professional later this year.

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

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

Grubbable connects locally sourced food with local customers

Click on Grubbable's website and three words stick out: "eat with purpose."

The 1-year-old tech startup helps people looking to eat out find the best restaurant that serves locally sourced food. Then they can know that fruits and vegetables and other ingredients in the food they are eating is made in the most sustainable way possible.

"We love eating good food," says Michael Feng, president of Grubbable. "But it's really hard to find restaurants serving locally grown ingredients."

The idea behind this sort of ethical eating is that most food served the U.S. is shipped over long distances, such a leafy greens from California or fruits from Central and South America. By eating locally grown foods, consumers knows that they are helping maximize the impact on the local economy and preventing pollution from long shipping distances.

The Villages-based startup and its team of three co-founders just released an app that helps local consumers make these connections. Grubbable is currently featuring seven eateries in the city on its app and is partnering with 70 restaurants across the region that it will add to the app later this year. Users can download the app for free or become members and pay a $4 monthly subscription for enhanced services, such as discounts on food at all participating restaurants.

"It's kind of like a Diners Club," Feng says.

Source: Michael Feng, president of Grubbable
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Line Studio Detroit turns concrete countertops into boutique business

Andrew Ward and his wife Jessica Smigels moved to Detroit from North Carolina to raise their family near the numerous members of their extended family. It turned out there were far more family members than job opportunities, so the Wards decided to make their own jobs.

The couple founded Line Studio Detroit, a Corktown-based company that turned concrete into countertops and pieces of furniture. Today it has become their full-time jobs.

"It was hard to find a job that paid well enough to keep the lights on and for me to go to school," Ward says.

Line Studio Detroit has carved out a niche for itself making custom jobs for cast-concrete countertops, vanity tops, and furniture. It’s aiming to release its own line of housewares later this year. Further down the line, Ward hopes to add large outdoor public works to the company's clientele, including water fountains.

Line Studio Detroit has become so busy that Ward is starting to look at making his first hire. He would like to add two new team members by the end of this year.

"I would like to keep us small enough so we can pivot when necessary," Ward says.

Source: Andrew Ward, co-founder of Line Studio Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BoostUp adds staff as it lands spot in REach accelerator

Local software startup BoostUp has landed a spot in the 2015 class of REach, a tech startup accelerator program in Chicago.

The startup, which is based in downtown Detroit's M@dison Building, plans to leverage the 8-month-long accelerator program to further its reach into the real-estate industry.

"It's a huge opportunity for us to connect with real-estate agents and brokers," says John Morgan, founder & CEO of BoostUp. "It should really open up some doors for us."

The REach accelerator program is a part of the National Association of Realtors' strategic investment arm, Second Century Ventures. BoostUp beat out hundreds of other applicants for its spot in the program. It will have access to workshops, conferences and networking opportunities within the real estate industry.

BoostUp’s online platform helps users to save money for the down payment on a house or car. It lets the user tell their family and friends about their goal through social media and gives them an option for people to donate toward that cause in the form of birthday or holiday gifts. The platform also offers a dollar-for-dollar match option with its brand partners, such as Hyundai and Quicken Loan.

"We started out with an automotive focus," Morgan says. "Now it's cars and homes."

BoostUp spun out of Synergy Marketing Partners and is one of the portfolio startups of Detroit Venture Partners. The 2-year-old startup currently employs a team of four plus a couple of summer interns. It has hired two people (a marketing manager and a product manager) over the last year and is looking to hire two more now.

Source: John Morgan, founder & CEO of BoostUp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Corktown-based Beard Balm releases new heavy duty product

Jon Koller knows a thing or two about beards. For one, he has had a beard for a while -- a big beard.

"I haven't shaved for three years at this point," Koller says. "I'll leave the size of it up to your imagination."

He's also the owner of Beard Balm, a Corktown-based business that makes an all-natural, leave-in conditioner for beards and facial hair. The balm is made of natural products like lanolin oil, coconut oil, and beeswax from a Traverse City farm. If there is such a thing as a manly man hair product, Beard Balm makes it.

"It's a leave-in conditioner for after you get out of the shower," Koller says. "It makes you skin happy and your hair happy so they play nice together."

Koller heads up a team of five people who make Beard Balm’s products, which retail for $20 and $22.49. The company is now getting ready to release its latest product this weekend: Heavy Duty Beard Balm. More information about its release party on Friday, May 1, can be found here.

Heavy Duty Beard Balm is a medium-hold balm. Most beard balm products are a light-hold. Medium-hold products have a heavier consistency, but not as heavy as mustache wax, the stuff that people use to make handlebar mustaches.

"It's formulated to hold your beard together more," Koller says. "It has more sticky stuff in there."

Source: Jon Koller, owner of Beard Balm
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Functional Fluidics leverages WSU tech for new contract research

Dr. Patrick Hines has long been fascinated with blood analysis. He has used flow-based platforms to do blood analysis since he was a grad student in North Carolina.

That history and his wife taking a residency at the University of Michigan Health System led Dr. Hines to Detroit where he is launching a life sciences startup, Functional Fluidics.

"I was most comfortable with the opportunities here in Detroit, working Children's Hospital of Michigan and laboratories at Wayne State University," Dr. Hines says.

The 1-year-old startup is licensing technology spun out of Wayne State University that is enabling it to do expedited contract research of blood analysis for pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Hines and his team have developed a novel assay that allows the user to quantify the amount of adhesion and thrombosis in a sample of whole blood under physiologic flow conditions. The use of a patient's whole blood allows for a more accurate result. It is used in sickle cell research and blood platelet work.

The TechTown-based startup currently employs a team of five people. It is currently getting ready to raise a seed capital round to further its work.

"We are planning to raise between $500,000 and $1 million to grow this business and finance new product development," says John Cunningham, COO of Functional Fluidics.

Source: Patrick Hines, founder & CEO of Functional Fluidics; and John Cunningham, COO of Functional Fluidics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Warranty Ninja simplifies warranty registration process with app

People buy things everyday, from expensive pieces of equipment to small odds and ends. Few ever register these purchases. Warranty Ninja thinks it has an answer for that dilemma.

The TechTown-based startup was inspired Edward Carrington's photography hobby. He bought lots camera equipment over the years, both expensive and cheap. Every purchase came with an opportunity to register it.

"I register everything I buy," Carrington says. "I am the type of person who doesn’t like to buy an extended warranty."

The problem is registering everything is a cumbersome operation, requiring filling out paperwork and mailing it in to the manufacturer. It’s a process that hasn't changed in the better part of half a century. Warranty Ninja hopes to change that by digitizing this process with a mobile app. That way, not only are the products registered for their owners, but information on recalls or discounts are automatically sent to the user.

Warranty Ninja will also offer a subscription model for companies to leverage the system. That way the manufacturers can discover more information about their customer since only 10 percent of consumers register their purchases today.

"They are missing out on who is buying their product," says Jerry Rucker, co-founder & CEO of Warranty Ninja.

The 1-year-old startup currently employs a team of four people. It plans to roll out a Beta version of the software later this summer.

Source: Edward Carrington, co-founder & COO of Warranty Ninja; and Jerry Rucker, co-founder & CEO of Warranty Ninja
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Reach influence moves to M@dison Building from Royal Oak

Reach influence has moved to downtown Detroit, taking up residence in the M@dison Building and bringing 19 new workers with it.

The retail analytics startup took $5 million in venture capital investment earlier this year with Detroit Venture Partners as one of the lead investors. Based out of the M@dison Building, Detroit Venture Partners is the primary investment fund for the surrounding tech startup cluster, branded as the M@dison Block.

"We are excited to be part of what is happening in Detroit," Eric Green, CEO of reach influence, said in a press release. "The vision, passion, and energy are contagious and will help our company continue to grow."

The 6-year-old startup’s software enhances the shopper experience (and the sales that come with it) with the help of data analytics, along with marketing and merchandising programs. Its flagship products, reach engage and reach offers, provide shopper-facing marketing tools for independent grocery stores in 37 states.

Reach influence has grown to 21 employees (two work remotely) over the last year. It has hired five people in the last year and is looking add a couple more people now.

"We are always looking to add to the team," says Susan Dettloff, director of marketing for reach influence.

The firm had been based in downtown Royal Oak before making the move to downtown Detroit last month. It is currently taking up a large section of the second floor of the M@dison Building, where it expects to continue to add staff as it works to increase sales and its client base.

"It's a very open, collaborative workspace," Dettloff says.

Source: Susan Dettloff, director of marketing for reach influence
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Property management startup Castle closes $270K seed round

Castle, a tech startup focused on property management, has closed a seed round of funding worth $270,000.

The Detroit-based company plans to use the seed capital to add staff and continue to build out its property management software and services. The 1-year-old firm is proving out its business model in Detroit with aspirations of taking it national this year.

"We have seen some really exciting traction over the last few months," says Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle. "Let's see where it goes from here."

Three members of Venture For America's inaugural class (2012) launched Castle last year. Venture For America functions similarly to Teach For America, pairing talented college graduates with jobs at startups in economically challenges cities for a two-year fellowship. VFA fellows also helped found Rebirth Realty, which is turning a tax foreclosure in Virginia Park into housing for future Venture For America fellows. Castle is based out of that house.

Castle's software platform handles property management by automating service calls, rent collection, and other similar duties. The company is currently handling management for 52 properties both in the city of Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. Those properties are primarily single-family homes. The Castle team would like to get those numbers to several hundred by the end of this year.

"We figure if we can make this work here, we can make this work in Baltimore or Providence," Nussenbaum says. "It's only going to get easier."

Castle currently employs a team of three people and is looking to hire another three. Those new jobs include software development, business development, and operations.

Source: Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hacienda Mexican Foods lands big partnership with Meijer

Hacienda Mexican Foods has signed a new deal with Meijer to produce a new line of products that will be sold exclusively through the big-box retailer.

The Mexicantown-based food manufacturer will make flour tortillas, corn tortillas, and tortilla chips for Meijer under the Hacienda Mexican Foods label. The new line is set to launch this summer.

"The products will have no preservatives," says Lydia Gutierrez, president of Hacienda Mexican Foods. "It's pretty true to what a true tortilla is."

Hacienda Mexican Foods has hired nine people over the last month to prepare for this bump in business. The new hires are for positions in production, customer service, and administration. The company also is looking to make five more hires to its current staff of 60 employees and a few summer interns.

"We're still hiring," Gutierrez says.

The 25-year-old business expects this new deal with Meijer to significantly grow its bottom line. In fact, Gutierrez believes it could double its revenue this year, and enable it to do more work with local firms. Hacienda Mexican Foods makes an effort to source as much of its work as close to home as possible.

"It becomes an economic driver for us and our community," Gutierrez says.

Source: Lydia Gutierrez, president of Hacienda Mexican Foods
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Edibles Rex hires 20 as it builds out new home in Eastern Market

In 2014, Edibles Rex was all about growing its revenue and food manufacturing business. This year, it's aiming to finish building out its new home near Eastern Market.

The 22-year-old firm has called the Warren-Connor neighborhood on Detroit's east side home for years. There it has provided catering and wholesale food preparation services, such as making the meals for school and corporate cafeterias. It won a $250,000 Mission Main Street grant last year that helped it expand its business by adding things like more delivery trucks.

"We added three more trucks last year," says Tammy Tedesco, CEO of Edibles Rex.

Edibles Rex has increased its revenues by about 10 percent over the last year, enabling it to hire about 20 people in kitchen prep, school lunch service, and clerical work. It currently employs about 110 people and is looking to add a few more jobs as it grows.

Edibles Rex has just entered Phase 1 of building out its new home in Eastern Market to help house that growing workforce. The first phase will build out half of the 50,000-square-foot building. Edibles Rex plans to use part of its own work and also lease out other sections of it for smaller food companies that want access to things like a 24-hour access to a licensed kitchen and office space.

"We are making a space for other food manufacturers who want to be in Eastern Market," Tedesco says.

Source: Tammy Tedesco, CEO of Edibles Rex
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tech startup Amber Engine sees opportunity in home furnishings market

Home furnishings and decor isn’t a conventional space in which to launch a tech startup, but one group of entrepreneurs in Detroit thinks it has a lot of potential.

Amber Engine has created a software platform that streamlines the sales process for home furnishings and decor. The idea is to capitalize on the inefficiencies in the market, which is worth $275 billion.

"It's unusually under-penetrated online," says Morgan Woodruff, president and CEO of Amber Engine. "There is a lot of headway for growth."

Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity for Dan Gilbert's business and real estate portfolio, launched the company in January. The business-to-business, cloud-based platform provides an online portal for manufacturers and online retailers that handles data management and keeps the availability of product offerings up to date.

"If you're looking for bar stools we want to show you every sort of bar stool available around the world," Woodruff says.

Amber Engine, which is based in the basement of the Chrysler House in downtown Detroit, currently employs a team of 15 people. It currently has a handful of openings, which Woodruff doesn’t expect to go away anytime soon.

"We expect to hire a person every other month for the rest of the year," Woodruff says.

Source: Morgan Woodruff, president & CEO of Amber Engine
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Berg Muirhead adds new clients in legal, manufacturing, and healthcare sectors

Berg Muirhead and Associaties is gearing up to take a significant step forward this year, adding a handful of large clients and some new hires to go with them.

The New Center-based public relations and marketing firm has made a name for itself since 1998 handling a number of high-profile clients both in Detroit (Strategic Staffing Solutions) and outside of it (the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island and The Somerset Collection in Troy). Those clients aren't going anywhere.

"We have a great set of longterm clients and clients who come in and out with projects," says Peter Van Dyke, partner with Berg Muirhead and Associates.

This year, the firm is adding some larger clients. Berg Muirhead and Associates is now handling work with Metro Detroit’s new Regional Transit Authority and the Varnum law firm, which is opening a new office in downtown Detroit. Berg Muirhead and Associates is also helping a second-stage manufacturing firm in metro Detroit (Van Dyke declined to name it) re-brand and is about sign a contract with a major local health-care provider.

Berg Muirhead and Associates made two replacement hires last year, but Van Dyke expects to add some new hires on top of his staff of eight employees and two interns soon.

"We are looking to expand the team," Van Dyke says.

Source: Peter Van Dyke, partner with Berg Muirhead and Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mega Tiny Corp reinvents iPhone case in downtown Detroit

Mega Tiny Corp. has something more going for it than just a cool name. Its co-founders believe they have the next cool product for iPhones.

The 4-month-old startup is developing an iPhone case with suction technology built into it, enabling users to stick it against just about any flat surface. Check out a video showcasing it here.

"This is the first case to offer nano-suction material built into the case," says Carl Winans, co-founder of Mega Tiny Corp. "You can do hands-free selfies."

Most of the 10 people working on Mega Tiny Corp. are based in southeast Michigan and the company is about to sign a lease on an office in downtown Detroit. In the meantime, the team is finishing off a crowdfunding campaign to finance the manufacturing of its Zero Gravity iPhone case. Mega Tiny Corp. has raised $44,369 as of Monday night, by far exceeding its original $25,000 goal with 16 days left in the campaign.

"We met the goal in about four days," Winans says. "We're getting ready to add some stretch goals."

You can check out its crowdfunding campaign here.

Source: Carl Winans, co-founder of Mega Tiny Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Urban Aging families find resources for elderly loved ones

Patricia Rencher is all too familiar with the challenges of getting old. The downtown Detroit resident supported her parents through their final years when they were in their 80s and 90s.

"I discovered how disjointed and fragmented aging services were," Rencher says.

That inspired Rencher to start Urban Aging, a low-profit limited liability company that specializes in helping people navigate the aging process. Rencher recently graduated from the BUILD Social program, which teaches the basics of business to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Urban Aging will help its customer figure out what services, resources, programs, and products are available so they can maximize the comfort level of their loved ones' final years. The company also plans to host conferences and launch a tabloid newspaper to help guide people through the aging process.

"People need to know what services are available for home healthcare," Rencher says.

Urban Aging plans to host its first conference on May 16 in the Wayne County Community College District's Northwest Campus at 8200 W. Outer Drive in Detroit.

Source: Patricia Rencher, owner of Urban Aging
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Canine to Five buys new building in Ferndale, plans to expand Detroit home


Next month, Canine to Five will celebrate 10 years of providing dog boarding and grooming services on Cass Avenue just south of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Since its launch, the dog daycare has become one of Midtown Detroit's name-brand businesses.

Today it's building the same reputation in Ferndale, where it has acquired its own building on East 9 Mile Road between Hilton and I-75. Canine To Five opened its first satellite location in Ferndale two years ago in a rented building. Its new home in Ferndale is nearly four times as large.

"We're going from a 6,000-square-foot building to a 22,000-square-foot building," says Liz Blondy, owner of Canine to Five.

The extra space is needed to keep up with Canine to Five's growth. Business at the company's Detroit home is up 14 percent in the last year and its business in Ferndale doubled by the end of its second year. Today Canine to Five has 18 employees working in Ferndale and 25 in Detroit. Fifteen of those employees were hired over the last year.

"We grew much quicker than anticipated," Blondy says. "The reception we got in Ferndale was outstanding."

Blondy expects to execute the move to the new building this spring, but Ferndale isn't here sole focus. Canine to Five is currently working with an architect to add 6,500 square feet to its Detroit home, which will double the size of its flagship location later this year.

Canine to Five is also partnering with Ferndale-based Treat Dreams Ice Cream & Desserts, which will provide Pooch Pops (an ice cream treat to dogs) at Canine To Five’s two locations this summer.

"It's important to me to use as many products as possible from Michigan for my business," Blondy says.

Source: Liz Blondy, owner of Canine to Five
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Quizzle set to move into larger downtown office after being acquired by Bankrate

Quizzle is celebrating an acquisition this month and is getting ready to enjoy some extra elbow room later this spring.

Bankrate acquired the credit-monitoring company last week, making it the first Quicken Loans-built startup to exit through acquisition. It's common for acquired startups to be absorbed into their new parent companies. In this case that could mean downtown Detroit-based Quizzle folding into Bankrate's New York operation.

But Quizzle isn't going anywhere. In fact, it's getting ready to move into a bigger office in the 5th floor of the office building at 1274 Library (the former L.B. King and Company Building) next to the Boll Family YMCA.

"They are literally demoing the space right now," says Todd Albery, CEO of Quizzle. "It has room for growth. We have 19 people now and we will be able to hold 30."

Quizzle launched in 2008 as a side project within Quicken Loans. Today it provides free credit scores and reports, as well as credit monitoring and identity protection services. It currently has a staff of 19 employees and the occasional intern. The 20th employee is set to start work later this month. Quizzle has hired eight of its interns into full-time positions. Albery expects that growth to continue in downtown Detroit for the foreseeable future.

"When (Bankrate) acquires companies, it typically leaves them where they are," Albery says.

Source: Todd Albery, CEO of Quizzle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Social entrepreneur turns old houses into new furniture business, Owen & Abbey

Kimberly Watts' new business does a lot to make its customers feel good about their purchases. The Detroit-based business utilizes reclaimed wood and provides jobs to disadvantaged women.

Owen & Abbey makes tables and an assortment of home furnishings from wood reclaimed from deconstructed homes in Detroit and Pontiac. Watts was inspired to start this business last year when she first came across products made from reclaimed building materials.

"I thought there was a business here, but I wasn't sure about it yet," Watts says.

While Watts had an extensive background in fundraising, she did not have much of a history as a maker. But the idea of turning reclaimed building materials into a business stuck in her head, so she wrote a business plan and entered it into the Michigan Social Entrepreneur Challenge. She won the Jaffe Right Start Prize.

"Then I knew I was onto something," she says.

Today Watts is splitting time between her day job and Owen & Abbey. She hopes to grow the company to the point where she can start to hire people, specifically local women battling through economic adversity. To help make that happen, she has been filling orders from referrals and Etsy listings. Watts also graduated from the Build Institute's entrepreneurship program earlier this year, which is also helping steer work her way.

"It does a great job of supporting its graduates," Watts says.

Source: Kimberly Watts, owner of Owen & Abbey
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Creative agency The Work adds staff as it expands workload

There is no shortage of work at The Work, a creative agency based on Detroit's east riverfront.

The 5-year-old boutique firm has so much work that it has hired three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 11 people. The new hires include editorial personnel and producers.

"The last year has been very busy," says Jesse Ford, managing director of The Work. "We have been taking on a diverse set of assignments."

Major clients include Team Detroit, for whom The Work produced a Speed Dating video in a Mustang. The firm has also been contracting with advertising agencies like Commonwealth, Leo Burnett, and Lowe Campbell Ewald. The Work also recently signed a partnership with Native of Los Angeles for creative consulting, commercial video production, and post-production services in LA and New York.

"Our goal is to continue to support the Detroit agencies and support the automotive industry," Ford says. "We're also looking to work with some agencies in LA and New York."

The Work got its start when five people working in local advertising circles banded together. The idea that their expertise in videography, photography, editing, production, and other creative outlets was worth more together as one company than as individual 1099s. All five co-founders are still working with the company on a full-time basis in the Elevator Building.

Source: Jesse Ford, managing director of The Work
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Global Alliance Solutions turns life's lemons into new business

Nichole B. Pardo has experienced workplace discrimination on two fronts. She has both helped organizations avoid discriminatory practices and has filed a grievance for discriminatory practices.

Both experiences inspired her to start her own diversity training and crisis management company, Global Alliance Solutions, in Detroit.

"It was a classic situation of when life gives you lemons," Pardo says.

Global Alliance Solutions provides comprehensive diversity training to employees and members of management on unconscious bias as it relates to employment decisions. It is currently working with the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, Congress of Communities, Vardar Soccer Club, Mariners Inn, and Oakland Community College.

Pardo has an extensive history in diversity training. She worked as an investigator with Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the office of the president for Blue Cross Blue Shield. Before starting Global Alliance Solutions last fall, Pardo worked at another employer where she claimed to have been discriminated against because of her age (she is older than 40) and her race (she identifies as African-American), prompting her to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. The resulting settlement inspired her to start Global Alliance Solutions.

"I created the company so I could help prevent companies from violating discrimination laws and to help create more diversity," Pardo says.

Source: Nichole B. Pardo, owner of Global Alliance Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Christman Co opens stunning office in the Fisher Building, a structure it helped build

The Christman Co is back in Detroit, working once again on the famous skyline it helped build nearly a century ago.

The Lansing-based construction firm moved its metro Detroit office from Livonia to New Center earlier this month, taking space in the Fisher Building. The Christman Co helped build some of Detroit's most iconic buildings like the Masonic Temple. It served as the general contractor for the Fisher Building's construction in the 1920s.

That firm's history with the skyscraper made the decision to move easy, but other factors like cheaper rent and more convenient parking than what can be found downtown also played a role. When the Christman Group found out that it could have one of the penthouse floors in the building it helped build, however, the decision was made even easier.

"When we saw the 26th floor, we thought this was too good of an opportunity to pass up," says Ron Staley, senior vice president for The Christman Co.

The 26th floor is one of the three floors originally built out for the Fisher brothers of the Fisher Body Corp. It was decked out with walnut walls, ornate plaster, and bronzed doors. Some of those details were left when The Christman Co returned this month, which the company did its best to carefully restore.

"It was modified in the 1960s in a less than desirable way," Staley says.

The 26th floor measures 6,000 square feet, which the Christman Co built out to accommodate up to 25 people. Those workers have been busy with a number of projects in Detroit, such as Bedrock's work in downtown Detroit for the Quicken Loans portfolio of properties and Blue Cross Blue Shield's campus upgrades in Greektown.

"For numerous business reasons it made more sense to move closer to downtown," Staley says.

Source: Ron Staley, senior vice president for The Christman Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Attorneys chase literary dreams with Publishing313

Mark Rossman and Brian Saxe are two attorneys who like to joke that they gave up their dream of a creative career to pursue law. That’s changing now that they are launching Publishing313.

"We have been writing together for a number of years," Rossman says. "We wanted a vehicle to publish. I was talking to Brian and said, 'Why don't we create our own?'"

The venture not only aims to publish the work of Rossman and Saxe, but other local authors across Detroit. Publishing313 will be accepting submissions from local writers of poetry and short stories this spring. The founders hope to print those works and make them available in local bookstores by the summer.

"I am envisioning a journal of 75 to 100 pieces of short stories and poetry," Rossman says.

The partners are inspired by the reinvention of Detroit and believe the work being done to improve the Motor City will produce some classic contemporary literature.

Source: Mark Rossman and Brian Saxe, co-founders of Publishing313
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Tomo Coffee Co brings cold-brew coffee via tricycle cart


A group of young entrepreneurs are working to bring cold brew coffee to Detroit via tricycle this summer with a new company, Tomo Coffee Co.

Husband-and-wife-duo Kara and Wesley Eggebrecht moved back to metro Detroit earlier this year from the East Coast. While away they developed a taste for cold brew coffee and and were disappointed when they couldn’t find it here.

"We decided to make our own at home," Kara Eggebrecht says.

They brought in a friend, Alex MacKenzie, to help perfect their product and come up with a delivery system. Today they raising $7,000 with a crowdfunding campaign to build a custom tricycle from which they will sell their cold, caffeinated beverages. They have already raised more than $4,000 toward their goal as of Monday evening. Check out the crowdfunding site here.

Wesley Eggebrecht is an illustrator and a graduate of the College of Creative Studies. He is helping direct the art for the tricycle from his studio in the Russell Industrial Center. The tricycle is designed by Motorless City Bicycles in Eastern Market.

"We want to distribute coffee a little bit differently than the way it is being done lately," Kara Eggebrecht says.

The trio hopes to have the trike built and running by May. They are looking to sell their cold-brew coffees from it at farmers markets across the region.

"Eastern Market is our primary target," Kara Eggebrecht says.

Source: Kara Eggebrecht, co-founder of Tomo Coffee Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Singlethreadís software connects dealership mechanics with customers

Mechanics specialize in fixing cars. Motorists excel at breaking them. More times than not, neither party is good at communication. Singlethread believes it can bridge that divide.

The 1-year-old startup makes a software platform that helps mechanics at car dealerships and their customers better communicate via text messages. That way mechanics can send status updates to customers and car owners can quickly give approval to fixes.

"One of the biggest problems in automotive dealerships is poor communication between the mechanics and their customers while the car is being fixed," says Will Mapes, founder of Singlethread. "They end up being ships that pass in the night."

Singlethread's team of five people developed the technology with Atomic Object's downtown Detroit office, splitting time between the central business district and Royal Oak. They launched the platform six months ago and now has deployed it in 10 automotive dealerships in Michigan, Florida, and Texas. Singlethread is now looking to expand to more dealerships across North America.

"We will be growing as fast as possible," Mapes says. "Our mandate is to just meet demand right now."

Source: Will Mapes, founder of Singlethread
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BUILD partners with Etsy to offer craft entrepreneurship classes in Detroit

Etsy is coming to Detroit thanks to a partnership with a local nonprofit.

BUILD Institute, which teaches the basic building blocks of business to Detroit entrepreneurs, will offer Etsy’s Craft Entrepreneurship Program in Detroit this spring, providing micro-business training for underemployed, low-income adults with creative skills.

Etsy is an online marketplace for crafts and homemade goods. Its Craft Entrepreneurship Program will not only help people harness their creative skills to earn extra income, but will teach them how best to market and sell their goods and connect with local entrepreneurial resources. The five-week course costs $75 for BUILD graduates and $100 per person for the general public.

"We're assessing the program as we go through it," says April Boyle, executive director of BUILD Institute. "If this pilot goes well, we will run it again."

The BUILD Institute got its start in 2012 as a program of D:hive, a multi-faceted welcome center that connected Detroiters and visitors with various opportunities in the city. BUILD specializes in helping aspiring entrepreneurs learn the basics of starting their own businesses and has grown into an independent organization since it spun off of D:Hive earlier this year. It has graduated 460 people since its inception. It graduated 160 people last year and is currently running six classes of about 60 people. Most of them are from Detroit, but some come from suburbs as close as Ferndale or as far away as Ann Arbor.

"There is a waiting list," Boyle says. "We can't keep up with demand."

Source: April Boyle, executive director of BUILD Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

$500K Skillman grant will help connect 5,000 Detroit kids with summer jobs

The Skillman Foundation is giving $500,000 toward helping put 5,000 young Detroiters to work this summer.

The Riverfront-based foundation’s money will go toward further developing the Grow Detroit's Young Talent youth employment initiative. The funds will be split into two grants: $400,000 will go toward the downtown-based nonprofit City Connect Detroit to administer the Grow Detroit's Young Talent program. The remaining $100,000 goes to the Philadelphia Youth Network, which is providing a state-of-the-art employment portal for Grow Young Detroit Talent.

"It's a tremendous help," says Shuna Hayward, program director of City Connect Detroit. "The portal has been one of the big missing links."

Grow Young Detroit Talent is a collaboration between local employers and the city of Detroit, led by Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration. It aims to connect 5,000 14-to-24-year-olds with jobs this summer. The Philadelphia Youth Network is supposed to help streamline that process by enabling both employers and young people to sign up for the program and connect the best candidates for the right jobs.

Last year, private and public efforts were able to pair 3,600 young people with jobs in the city. Among the major companies participating this year are DTE Energy, Quicken Loans, and CVS. The jobs ranged from manual labor positions to office internships.

"We try to match it with where the young people are developmentally," Hayward says.

Source: Shuna Hayward, senior program director for City Connect Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit startup Slope makes cut for prestigious Microsoft Venture Accelerator

Slope, a startup creating a video production platform for everyday people, made the cut for the newest class in the Microsoft Venture Accelerator program. The 1-year-old company is one of 14 startups from across North America to earn an invitation to the accelerator (more than 500 applied) and the only Detroit-based startup.

This is the second class for the Microsoft Venture Accelerator. The residency begins this week and takes place over four months in Seattle. Each startup receives $25,000 in seed capital without giving up any equity. Check out a Fast Company story about the newest class for the Microsoft Venture Accelerator here.

Most importantly for the Slope team, it receives a front-row seat on how to build and launch an enterprise-level software platform from the corporation best known for it.

"It was really a no-brainer for us to go for this accelerator," says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of Slope.

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 their photos, graphics, and videos so they are available to create more online content. The startup's platform is currently in private Beta.

"We hope to have a public launch at the end of the accelerator," Bosche says.

Bosche co-founded Slope with Dan Bloom shortly after the pair completed their fellowship with Venture For America, a program similar to Teach For America that pairs talented young people with startups in economically challenged cities. The two recent college grads were part of the first class of VFA fellows in Detroit in 2012.

Bosche worked at the Bizdom accelerator in downtown Detroit, helping startups in the incubator tell their stories through short videos. That work served as the inspiration for the Slope, which has grown its staff to seven people. Bosche (who lives in the tax foreclosure house in Virginia Park that VFA fellows are renovating) and Bloom plan to return to Detroit after the accelerator program is finished and continue building out Slope in the Motor City.

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

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

Fathead adds 44 people, staff hits triple digits

Fathead got its start by selling kids life-size decals of the athletes they idolize. Today the 9-year-old firm is finding some of its biggest gains from business-to-business sales.

Business-to-business work helped lead Fathead's growth spurt in 2014. It is now a $50 million company.

"That continues to be a very big area of focus for us," says Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead.

Business-to-business work included custom work for large companies and institutions. Among that subset is work for universities, such as the University of Michigan, which use Fathead’s custom decals for athletic and other events.

"Universities are really finding that we can transform their spaces," Cline says.

Fathead makes poster-size decals of everything from famous athletes to major brands. Dan Gilbert acquired the firm eight years ago, making it a member of the Quicken Loans family of companies.

Fathead has expanded its business by licensing major brands, such as Martha Stewart and John Deere. It is also getting ready to launch a new venture called Studio F, which allows artists to sell their work online as a fathead decal poster while Fathead keeps a percentage of each sale.

That work has enabled the downtown Detroit-based firm to add significantly to its staff. It has hired 44 people, bumping its staff size to just over 100 workers. It is currently looking to hire two software engineers. More info on those openings here.

Source: Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

GreenLancer hires new CEO, begins raising Series B financing

GreenLancer is making some big hires and raising some big money this year. The downtown Detroit-based startup has hired its first CEO and is in the midst of raising a significant round of seed capital.

The new CEO is Zac MacVoy, a graduate of Lake Superior State University and most recently a vice president of sales at United Lighting Standards. MacVoy is leading GreenLancer's efforts to raise a multi-million dollar Series B round. It has closed half of its goal and will close on the rest later this spring.

"We feel he will be a key component as we scale to meet demand," says Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer.

GreenLancer is a product of the Bizdom accelerator program. It developed a software platform that guides businesses through the process of integrating green technology into their operations, such as solar panels. The platform provides high quality solar system designs needed to build and install solar electric systems, enabling contractors to manage projects, get quotes, order, and receive design services from one centralized place.

"We produce the design that the contractors use to install solar systems," Sharber says.

GreenLancer started by offering these services to commercial clients. It is now looking to expand into the residential market. The Series B will help the company with marketing, product development, and staff expansion. It has hired 14 people over the last year and now employs a staff of 22. It is also looking to hire a handful of web developers.

Source: Michael Sharber, executive vice president of GreenLancer
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Atomic Object looks for bigger space in downtown Detroit

Atomic Object is adding positions to its office in downtown Detroit and keeping an eye out for more space to house its new hires.

"We are looking for a new space that will give us some room to grow," says Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object.

The Grand Rapids-based software firm opened an office in Harmonie Park a couple of years ago and has since grown to a staff of six people. It has hired three people over the last year, including two young women who recently graduated from Michigan State University and Wayne State University. It's also looking to hire a couple of software developers.

"We are always open to hiring high-quality people," Erickson says.

The company is looking at moving to a bigger office in Detroit later this year, but a new space hasn’t been picked out yet. Erickson plans to keep the company downtown.

Atomic Object's work with large and small companies in Detroit has helped fuel its growth. One of the firm's clients is a startup called SingleThread, a company that helps car dealership service managers better communicate with customers to let them know the status of car repairs.

"It's getting some excellent traction," Erickson says.

Source: Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Jones Day, the lawfirm that guided Detroit through bankruptcy, to open downtown office

The law firm that guided the city of Detroit in and out of bankruptcy is staking a claim in the Motor City. Cleveland-based Jones Day plans to open a satellite office in downtown Detroit later this summer.

"Part of being invested in Detroit is being in Detroit," says Tim Melton, partner in charge of Jones Day's Detroit office. "There was never a question we would be in downtown Detroit."

Melton is a graduate of Wayne State University Law School and a former clerk to Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich when he served as a District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. Melton has been with Jones Day since 1980 and will move to Detroit from Chicago to open the new office.

The location of Jones Day's new office has yet to be selected, but Melton says that decision will be made in the next few weeks and the office will open by July. Melton expects the Detroit office to grow to six attorneys and as many support staff.

"The beauty of being a part of a 2,400 person law firm is there isn't a specific skillset I need in my office in Detroit that we don’t already have in Cleveland or elsewhere," Melton says. "Our hiring in Detroit will be more opportunistic."

Source: Tim Melton, partner in charge of the Detroit office for Jones Day
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Exxodus Pictures adds staff thanks to more commercial and film work

Exxodus Pictures is growing from its base in downtown Detroit thanks to more work in both film and commercials.

The M@dison Building-based company released the movie "Jinn" last year. It has also made three commercials and is gearing up to make the first of a slate of three movies later this year.

"Our main thing is movies," says Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-owner of Exxodus Pictures. "But if we get contacted for a commercial job, we don't turn it down."

The 5-year-old firm's first theatrical release, "Jinn," came out last spring. The movie is about an elite class of warriors/monsters who are ancient, supernatural, and made of fire. (Check out the trailer for the film here.) The film was released in 210 theaters in North America. It is set to release across multiple channels like Dish Network and Amazon this week.

Exxodus Pictures employs a core staff of 10 people after hiring two editors and two graphic designers. The company will also crew up to 30 people when it shoots commercials and up to 50 people while shooting a movie.

Exxodus Pictures recently received $1.3 million in tax incentives from the state of Michigan to film three made-in-Michigan movies. Those include "My Soul to Keep," "Swish Master," and "Golem." "Swish Master" is a story about Max Sheffield, a boy who unleashes black magic to put a stop to the bullying he is experiencing at school, but realizes along the way he may not be the one in control after all.

"Golem" centers around Adina Akhavan, who witnesses the annihilation of her village by Nazi soldiers. But then an otherworldly beast emerges and decimates the barbarous soldiers and Adina escapes into the forest. Weeks later, she is befriended by Captain Jaeger and his elite team of SS relic hunters who were sent to investigate the disappearance of the brigade and to secure the ancient beast. Adina has no choice but to hide her true identity, help Captain Jaeger secure the beast, and wait for the perfect moment to enact her revenge.

"My Soul to Keep" follows 9-year-old Eli Braverman, who is terrified of his basement and the evil that he thinks is living there. When his older sister Emily abandons her babysitting duties, Eli is left home alone to confront the darkness and the creature that may be lurking in it.

"We're looking to start shooting that in the spring," Ahmad says.

Source: Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-owner of Exxodus Pictures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

HealthCure looks to raise $3M for infection prevention tech

HealthCure is making a big ask of investors this year, though the Detroit-based startup believes it has the stats to back up its request.

The 5-year-old company's platform helps hospitals reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections. Its software team works with the staff of medical centers to find places where infections can be prevented and helps the institution meet Affordable Care Act benchmarks. HealthCure recently finished a pilot program with Oakwood Healthcare System and is publishing a paper with the results.

"We reduced infections by 20 percent in areas we worked," says Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure. "[Oakwood] saved more than $1 million."

HealthCure plans to use that report as it works to raise a Series A round of seed capital. The firm is hoping to raise $3 million by this spring. Arizmendi believes that is possible as he continues to pitch investors from Chicago.

"We'd like to be in several healthcare systems in the Chicago and Michigan markets," Arizmendi says.

HealthCure is also looking at expanding into other markets over the next year, including California. To accomplish that, the company has hired one person over the last year, expanding its staff to eight people. It is also looking to hire two more executive-level staffers.

Source: Mark Arizmendi, CEO of HealthCure
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Compass aims to connect freelancers with small businesses

A couple of Venture For America fellows are looking to better connect small businesses with local freelancers with their new startup, Compass.

The downtown Detroit-based startup aims to draw upon a network of well-vetted freelancers to help small businesses flesh out their online presence with better websites, digital marketing, and social media. Compass clients are guided through an easy process where they get a dedicated freelancer to create an affordable, agency-quality website for their business. In return the startup takes a percentage of the bill for doing the business-side work so the freelancers can focus on their specialty.

"We manage the project," says Mike Wilner, CEO of Compass. "We handle all of the things a freelancer doesn’t want to handle."

Wilner launched Compass with Taylor Sundali seven months ago. Both are part of the 2013 class of Venture For America, a Teach For America-like program that pairs promising recent college grads with startups in economically challenged cities on two-year fellowships. Wilner worked for Social Proof and Sundali worked at Doodle Home before launching Compass.

The inspiration came from the parents of the fellows. Both sets of parents are small business owners and have been asking both 20-somethings for more and more help with beefing up the online presence of their companies.

"My parents sat me down and asked me for a lot of advice," Wilner says. "More than they ever had before."

The Compass team is currently going through the Venture For America Accelerator out east but plans to return to Detroit later this spring. They are already working with four local freelancers to pair with small businesses and plan to expand that stable of independent contractors markedly over this year.

"We want to have a lively community of freelancers working with us," Wilner says.

Source: Mike Wilner, CEO of Compass
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AutoHarvest goes global by adding more Asian clients

AutoHarvest got its start with the idea of growing Michigan's new economy by enabling local entrepreneurs to leverage the intellectual property coming out of the universities and major corporations in the Great Lakes State. Today the nonprofit is aiming beyond the state's borders.

"We've been growing," says Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest. "We have been increasing our membership and database...[which] now contains about 90,000 intellectual property opportunities."

AutoHarvest has been targeting Asian-based firms to engage with its membership and plans to continue that expansion throughout this year by connecting more international businesses with the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The four-person nonprofit (it has hired two people over the last year) fosters collaboration and innovation in the auto industry by making things like tech labs and intellectual property more accessible. The 4-year-old organization has offices at the University of Michigan and TechTown.

Despite its recent foray into internationalism, AutoHarvest still regularly engages with local firms and entrepreneurs. For instance, Optimal Process Technologies is developing technology that improves the weldability of dissimilar materials. The processes will support the production of multi-material structures, reducing vehicle weight and improving vehicle fuel efficiency.

"The entrepreneur who licensed the technology came across it as a member of AutoHarvest," Pankin says.

Source: Jayson Pankin, president of AutoHarvest
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Creative firm Agency 720 expands across U.S., adds staff in downtown Detroit


For a creative agency, it's good to work with a major automaker’s brand. It's even better when you’re the recommended tier 2 marketing agency for Chevrolet.

That's the case with Agency 720, which has been growing its presence across North America steadily over the last year. It is now in 141 markets across the continent, mainly handling advertising work for Chevy dealerships across the U.S.

"They are a fabulous partner," says Harold Kobakof, president & CEO of Agency 720.

The downtown Detroit-based firm’s has added seven markets over the last year. It has also added work outside of the automotive industry, handling work with Pulte Homes. Most of Agency 720’s work, however, comes from Chevrolet dealerships.

"We're looking to expand into seven more markets this year," Kobakof says.

That expansion has allowed the four-year-old firm to expand its staff to 110 people after hiring 10 over the last year. Those new jobs include account managers and directors. Agency 720 is also in the process of hiring a graphic designer.

Source: Harold Kobakof, president & CEO of Agency 720
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Truscott Rossman adds four new employees at RenCen office

Truscott Rossman's Detroit office has come a long way since its opened a little more than a year ago. The public relations agency now employs a staff of four people in the Renaissance Center.

"We felt a commitment to go above and beyond for our Detroit clients rather than just working out of the Lansing office," says Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

The Lansing-based firm got its start four years ago when Rossman-McKinney and John Truscott merged their well-known PR firms into what is now Truscott Rossman. The new company now has satellite offices in Grand Rapids and Detroit.

It has hired nine people over the last year, including four former interns, expanding its staff to 25 employees. Among its recent hires in Detroit are digital media director Chad Cyrowski, account executive Dan Herrick, account executive Matt Brady, and strategic communications leader John Bailey.

Truscott Rossman currently serves a number of clients in Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Some of those include DTE Energy, Detroit Medical Center, the city of Detroit, and the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department.

"I expect we will have at least 10 clients coming out of southeast Michigan," says Rossman-McKinney, who describes the Detroit market as "bursting with opportunities."

"I would like to add at least two more professionals."

Source: Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ash & Anvil to offer Detroit-made clothes for short men


Steven Mazur isn't a tall man. At 5 feet 6 inches, he’s not exactly Peter Dinklage-size, but he is familiar with the challenges people of shorter stature face. It served as the inspiration for, Ash & Anvil, the men's clothing company he co-founded with Eric Huang.

"We were thinking about the challenges we face," Mazur says. "Finding clothes has not been easy."

Ash & Anvil specializes in making clothes for men 5 feet 8 inches and under, addressing many of the challenges shorter people face when buying clothes. For instance, when Mazur buys pants he knows the average inseam is 30 inches, but his measures 28 inches. Ash & Anvil's first line of clothing will launch with a line of casual, button-down shirts. It hopes to expand into jeans, dress pants/shirts, and athletic apparel later this year,

Mazur and Huang are Venture For America fellows who came to Detroit in 2013 as part of the second class of aspiring entrepreneurs in the Motor City. Venture For America pairs recent college grads with startups in economically challenged cities. Detroit was one of the programs first participating cities.

Ash & Anvil are currently working on a crowdfunding campaign to fund its first run of clothes, which will be made in Detroit. The campaign as a goal of raising $10,000 and has already raised more than $9,000.

Source: Stevem Mazur and Eric Huang, co-founder of Ash & Anvil
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

H2Bid aims to grow business through analytics in 2015

For most of its eight years, H2Bid has been know as a place for water utilities to save money by taking their business online. Now it’s looking to bring those utilities more savings through data analytics.

"We have a ton of data we have collected over the years," says Glenn Oliver, president & CEO of H2Bid. "Basically it's procurement information from water utilities."

The four-person firm's software platform helps water utilities bid out projects over the Internet, enabling them to strike the best deal in the most cost-effective manner. It is now looking to work with some of Michigan research universities to add data analytics to its list of services. The idea is to help the downtown Detroit-based firm’s customers make smarter decisions about everything from pricing to procurement.

H2Bid hopes to execute on that pivot later this winter and spring. It is also looking at developing a procurement platform later this year to help add more value to its customers.

"It's kind of a natural fit for us," Oliver says. "It's something we're excited about."

Source: Glenn Oliver, president & CEO of H2Bid
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WaitTime technology tracks fan movement in big venues


At major sporting events, every fan tries to calculate the best time to go to the concession stand -- the time when there are no lines and the stand is well-stocked. WaitTime wants to help fans eliminate the guesswork.

The downtown Detroit-based startup is working on advanced imaging technology for large entertainment venues. The idea is to let the house better track when and where its fans go during the game and how to better serve them.

"We are nearing the end of development," says Zachary Klima, founder & CEO of WaitTime. "We expect to finalize it within the next two weeks."

The Bizdom-graduate company launched a year ago with the idea of creating a software plug-in that allows a business to broadcast its wait times for service in real-time to their website, mobile app, or digital signage. It could be used at eateries, retail stores, professional service business, or any place that might have a line.

Klima and his partners ran into a few other people working in the space and decided to pivot last spring. The team of a dozen people is now targeting the sporting industry with its new technology platform. It is currently running as a pilot program at four Midwestern stadiums/arenas. The company plans to expand that list to 20 by the end of the year.

"We saw the sports industry as where the big money is in this space is," Klima says.

Source: Zachary Klima, founder & CEO of WaitTime
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Styleshack evolves into e-commerce/online content play

Styleshack got its start with the idea of helping local shops expand their business by helping them build out their online presence. The downtown Detroit-based startup has grown beyond that in its first year.

Styleshack started providing online content last year, primarily focused on telling stories about the fashion industry. It resonated with Styleshack's clientele.

"They really enjoyed and connected with the content, so we're an e-commerce, online content play," says Rachel Schostak, founder of Styleshack.

Schostak graduated from the Bizdom accelerator last year with the idea of building out e-commerce platforms for boutique stores and improving their online presence. Schostak learned that writing about fashion also enabled her company to help cross-promote the products in the stores of her company’s clients.

"It all has to connect with style," Schostak says. "For example, I just covered Fashion Week in New York."

Styleshack currently has 120 clients and its list of clientele is growing. Those companies are in metro Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Las Vegas. Schostak is looking to continue growing that list and expand into other parts of fashion and retail, such as menswear.

Source: Rachel Schostak, founder of Styleshack
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Inforum's inGAGE program aims to help women-led firms

The Inforum Center for Leadership is looking for a few good women, specifically women entrepreneurs.

The downtown Detroit-based organization works to support women in business. Its inGAGE strategy focuses on supporting women-led, high-growth companies.

"This is really to support women in disruptive companies in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries," says Rachele Downs, vice president of entrepreneurial strategy at the Inforum Center for Leadership.

The inGAGE program is in its third year. It’s first two cohorts had 33 graduates. Those women helped launch or grow 16 companies which created 43 new jobs. Those companies have raised $10 million in seed capital. And all of it adds up to a more experienced network of female entrepreneurs in Michigan.

The new inGAGE program will feature a "Growth" section that teaches women the basics of what it takes to launch a new business venture and a "Master Class" that focuses on emerging second stage entrepreneurs. The "Role Model and Investor Series" creates a supportive community of women entrepreneurs through angel investors.

"The more representatives we have in the investor class the more investment we will have in women-owned companies," Downs says.

Applications for inGAGE classes will be accepted until Feb 28. For information, click here. The Inforum Center for Leadership currently employs a team of 10 people. It is looking to hire a program manager.

Source: Rachele Downs, vice president of entrepreneurial strategy at the Inforum Center for Leadership
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Media production firm Three Lyons Creative launches out of Hamtramck

Tony Eggert worked a corporate job in the automotive sector until he couldn't take it anymore. Now he is pursuing his passion and launching his own business, Three Lyons Creative.

Eggert launched the media-production company with his brother, Daniel Eggert, and his cousin, Mike Williams. The one-year-old company supports Detroit brands and businesses by creating video, web, audio, and graphic artwork.

"It came together because the three of us could combine and create a project that is greater than the sum of its parts," Tony Eggert says.

The Hamtramck-based company has done work for a number of local clients. During that time it has grown its team to six people. Three Lyons Creative created the campaign video for state Rep Rashida Tlaib's state Senate campaign last year. It also put together a short film called "Thick Air" that will premier next month at the Tangent Art Gallery.

"It's something that is representative of the work we want to do in the future," Tony Eggert says.

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

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

Lochbridge grows workforce to build 'LAYR Cloud,' a connected car framework


Technology in cars used to be simple. A motorist would turn a dial and the radio would come on. A little bit later a driver could touch a button and the windows would automatically roll down. Or the doors would lock. Or the cruise control would set. That's far from the case today, and Lochbridge is growing its workforce in downtown Detroit to accommodate it.

"It's getting a lot more fancy," says Raj Paul, vice president for automotive and emerging technology for Lochbridge.

Lochbridge used to be a division of Compuware until it was a spun out into its own full tech-service integration firm and acquired by Los Angeles-based Marlin Equity Partners. It now employs about 1,000 people in downtown Detroit.

One of Lochbridge's biggest pushes is the development of its connected car framework. LAYR Cloud enables easier automotive app integration and improves the driving experience based on driver preferences. LAYR Cloud allows for one-to-one personalization where the information delivered to the vehicle adapts to the drivers preferences and behaviors through a single, uniformed interface that can delivered through any technology platform.

"The whole thing is personalized around the driver's need and where he is going," Paul says.

Lochbridge currently employs about 300 people working on automotive. Paul's team has about a dozen people working on LAYR right now, several of whom were hired over the last year. He expects those numbers to grow over 2015.

"We always look for young talent," Paul says.

Source: Raj Paul, vice president for automotive and emerging technology for Lochbridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit private equity firm makes big bet on coffee


Over the last few years, Huron Capital Partners, a downtown Detroit-based private equity firm that calls the Guardian Building home, has been investing a lot of money in coffee producers. The firm recently purchased Iowa-based U.S. Roasterie through one of its partners, bringing the total number of coffe companies it owns to five.

"There is a stable and growing demand for the product," says Matt Hare, principal of Huron Capital Partners. "The input costs were a fragment of the cost for the consumer."

The 16-year-old investment firm invested in Ronnoco Coffee in 2012. Since then it has made four more coffee company acquisitions. The U.S. Roasterie is the latest of those acquisitions, but probably won’t be the last as the firm eyes another purchase or two before the end of the year.

"U.S. Roasterie expands our product offering and gives us a redundant facility that gives us additional room for growth," Hare says.

Huron Capital Partners has grown steadily since its inception in 1999. It now employs 22 people after hiring three associates and analysts over the last year.

Source: Matt Hare, principal of Huron Capital Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Data Driven Detroit helps lead Motor Cityís information aggregation

Over the last year, Data Driven Detroit (D3) has been working behind the scenes on large data projects that have made big headlines -- from Motor City Mapping, which documented the condition of every piece of property in Detoit, to the creation of a quality of life scorecard for the city.

"Everybody is looking to Detroit as a model, which is intimidating and flattering at the same time," says Erica Raleigh, director of Data Driven Detroit, an organization whose core mission is to make metro Detroit's information more easily accessible to help improve quality of life in the region.

Raleigh became D3's permanent director early last year after the nonprofit's founder Kurt Metzger stepped down to become mayor of Pleasant Ridge. Metzger had served as the nonprofits director for six years.

Recently, D3 worked with Loveland Technologies and a diverse aray of community partners on the Motor City Mapping project. Together they created an online interface that allows users to document the condition of individual properties in the city. Using the interface, a team of surveyors supplied information to a database documenting each of the city's 375,000+ parcels, which can be updated using an app called "Blexting."

Data Driven Detroit is also working on the OneD Scorecard, which serves as sort of a quality of life indicator in the city. It shows how different geographies rank in terms of economic opportunity, proximity to good schools, and crime.

Data Driven Detroit plans to strengthen relationships with existing clients and community stakeholders over the next year by focusing on work it has already started.

"As always we will be working on improving the accessibility of data to the community at large," Raleigh says.

Source: Erica Raleigh, director of Data Driven Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Bizdomís PaymentScholar hopes to simplify school bureaucracies

Dealing with school-related bureaucracy can be frustrating. Sometimes simple tasks like filling out permission slips at the school office or collecting money for extracurricular activities can be a challenge for parents, students, and school administrators alike. A new startup out of Bizdom is aiming to streamline that experience.

"I thought there was a great opportunity to come in and help schools with these issues," says Melanie de Vries, co-founder & CEO of PaymentScholar.

PaymentScholar specializes in digitizing forms, registrations, and payments for schools. It creates one platform to handle that small but important part of the education system so things don’t lost.

"This is a great time efficiency for them," de Vries says. "A lot of payments never make it to the bank. Checks get lost or they bounce."

PaymentScholar is currently working on a Beta version of its software with Pinckney Community Schools. It's looking to launch it publicly later this summer. In the mean time, the startup's team of four people is continuing to tweak the platform and raise seed capital at events like the most recent Great Lakes Angels meetup.

Source: Melanie de Vries, co-founder & CEO of PaymentScholar
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Atwater Brewery to expand Detroit facilities and build new ones in Texas and North Carolina


Atwater Brewery's production, which grew dramatically in 2014, is set to reach even higher heights this year as the company becomes a national brand in craft brewing.

The riverfront-based brewery sold in excess of 40,000 barrels of beer last year, raising its sales by 68 percent compared to 2013. It expects to hit 60,000 barrels of beer this year. Atwater Brewery is also in the process of opening up two more remote production facilities across the U.S.

"We would have done more if we had more capacity in 2014," says Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery.

Atwater Brewery was one of Michigan's early craft breweries, opening in 1997. Rieth took over the operation in 2005 and set the brewery on a strong growth track. It is now the biggest brewery in metro Detroit and the third-largest brewery in Michigan on the strength of the sales of its popular beers like Dirty Blonde Ale and Vanilla Java Porter. Atwater Brewery has also expanded its staff, making eight hires in marketing, sales and production over the last year. It now employs 38 people and plans to hire 20 more to keep up with its production goals.

"We're going to add 10 people this year and 10 in 2016," Rieth says.

Those new employees will be working in the soon-to-be-newly expanded production space on Jos. Campau close to where the street dead ends at the Detroit Riverfront. Atwater Brewery is adding 40,000 square feet of production space to that facility, installing new state-of-the-art German Brewhaus equipment.

It is also building a new brewery in Austin, Texas, to handle its West Coast expansion. Next year it plans to open another brewery in North Carolina. Atwater is also working to enter Canadian markets next year, along with Colorado, California, New York, and New Jersey. The goal is to hit 300,000 barrels of production within five years.

"We are looking at doing 150,000 barrels in Detroit," Rieth says. "We are looking at two other locations in Austin, Texas and North Carolina, which should come online by the end of 2016."

Atwater Brewery is also working to expand its product offerings. It will launch new Atwater Spirits and Detroit Dry Cider brands this year and plans to begin offering 16-ounce can options for some of its beers. Most of its new products will only be available at its local brewery tap rooms and Atwater in the Park brewpub in Grosse Pointe.

Source: Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rising Pheasant Farms grows urban ag operation on east side


It's the dead of winter in Michigan, but Rising Pheasant Farms is not sitting idle. The urban farm on Detroit's near east side is growing its production capability and space in an effort to expand operations.

"We just bought four more lots," says Carolyn Leadley, owner & farm manager for Rising Pheasant Farms. "We will be up to a half acre in the next couple of years."

Leadley and her husband, Jack VanDyke, launched the farm in 2009 while Leadley was working at Greening Detroit. "I got excited about all the folks here doing urban agriculture," Leadley says.

The three-person operation -- it’s in the process of hiring one person now -- grows seasonal vegetables that it sells to local restaurants and at Eastern Market. All of its produce is delivered via bicycles.

Rising Pheasant Farms also recently won a $10,000 NEIdeas grant last fall. That money helped them install a radiant heating system in their greenhouse to increase growing capacity while minimizing utility costs.

For Leadly and VanDyke, urban agriculture offers them opportunity of becoming leaders in sustainability in farming. "We are growing in the city in a truly sustainable model," Leadley says.

Source: Carolyn Leadley, owner & farm manager for Rising Pheasant Farms
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TernPro set to launch first product platform, Slope


Online media startup TernPro is gearing up for the release of its first software product, Slope.

The software platform specializes in video creation so everyday people can produce videos and track the public's interaction with them. That way they can store all of their photos, graphics, and videos and have them available to create online content.

"Think of it like a Dropbox for media content," says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of TernPro.

Bosche is a member of the inaugural class of Venture for America, a two-year program that pairs talented college grads with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. He lives in a house on Virginia Park that he and other VFA fellows purchased at the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction and are renovating into a home for future fellows.

Bosche's VFA job consisted of working with the leadership team at Bizdom in downtown Detroit, helping many of the startups in the incubator tell their stories through short videos. Bosche and fellow VFAer Dan Bloom parlayed that experience into TernPro, a full-service video production company serving the tech scene in downtown Detroit.

Slope is its first principal product, and it's set to launch into private Beta next week. TernPro's team of six people is aiming for a public launch later this summer.

"We have over 200 signups now," Bosche says. "We have 20 companies lined up for that in our private Beta."

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

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

Kraemer Design Group adds 10 new people as it fills up office

Kraemer Design Group has a good problem. The architecture firm has been adding staff so fast it has run out of places to put new hires.

"We are trying to grow," says Bob Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group. "We are struggling with the fact that we are out of desks."

The downtown Detroit-based company has hired eight people over the last year and is in the process of bringing two more onboard. Those new hires were primarily arcitects and interior designers, rounding out the firm’s staff at 28 employees and two summer interns.

Kraemer Design Group is now looking to redesign its office to accommodate those new hires. Its home is in the office space section of the Detroit Opera House parking garage overlooking Broadway Street.

Two factors are prompting this growth: Kraemer Design Group's international work, which consists primarily of hotel designs and carried the company through the Great Recession, and adaptive reuse design work in downtown Detroit. The firm has been handling the design of several major recent projects like the David Whitney Building rehab and the new home of the Archdiocese of Detroit at 1212 Griswold.

Kraemer Design Group is currently working on several other renovation projects in downtown Detroit, including the old Kresge Department Store at 1201 Woodward and The Griswold apartments project on top of the Westin Book-Cadillac's parking structure. The firm is also working on the new offices for Covisint in Southfield.

Source: Bob Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Challenge Detroit doubles staff after it hires two former fellows


Challenge Detroit has started off the new year by doubling its staff, hiring two of its former fellows as the nonprofit begins recruiting a new class of young talent to the Motor City.

"It just makes sense to connect with these fellows," says Deirdre Greene Grooves, executive director of Challenge Detroit. "Hiring alumni makes a lot of sense."

Challenge Detroit matches recent college grads with local employers in an effort to attract talented young people to work and live in the city. Each fellowship lasts a year and provides the participants with a housing stipend. Every fellow volunteers during the program and participates in other activities that get them involved in Detroit's civic life.

Brittany Sanders and Caroline Dobbins both did stints as fellows before joining the program as staff. Sanders will work as a program manager and Dobbins as an events and operations manager. Challenge Detroit now employs four people. It also has a board of directors of 17 people, including the recent addition of Lindsey Walenga, co-founder of Siren PR.

Challenge Detroit applications for the 2015 class of fellows are currently open and are du March 8. This year's list of fellows is expected to be finalized by mid June with the fellows starting work by this fall.

Greene-Groves expects this year's class to round out to 30 fellows. Last year's class consisted of 35, but such a high total was a one-year anomaly.

"Last year we had a lot of great hosts and a lot of great fellows," Greene Grooves says.

Source: Deirdre Greene Grooves, executive director of Challenge Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Using advanced statistics, 6th Man Apps helps coaches make data-driven lineup decisions

6th Man Apps spent its first year building and launching its principal technology platform. This year, the downtown Detroit-based startup is looking to expand on that success.

The one-year-old mobile app company's first product is HoopMetrics, which uses advanced statistics and analytics to help basketball coaches and teams maximize their lineups. The idea is to make it easy for coaches pick the best players to put on the floor, emphasizing  players who might not be easily identified using traditional statistics.

"We have seen huge growth month by month," says Luke Geiger, co-founder of 6th Man Apps. "Every month has broken the record for teams using the app in games."

Basketball teams in just about every league outside of the NBA are using the app. That list includes NCAA teams in every major conference in Divisions I, II, and III. Teams in the Chinese Basketball Association and Puerto Rican National Basketball League are also using it.

The two-man team behind 6th Man Apps is now looking to build out the interface so it can be accessed from the web. It is also looking at finishing up a similar app for baseball.

"We want to finish up HoopMetrics first, and make sure it is an excellent app," Geiger says.

Source: Luke Geiger, co-founder of 6th Man Apps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Josh Linkner launches new startup, Fuel Leadership

High-profile serial entrepreneur Josh Linkner is launching a new startup with the goal of disrupting the business leadership development space, Fuel Leadership.

Linkner has made a name for himself by molding tech firm ePrize (now known as HelloWorld) from launch to acquisition and co-founding downtown Detroit-based venture capital firm Detroit Venture Partners. He is also the author of two New York Times bestsellers, "Disciplined Dreaming" and "The Road to Reinvention," which focus on innovation in entrepreneurship.

Fuel Leadership promises to be in a similar vein. The startup's debut press release describes itself as "disrupting the stale, low-quality, expensive and time-draining leadership development business model by delivering bold and high-octane one-day conferences offering timely and relevant topics by superstar speakers, fused with a year-long subscription to proprietary online leadership development content."

"I just think the model is broken," Linkner says. "The bottom line is the whole thing (leadership development conference today) is expensive, time-consuming, and low-quality."

Fuel Leadership's secret sauce is maximizing time and providing support over time. The startup will bring one-day, high-impact conferences focused on leadership training to a variety of cities across the U.S., so executives won't have to lose days to travel. The first, on April 13th, will be held at MotorCity Casino and feature guests like Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Ford CEO Mark Fields. Two more yet-to-be-announced conferences will be held across the U.S. later in the year. Fuel Leadership plans to hire between 6 and 8 people next year, eventually working his way up to a staff of between 30 and 40 in the U.S. and abroad.

The other part of Fuel Leadership’s equation is offering support to those who participate in a conference through a year-long membership in Fuel Online. The online resource offers a plethora of learning materials on leadership, including 5,000 videos, 500 archived webinars, CEO interviews, and book summaries.

The downtown Detroit-based startup currently employs four people and currently is looking to hire sales professionals and project managers. Linkner expects those number to increase significantly over the next year.

"We are going to be ramping up in the coming months," Linkner says.

Source: Josh Linkner, chairman of Fuel Leadership
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Guitar pedal maker Red Panda expands product line, staff, and office space in Midtown's Green Garage


Red Panda is a music tech startup that has a little bit more of everything this year. The Midtown-based company has added seed capital, new products, more employees, and a bigger space in the Green Garage.

"It's a space that is three times larger," says Curt Malouin, owner of Red Panda. "It's a little more than 600 square feet."

The 3-year-old startup makes digital guitar pedals for musicians. Guitar pedals have traditionally been analog pieces of technology. Malouin is an electrical engineer with experience working with analog circuitry in the automotive industry. He leveraged that experience to create new guitar pedals that focus on digital signal processing.

Red Panda has a new product in development and recently released another. Bitmap is a bitcrusher with fractional bit reduction and sample rate modulation. It digitized a guitar signal and reduces its sampling rate and fidelity.

"So it sounds like an 8-bit computer or an Atari video game sound," explains Malouin in layman terms.

Increased sales of Red Panda’s products has allowed it to move to a bigger space and double its staff to four people over the last year. The startup also landed a $10,000 NEIdeas grant last fall that is allowing it to purchase new manufacturing equipment that will allow it print graphics on its products and prompt it to hire more staff.

"Bringing graphic printing in house is much more environmentally friendly and faster than screen printing," Malouin says. "It will allow us to bring more products to the market quicker."

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

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

Sidewalk Ventures aims to connect Detroitís entrepreneurs with investors

Jeff Aronoff worked for three years as the executive director of D:hive, the downtown Detroit-based nonprofit that, among other things, helped aspiring entrepreneurs realize their dreams and small businesses grow. That experience led him to his new venture, Sidewalk Ventures.

"I really discovered that there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are successful and have great products and revenues but still have difficulty finding access to money," Aronoff says.

Sidewalk Ventures aims to bridge that gap by helping local businesses leverage community-based investment. The 3-week-old company essentially pairs Detroit-based entrepreneurs and small businesses with local investors so the companies can grow and provide a smart profit to their backers.

The Midtown-based company will focus primarily on helping local retail businesses, but it is also looking to work with food companies and small-scale manufacturers. It will aim to help entrepreneurs raise anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million.

"Our sweet spot is $100,000 to $500,000," Aronoff says.

Sidewalk Ventures is already working with a handful of Detroit-based companies, and Aronoff expects that number to grow significantly as the year goes on and his firm establishes itself.

"Our goal is to start fundraising and close a deal by the end of the first quarter," Aronoff says.

Source: Jeff Aronoff, founder & principal of Sidewalk Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Touch of Class scores NEIdeas grant to expand restoration business

David Moss's path to entrepreneurship is a fairly familiar one. He started in business as a kid with a paper route. As a grown-up, he went to work in corporate America as a quality analyst, but he grew tired of that and decided to go back into business for himself, starting Touch of Class Restoration.

"When you start with that mentality, it just keeps growing on you," Moss says.

Started 14 years ago as a cleaning business, Touch of Class Restoration has evolved into a remediation company specializing in cleaning up water and fire damage. Moss made the transition after learning there were higher profit margins in that niche.

The company suffered a major setback a 18 months ago when a burglary left Moss with a lot of work and no equipment. Since then, the company's fortunes have changed for the better. Moss applied for a $10,000 NEIdeas grant, which Touch of Class Restoration won last fall.

"I bought a lot of new equipment," Moss says. "I wasn't going to let criminals run me out of Detroit."

Source: David Moss, president of Touch of Class Restoration
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grand Circus, a magazine of Detroit culture, set to launch in spring


Eileen Tjan and Alex Trajkovski are both native Michiganders who have bounced around other major cities across the U.S. including New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. But the pair’s passion lay back in Detroit.

"I had to constantly defend Detroit to everyone," Trajkovski says. "I didn't really want to be in New York and was really proud to be from Detroit. And I realized most people don't know anything about Detroit."

"Our roots are in the Midwest and Michigan," Tjan says. "A lot of our friends were moving back to Detroit and doing some cool work. We wanted to be part of it."

So they are launching their own publication focused on life in the Motor City.

Grand Circus Magazine will be a glossy magazine that focuses on the lifestyle of artists, young people, and creatives in Detroit. The four-person team behind it will work on featuring everything from fashion editorials to city guides.

"It's going to be a pretty deep dive into the cultural significance of Detroit right now," Tjan says.

Operating out of Palmer Park, the partners plan to print the first edition of Grand Circus early this spring. First, however, they will launch a crowdfunding campaign to help fund startup costs. The team paid many of those costs out of pocket and hope the crowdfunding campaign will raise enough to reimburse them.

"That will go toward the cost of printing and other upfront costs," Trajkovski says.

Source: Eileen Tjan and Alex Trajkovski, co-founders of Grand Circus Magazine
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute opens in Corktown

The American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute opened the doors of its new facility in Corktown last week, a move that promises to bring the 21st century manufacturing jobs to a city long famous for the things it builds.

The innovation acceleration center is partnering with major corporations and institutions of higher education to help bring new manufacturing technologies utilizing lightweight materials to market through its "Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow" program.

"This is industry-driven," says Lawrence Brown, executive director of the American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute. "They help identify the gaps and we as a team will come together and develop solutions for these gaps."

The new 100,000 square-foot facility required $148 million in investment so it could bring new manufacturing technology from the research lab to the production floor. It is partnering with the likes of the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, General Electric, Boeing, and Eaton Corp to push the envelope of advanced manufacturing.

The American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute currently employs three people and is looking to hire a couple more, all administrative positions. Brown expects to expand the staff to nearly 30 people over the next 18 months with the addition of engineering and R&D staff.

"We're trying to ramp up now," Brown says.

Source: Lawrence Brown, executive director of the American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Above and Beyond Orthopedics leverages NEIdeas grant to grow business

Above and Beyond Orthopedics plans to use a grant it won from the recent NEIdeas competition to add a key piece of equipment and create more jobs.

The 3-year-old prosthetics company won the $2,000 late last year, which awards grants to Detroit-based businesses looking for seed capital to grow. The money will go toward the purchase of an oven that will allow the Riverfront-based company to bring more of its production to Detroit and hire a few more employees.

"It (the oven) helps us do in-house fabrication of prosthetics instead of outsourcing it to other states," says YaVonne Money, owner of Above and Beyond Orthopedics.

Money is a native Detroiter and a graduate of Murray-Wright High School and Wayne County Community College District. She spent several years out of state to learn about prosthetics. She came home three years ago to open her business with an ambition of doing right by the community that raised her.

"I felt like I had a need to give back to the people who helped become the individual I am today," Money says.

Today Above and Beyond employs four people after hiring a biller over the last year. Money plans to hire a couple more later this year soon after her new oven arrives.

Source: YaVonne Money, owner of Above and Beyond Orthopedics
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Furniture maker continues growth in Russell Industrial Center


Alan Kaniarz started working out of the Russell Industrial Center before it was cool...before it was even a destination for artisans and small businesses.

Kaniarz moved into the Russell Industrial Center in 1988. He and a handful of other woodworkers took over a few thousand square feet of the industrial space and created a wood shop. A few years later he took over his own space (6,000 square feet) and started to build his two business (AK Services and Mobel Link Modern Furniture) from there.

"I never thought I would be there this long," Kaniarz says. "When we moved in here the Russell Center was largely utilized by people in the printing business. Everything that had anything to do with printing was done there."

That ended in the early 2000s as many of the printing businesses left. A series of new owners came and went until Greektown-based real-estate investor Dennis Kefallinos bought the Russell in 2003. He saw a couple of local artisans like Kaniarz making a go of it in a few thousand square feet of cheap commercial space and used that as inspiration to make the Russell Industrial Center the entrepreneurial hub it is today.

"The Russell Center has way more of a neighborhood feel than it used to," Kaniarz says.

AK Services has been working in the Russell Industrial Center since the first day Kaniarz moved in, making custom doors, fixing stain-glass windows, and restoring vintage lights. Kaniarz launched Mobel Link Modern Furniture a few years ago and started selling custom furniture, too.

"The introduction of the furniture line has definitely added to the bottom line," Kaniarz says.

Revenues are up about five percent over the last year, and Kaniarz expects that number to keep growing. Today his two businesses have grown to employ three people and Kaniarz is optimistic that number will grow, too.

Source: Alan Kaniarz, president for life of AK Services and Mobel Link Modern Furniture
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Corridor Sausage doubles in size, eyes Chicago, Cleveland markets


Since it launched five years ago, Corridor Sausage has become something of a household name in metro Detroit. The artisan sausage maker spent the last year growing its brand statewide, doubling in size in the process.

"2014 was great," says Will Branch, co-owner of Corridor Sausage. "It was our first full year to cover distribution across Michigan."

In 2015, Branch and his partner have their sights beyond Michigan, hoping to expand into other major Midwestern markets like Chicago and Cleveland.

"We really want to grow the brand," Branch says. "There is a lot of excitement for it."

Corridor Sausage made a permanent home in Eastern Market a couple of years ago after receiving approval from the USDA to sell its products in large quantities, which in turn enabled the company to meet its growing demand.

"Each year we have grown," Branch says. "We have a least doubled our revenue each year."

And the number of places where people can buy Corridor Sausage has grown at the same rate. The company can be found in a variety of restaurants and grocery stores, and some high-profile spots including The Henry Ford. It also opened a new location in Ford Field last year, and is talking to the Michigan International Speedway about a potential stand there later this year. Corridor Sausage is also preparing to open a stand in Metro Airport in August.

"It's an audience (in Metro Airport) that would probably never see us otherwise," Branch says.

Corridor Sausage currently employs 10 people, adding several interns each summer. It has hired seven people over the last year, including sales and production professionals.

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

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

iRule lands $2.5 million in venture capital with Series AA round

When the Quicken Loans family of companies launched the M@dison Building building a few years ago, it envisioned the building serving as a hub for high-growth tech startups. Startups like iRule, a M@dison Building-based company that just raised $2.5 million in venture capital.

The five-year-old company makes a cloud-based universal remote control system for entertainment centers that can be operated from the user's mobile device. The $2.5 million will go toward the further development of the company’s product line.

"It will continue to fuel our growth both in terms of products and manpower," says Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule.

The $2.5 million in seed capital comes from existing investors like Detroit Venture Partners and new investors like AOL co-founder Steve Case. Ben-Gal says this round of venture capital is a Series AA for his firm.

The tech startup has grown its revenue by 50 percent over the last year and Ben-Gal expects his company to do it again in 2015. That has allowed iRule to hire seven people over the last year, including four in the last quarter. It currently has a staff of 21 employees and two interns and is looking to hire several software developers.

"We're always interviewing for that position," Ben-Gal says. "We're constantly growing so if the right person walked through the door, we would find a way to bring him onboard."

Source: Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Franco Public Relations Group grows staff to 20 as it celebrates 50th anniversary

Franco Public Relations Group is celebrating its 50th anniversary with its biggest growth spurt in a long time. The downtown Detroit-based firm hired four people in 2014 thanks to 20 percent revenue growth.

"It was better than we have done in year-over-year growth than we have done in about a decade," says Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group.

The boutique public relations firm has been a staple in downtown Detroit for decades. It moved its office to the Renaissance Center when the building opened in 1977 and has been there ever since. The company now has a staff of 20 employees and two interns. Its newest hires include an assistant account executive, a manager, and a director.

The newly expanded staff is now offering more than the traditional public relations services. It has expanded to include content generation, social media, and integrated marketing. Franco Public Relations Group has also expanded clientele, adding high-profile firms like Punch Bowl Social, which just opened a new location in downtown Detroit.

Kozak is optimistic her company will continue to grow at a similar rate this year, though she points out that Franco Public Relations Group is focusing on doing good business, not just more business. The current economic climate, however, is making growth easier today than it was just a few years ago.

"There is more work out there now," Kozak says. "Businesses we are working with now are loosening up their budgets a little bit."

Source: Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hemingwrite offers word processor minus the distractions

A new startup called Hemingwrite is working to build a word processor that looks like a typewriter, works like a computer, and limits potential distractions.

The downtown Detroit-based company is well on its way to raising enough money to pull it off. Hemingwrite has already raised $322,701 in a crowd funding campaign as of Monday night with 10 days left to go. Hemingwrite has already surpassed its goal of $250,000, which it met within 36 hours.

Patrick Paul and Adam Leeb first started developing Hemingwrite last May. Previously, Leeb worked in e-commerce and investment banking and Paul worked in software and rooftop solar systems. Both saw an opportunity in simplifying the process of writing in the distraction-filled world of the 21st century.

"I've used distraction-free software before and it’s too easy to minimize and get on Facebook or Twitter," Paul says. "Adam came back to me and said let's make a piece of hardware."

The partners developed a prototype while working in a Detroit-based co-working space over the last six months. They are now entering the final design phase over the next two months and hope to start moving units later this year.

The current design features a normal-sized keyboard and a small screen for the manuscript. The machine automatically saves and syncs its work. It also can’t facilitate other things that are common distractions to writers, such as social media. Paul points out the startup choose the small screen because its already commercially available, and making a custom-sized screen is too costly.

"It also fits into our philosophy of always writing forward and completing a first draft," Paul says.

Source: Patrick Paul, co-founder of Hemingwrite
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fidelis SecureCare hires dozens as it expands in Detroit market

In the age of Obamacare, healthcare company Fidelis SecureCare is streamlining operations, creating efficiencies, and ensuring better care of its customers. The company is also growing its business in Detroit by taking a slow-food approach to providing healthcare.

The California-based company's business plan focuses on providing high-quality healthcare to low-income and chronically ill Detroiters (and suburbanites) through a concierge model instead of the traditional mass production model of healthcare.

"A traditional medical practice has 3,000 patients," says Greg Bellware, chief marketing officer of Fidelis SecureCare. "A concierge office has 600 patients."

That sort of focused service (think everything from more time spent on solving patient problems to home doctor visits) enables healthcare providers to give better care to patients, helping turn chronic illnesses into manageable ones and savng money across the board. The extensive yet centralized nature of Metro Detroit's healthcare system allows Fidelis SeniorCare to maximize its efficiency in this regard.

"We grew quickly in Detroit," Bellware says. "Its urban setting is ideal for our model."

Fidelis SecureCare has grown quickly in Michigan over the last two years. The 15-year-old firm now employs a staff of 60 people in Michigan, about two thirds of which have been hired over the last year. The company's Michigan headquarters is in New Center.

"We expect to accelerate that growth in a huge way," Bellware says. "The company is expected to grow fivefold in the next year."

Source: Greg Bellware, chief marketing officer of Fidelis SecureCare
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Creative Many Michigan moves HQ to TechTown

Creative Many Michigan is moving its headquarters from Wixom to TechTown, bringing with it seven jobs to New Center.

The arts-based-economic-development nonprofit, formerly known as ArtServe Michigan, was renting space in the Detroit Public Television facility in Oakland County. It is now occupying about 1,400 square feet of space to be closer to the heart of the region’s arts scene and its major players, such as the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, which also calls New Center home.

"Clearly Detroit is a major hub for arts and creative industries," says Jennifer Goulet, president & CEO of Creative Many Michigan.

The nonprofit has added one new person to its team of seven people over the last year. It is also looking to add another person. That team plans to spend a large part of 2015 updating the non-profit's Creative State Michigan report, which details the economic impact of the arts and creative communities across the state.

"We are directly working with Detroit Creative Corridor Center for the second phase of our creative economy research," Goulet says.

Source: Jennifer Goulet, president & CEO of Creative Many Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Go! Smoothies leverages tasty drinks to create healthy lifestyles

Go! Smoothies made a name for itself in its first year by opening a downtown location and expanding its product lineup. Now the health-and-wellness company is launching two other brands in 2015: Go! Press and Go! Beyond.

Go! Smoothies is the retail and smoothie end of the business. It also launched Go! Press, which specializes in healthy juices. Both entities operate under the Go! Beyond brand, which was founded by Callie Bradford, Monique Dooley, and Monical Samuel.

"All of us have a passion and background in educations and health-and-wellness-related issues," Samuel says.

Go! Beyond now employs eight people, including a handful at its retail location at 110 Clifford. That team focuses on the production and sale of its smoothie and juice products. The trio of co-founders use those sales to reach more people interested in living a healthier lifestyles.

"We find that products that are aesthetically pleasing and taste good help us talk about other issues with them," Samuel says. "We would like to expand and have a whole wellness campaign going."

Source: Monica Samuel, partner & director of operations of Go! Smoothies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Sadek Legal adds partner, becomes Sadek Bonahoom

Tifani Sadek left corporate law a year ago to start her own practice, Sadek Legal. Today, another former corporate lawyer is joining her firm, which has been renamed Sadek Bonahoom PLC.

Sadek met Erin Bonahoom midway through last year. Both young women were up-and-comers at large local law firms (Bonahoom at Plunkett Cooney and Sadek at Clark Hill), but both had aspirations to start their own practices focused on helping small businesses.

"We hit it off so well," Sadek says. "We have been meeting for months (and talking about working together)."

The friends decided to launch Sadek Bonahoom this month to start the year with a clean slate. The practice will be based out of TechTown and is looking to grow sooner rather than later.

"We're hoping to add an associate later this year," Sadek says. "We're going to see how it goes."

The duo decided that by partnering they could more easily realize their business aspirations and balance the demands of building a law practice. The partnership also allows them take on bigger clients whose needs require the work and expertise of multiple people.

"We are really going into it with a go-getter mindset," Sadek says. "We want to really grow this firm."

Source: Tifani Sadek, founding partner of Sadek Bonahoom PLC
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lambert, Edwards & Associates leverages Detroit office to grow firm

Lambert, Edwards & Associates moved its Metro Detroit office to downtown Detroit two years ago, and now the public relations firm is starting to reap the benefits of the move.

The Grand Rapids-headquartered company has landed six new clients since making the move. Those new customers are mainly in the healthcare, financial, and automotive sectors. Among the new clients is Great Expressions Dental Centers, an Oakland County-based firm that is expanding south of 8 Mile Road. It wanted a PR firm with a presence in Detroit to help it grow in the Motor City.

"Being there is half of it," says Jeff Lambert, president and managing partner of Lambert, Edwards & Associates. "It's also what you are doing there."

Lambert, Edwards & Associates is growing in Detroit. The company has hired five people over the last year and currently is looking to fill two more postitions. The firm now employs 50 people, including 15 in its downtown Detroit office.

"We have hired four people in Detroit in the last 90 days," Lambert says.

Source: Jeff Lambert, president & managing partner of Lambert, Edwards & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Secure Beginnings creates breathable mattress for infants

Sales are starting to gain traction for a breathable mattress for infants that a Detroit-based company is marketing to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Secure Beginnings, which calls Detroit's east riverfront district home, makes a baby mattress that is more like a trampoline than a normal mattress. It is made of a porous frame and bedding material that allows greater air circulation for both infants and toddlers. It contains no fiber-fill. The fabric the child sleeps on enables airflow to prevent harmful levels of carbon dioxide from building up near a baby’s head, even if the child is on its stomach.

"It's basically the same type of fabric you see on tennis shoes," says Julie Andreae, executive vice president of Secure Beginnings.

Andreae is one of the three co-founders who all had family or friends go through the traumatic experience of losing a child to SIDS.

"One is an industrial designer for Ford," Andreae says. "He basically designed it for his own children. We decided to redesign and make it more user-friendly."

Secure Beginnings now has three product lines, two of which were launched over the last year. The expansion has allowed annual sales to grow to $500,000. The company also expanded its core team to six people after adding two more employees. It is looking to hire two people now and add interns in January. The newly expanded team -- along with some new investors -- is aiming to help the company gain even more market traction in 2015.

"We hope to increase sales a lot more this year," Andreae says.

Source: Julie Andreae, executive vice president of Secure Beginnings
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Virtuoso Design + Build expands staff to five, looks for own workspace

Mark Klimkowski graduated with a master's degree in architecture from the University of Detroit Mercy in 2009 and immediately went into one of the worst job markets for new graduates in generations. So instead of waiting or someone to give him a job, he created his own with Virtuoso Design + Build.

The downtown Detroit-based venture specializes in everything from interior design to construction build outs. Choosing the more active end of the built environment work was an easy choice for Klimkowski.

"I didn't want to sit at a desk all day," Klimkowski says. "I wanted to get my hands dirty."

Today Virtuoso Design + Build is keeping Klimkowski and several others busy. The company is an active participant in the building boom in downtown Detroit, handling design and build out work for Bedrock Real Estate Services, Hello Innovation and Crema, a new bakery set to open in Greektown.

"We have grown a lot in the last year," Klimkowski says. "I have four full-time employees now."

To accomodate its growth, the company is looking to find its own home that comes complete with a wood shop and office space. Klimkowski hopes to use it not only as a base for Virtuoso's project work, but also as a place to launch its own furniture line.

"We want to be in our own place with design and building space," Klimkowski says.

Source: Mark Klimkowski, owner of Virtuoso Design + Build
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

IT pro turns biz owner with Erickson & Associates, GEEPS.US

Hans Erickson's career is going well and he has a great job, but he wants an even better one. That's why the Grosse Pointe resident is launching two new businesses Erickson & Associates and GEEPS.US.

Erickson is the current CIO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, but he plans to step down from that position in January to pursue his two new enterprises full-time. His day job ended up serving as the inspiration for his first venture, GEEPS.US.

"Anybody in the IT field ends up at one time or another with someone asking them for help," Erickson says.

GEEPS.US is memory stick that everyday people can use to rescue data from a failing computer or use it to erase the memory of a computer at the end of its life. Erickson has been working on the product for two years and now has a patent pending on it. He is launching it early next year and hopes to have it on the shelves of major retailers before the end of 2015.

Erickson is also launching Erickson & Associates, a technology consulting firm. He hopes to use the skills he's sharpened over a few decades to help local small businesses find the best pieces of 21st century technology to make them more useful.

"This is an opportunity for me to help small businesses in and around Detroit to take advantage of the technology out there," Erickson says. "It's a great equalizer."

Erickson plans to run both enterprises out of downtown Detroit in 2015 and is currently looking for office space in the city's central business district.

Source: Hans Erickson, president of Erickson & Associations and GEEPS.US
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Labs hires 30, launches mobile app for Detroit Police Dept.

The Detroit Police Department is launching a new app today aimed at helping it better communicate and interact with the people living and working in the Motor City.

The DPD Connect app (available for Andriod and iPhone) will provide streamlined pathways for users to report tips to police, a phone directory for the city’s public safety agencies, links to the police departments social media channels, and news/crime statistics. Users will be able to leave anonymous tips (delivered through an independent third-party service to ensure anonymity) and also access local public safety numbers, such as community officers and neighborhood precincts.

"The whole theme is to better connect people to the police department," says Will McDowell, a business analyst with Detroit Labs, which built the app.

The Detroit Police Department approached the downtown Detroit-based software firm to create the mobile app earlier this year. McDowell oversaw the construction of the app, which was worked on by a large team from Detroit Labs including five of the company’s interns.

Detroit Labs has hired 30 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 75 people. It recently moved from the M@dison Building into a bigger office in the M@dison Building (1520 Woodward) earlier this year. Many of its new hires come from the company's apprentice program, which trains software developers and paves the way for full-time employment at the company. The firm is also looking to hire established software developers.

"We're always looking for good developers," says Bill Camp, who works in planning and development at Detroit Labs.

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

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

Woodward Throwbacks sets up woodshop just west of Corktown

A fledgling business turning old, discarded building materials into new products is building out its new home on the western edge of Corktown.

"We're going to turn it into our new studio," says Kyle Dubay, co-founder of Woodward Throwbacks.

Dubay and his partner, Bo Shepherd, launched Woodward Throwbacks a little more than year ago, making consumer products from wood they found at illegal dumping sites around the city. The products ranged from bottle-opener signs to six-pack containers that resemble lunch boxes from the early 20th century.

"One thing led to another and soon we were selling them in Eastern Market," Dubay says. "I can't believe we have grown this much this quickly."

The growth prompted them to purchase a building on Michigan Avenue just west of I-75. The new space will expand the company’s production capabilities. The structure has been vacant for years, leaving it in need of significant renovations. Woodward Throwbacks is currently trying to raise $10,000 in a crowd funding campaign to pay for some of the upgrades.

"The building was ravaged by thieves before we got it," Dubay says.

Dubay and Shepherd hope to begin wholesaling their products once they move into the new space. They aspire to turn Woodward Throwbacks into a national brand with its products available at retail outlets across the U.S.

Source: Kyle Dubay, founder of Woodward Throwbacks
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wayne State, Fontinalis Partners launch investment programs

A pair of new but different investment vehicles are debuting in Detroit this year. One is a small fund managed by college students and the second is a special venture fund of one of the largest venture capital firms in city.

Wayne State University's School of Business recently received a $100,000 gift from Fifth Third Bank to open a student-managed investment fund. The fund will give the students access to a pool of money, giving them direct experience in stock portfolio management. The program mimics the structure of an asset management team, similar to those at Fidelity or Vanguard.

"We hope to raise more money for it," says Bob Forsythe, dean of the School of Business at Wayne State University.

The class that manages the fund will start in January. Forsythe hopes to expand the fund’s size to seven figures within the next few years through donations and returns on investments.

Fontinalis Partners, the venture capital firm co-founded by Bill Ford focused on next-generation mobility, is launching a Special Venture Partner program. There are five new members of the downtown Detroit-based VC's special venture partner program who will work to support Fontinalis' portfolio companies' efforts to reach new markets and advise their leadership teams.

Source: Bob Forsythe, dean of the School of Business at Wayne State University
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Manufacturing Systems aims to hire 200

Detroit Manufacturing Systems is in the process of hiring 200 people for its new manufacturing facility near Brightmoor.

The company specializes in making automotive interior systems and employs about 750 people. It took over an older plant in 2012 to build the new aluminum body for the Ford F-150 pickup.

"The facility, the former Massey Ferguson plant, was ideal for manufacturing and is located near Brightmoor, one of Detroit's most underserved communities," Andra M. Rush, chair and CEO of Detroit Manufacturing Systems, wrote in an email.

Detroit Manufacturing Systems recently held two job fairs in November to begin filling the 200 positions. Those jobs are mostly entry-level positions that are full-time and come with benefits. The firm expects to fill them by January. Click here for more information on the positions.

"We're always looking for talented people," Rush wrote in an email.

Source: Andra M. Rush, chair and CEO of Detroit Manufacturing Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelEleven doubles staff as it debuts new software

LevelEleven is expanding its technology offerings and expanding its staff in downtown Detroit.

The 2-year-old startup has nearly doubled its staff since January, growing from 16 employees at the beginning of 2014 to 28 staff members today. Currently, the company has eight positions open in sales, software developers, customer service, and business development. Those hires and openings are inline with the tech startup's growing revenue.

"We have been growing at a very rapid pace," says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven. "We have been growing at a rate of 200 to 300 percent and we plan to continue that."

LevelEleven spun out of HelloWorld to sell an enterprise gamification app (native to the salesforce platform) that helps motivate sales professionals and tracks their progress. The company just added the Scorecard feature, which offers personalized analytics and historical trends for salespeople that allow managers and teams to assess and respond to key pieces of data.

So where LevelEleven’s technology was primarily based on leaderboards to spark competition, Scorecard allows its users to dig into their performance so they can better compete.

"It will give them a simple snapshot on their mobile device," Marsh says. "The individual employee can monitor their performance day to day."

LevelEleven has raised $5.6 million in seed capital since its launch, including an investment from downtown-based Detroit Venture Partners. It recently landed a $2 million convertible note that will be rolled into its coming Series A raise.

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

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

C/D/H grows Detroit office after executing two mergers

C/D/H has been busy since moving its Metro Detroit office to downtown Detroit last spring. The software firm has executed two mergers and, as a result, has expanded its staff.

The Grand Rapids-based company specializes in technology consulting. It moved its metro Detroit office from downtown Royal Oak to downtown Detroit’s Wright Kay Building to be closer to its customers and the region's emerging urban core. Since then, C/D/H has merged with Grand Rapids-based Blue Sphere Solutions and Rochester-based Coil Group.

Jim Brown, partner & director of sales & marketing for C/D/H and the former owner of Coil Group, says the merger made sense because C/D/H provides stability and strength that only comes with experience, which in C/D/H's case totals nearly 25 years.

"It allowed my firm to reach into that base of customers," Brown says. "More importantly, it allows us to leverage the strength and stability of a firm that has been around for 24 years."

He adds that the recent mergers make sense for C/D/H, too, because it allows the larger, more established company to reinvigorate itself with new talent, ideas, and energy.

"You don't last 24 years in technology without constantly reinvigorating yourself and even reinventing yourself," Brown says.

C/D/H provides consulting services that specialize in collaboration, infrastructure, unified communications, mobility, and project management in the software sector. It is a Microsoft-certified Gold Partner, a VMware Professional Partner, and has earned top certification with Novell, Citrix, and Cisco Systems.

The company employs 31 people, including 10 employees at its downtown Detroit post. The firm has added three people at its metro Detroit office over the last six months. Those new jobs are all centered on software development. Brown says the company expects to continue to expand in 2015 but is not eyeing any more acquisitions for at least another year.

"We are open to opportunities beyond that," Brown says. "We don't have anything in our sights at the moment, but it’s certainly on our radar."

Source: Jim Brown, partner & director of sales & marketing for C/D/H
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Benzinga creates jobs with its move to downtown Detroit

When Model D first spoke with Jason Raznick, he talked about hiring, specifically about how his startup Benzinga needed software developers. He said he would give Tigers playoff tickets as a finder fee for a connection that led to the hiring of a software developer.

That was a little more than three years ago. Benzinga was gearing up to move into his fledgling financial news company into its new offices in Southfield to accommodate its growth. At the time the company employed 15 people -- about one for each month of its age -- and was hiring.

Today Benzinga is more than double that size (35 people) and is planning to move to downtown Detroit. Over the last year, Benzinga has hired a dozen people (mostly software developers and journalists) and currently is looking to hire another five people. In fact, look up Raznick's LinkedIn page and his job is listed as "CEO - We're hiring!"

Those new jobs are coming to the Campus Martuis area of downtown next spring. While the firm hopes to contribute to efforts to rebuild the Motor City by relocating downtown, an even bigger reason for the move is so the company can grow by leveraging the urban core and downtown Detroit’s emerging tech scene to attract talent.

"We think we can have a big impact on Detroit," Raznick says. "And Detroit can have a big impact on us."

Benzinga is known as a online financial news publication in the vein of Bloomberg, selling information to stock traders toiling on websites. It makes its money from one of three sources: Benzinga Pro (its premium subscription service), selling data, and traditional advertising. Each new employee is given the freedom to come up with new ideas to generate revenue for the company. It’s part of a company culture Raznick likes to call a Doarchy. Check out a TED Talk he gave about it here.

"We're not one business," Raznick says. "We're opportunists."

Others have taken notice. Benzinga received a nearly $2 million seed capital round led by Lightbank, the Chicago-based venture capital firm started by Groupon's co-founders. Raznick has entertained offers for further investment that would require him to move the company to a different big city, such as New York, but he turned them down.

Despite refusing those offers, Benzinga has doubled its revenue several times, and Raznick thinks his startup is at the base of its hockey stick growth spurt.

"We're getting some serious revenue right now," Raznick says. "I don't think there is a limit to our revenue growth right now."

Source: Jason Raznick, CEO of Benzinga
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Building Hugger finds opportunity in the historic preservation of Detroit structures

When Amy Swift moved back to Michigan in 2011, the newly minted Ivy Leaguer had a master's degree in historic preservation from Columbia University, but not much else.

"I wasn't sure what was next at that point," Swift says. But it didn't take long for the architect to fall in love with Detroit, so she launched her own business: Building Hugger.

"I was really inspired by the opportunities that were here," Swift says.

Building Hugger specializes in historic preservation. If that seems broad, then know that such a wide focus wasn’t accidental. Today the company specializes in everything from design to renovating distressed properties to refurbishing historic windows.

"I founded Building Hugger before I knew what the focus would be," Swift says. "I found a lot of different projects. Some have been successes. Some have been failures. Some have been both. It’s to the point where I now know exactly what Building Hugger is."

The Detroit resident has participated in a recent auction of tax foreclosed properties and is working on rehabbing a couple of single family homes -- one at the front and the other at the rear of the same lot -- near Clark Park in southwest Detroit. You can check out the business plan for the project here.

Swift also is working in a number of construction trades, taking a special interest in window restoration. She has recently been working on restoring the windows of the Venture For America house in Virginia Park, and is taking on more similar projects.

"There is a lot of room for growth in this area," Swift says.

Source: Amy Swift, founder & principal of Building Hugger
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Inventev scores win at Accelerate Michigan hybrid truck technology

Inventev scored a win at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition earlier this month, adding $25,000 in seed capital to its current fundraising efforts.

"It will really help us with analytics so we can continue to match our product to customer needs," says Dave Stenson, founder & CEO of Inventev. "It will also help us with raising financing."

The TechTown-based startup is aiming to raise $5 million to bring its automotive hybrid technology to market. The company is looking to raise two tranches of money, and Stenson expects to close on the first $1.5 million in the first quarter of next year.
Inventev is developing a hybrid-electric system for commercial trucks. The technology is a new transmission architecture that allows electric machines to operate other aspects of the trucks, such as the hydraulic lift. That way the trucks' diesel engines don't need to idle while they dump their loads. The truck would also generate its own electricity so workers could use it as a generator.

"This isn't just a work truck," Stenson says. "This is a truck that is a job-site tool."

That technology won the Advanced Transportation category of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, which comes with $25,000 in seed capital. Inventev’s team of five people used the event to sharpen the startup’s business plan and help move the company toward its fundraising goal.

"It's a top-shelf event that is becoming even more well-known and respected in and outside of the state," Stenson says.

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

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

Minority Business Access Fund aims to lend $100M to Detroit small biz

Minority business owners in Detroit are getting a new pool of money to dip into, and it's a big one.

The Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council is launching the Minority Business Access Fund, a $100 million loan vehicle offering liquidity assistance to small- and medium-sized businesses. That could mean everything from multi-million dollar automotive suppliers to family owned businesses.

"We hope this will be a great value to the businesses in the neighborhoods of Detroit," says Louis Green, president of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council.

The Minority Business Access Fund will offer up to $100 million annually to local minority-owned firms. That could be ten $10 million loans or 1,000 $100,000 loans. Green expects to make 75 to 100 loans in the first year.

The Minority Business Access Fund is meant to address the cash-flow needs of minority-owned businesses. Small businesses often find themselves in a cash crunch to meet things like payroll because of hiccups in payments from customers. Minority-owned firms have traditionally been underserved by traditional lending institutions, and this fund is meant to help bridge that gap. Although the fund is sponsored by a council focused on helping minority-owned automotive suppliers, the fund will be open to all comers of color.

"It's open to folks in lots of industries," Green says. "We're talking to folks in healthcare and folks who are working on the M-1 Rail. We're talking to a lot of folks."

Source: Louis Green, president of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Local Portion focuses on details of interior design

Interior design isn't just about the color of the walls or the style of furniture; It's just as much about the details in the room, such as what artwork is on the wall or what sort of vase holds flowers.

A new design firm in Midtown is tackling those sorts of details. Local Portion aims to provide functional, smart design for commercial and living spaces, utilizing hand-crafted furniture and art made by Detroit makers.

"I decided to establish my own company so I could do this full-time," says Elysia Vandenbussche-Kelly, founder of Local Portion. "I really care about design and handcrafted objects."

Local Portion works on both residential and commercial spaces (commercial clients include Shinola and other local retailers), tackling everything from intricate tile installations to finding the perfect cups or bowls for a space. In some instances, Local Portions will find the right piece of art for a space.

Vandenbussche-Kelly would like to expand to the east coast and abroad over the next year, though she plans to keep the focus of her work in Detroit.

"I hope to development more of a creative team," Vandenbussche-Kelly says. "I have people who would love to come on full-time."

Source: Elysia Vandenbussche-Kelly, founder of Local Portion
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Címon To My House bridges home-cooked meals and eating out

There is something about a home-cooked meal. Something people would be willing to pay solid price for so they don't have to cook it or clean up afterward. Jim Renberg is looking to make that connection with his new company, C'mon To My House.

The Sherwood Forest-based company provides a chef service at people’s houses. Renberg goes to a client’s home and throws a dinner party. There is no menu. No choice on the customer’s part. They just get to enjoy the home-cooked meal Renberg fixes for them without any of the hassle.

"It's an ever-changing menu," Renberg says. "If you were to come to my house you wouldn't choose from a menu. You would eat what I made you."

Renberg, who is also co-owner of preservation firm Brush Park Studio, is looking at launching his firms as pop-ups out of the Good Cakes and Bakes space on Livernois in the Avenue of Fashion within the next few weeks.

"We're talking about it becoming permanent," Renberg says.

Source: Jim Renberg, co-owner of C’mon To My House
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Startups from NextEnergy, Bizdom win big at Accelerate Michigan


Startups with close ties to two Detroit-based business accelerators practically swept the top prizes the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week.

Clients of NextEnergy and Bizdom took home 83 percent of the $810,000 in prize money, including the top two spots worth a combined $600,000 in seed capital. NextEnergy’s startups led the way, taking home four prizes in the competition.

"The companies we work with are in a pretty good spot," says Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy. She adds that 13 NextEnergy client startups made the semifinals, too. "They tend to do pretty well because they got pretty good support."

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is an annual business plan competition held in downtown Detroit. It awards $1 million in seed capital and services to new economy startups either based in Michigan or looking to move to the Great Lakes State.

SkySpecs took home the top prize worth $500,000 for its sophisticated collision-avoidance system for drones that enables them to inspect wind turbines, utility towers, and other pieces of infrastructure. NextEnergy helped the Ann Arbor-based company with its go-to-market strategy, partnerships matchmaking, and fundraising.

Cribspot was named the runner up ($100,000) for its software platform that helps connect college students to off-campus rental housing. The one-year-old startup graduated from Bizdom earlier this year and just finished raising a $660,000 seed round.

The following NextEnergy client startups won sub-category prizes worth $25,000 each: Solartonic (Energy), Ornicept (IT), and Inventev (Transportation). Redfield points out that the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition helps these companies not only by providing them with seed capital, networking opportunities, and exposure, but also with a good inspiration to move quickly.

"It gives them a set of deadlines and high expectations to perform to," Redfield says. "We always speak about speed in regards to startups. Competition deadlines are a great way to bring speed to the table."

Source: Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Development Fund lands $10M for small business lending throughout the city

The Detroit Development Fund recently landed $10 million in new funding that will allow it to make loans to more small businesses throughout Detroit.

The downtown-based nonprofit makes loans to small businesses, developers, and entrepreneurs in Detroit and has invested in excess of $27 million to 214 recipients. Of those, 64 percent are minority-owned ventures and 49 percent are owned by women. The fund currently has $23 million under its management.

This summer, the Detroit Development Fund received $10 million in new funding -- $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $5 million from Huntington Bank. The Goldman Sachs money will be loaned to in increments of $100,000 to $250,000. The Huntington Bank money will be used to launch the Detroit Microloan Collaborative, which will make loans ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

"We're trying to deploy as much as we can with a focus on minority-owned businesses in the city, not just downtown," says Ray Waters, president of the Detroit Development Fund.

The Detroit Development Fund launched in 2002 under a different name. It rebranded in 2010 and has grown its staff since then. The nonprofit currently employs seven people after hiring a loan administrator and a credit analyst over the last year. It is currently in the process of hiring a new lending officer.

Source: Ray Waters, president of the Detroit Development Fund
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brooklynite moves back to Detroit to grow her line of eco-friendly makeup, The Lip Bar

When Melissa Butler recently moved back to Detroit from Brooklyn, she brought her business with her.

Butler grew up in Detroit and graduated from Cass Tech High School. She moved away to go to college in Florida and then lived in New York City for the last six years while working on Wall Street. She started making her own makeup in the last few years, which she eventually launched as her own line of cosmetics, The Lip Bar. She moved back to Detroit earlier this fall to grow that business.

"I was really inspired by the rejuvenation and rebirth of Detroit," Butler says. "The reality is New York City didn’t need me. Detroit needs me."

Butler is running The Lip Bar from her home on Detroit's east side. The cosmetic line consists primarily of lipstick and is sold online at the business’s website, the Urban Outfitters website, and a few retail locations. Butler would like to get her products into more retail stores and is even thinking of opening up her own storefront.

Butler started making her own cosmetics out of frustration with the options available on the market, which tend to contain numerous toxins and are not environmentally friendly. The Lip Bar's products contain natural ingredients that achieve higher environmental standards while making its users look good.

"It's guilt-free good looks," Butler says.

Source: Melissa Butler, founder of The Lip Bar
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

D:hive design director launches own firm, Good Done Daily


You could say Andy Kopietz is a victim of his own success.

Kopietz has been working as a designer in Detroit for the last several years, most recently as the design director for D:hive, an organization serving as a welcome and help center for all things Detroit. Earlier this fall, D:hive announced it was splitting into two different organizations, which meant neither one could afford its own design person.

"I'm kind of designing my way out of a job," Kopietz says. "I have been a designer for 10 years, and I felt it was a good time to make a change."

That change was founding his own design company, Good Done Daily. The boutique graphic design firm is working with a number of local organizations, including the New Economy Initiative, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Midtown Detroit Inc. (the branding work for Dlectricity), and the Hudson-Webber Foundation.

"It's been very challenging because I have a full-time design job (the D:hive split doesn't take place until January) and I have a full-time business," Kopietz says. "I have been trying to straddle that line the best way I can."

He wants to grow Good Done Daily into a business with an employee or two next year. He also wants to open a Good Done Daily studio.

"I have started to look at office space in the Jefferson-Chalmers area," Kopietz says.

Source: Andy Kopietz, principal of Good Done Daily
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Varnum plans to open downtown office with 8-10 attorneys

Varnum plans to open a new satellite office in downtown Detroit, a move the law firm expects to execute by the first quarter of 2015.

The Grand Rapids-based practice already has a Metro Detroit office in Novi, but the law firm wants to be closer to some of its larger clients and the growing tech scene in downtown Detroit.

"We're seeing what's going on in Detroit," says Rich Hewlett, partner with Varnum. "We're seeing the reemergence of the city. We want to be a part of it."

The 127-year-old law firm employs 150 attorneys, including 30 in Novi, 10 of whom are new attorneys it has hired over the last year. Hewlett expects the downtown Detroit office to employ a staff of 20, including 8-10 attorneys.

One of Varnum's larger clients is Henry Ford Health System. The law firm also is running its My Springboard platform, which gives out $1 million in pro-bono law work to new companies. More than half of the startups leveraging that program are in Metro Detroit and the city of Detroit proper. The new office is set up to be within walking distance of downtown's tech firms, courts, and Henry Ford Health System in New Center.

"With the M-1 Rail we’ll be able to get up and down from Henry Ford and downtown," Hewlett says.

Source: Rich Hewlett, partner with Varnum
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grace in Action collectives provide job/skills training in Southwest Detroit

Grace in Action, a church based in southwest Detroit, is making a name for itself not only because of its religious activities, but also through a handful of collectives that are teaching Detroiters workforce and entrepreneurial skills.

The church, which aligns with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has three collectives that help take both adults and young people to the next stage of their professional lives. The Accion Cleaning Cooperative is working with five adults to create careers in the cleaning industry. The Radical Production and Stitching up Detroit are working with youth to develop skills in a variety of design industries, along with other life skills.

"It's a big focus on the next chapter of life and where they want to go," says Meghan Sobocienski, director of Grace in Action. "Through that we are learning leadership and conflict resolution and time management skills and stuff like that."

The Radical Production collective focuses on teaching young people things like graphic and web design. A dozen teens are learning skills in each industry, along with how to handle the project management and workflow that go with it. The Stitching Up Detroit collective works with t-shirt design through a screen-printing workshop. So far 10 teens are working on it, participating in things like the Detroit Design Festival. One of the students, a 16-year-old, is also learning the basics so he can set up his own screen-printing shop.

"We want to expand each collective to about 15 people," Sobocienski says.

Source: Meghan Sobocienski, director of Grace in Action
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brush Park Studio preserves Detroit's historic built environment

Big advocates of Detroit's built environment, Jim Renberg and Tom Atkinson founded Brush Park Studio, a company specializing in architectural design and construction through historic preservation.

Brush Park Studio takes its name from a near-downtown neighborhood and its grand, historic architecture, though it is actually based in Sherwood Forest, a different historic neighborhood uptown. For Brush Park Studio's founders, being based in Detroit means they will have lots of opportunities to preserve the Motor City's build environment.

"Old world architecture is being taken down at such a fast rate," Renberg says.

The two-person operation doesn't just do work in the restoration of historic structures. It also does new builds that reutilize salvaged materials and historic building methods. The idea is that taking the best from the past creates better, longer-lasting architecture in a world where the phrase 'disposable architecture' is commonly used to describe most new construction.

Brush Park Studio has done work in Florida and out state in Michigan; however, the company is now focusing on work inside the city. It is also looking at setting up a retail presence on Livernois along the Avenue of Fashion to help grow its work inside the city.

"Hopefully we can get that taken care of soon," Renberg says.

Source: Jim Renberg, co-owner of Brush Park Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ali Sandifer grows custom furniture biz in Russell Industrial Center

Abir Ali believes a lot of architects end up designing furniture instead of buildings at one point or another in their careers for a simple reason.

"A lot of architects veer toward furniture for instant gratification," Ali says.

It's a significant reason why Ali and her husband Andre Sandifer launched their own custom furniture company, Ali Sandifer. Both are architects who appreciate the scale and size of furniture -- and how creating a piece of furniture can be done in the fraction of the time it takes to design a building.

The Russell Industrial Center-based business specializes in making minimalist furniture with clean, sleek lines that are reminiscent of mid-century moderne. The coffee tables, chairs, and benches are made of domestic hardwoods. Prices range from $1,200 to $5,400. You can check out examples of their furniture here.

"We both design very clean and simple furniture," Ali says.

Ali Sandifer has watched the demand jump for its furniture and its custom furniture commissions over the last year, so much so that the company is looking to streamline its Internet sales process and be more selective with its workload in 2015.

"We're trying to become more intentional about the work and clients we take on," Ali says.

Source: Abir Ali, co-owner & creative director of Ali Sandifer
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Startup Weekend Detroit, Accelerate Michigan competitions come to downtown Detroit in November

Two big events are coming to Detroit in November: the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition taking place Nov. 4 through 6 in downtown Detroit and Come to the Motor City the following week.

Startup Weekend Detroit is an intensive, two-day workout where local entrepreneurs can make a spirited pitch to turn their idea for an app into a startup. Teams of local entrepreneurs will work for 54 hours to bring the idea to reality on Nov 14 in Grand Circus in downtown Detroit.

"On average we have 50 idea pitches," says Brandon Chesnutt, local organizer and global facilitator for Startup Weekend Detroit. "We will narrow it to 15."

This is the sixth Startup Weekend Detroit since it launched in 2009. About 100 people attend each competition and they break into 12 to 15 teams within a few hours. Some of the previous winners include Sales On Fire, which won the 2012 prize and became an app a year later, and VisionBoards, which won last year's competition and went on to take first prize in one of the 2013 Global Startup Battle sub-cattegories.

"Many people want to know if they have what it takes to be an entrepreneur," Chesnutt says. "You really don't know until try. Startup Weekend gives you the opportunity."

The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition is geared toward the people who know they are entrepreneurs. The three-day competition pits mature startups against each other for about $1 million in cash and prizes. The top prize is $500,000 in seed capital. More importantly, the participants use the opportunity at the Book Cadillac Hotel to network with angel investors and venture capitalists to secure even more funding.

Source: Brandon Chesnutt, local organizer and global facilitator for Startup Weekend Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Slows Bar BQ plans Grand Rapids location, creates dozens of jobs

Slows Bar BQ caught lightning in a bottle when it opened in Corktown nearly a decade ago. It reached profitability. It grew. It became a media darling, and its partners became the poster children of Detroit success in the 21st Century.

Lots of people want to import Slows magic to their corner of the world. The co-owners get inquiries from across the U.S. and around the world.

"I got one from a guy in Dubai," says Brian Perrone, executive chef & partner with Slows Bar BQ and its takeout location, Slows To Go. "It's been happening for a long time now."

And they turn them all down. That is until they saw a potential spot in western Michigan's most dynamic downtown and pulled the trigger on launching Slows Grand Rapids next spring. The Grand Rapids location will consist of a new, full-service, barbeque restaurant inside the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. It will feature a similar menu to the Detroit restaurant, including brisket, ribs, pulled pork, smoked turkey, and jambalaya, along with several dozen Michigan-based craft beers on tap.

"We weren't really looking for an opportunity out there," says Perrone. "This opportunity fell in our lap. We toured the building and were blown away by the space."

Slows opened in 2005 in Corktown. It opened its take-out facility in Midtown (Slows To Go) n 2010. It also has a satellite operation in Ford Field. Since then the companies under the Slows brand have grown to employ 163 people in Corktown and Midtown, hiring about 50 people over the last year alone. Slows' Detroit operations currently have five positions open, which can be found here. Perrone expects the Grand Rapids location to easily employ a couple dozen more people when it opens.

Perrone and his partners have purposely taken a slow approach toward expanding Slows over the years. The idea is that taking it slow helped preserve the magic it originally caught a decade ago.

"We didn't want to expand too quickly and lose anything," Perrone says. "We wanted to take our time with it."

Source: Brian Perrone, executive chef & partner with Slows Bar BQ, Slows To Go, and Slows Grand Rapids
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Eastern Market companies score $60K in grants to purchase equipment they need to grow

Eastern Market Corporation just scored $60,000 for further developing Michigan's largest open-air farmers market.

Charter One is giving $60,000 tin grants to growing companies in Eastern Market as part of its Growing Communities program. The 32 businesses that have received the grants are food-related ventures that are based in Metro Detroit and at least have a strong connection to Eastern Market. The money will help those businesses buy specific pieces of equipment that will help them grow their bottom lines.

"They need that one piece of equipment to speed up their production or to open a new sales opportunity," says Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp, the nonprofit that overseas the market and the surrounding historic district and helped disperse the grants.

Among the grant winners is Labrosse Farm in Detroit, which specializes in raising and selling heirloom tomato plants. Its grant will pay for a greenhouse that will assist with the production of the tomato plants. Trinosophes, a coffee shop and art space in Eastern Market, will use its grant to buy a double door commercial refrigerator. Mootown Ice Cream & Desert Shoppe in Eastern Market will use its grant for a mobile ice cream cart.

Carmody says these small improvements are part of a "wholistic approach" toward improving Eastern Market's overall entrepreneurial ecosystem. Charter One has operated its growing Communities program since 2012 and has awarded $360,000 in grants to small food-related businesses (mostly in Eastern Market) over that time.

Source: Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

CCS grads launch video production firm, Iron Coast

Andrew Stefanik and Mike Glinski met while attending the College for Creative Studies in Midtown. The two young men hit it off and began collaborating on video projects.

"We gelled really well together," Glinski says.

Since graduating, the pair has launched Iron Coast, a video-production and photography firm, which they enrolled in the Detroit Creative Corridor Center’s Creative Ventures program.  The company will graduate from the program before the end of this year.

"They (Detroit Creative Corridor Center) have been so helpful with everything from building our legal structure to introducing us to best practices for businesses like ours," Glinski says.

Iron Coast is looking to stay close to their current home in New Center. The firm's partners believe that Detroit's robust creative sector helps them find work, as does the large network they have built since college. But most of all, Detroit is the type of city that feels right to them.

"We want to stay here," Glinski says. "We both love the city and Michigan."

Iron Coast has worked on a number of local projects, including a video for local furniture studio Ali Sandifier's Art Prize submission. You can check out more of Iron Coast’s portfolio here.



"This is an outlet for our creative projects," Stefanik says.

The company specializes in both video and photography. Glinski and Stefanik believe the combination of those two things helps provide them an advantage when it comes to landing clients. And they are looking to sign up clients that are both small businesses and big organizations.

"We want to tell great stories," Glinski says. "So we're targeting both startups and large institutions."

Source: Andrew Stefanik and Mike Glinski, co-founders of Iron Coast
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Downtown Detroitís foodjunky spreads across U.S.


Last year, foodjunky was a startup trying to gain traction for its 21st century food ordering platform. It had big ambitions and a small customer base, mainly in downtown Detroit. This year, that customer base is much wider.

"In January, we were in one state," says Travis O Johnson, co-founder of foodjunky. "Now we're in nine states. We’ve been growing pretty rapidly."

The 1-year-old company's platform helps large groups make orders from restaurants, simplifying the error-prone process of one person relaying lots of food orders to another over a phone line. Check out this video of how foodjunky works: 



Foodjunky currently has a few hundred restaurants in its network, mainly in the Midwest and Texas.

"We will be hitting 1,000 pretty soon," Johnson says.

Foodjunky, which graduated from Bizdom last fall, has hired two people over the last year, and is currently looking to hire a software developer. The startup employs a staff of six people.

Those number could grow quickly as foodjunky gets ready to close on a seed round. It originally aimed for $250,000 but became over-committed. Johnson hopes to close on a bigger round later this year. He also hopes to hit $1 million in revenue next year.

"We should have a majority of the U.S. states covered," Johnson says.

Source: Travis O Johnson, co-founder of foodjunky
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BoostUp grows staff to 6 people in M@dison Building

Finding the money for the down payment on a car or a home is never as easy as it sounds. It's a challenge one Detroit-based startup is turning into a business.

BoostUp provides an online platform that helps users to save up enough money for the down payment on the house or car of their dreams. The platform lets the user tell their family and friends about their goal through social media and gives them an option for people to donate toward that cause in the form of birthday or holiday gifts.

"We have recently put the emphasis on cars and homes," says John Morgan, founder & president of BoostUp. "We are focused on the downpayment phase."

The 1-year-old company spun out of Synergy Marketing Partners and was originally named Motozuma. It scored an angel investment from Detroit Venture Partners, which prompted it to move from Chicago to the M@dison Building. It is working with a number of large corporations, such as Hyundai and Quicken Loans.

BoostUp currently has 40,000 users. They spend about 4-6 months saving for vehicles and 6-12 months saving for homes. Morgan hopes to scale those numbers significantly over the next year hitting six-figures of users.

"We think a goal-based interface is important for consumers," Morgan says.

BoostUp currently employs a staff of six full-time employees and another three part-timers. It has hired four people over the last 12 months, including positions in marketing, sales and customer support.

Source: John Morgan, founder & president of BoostUp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

TechTownís AiirShare brings sharing economy to private planes

The sharing economy has made its way into most facets of everyday people's lives. Today, it's not uncommon to rent out your car for cab rides or a spare room for hotel stays. A TechTown-based startup now wants to take that concept airborne.

AiirShare brings sharing economy to aircraft and flying, helping people with private planes rent out empty seats to fliers. Those seats can range from single-engine Cessnas to private jets.

"I always loved aviation and always wanted something to do with it," says Joe Tuchman, co-founder & CEO of AiirShare.

Tuchman participated in TechTown’s DTX Launch program last summer. He said it gave him a lot of basic tools to get his startup off the ground, such as identifying customers and networking with other resources.

"That was a huge help," Tuchman says.

AiirShar's team of two people currently is working with a few dozens pilots flying out of Michigan. The flights go to nearby places, such as Indiana and Chicago. Tuchman hopes to reach further over the next year.

"I want to completely saturate Michigan with flights to Chicago and Indiana," Tuchman says.

Source: Joe Tuchman, co-founder & CEO of AiirShare
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DC3Ďs Creative Ventures looks for a few good service firms

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) is looking for a few young creative service firms for the latest cohort of fellows in its Creative Ventures Residency program.

The New Center-based organization specializes in helping grow the creative economy in Detroit, specifically in the Woodward corridor between downtown and New Center. This fall, the Creative Ventures Residency invites creative service firms (e.g. interior design and graphic design companies) to apply for the mentorship program.

"We felt we had the most to offer to design service providers," says Ellie Schneider, associate director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

The Creative Ventures Residency has been helping creative firms grow into stable companies that create jobs in the greater downtown Detroit area. It has incubated 45 early stage creative startups, creating 89 jobs and generating $2.1 million in revenues.

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center has reformed the program a little, shrinking its total length from 12 months to six months. It is also focusing on service-providing firms instead of startups. It is also looking for firms that are just beginning to establish themselves and want to move to the organization’s headquarters in New Center.

"We think they benefit much more from being based in our offices," Schneider says.

For information on applying, click here.

Source: Ellie Schneider, associate director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

App maker Locqus goes on hiring spree after raising $2M

Everything was lining up nicely for Sandy Kronenberg when he launched his latest tech startup, Locqus.

Kronenberg liked the tech hub under development at the M@dison Block in downtown Detroit, especially the talent that was flocking there. Having worked as either a principal or CTO at Netarx, Yottabyte, and Logicalis, Kronenberg had a few nice exits under his belt. He also knew he had enough cash to get Locqus off the ground.

"I wasn't looking for outside capital at all," Kronenberg says.

In fact he had turned down funding offers from local venture capitalists. They were only bringing money to the table. Then Moneris came calling and it was too hard to say no to one of the largest electronic payments firms in North America.

"They do 40 percent of all digital transactions in Canada," Kronenberg says. "It's kind of a big deal."

Locqus is developing Field Manage, a mobile app that helps small businesses in the service industry (think skilled trades people or mom-and-pop ventures) handle the back end of the business. The app manages time clocks, scheduling, inventory, etc, and it synchronizes many aspects of the business between employees on everyone’s personal mobile device or computer.

"At the end of the day we're a mobile solution for the service industry," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has also formed a strategic partnership with Samsung, which will recommend Locqus as an must-have app with some of its mobile devices. That effort will work hand in hand with the $2 million is has raised.

"For the most part it (the $2 million) is for hiring more folks and raising awareness through marketing," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has expanded its staff to 16 employees and an intern since it launched last year. The company is also looking to hired four more people in software development or customer service. Kronenberg expects the employee count to be closing in at 25 people by the end of the year.

For now the staff is working at the co-working space of Bizdom at 1528 Woodward. Kronenberg expects he will move Locqus into its own space within the next few months, but he is trying to maintain his startup’s presence in Bizdom's home for as long as he can.

"We're going to hold out as long as we can because it's a great group of people," Kronenberg says. "It's a collaborative environment. It's a great culture. It's a natural fit."

Source: Sandy Kronenberg, CEO of Locqus
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hygienic Dress League art project goes public with IPO


The Hygienic Dress League is blurring the lines between business and art with its latest art project, going public.

The Eastern Market-based street-art collective is soliciting 36 investors to purchase stock in the Hygienic Dress League corporation with the idea of eventually going for an initial public offering.

The husband-wife duo behind Hygienic Dress League, Steve and Dorota Coy, launched the organization as a corporation in 2007 so it can be used as a medium of art commenting on advertising with its art installations. They are all public art installations, so there is no gallery or operations or even a consumer product created. New work that will be part of the initial public offering includes "projects inspired by corporate processes such as interactive 1-800 numbers and augmented reality videos broadcast onto billboards," write the Coys in their investor pitch.

"We're trying to do something that has never been done before," says Steve Coy. "It rides the line between serious and satire."

The solicitation of investor money is serious. The Coys will have five Class A shares in Hygienic Dress League. They will sell 100,000 Class B shares as part of the investor solicitation. They are looking for up to 36 investors because that is the maximum allowed by SEC rules. Those shares will be able to sold on the open market when the Hygienic Dress League offers an initial public offering either in a marketplace it has created or a low-barrier stock exchange.

"This is really a big experiment," Steve Coy says. "We don't know how much money we're going to raise."

Don't expect this transaction to be completely 21st century. The Hygienic Dress League will give out gold papered stock certificates. Think of it like a deed to a house. The certificates will be made in the same way they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for stockholders. These certificates will serve as both legal documents of ownership and pieces of art from the Hygienic Dress League. The Coys like to describe the certificates as their conceptual commentary on art value.

"It gets to the idea of how value can be arbitrarily assigned to art," Steve Coy says.

Check out examples of Hygienic Dress League’s public art installations here, here, and here. For information on investing in Hygienic Dress League, send an email to investor.relations@hdlcorporation.com.

Source: Steve and Dorota Coy, co-founders of Hygienic Dress League.
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Birdhouse app for autism shares focus with caregivers

Birdhouse for Autism is looking to set itself apart from other autism technologies by not only helping the person living with the condition but the loved ones taking care of them.

"Unfortunately there isn't much focus on the family involvement," says Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism. "The parent is the center of the child’s development."

The downtown Detroit-based startup -- it graduated from Bizdom in September -- has created a mobile app that helps track the behavior of autistic children so the people taking care of them can better manage the disorder.

The Birdhouse for Autism app is available in both laptop software and for mobile devices. Thousands of families have downloaded it as the startup works through its public beta and prepares for larger releases.

"I like to say we're outgrowing our prototype," Chutz says. "We're redesigning everything at the moment."

Birdhouse for Autism has landed a $250,000 angel round this spring, using the funds to grow its team to three full-time people (Chutz plus co-founders Dani Gillman and Adam Milgrom) and seven part-timers.

Source: Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Guidesmob grows as its app introducing students to college towns takes off

Guidesmob, a startup product from Bizdom, is gearing up to release the second generation of its higher-education guide app, and it's looking to take over the Big Ten with it.

The downtown Detroit-based firm’s mobile app helps students discover and learn more about their new college towns. Daniel Kerbel, CEO of Guidesmob, started working on the app after going to Michigan State University as an international student from Costa Rica.

Guidesmob launched the Spartan App for Michigan State University in 2012. It has been downloaded 27,000 times since. The company is now looking to release a new version of that app for Michigan State University, along with Central Michigan University and the University of Michigan later this year.

"We're getting ready to launch a new platform," Kerbel says "Basically a Spartan App 2.0."

Kerbel and his two co-founders went to Michigan State and Central Michigan universities. They choose to focus on those schools (and U-M) because of the number of connections they have built there over the years and because many of those students co-mingle. It’s a big reason why Guidesmob is going to target Big Ten and MAC schools for expansion first.

"The approach is to take over conferences of universities," Kerbel says.

Guidesmob is in the process of hiring two people right now. It's also working to raise a seed capital round to finance its expansion and to build out its team. The company hopes to raise a Series A of $750,000 to $1 million by next spring.

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

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

Family biz VernDale Products doubles down on Detroit, opens second factory


LaVerne and Marlene Johnson started VernDale Products in 1958, using the Detroit-based manufacturing business to feed and employ their family. Today, a third generation of Johnsons is helping the company execute its biggest expansion in decades.

"It takes a big team to put it all together," says Dale Johnson, president of VernDale Products. He adds that many members of the family had to dig deep to open a second plan on Detroit's west side.

VernDale Products makes roller dried milk powder, which is primarily used by premium chocolate manufacturers. The company was originally based near the Detroit River in the footprint of what is now the Renaissance Center. It’s currently based at 8445 Lyndon on the city's west side. It is currently working on building out a new facility at 18940 Weaver St., also on the city's west side, north of Joy Road between the Southfield Freeway and Evergreen Road.

VernDale is investing $20 million to build out the production facility with the help of a $436,000 business development incentive from the Michigan Economic Development Corp and tax abatement from the city of Detroit. The new space will allow the company to keep up with its organic growth of 5-7 percent annually.

"The new plant will add about 60 percent of capacity," Johnson says. "There are times of the year when we definitely need it and sometimes we don’t need it."

VernDale Products, which was founded by Johnson’s parents, currently employs a handful of his siblings, in-laws, and other members of his extended family. The company has hired eight people over the last year, ranging from maintenance workers to management. It now employs 49 people who will work between both facilities when the second one opens later this month.

"The plant is highly integrated and automated," Johnson says. "The jobs we provide are good jobs. We need people who think, not just sweat."

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

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

Detroit firm Quikly seeks to disrupt online marketing industry

Quikly is casting a wide net to find its niche in the digital world.

The downtown Detroit-based startup (it calls fourth floor of 1528 Woodward home) has been expanding into a number of new verticals, such as casino gaming, professional sports, and retail.

"It's been a large-scale effort to reach into these verticals," says Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly. "We're really trying to figure out where we fit best at this point."

Quikly helps brands attract new customers with online deals. It delivers randomly released promotions which reward customers who act quickly to seize the opportunity. It moved to Detroit a little more than a year ago and became one of the portfolio companies of Detroit Venture Partners after raising a $900,000 seed round.

It has since gone to work for a number of different companies in the Quicken Loans family of companies and other large corporations including Domino's Pizza, Moose Jaw, Pet Supplies Plus, and Greektown Casino.

"That industry (casino gaming) is ready for disruption," Geller says.

Quikly has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 14 employees and three interns. The startup is set to clock $500,000 in revenue this year and is aiming to hit $3 million to $5 million and 20-30 employees in revenue in 2015.

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

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

Detroit's Savorfull is showing pro sports teams how to eat healthier

Savorfull, a New Center-based startup that connects businesses with healthy eating options, is growing after landing a number of prominent clients, the foremost among them being professional sports teams.

"Some of the best successes we have had is with professional sports," says Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull, whose clients include the Cleveland Cavaliers (an NBA team) and the Cleveland Gladiators (an Arena Football team).

Savorfull helps professional sports teams and other large organizations provide healthy food to their fans, workers, and clients by lining them up with packaged healthy allergen friendly foods such as energy bars, snacks, trail mixes, cereals and beverages. 

Savorfull has also been working with arenas, casinos, and wide variety of businesses both big and small. Many (but not all) of them are part of the Quicken Loans family of companies. All of them are interested in making smart decisions about what their employees eat.

"They are feeding team members all day," Goldberg says.

Savorfull is currently working to win one of the Chase Small Business Mission Main Street grants. The startup’s team of three people plans to use the money to create a comprehensive marketing plan that includes a digital marketing campaign, a trade show presence, and adding more staff. You can vote for Savorfull here.

"We want to work with these companies that understand that choosing food is proactive and is a form of healthcare," Goldberg says.

Source: Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Social media startup Social2Step gears up for national stage

Social2Step is starting to land clients locally and across the U.S.

The downtown Detroit-based social media startup recently completed a pilot with Quicken Loans and has a longstanding relationship with a Lake Tahoe-based concert promotion company.

"They're using my platform to get the word out on social media when an act comes into Lake Tahoe," says Susan Burke, founder & CEO of Social2Step. "They have been a fun client."

Burke launched Social2Step early last year when she joined Bizdom. Her startup empowers employees to become ambassadors for their company's 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.

Social2Step and its team of three people is currently closing in on $50,000 in annual revenue for this year. Next year Burke hopes to hit $150,000 as she works to grow the company's customer base.

"We're in client acquisition mode," Burke says.

Source: Susan Burke, founder & CEO of Social2Step
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

UHY plans to open 25-person office in Chrysler House


Accounting company UHY is opening another Metro Detroit office in downtown Detroit, a move that will bring 25 new jobs to the city’s central business district.

The CPA firm provides a variety of accounting services for businesses, ranging from tax consulting to forensic auditing. Some of its clients include the likes of downtown Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions. UHY has offices in Macomb and Oakland counties that employ more than 300 people.

UHY will move 25 of those employees to the new office in the Chrysler House near Campus Martius. The company will occupy the sixth floor of the 23-story building, occupying 4,000 square feet. It plans to execute the move in November.

"We've always wanted to make the move downtown and figured now is as good of a time than ever," Krystina Borrocci, director of marketing for UHY, wrote in an email. "There's lots of momentum, and a lot of movement both in the city and into the city. We have a significant client base there, as well as ties to the local community."

Rock Ventures, part of the Quicken Loans family of companies owned by Dan Gilbert, bought the Dime Building in 2011 and renamed it the Chrysler House. It has since renovated the structure and created space for a number of new businesses. That work was a primary reason why UHY decided to open downtown.

"One of the reasons we wanted to be in a Gilbert building was so that we could grow out of it before the lease is up, and continue to take more space in Chrysler House or in one of his other buildings," Borrocci wrote in an email.

Source: Krystina Borrocci, director of marketing for UHY
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Grand Circus celebrates first year in downtown Detroit


Last year, Grand Circus opened its doors in downtown Detroit to any and all interested in learning about software development. One year later, the company found hundreds of people willing to take them up on their services and has its sights set on deepening the local tech talent pool.

"Our business is developing talent for high-growth, high-demand jobs," says Damien Rocchi, CEO of Grand Circus.

Grand Circus occupies about 5,000 square feet in the Broderick Tower overlooking Grand Circus Park. Two of its three floors in the skyscraper are occupied by classroom space. The third floor is a co-working space for tech entrepreneurs.

About 500 people have leveraged Grand Circus’ variety of classes and workshops, ranging from eight-week classes in software development to boot camps on mobile app development. For instance, Grand Circus recently held an eight-week class in .NET development that wrapped up in August. Since then, more than 70 percent of the 42 people who took the class have been hired, and the job prospects of the remainder of the students are looking up.

"We're optimistic we can get the number up to 85 percent," Rocchi says.

Grand Circus has expanded its staff to 10 full-time employees, 30 instructors, and three summer interns. Rocchi believes those numbers will grow as the demand for software developers continues to go up. Rocchi declined to comment on the status of Grand Circus' revenues beyond acknowledging that the numbers are trending in the right direction.

"We're ahead of where we want to be," Rocchi says.

Source: Damien Rocchi, CEO of Grand Circus
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Eastern Market lands $250K grant for strategic planning

A quarter of a million dollars will help fund strategic planning efforts for Eastern Market that will help grow businesses in the district.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded the $250,000 grant to Eastern Market Corporation to pay for an update of the district’s development plan. Much of the plan from six years ago has already been implemented by the non-profit that manages the market and surrounding business district, such as renovating the farmers market sheds and protecting the character of the historic district.

"We want to make sure we engage our broad range of stakeholders in a more robust way," says Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp.

That includes fostering more entrepreneurship in the community. The farmers market now operates both Saturday and Tuesday and includes more space for a broader variety of vendors. Now there is more room for food entrepreneurs trying to get lifestyle businesses off the ground.

One of those challenges is modernizing the built infrastructure in the market. Many of the buildings are over a century old and were not constructed to accommodate 21st century businesses. Eastern Market's leaders wants to find a way to maintain the authenticity that plays a critical part in attracting 2 million visitors annually while also providing a solid foundation for young businesses to grow.

Eastern Market Corporation expects the new strategic plan to encompass the central market itself, along with the Gratiot commercial corridor and adjacent light industrial area. The new report is set to be released in late spring of next year.

Source: Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

WCCCD scores $2.5M grant for cyber security education


Wayne County Community College District has won a multi-million-dollar federal grant to help train unemployed veterans for jobs in cyber security.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor awarded the community college $2.5 million for its Wayne County Generation Cyber Project with additional assistance coming from the state of Michigan and the office of Gov. Rick Snyder. The program will train and provide career guidance for veterans looking to gain a beachhead in the cyber security workforce.

"There are a lot of people who have a lot of skills already but not the most current skills," says Dave Murray, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Snyder. "They're looking for a way to elevate the skills to meet the jobs of today."

The Wayne County Generation Cyber Project is part of the nearly $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative. The federal initiative is aiming to help make the country's community college system provide more comprehensive offerings for worker training.

Wayne County Community College District will focus on developing the local cyber security workforce. It will hire and train more instructors, expand online education options, develop new curriculum, and purchase new equipment to help more veterans transition into the cyber security workforce.

Source: Dave Murray, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Snyder
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PishPosh expands space with eye for maker education

The team at PishPosh has been working all summer toward building out new studio space in downtown Detroit, and now the podcasting and video production startup is about to embark on a new line of business -- maker education.

PishPosh plans to start offering day-long classes in mid October that teach people how to building new technology. The firm wants to ensure that classes are affordable -- think spending a few hundred dollars to learn how to build a drone or an arcade-style video game console. When classes conclude, participants get to walk out with their new toys.

"They get a box with all the parts they need," says Michael Evans, co-founder of PishPosh. "They get lunch, and then they get to leave with what they built."

Both Evans and his partner, Ben Duell Fraser, are instructors at Grand Circus, where classes in how to create software often cost thousands of dollars. They believe that PishPosh's new classes will complement Grand Circus' offerings and help grow the local tech community by giving them a broader range of education options.

The classes are set to take place in a 600-square-foot space in PishPosh's offices in the Department of Alternatives, a downtown Detroit-based entrepreneurial collective near Grand Circus Park. The walls in the education room are up and are covered in primer paint. Evans and Duell Fraser expect to finish off the space within the next few weeks.

"This is our training room," Evans says. "We're thinking of calling it PishPosh Academy."

PishPosh made its name with its "Slash Detroit" online video series, a roundup of the local news with a sharp sense of humor. Duell Fraser serves as the main anchor of the broadcast. The startup has toyed with making other shows over the last year and is now playing around with other formats, such as an uncensored version of the Friday Fahles where local media members give their take on current events.

PishPosh has expanded into 2,000 square feet at the Department of Alternatives to keep up with its current workload. Not only is it doing its Slash Detroit episodes and preparing to offer maker classes, it is doing custom video work, such as creating a documentary on Code Michigan for the state of Michigan. The company needed bigger and more intricate work/studio space to keep up with its portfolio of projects.

"If everything goes the way we want it to go, it wouldn't be too long before we needed the extra space anyways," Duell Fraser says.

Source: Michael Evans and Ben Duell Fraser, co-founders of PishPosh
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Imagine Detroit helps promote biz through free videos

Own a business in the greater downtown Detroit area? Need to get the word out about what you're doing? Imagine Detroit wants to help you tell that story.

The Mt. Clemens-based organization, an offshoot of NES World Group, is making dozens of short videos for small businesses based in downtown Detroit. So far subjects of the videos include Motor City Brewing Works in Midtown and Brooklyn Street Local in Corktown. Check out the more of the featured businesses here.

"We're trying to develop a feel for what downtown is like," says Gregory Dilone, Jr., president & founder of Imagine Detroit.

The videos are free to the businesses. The three-person team at Imagine Detroit produces them with the idea of helping boost the small business climate in greater downtown Detroit.

"We want to make guerilla-marketing videos that aren't over-produced," Dilone says.

Dilone and his group currently are working to hit 200 interviews. They already have 55 under their belts. He is also looking at moving his marketing agency, NES World Group, to downtown Detroit in the not too distant future to take part in what he is marketing.

"Detroit has so much passion behind it right now," Dilone says.

Source: Gregory Dilone, Jr., president & founder of Imagine Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Institute of Music Education's first students start classes

The first students are filing into classes at the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) this week.

Jack Stablein is one of them. The 19-year-old Rochester native lives in Birmingham and is the frontman for Fifth and Main, a folk rock band. He decided to join the initial class of the DIME to pursue his bachelor degree in songwriting and sharpen his performance skills. He choose the Detroit Institute of Music Education because he can still study music theory while also working intensely on his performance skills.

"They're really focused on the performance part of music," Stablein says. He adds its location in downtown Detroit (1265 Griswold) is also attractive. "The more connected with the Detroit Institute of Music Education I am, the more connected I am with Detroit and bigger-and-better things."

The DIME has its roots in the Brighton Institute of Modern Music, which was launched in Brighton, England, in 2001. The firm grew to several locations across the United Kingdom before it was acquired. Farmington Hills-based venture capital firm Beringea, which has an office in London, convinced the firm's founders to open a U.S.-version of the business in Detroit last summer.

The company now has seven full-time employees and 20 sessional instructors. It's looking to hire 3-5 more employees this fall, including a student counselor and administrative workers.

"The ability and talent of the instructors is much higher than any other city we have opened in," says Sarah Clayman, managing director of the DIME. "That was very pleasing."

The Detroit Institute of Music Education's first class is composed of 45 full-time students, who soon will be joined by a few more who are going through the application process. The school is also offering short courses that last six weeks, such as teaching about DJing and song writing.

"We're doing lots of short courses this year," Clayman says.

Source: Sarah Clayman, managing director of the Detroit Institute of Music Education; and Jack Stablein, student at the Detroit Institute of Music Education
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

New Economy Initiative sends staff to co-working spaces

If you work in a co-working space in Metro Detroit, chances are you could soon be sitting next to a representative of the New Economy Initiative (NEI).

The special project for the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan focused on building the region's new economy is launching NEI Street Level, a new program that will give NEI staff a seat at the numerous co-working spaces across Metro Detroit. The idea is to spend a couple days a week embedded with local entrepreneurs to better understand their needs and challenges while also helping create connections in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"We think we can be better informed grant makers by being better embedded in the ecosystem," says Jim Boyle, senior program officer for the New Economy Initiative.

The first stop is Grand Circus in downtown Detroit. The co-working space inside the newly renovated Broderick Tower overlooks Grand Circus Park and is part of the M@dison Block technology cluster. New Economy Initiative staffers will be working there from this week until January. The New Economy Initiative has a core team of about a half dozen full-time people and has recently hired a communication's associate.

The NEI Street Level initiative plans to visit several other co-working spaces across the region in the coming months. Some of the candidates mentioned were Bamboo Detroit and co-working spaces in Ann Arbor. It's part of the non-profit's aim to help bolster the 1099 workforce in Metro Detroit.

"We're trying to shine a light on co-working spaces," Boyle says. "This is a new way to work."

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

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

Atwater Brewery aims to become Detroit's iconic brewery


Mark Rieth sees his company, Atwater Beer, as Detroit’s brewery. It's a big vision for the microbrewery situated on Detroit's east riverfront, but it’s an ambition with increasing merit as the 17-year-old venture grows.

"Being Detroit's brewery is important for us," Rieth says. "We want to be the iconic Detroit brewery, the way Stroh's used to be in the late 1800s and early 1900s."

Rieth wants Atwater to be known for local brews that are both high-quality and ubiquitous. Atwater Brewery is well on its way to both of those targets. It doubled its sales over the last year and is on pace to do it again. It sold 12,000 barrels in 2012 and 26,000 barrels last year. It's on track to sell 45,000 to 50,000 barrels in 2014 with sales of Dirty Blonde and Vannila Java Porter leading the way.

Atwater Brewery is at capacity at its main brewing facility at the corner of Atwater and Jos Campau streets, and is in the process of adding more brewing capacity there. The company is also a partner at the Brew Detroit operation in Corktown, which has helped it up its keg distribution.

"We have tripled our sales of Dirty Blonde kegs," Rieth says. "It's not slowing down anytime soon."

That has enabled Atwater Brewery to hire a dozen people over the last year, including brewers, sales professionals, and office staff. It now has a staff of 36 employees and one intern. It also recently opened a brewpub in Grosse Pointe Park in June, creating another 28 jobs. Atwater in the Park has proven so successful that Rieth is still looking at opening a tap room in downtown Detroit.

"That should happen within the next 12 months," Rieth says. "It will be downtown proper. Anywhere between the Campus Martius and Grand Circus Park areas."

Atwater Brewery is also entertaining the idea of expanding beyond Metro Detroit. Rieth is considering options in places like Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Traverse City. Although no specific plans have been made, the idea is appealing to Rieth.

"It's something we would like to do if the right opportunity presented itself," he says.

Source: Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Friends launch video production firm, The Right Brothers

A couple of friends recently launched a video production firm out of a Detroit neighborhood just beyond Hamtramck’s northern border.

Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller started The Right Brothers in April by helping produce music videos for local artists. The two-person operation now does everything commercial work to informational videos.

"We decided we had to move forward and do bigger things," Miller says. "We kept the momentum and moved forward."

Miller and Townsley met in Ferndale when Miller moved next door to Townsley in 2004. The two became fast friends and ended up sharing a passion for video work. Since launching The Right Brothers, they have created seven music videos and expanded into other work, such as short videos for Signal Return Press and another that appeared recently in Model D.

"We definitely want to keep supporting local artists we believe in," Townsley says.

Source: Jamin Townsley and Andrew Miller, co-owners of The Right Brothers
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Linkies turns social media conversations into a startup

A new startup based in downtown Detroit is making a name for itself.

Linkies made its debut at a recent Lion’s football game, collecting social media conversations about the event for a national audience. The startup’s platform works as a social media aggregator, capturing hashtags across major social networks. It organizes and displays them so the user (usually a major organization) can show off the social media conversations.

"It's all hashtag centric," says Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies.

Linkies roots can be traced back to the campaign to bring the X Games to Detroit. Priest and his team were also trying to create their own social network, an effort that petered out. The X Games Detroit initiative gave them the inspiration to try a new way to capture public support through social media.

"It kickstarted us to make our own platform," Priest says.

Linkies launched just seven months later. Today, Priest and his team of three people are building their startup from the LCE Labs incubator, which is run from the Lowe Campbell Ewald headquarters at Ford Field. Linkies is the incubator’s first startup tenant and Priest expects to stay at the space at least through the end of the year.

"Hopefully that will be extended," Priest says.

Source: Chad Priest, CEO of Linkies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Stik Pocket combines stickers, cell phones to create a wallet

Brian Owen doesn't like having things in his pockets. He loathes the feeling. In the 21st Century, most men carry both a wallet and a cell phone in their pockets, so Owens decided to combine the two with a new cell phone accessory called Stick Pocket.

"For years I have been trying to eliminate my wallet altogether," Owen says. "I hate having things in my pockets."

Stik Pocket is a sticker that attaches to a cell phone case, making just enough room for the essentials of a wallet. Think a drivers license, credit cards, and cash. Check out a video showing Stik Pocket in action here.

Owen was inspired when he bought a high-end wallet/cell phone combo made of leather. A few weeks after purchasing it, the leather cracked and started to fall off. Soon after Owen was left with just the plastic case. He decided he could do better by making a cheaper version that was made to last two or three weeks.

"It worked, so I started selling them," Owen says. "Now we're in 200 stores."

Owen launched Stick Pocket eight months ago and employs four people. The Bricktown-based startup also uses adult special needs students from Macomb Academy to help produce its products. Owen is also looking to introduce new sticker products later this year.

Source: Brian Owen, president of Stik Pocket
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Kraemer Design Group creates 10 jobs as Detroit work grows

Kraemer Design Group is returning to its core business over the last year by taking on more renovation design work in downtown Detroit.

"We have half a dozen projects in Capitol Park alone that we are working on," says Bob Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group.

Among those projects are the rehabs of the Detroit Savings & Bank Building and the Farwell Building.

The 17-year-old architecture firm has made it mark doing design work for a number of high-profile renovations in downtown Detroit, such as the Broderick Tower and The Lofts at Merchant Row. The downtown Detroit-based firm took a hit during the recession and construction practically ground to a halt, forcing it to take on more out-of-state work in the hospitality industry, including designing hotels.

Kraemer Design Group has rebounded with the economy and taken on an increasing share of work in the Motor City’s center. Among its more recent projects are the David Whitney Building overlooking Grand Circus Park and The Auburn in Midtown.

"We definitely see ourselves incredibly busy for the next couple of years," Kraemer says.

The increase in conctracts has allowed Kraemer Design Group to grow its staff. The firm has hired six people over the last year, expanding its staff to 28 employees and two summer interns. It is also looking to hire four more design professionals right now.

Source: Bob Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Dalton & Tomich creates new home in downtown Detroit

In recent years, lots of companies have scored easy headlines when they announce that they are moving to downtown Detroit. Dalton & Tomich is one of companies that made the move first and worried about making headlines later, if at all.

The 4-year-old practice, which specializes in business law, moved from Bloomfield Hills to downtown Detroit a year ago. The fledgling firm moved its five employees, four of which are attorneys, into the Chrysler House to be closer to its clientele.

"We were spending part of every day in downtown Detroit (before making the move)," says Daniel Dalton, founding member of Dalton & Tomich.

The firm hasn't looked back. It has hired one replacement worker since making the move and grown its workload. The firm has also established itself as an authority in RLUIPA law, which protects religious entities from discrimination in land use.

"We're at that point where we are really busy here," Dalton says.

That is part of the reason Dalton & Tomich made the move. One of the firm's other motivations to move downtown was to play a role in the city’s rebirth.

"It's just a great city," Dalton says. "There are a lot of opportunities, and it's a fun place to be. You can tell from the lack of parking and how it can be hard to find a place to get lunch."

Source: Daniel Dalton, founding member of Dalton & Tomich
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Retiree finds second act with cooking company, AVC Kitchens


Vazilyn Poinsetta isn’t the stereotypical senior citizen. The Midtown resident retired from a mortgage company a few years ago and decided to do something different. She went back to school and eventually opened her own business.

"I might as well be 70 and get a degree in nutrition instead of waiting around saying woulda, coulda, shoulda," Poinsetta says.

The lifelong Detroiter started classes at Wayne State University soon after retiring. In 2012, she started taking advantage of the entrepreneurial education classes at Blackstone LaunchPad on campus. That inspired her to start AVC Kitchens, which teaches cooking classes in the city.

"They (Blackstone LaunchPad's staff and participants) are just wonderful," Poinsetta says. "I'm not very tech savvy, but I can still ask anyone in the program and they will show me what to do."

AVC Kitchens aims to combine education of cooking and healthy living. Poinsetta hosts cooking classes at Eastern Market and Focus: HOPE, teaching people how to create cost-effective meals with everyday ingredients -- meals that are both affordable and nutritious using ingredients local people can find just about anywhere.

"Not anything that is super expensive," Poinsetta says.

Source: Vazilyn Poinsetta, owner of AVC Kitchens
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

826michigan expands Detroit presence with new hires

826michigan is sinking its roots deeper into Detroit, hiring more staff and expanding its presence in the state's largest city.

The Ann Arbor-based nonprofit supports K-12 students with creative and expository writing skills and helps teachers inspire their students to write. The organization started expanding into Detroit last year, helping connect volunteers, teachers, and students to create a more literate population of young people.

"We have a significant and growing student and volunteer population in Detroit," says Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan.

826michigan currently employs 10 people and has hired four new staffers over the last year. It recently hired two new people to help augment its expanded programming and fundraising in Detroit.

"We are really growing at an accelerated pace," Uhle says.

About three people work in Detroit at any one time for 826michigan. She hopes to expand that by another two people over the next year, which should help 826michigan meet the demand for its services.

"The demand and desire for our programs is much greater than the supply," Uhle says.

Source: Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

FutureNet Group hires 80 as revenues grow by double digits

FutureNet Group once relied on a trifecta of industries for triple-digit revenue growth. Now that the 20-year-old company is maturing, its growth remains robust, though not quite as numerically impressive.

The Detroit-based firm (it makes its home on the city's far west side) clocked triple-digit revenue gains for several years as it grew its market share in the construction, IT/technology, and energy/environmental industries. Now it's aiming for double-digit growth as it continues to grow.

"We are expecting at least 20-30 percent growth," says Jay Mehta, senior vice president of FutureNet Group.

That growth has allowed FutureNet Growth to hire 80 people over the last year, expanding its staff to more than 300 people. The new jobs are in a variety of positions across the entire company.

Helping continue the company's growth is its new expansion in the security field. FutureNet Group acquired the perimeter security division from Smith & Wesson in 2012 and has since transformed that unit's losses into profits.

"We have been able to grow it quite a bit," Mehta says.

FutureNet Group’s perimeter security solutions include new technology to keep people and vehicles out of a facility by stoping them at the perimeter (Think access control gates). FutureNet Group’s access gate solutions have matured to the point where they focus on stopping an intruder while minimizing harm to that person.

"The whole intent is to catch the person alive," Mehta says. "No matter what's their intent."

Source: Jay Mehta, senior vice president of FutureNet Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Pod Drop opens in New Center, eyes downtown

The Pod Drop is starting to pop up in Detroit greater downtown area this year. The fix-it store for iPods, iPads, and iPhones opened a location in New Center earlier this year and is aiming to open another in the Detroit’s central business district before the end of the year.

"We want to grow in Detroit's downtown area," says R. Carter, founder of The Pod Drop. "It's booming."

Carter started The Pod Drop from his basement in 2006. The company now has 12 locations across Metro Detroit that work in a franchise-like business model. Each location employees 3-4 people and is independently owned. Each owner pays Carter a royalty to use the brand and other services associated with the company.

The Pod Drop opened up a location in New Center One last winter, where it currently employs three people. It takes care of walk-in customers (think people with a cracked iPhone screen) and does a lot of work with some major downtown institutions like Henry Ford Health System.

"We have a lot of work we do with hospitals, Dan Gilbert's team at Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan," Carter says. "We're down here to take care of the big fish."

That's why the company is looking at opening another location downtown to be closer to the likes of the Quicken Loans family of companies. The Pod Drop is not only looking for a space to lease, but a new owner to head up the facility.

Source: R. Carter, founder of The Pod Drop
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Husband-and-wife team launches urban design firm, City Form Detroit

About a year ago, James Fidler left his job at a downtown Detroit-based architecture firm to launch his own urban design company, City Form Detroit. This summer, his wife is joining the growing business.

"It was time for us to have new challenges and pursue some projects we are interested in," says Virginia Stanard, co-principal of City Form Detroit. "The timing was just right."

Stanard worked as the director of urban design at the University of Detroit Mercy’s Detroit Collaborative Design Center until this month. Now she is leaving that post to join Fidler, her husband, as co-principal of City Form Detroit. The downtown Detroit-based company specializes in providing urban design services, such as strategic planning and design guidelines, among others.

City Form Detroit's early projects include design and implementation work on Grand Circus Park. Stanard, Fidler, and their one employee are working on other similar projects in both downtown and out in the Detroit’s neighborhoods.

"We want to continue to contribute to the growth of greater downtown and the neighborhoods," Stanard says. "We want to make the city a better place to live and play."

Source: Virginia Stanard, co-principal of City Form Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

A pair of best friend tailors open 1701 Bespoke in downtown Detroit

Max Schmidt and Tom Daguanno have been close for about as long as the two of them can remember, so it’s not that surprising the pair of friends since the 3rd grade are launching a business, 1701 Bespoke.

"We grew up together and always hung out," Schmidt says. "We have been best friends for a long time."

Last summer, Schmidt stood up as best man during Daguanno's wedding. The friends wanted to wear custom tailored suits to the festivities, but were unable to find any options they liked. So they decided to make their own and 1701 Bespoke was born.

"We started getting orders after the wedding just from word-of-mouth references," Schmidt says.

1701 Bespoke had its own pop-up store in the First National Building in downtown Detroit late last year. Schmidt and Daguanno wanted to use it as a way to get the word out about their company to the business class.

"I remember saying if we got four customers in those six days, I’ll be happy," Schmidt says. "We got two weeks of appointments in those six days. We really overbooked ourselves."

1701 Bespoke, which made it to the semi-finalist stage of this year's Hatch Detroit competition, currently has a temporary space in the Chrysler House, where it makes custom suits, coats, and other fine clothes. The partners hope to open a permanent home in downtown before the end of the year. In the meantime, Schmidt and Daguanno are servicing business executives, attorneys, doctors and athletes.

"We fit those types of guys, but also college kids like medical students looking for a really good suit," Schmidt says.

Source: Max Schmidt, co-founder of 1701 Bespoke
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelEleven scores $2 million more in venture capital

LevelEleven is adding a couple more million dollars to its pile of venture capital cash in downtown Detroit.

The nearly 2-year-old tech startup has landed an extra $2 million from its original investors, bringing the total amount of seed capital it's raised to $5.6 million. The $2 million is part of a convertible note that will be part of its Series A round, which the company expects to close later this year. The money will be put toward research & development of the firm’s app, sales and marketing efforts, and growing the staff.

"We're going to be investing it in all fronts," says Bob Marsh, CEO of LevelEleven. "It's really for everything."

LevelEleven spun out of HelloWorld (formerly Ferndale-based ePrize) in 2012. LevelEleven sells an enterprise gamification app (native to the salesforce platform) that helps motivate sales professionals and tracks their progress.

It currently has 175 customers, which is up from just under 100 a year ago. Some of those customers include Comcast, eBay, Tiffany & Co, Forrester, Cardinal Health, the Detroit Pistons, Shutterstock, and Microstrategy.

"It ranges from large enterprises like Comcast and eBay to small businesses," Marsh says.

LevelEleven has also hired 18 people over the last year. It currently has a staff of 26 employees and two interns. It is currently looking to hire two more people and plans to bring one of its interns (a University of Michigan student) on as a full-time employees after that person graduates next semester.

"We are literally always hiring for sales and engineering positions," Marsh says. "Anytime we can find good people we hire them."

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

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

Detroit Bikes expands staff as bike sales gain traction

People started to have their doubts about Detroit Bikes last year when the bicycle startup issued temporary layoffs at its production facility only a few months after starting to sell its first bikes.

Those doubts are gone this summer. The two-year-old company called back most of those workers this spring and is hiring new people this summer after debuting its second version of a classic, American-style bicycle.

"Sales are really strong," says Zak Pashak, founder & president of Detroit Bikes. "It's not exactly what I predicted, but we’re back-ordered right now. It's a good position to be in."

Pashak moved to Detroit from Calgary with the idea of building a simple, streamlined bicycle for riding in urban environments in the heart of America's manufacturing mecca. The result was the A-Type, a bicycle with thinner/smoother tires on larger wheels, a frame made of chromoly steel, and only three speeds. The idea: keep it simple.

So far that idea is working. Detroit Bikes has sold nearly 1,000 of the A-Type model, prompting it to release the B-Type last week. The B-Type features a step-through frame that's easier to mount and dismount. It also has a glossy white finish (the A-Type only came in black, a la Henry Ford's Model T). "We use a powdered coat, which is more environmentally friendly," Pashak says.

It's all part of Pashak's plan to start with a good product and harness some word of mouth buzz to drive sales. That materialized slower than Pashak expected, but Detroit Bikes has come out with a better marketing plan and expanded its distribution network across the continent.

"I think we have a shop in every state now," Pashak says.

And they are accepting product from Detroit Bikes’ 50,000-square-foot facility on Elmira Street near Schaefer Highway on the city's far west side. The company now employs 10 people at the facility and is looking to hire four more. Pashak expects to sell between 3,000 and 4,000 bikes by year’s end and 10,000 by the end of next year. He is also looking to add some international sales to the mix later this year.

"I want to sell bikes to anybody who will buy them," Pashak says. "I also like the idea of exporting them. Anything we can do to bring more money into the local economy."

Source: Zak Pashak, founder & president of Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Qstride continues to hire, grow in downtown Detroit

Qstride at an interesting point on its growth curve. The tech company is successful, landing large customers and spiking its revenue; however, the company doesn’t have the resources it needs to scale itself.

Qstride, which has offices in Troy and downtown Detroit, has grown its revenue by 130 percent over the last year. It now clocks sales in excess of $2 million -- something it has achieved entirely through bootstrapping.

"We have a model that is proven," says Shane Gianino, founder & CEO of Qstride. "Of course, it's a marathon, not a sprint."

The 2.5-year-old firm specializes in business intelligence and analytics services that integrate with its customer's IT systems. It also provided staffing services for the technology sector. It currently employs 20-odd people, half of whom work in downtown Detroit.

"We're looking at potentially expanding our presence downtown," Gianino says. "We're trying to figure that out."

Qstride has hired three people three people in downtown Detroit and Gianino is optimistic that the number can grow quickly over the next year as he begins to entertain offers for venture capital investment in the company to help scale it.

"We have an opportunity to add a lot of jobs in Detroit," Gianino says.

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

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

Midtown Concierge opens pilot site in Henry Ford Hospital

Balance Concierge expanded into Detroit with the opening of Midtown Concierge earlier this month.

The East Lansing-based firm specializes in providing concierge services at hospitals. It launched a pilot location in Henry Ford Hospital in New Center called Midtown Concierge. The year-long pilot will offer free concierge services to Henry Ford Health System employees, helping them strike a better work-life balance by taking care of everyday tasks, such as oil changes and getting tickets to events.

Midtown Concierge is staffed by two people and is only available to hospital employees during the pilot phase.

"It has the potential to serve clients outside of the hospital after the pilot phase," says Jennifer Cooper, vice president of marketing & new programs for Balance Concierge.

Balance Concierge came to Detroit on the invitation of Henry Ford Health System. The move was facilitated by Midtown Detroit.

"They were a key player in setting this up," Cooper says.

Source: Jennifer Cooper, vice president of marketing & new programs for Balance Concierge
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

URBN Technologies establishes itself with software work

A 6-month-old software startup spinning out of TechTown is starting to get the attention of some big corporations.

URBN Technologies recently graduated from TechTown’s DTX Launch Detroit program, a 10-week summer accelerator for college students and recent graduates aspiring to launch a technology startup. It's now working on IT and software consulting with some big automotive players.

"We're working on projects with GM and Chrysler," says Pradeep Bhat, CEO of URBN Technologies. "We just enjoy programming. We wanted to come with our own projects."

URBN Technologies and its team of six people is currently working on a software platform that allows users to control all of the electronics they own from a single device. Think of it as a TV remote for your TV and every other electronic gadget in the house.

"We're going to narrow the scope of what we’re doing later on," says Matthew Verkin, CMO of URBN Technologies.

Source: Pradeep Bhat, CEO of URBN Technologies and Matthew Verkin, CMO of URBN Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Cosmo Branding and Marketing launches out of Pony Ride

Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson launched Cosmo Branding and Marketing last fall to provide services to small businesses starting up in Detroit.

Today, the Corktown-based company -- it calls Pony Ride home -- has established itself as a firm that helps startups and entrepreneurs tell their stories.

"We saw the need was there for branding for startups, especially in downtown Detroit," Watson says.

Both Morman and Watson have backgrounds in creative and entrepreneurial ventures. They have been able to help their clients with everything from product designs to guerilla marketing to event planning. The whole idea is to help businesses build better brands by executing well-thought-out marketing strategies. Among its clients are Caledonia Capital Partners and Infinite Mile.

"We like to work with a variety of different businesses," Morman says. "It allows us to diversify and sharpen our skills."

Cosmo Branding and Marketing currently is composed of Watson and Morman, two independent contractors, and an intern. The team is now looking to take on clients outside of Michigan during its second year.

Source: Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson, co-founders of Cosmo Branding and Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Wallace Detroit Guitars turns reclaimed wood into guitars

Reclaimed wood from disassembled houses in Detroit is popping up everywhere these days. It can be found in trendy coffee houses, in table tops, even in the frames of sunglasses. And it's about to be found in guitars.

Wallace Detroit Guitars is making electric guitar bodies from wood reclaimed from Detroit’s abandoned houses. The Corktown-based company is working to create high-end guitars with recycled materials meant to inspire memories of the Motor City's heritage and musical legacy. Mark Wallace, owner of Wallace Detroit Guitars, was inspired to launch the venture early this year when he started noticing reclaimed materials becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the local creative community.

"I got interested in seeing how far we could push that," Wallace says. "What can we build with reclaimed materials from Detroit?"

An instrument from Wallace Detroit Guitars is meant to emphasize that the quality of the wood (taken from Michigan's virgin forests a century ago) and the advanced skill set of Wallace’s team of eight craftsman. Each guitar will feature high-quality hardware and hand-wound pickups. All of the wood is from reclaimed material, except for the neck of the guitar, which Wallace is sourcing from maple trees harvested in Michigan.

"I'm in the process of finishing the first prototypes," Wallace says. "They're working out great."

The first guitars are expected to come to market later this month. Each will retail for $2,000. Wallace acknowledges that the starting price point means they won't be someone's first guitar, but he eventually wants to make them accessible to a broad range of people -- not just folks who appreciate quality guitars with cool backstories and end up hanging them on a wall, but to musicians and others who will bring the instrument to life in a variety of places.

"I'd like to sell these to everybody," Wallace says. "I'd like to sell them to people who love Detroit and love making music."

Source: Mark Wallace, owner of Wallace Detroit Guitars
Writer: Jon Zemke
Photos: Jesse David Green, MammothReach

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

Banza turns chick peas into next big thing in pasta

Brian Rudolph ran into a something of a conundrum early in his adult life. The Detroiter is gluten free and loves to eat healthy, but he also loves to eat pasta. He reconciled these contradictions by creating his own gluten-free pasta and bulding a business, Banza, around it.

"I stopped buying pasta and started making my own," says Rudolph, a Venture for America fellow who co-founded Banza with his brother, Scott Rudolph. "The more I worked on it the more I realized this could be a $1 billion company."

Banza's pasta is made from chickpeas, so it is more akin to hummus and falafel than traditional pasta. It is gluten, grain, and soy free. While normal pasta lacks in providing nutritional value, Banza contains a load of nutrients. It has seven grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein in a serving.

"It's more (protein) than you get in a protein bar," Rudolph says.

The 8-month-old company and its team of three people are currently working to get their pasta-replacement food to market. It is currently in the Eatly fine food stores in the U.S. and should be on the shelves of the 200 Meijer stores by September. The Rudolphs also just participated in a taping of Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show for entrepreneurs on CNBC.

"Our goal is to do to pasta what Chobani did to yogurt," Rudolph says.

Source: Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Barre brings ballet barre fitness studio to riverfront

Ballet barre classes have made their way to Detroit with the opening of Detroit Barre on the Motor City’s East Riverfront neighborhood.

The 1-month-old fitness studio opened in a refurbished carriage house at 2217 Franklin St. near Chene Park, Atwater Brewery, and the Dequindre Cut. The space is 1,500 square feet, half of which is a dedicated workout area. Three instructors teach barre fitness, which is designed to work out the muscles of a dancer with low impact, isometric exercises that combine ideas from ballet, pilates, and yoga.

"It's accessible to people of all ages and ability levels," says Laura Davis, a teacher at Detroit Barre. "It provides a space where people of all walks of life can come together and improve their fitness level."

Detroit Barre currently welcomes a couple dozen regulars to its class. Davis and her partners would like to grow that clientele over the next year as they establish the business.

"We'd like to have a regular 50 students come in on a weekly basis," Davis says.

Source: Laura Davis, teacher at Detroit Barre
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Aircraft grows to 12 people, eyes acquisition

There was once a time when Detroit was the center of not only the automotive world, but the aviation world, too. Back in the early 20th century, the Detroit Aircraft Corp produced more aircraft than any other company and owned a number of subsidiaries, including the company that is now Lockheed Martin. The Detroit Aircraft Corp didn’t survive the Great Depression.

"It struck me that if it had survived that time we would have an automotive industry and an aerospace industry," says Jon Rimanelli.

That inspired Rimanelli to launch Detroit Aircraft Corp, the 21st century version of its namesake company specializing in unmanned aircraft (drone) technology and operating out of Detroit City Airport. Rimanelli first started playing with the idea when speaking to NASA officials about how the U.S. aviation and radar systems need to be reformed to accommodate to 21st century technology. Rimanelli believes that such reforms could open up the vast majority of U.S. airports to most of the populace, which currently doesn't have access to them because its members can’t facilitate commercial flights.

"99 percent of the population gets access to one percent of the airports while one percent of then population gets access to the whole system," Rimanelli says.

He launched Detroit Aircraft Corp in 2011 with the idea of enabling that access through unmanned aircraft. He sharpened that vision earlier this year when Detroit Aircraft Corp won a contract with Lockheed Martin to manufacture battery charger stations in Detroit. It is currently looking to lock down another contract with Lockheed Martin to make drones.

That work has allowed Detroit Aircraft Corp to hire seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to 12 people. It is currently looking to acquire A3 Electronics in Livonia as it prepares to begin building hundreds of units and employ several dozen people.

"We'd like to lead the world in aircraft manufacturing not once, not twice, but three times," Rimanelli says.

Source: Jon Rimanelli, founder & CEO of Detroit Aircraft Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ENT Biotech Solutions scores $100K from Michigan Pre-Seed Fund

ENT Biotech Solutions recently secured $100,000 in seed capital from the Michigan Pre-Seed Fund 2.0, which is part of a $1 million angel round for the TechTown-based startup.

"We are in the process of closing it," says Andrea Roumell Dickson, CEO of ENT Biotech Solutions.

The two-year-old startup is developing the Elasso, a single-use, disposable device designed as a cost-effective too for reducing the tedious nature of adenoid and tonsil surgery. The one-step tool cuts, cauterizes, and removes tissue, combining the advantages of heating and cutting technologies.

ENT Biotech Solutions is currently waiting for a clearance from the FDA to move ahead with commercialization. That clearance could come as soon as this fall.

"As soon as we receive that we have a green light to manufacture. Our tooling is already cut," Roumell Dickson says. "We are able to very rapidly ramp up for production."

Source: Andrea Roumell Dickson, CEO of ENT Biotech Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Venture for America fellows launch video production firm TernPro out of Bizdom

Brian Bosche came to Detroit two years ago as part of the inaugural class of Venture for America, a two-year program that pairs talented college grads with startups in economically challenged cities. Bosche ended up working on the leadership team at Bizdom and noticed a common challenge all of the entrepreneurs in the program were facing.

"They all struggled to tell their story," Bosche says. "Especially with video because video is really hard."

That inspired Bosche to start TernPro, a full-service video production company. Along with Venture for America fellow Dan Bloom, Bosche launched the company earlier this year. TernPro is currently going through Bizdom's startup accelerator program, but is already producing videos for a variety of clients, including Come Play Detroit, Quicken Loans, and Grand Circus.

"[We do] everything from real-estate to travel, both in Detroit and across the country, as well." Bosche says.

That workload has allowed TernPro to hire two employees and bring on an intern. Bosche expects to continue adding staff this year, possibly bringing the firm’s intern on as a full-time employee.

TernPro is also developing a video creation platform so everyday people can produce videos and track the public's interaction with them. Bosche hopes to have a Beta version of the comprehensive video creation platform up and running by next year.

"That entire process is one I’d love to have on one platform," Bosche says.

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

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

M-1 Rail construction comes alive, Duggan calls for expansion


Doubt clouded the prospects of bringing streetcars back to Detroit for years. Starting yesterday, however, work crews are actively erasing that doubt as they start construction on the M-1 Rail project in Detroit's central business district.

M-1 Rail is leveraging $140 million in both public and private money to build a streetcar line along Woodward Avenue between Larned Street downtown and Grand Boulevard in New Center. The 3.3-mile-long line will have a dozen stops when it opens in the fall of 2016. The build out of the line between Larned Street and Adams Street is scheduled for the next 120 days.

M-1 Rail will be the first streetcar to operate in Detroit since 1956 when the city uprooted the last of its light rail lines in favor of bus system. Proponents of the streetcar line (a conglomeration of local business executives, elected officials, and foundation leaders) claim it will streamline mass transit along Woodward Avenue, "Michigan’s Main Street," and accelerate economic development along the lower Woodward corridor. M-1 Rail is projecting that the streetcar will catalyze 10,000 new housing units and more than $3 billion in economic development along its route, attracting thousands of new residents and jobs to the Motor City in the process.

"We are seeing a time in our country where people want to move back to urban areas," says Mayor Mike Duggan. "They want to be connected."

M-1 Rail is a key piece of Detroit’s formula for capitalizing on that trend, yet the project's fate was uncertain when former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declared the proposed Woodward Light Rail line between 8 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue dead just a few years ago. But the M-1 Rail group was resolute and brought the project back from the dead, scrapping the longer configuration favored by the Bing administration and returning to the group's original proposal of a streetcar connecting downtown Detroit, Midtown, and New Center.

While M-1 Rail leaders remain focused on the greater downtown portion of the line, Mayor Duggan reignited the idea of extending the streetcar further up Woodward during the ground breaking press conference.

"Ultimately, we want to build this rail to 8 Mile and then to Pontiac," Duggan says.

Source: M-1 Rail, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rebuild Nation moves to New Center with 10 employees

Rebuild Nation is a young company getting started in a new home in Detroit's New Center neighborhood this summer.

The full-service advertising agency moved its 10 employees from Royal Oak to the Boulevard West building on West Grand Boulevard (across the street from the Fisher Building) last month. The reason: Detroit's greater downtown area has momentum and a competitive edge over the surrounding suburbs.

"The whole company, everyone here, believes in Detroit and wants to be a part of it," says Josh Gershonowicz, owner of Rebuild Nation. "There is a certain energy here you can’t find in the suburbs."

Gershonowicz worked in advertising for a few years, collecting side projects along the way and looking for the right opportunity to strike out on his own. The right opportunity turned out to be Bright Side Dental. The dental practice has nine locations across Metro Detroit and recently decided to turn its marketing efforts over to Gershonowicz, who in turn launched Rebuild Nation.

"It allowed me to merge other small projects I had into an agency," Gershonowicz says. "We started in Royal Oak but moved to New Center six weeks ago."

Today Rebuild Nation has several dozen clients, including The Masonic Temple and Michigan Dental Assisting School. The company has carved out a niche serving the marketing needs of health-care clients. That has allowed Rebuild Nation to grow its staff to 10 employees, about a dozen independent contractors, and two interns. The company recently hired four employees in social media, design, operations, and account management.

Gershonowicz choose to move to New Center specifically because he felt the Midtown/New Center neighborhoods offered the best place for the company to carve out a niche for itself. Gershonowicz believes a boutique firm like his could easily get lost in the mix of big creative firms downtown. Midtown and New Center offer the central city vibrancy with a chance to mix with a growing number of small businesses, while also providing a dynamic place to attract talent.

Source: Josh Gershonowicz, owner of Rebuild Nation
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Franco PR adds 2 people, aims to hire 3 more in Ren Cen

Franco Public Relations Group turns 50 years old this year and is celebrating with a handful of new hires.

The downtown Detroit-based boutique agency has been in the Renaissance Center since the building opened in the late 70's. This year, the company has hired two people, bringing its staff to a total of 15 employees and one intern. It's also looking to hire three more people right now, including an administrative assistant, an account executive, and a manager.

Making that growth possible is a solid bump in clients. Franco Public Relations Group has added a dozen new clients over the last year, including Southfield-based intellectual property law firm Brooks Kushman and The Oakland, a bar in downtown Ferndale.

"It's been a really good mix of clients," says Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group.

A number of those new clients are automotive suppliers riding the bump in the economy and the resurgence of the automotive industry. The rest come from a wide variety of sectors and include nonprofits and accounting firms. The diversity of clientele is no accident.

"It keeps us balanced," Kozak says. "For a long time we have been very diverse."

Source: Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Venture for America Detroit fellows launch Castle, a startup for landlords

Venture for America came to Detroit two years ago, bringing about a dozen talented young people with entrepreneurial ambitions to work in startups in the city. This summer members of that first cohort of fellows are launching their own startup.

Castle is a software play that aims to make the lives of landlords easier by bringing the property management process into the 21st century. Three Venture for America fellows are launching the startup out of their Virginia Park house that helped serve as the inspiration for the company.

Venture for America pairs recent college grads from across the U.S. with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. The idea is modeled off of Teach for America, which brings talented young college graduates to teaching positions in inner city schools. Participants, or fellows, of both programs agree to work the jobs for two years. Where Teach for America works to bring talent to the teaching profession, Venture for America paves a way into entrepreneurship for 20-somethings.

A couple of members of VFA's first Detroit cohort started Rebirth Realty, which is taking an abandoned, tax-foreclosed house on Virginia Park in New Center and renovating it into a home for future Venture for America fellows, the first of whom are are moving in this summer. The experience inspired the renovators to build a better landlording system.

"We didn't like the way things are being done," says Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle. "We didn't see anything out there that worked."

Nussenbaum and two other VFA fellows began working on the startup six months ago as they neared the end of their two-year fellowship. They interview landlords to find the best pain points on which to capitalize. They have since left their jobs, or are in the process of doing so, to build out the software platform. They are aiming to launch a closed Beta in early September with 10-15 landlords. They are doing it all in the house they bought for a few thousand dollars last fall.

"That's one of the great things about being in Detroit -- it's super cheap,” Nussenbaum says. "We're all in out early 20s, so we don’t need a lot."

Source: Max Nussenbaum, CEO of Castle
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Big project roundup: Motor City Mapping and M-1 Rail gear up this summer

A pair of big projects in Detroit made news last week. Motor City Mapping, the effort to catalogue the condition of each property in Detroit, debuted its software platform. M-1 Rail is building the first streetcar line along Woodward Avenue in Detroit's greater downtown area in half a century. Here are some highlights from each press conference.

Motor City Mapping

- The Motor City Mapping website now displays an image and lists the condition of every property in the city. It’s designed in a similar fashion to the WhyDontWeOwnThis website.

- The Detroit Land Bank Authority and city workers are using the Motor City Mapping website to help identify blighted property and fast-track it toward renovation or demolition.

- The pictures and property description are based on data collected by street teams that fanned out across the city last winter.

- The Motor City Mapping team is working with local residents to refine its survey data to better determine the state of each property. More information on that effort here.

“It helps us make more accurate, and informed decisions,” says Charity Dean, community relations manager for the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

M-1 Rail

- The 3.3-mile streetcar line between Jefferson Avenue and Grand Boulevard is modeled after U.S.-based systems like Portland’s streetcar line.

- The line will have 12 stops with 20 stations. Some of the stops are in the center of Woodward and will utilized a shared station, while the majority of the line runs along the sides of Woodward and requires separate stations on each side of the street. The stations are still being designed.

- The 60-feet-long, driver-operated streetcars will feature street-level boarding for easy handicap access and come with space to park bicycles. Riders will enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi access. Fares will be sold at the stations, but there are no turnstiles to get on the train. Roaming field agents will randomly check passengers to confirm they paid their fare.

"It will be high-tech and have the things the kids are looking for now," says Matt Cullen, CEO of M-1 Rail.

- The trains will run at 7.5- to 10-minute intervals during peak times and 12-minute to 15-minute intervals during off-peak hours. Specific hours of operation for the train have yet to be determined.

- Construction of the M-1 Rail line will begin Monday, July 28. You can follow the project's progress on this interactive map.

Source: Matt Cullen, CEO of M-1 Rail, and Charity Dean, community relations manager for the Detroit Land Bank Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Former Compuware tech unit rebrands as Lochbridge

A former business unit in Compuware has a new name and brand related to its relatively new ownership.

The former Professional Services Division of Compuware is now known as Lochbridge, a stand-alone full tech-service integration firm. Los Angeles-based Marlin Equity Partners purchased the division from Compuware in February, spinning it out as its own company. It was briefly known as CW Professional Services before becoming Lochbridge.

"It [the transition to a stand alone company] has been going quite well," says Bob Kennedy, vice president of strategic services for Lochbridge. "Our customers have taken very positively to it."

Lochbridge serves as a full-service systems integrator in the IT and software sectors. It builds custom tech platforms for large businesses and organizations. Those range from big-data platforms to mobile apps. About 1,000 employees work for the company (mostly former Compuware staffers), with about 200 of them toiling away at the Compuware Building in downtown Detroit.

"We're hiring people every day," Kennedy says. "We have new people coming into the organization every week."

Source: Bob Kennedy, vice president of strategic services for Lochbridge
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ASquared Legal Group sets up shop in downtown Detroit

Alari K. Adams has been spending an increasing amount of time in downtown Detroit over the last few years, so it’s little wonder she moved her legal firm down here with her.

ASquared Legal Group, formerly based in Bloomfield Hills, now calls the Motor City's Central Business District home. Adams, the firm's managing attorney, moved to downtown Detroit in recent years. After a few months living there, she knew she would be bringing her law firm with her.

"I'm able to hop on the People Mover to get to work now," Adams says.

Adams got her start practicing corporate and employee law at a firm in Grand Blanc. She started ASquared Legal Group four years ago as her primary way to practice law with small businesses. The company focuses on advising businesses with their legal matters and human resources management.

"I get much more enjoyment out of small business practice," Adams says. "I help them grow their businesses and they help grow my business, too."

ASquared Legal Group currently employs two people after Adams hired an assistant over the last year to help her juggle the growing caseload. Adams wants her law firm to continue growing downtown and hopes to eventually add more staff.

Source: Alari K. Adams, managing attorney for ASquared Legal Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

140 Proof expands team in Elevator Building on riverfront

140 Proof is growing its presence in Detroit. The social media advertising startup has grown its Motor City staff to three people after making a couple of hires this year.

"It's been a huge year for us because social media and big data are big parts of our business," says John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof.

The 4-year-old company is based in San Francisco. One of its big claims to fame is serving as one of the early development partners with Twitter. It currently employs 30 people, including a handful in the Elevator Building.

140 Proof was one of the first tenants in the Elevator Building, a century-old warehouse turned loft-style office building overlooking the intersection of the Detroit RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut. It has recently hired two sales professionals for its office here. It also has served as a sponsor of the Detroit City Football Club this year.

"We love being in the Elevator Building," Manoogian says. "We have great neighbors here. It's nice being in a creative space down there on the waterfront by the Detroit River."

Source: John Manoogian III, founder & CTO of 140 Proof
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

NextEnergy scores $745K grant for clean-tech startups

NextEnergy is receiving several hundred thousand dollars in federal grant money to help it further entrepreneurial outreach and develop clean-tech startups.

The New Center-based nonprofit is splitting a large grant with Clean Energy Trust. The $745,000 grant comes from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It will fund the creation of The Bridge, which will offer a suite of services for early-stage technology companies in Michigan, Illinois and the Midwest region.

"It will be predominately based here at NextEnergy," says Jean Redfield, NextEnergy's president & CEO.

The Bridge will offer incubation services for startups and entrepreneurs specializing in transportation, the grid, and the built environment. The program will offer entrepreneurial training, access to technology partnerships, and demonstration platforms. The idea is to work with local entrepreneurial communities to help accelerate the process of turning more research into viable commercial ventures for the region’s existing manufacturing base.

"There is a significant amount of supplier and OEM activity in these three areas (Michigan, Indiana and Illinois)," Redfield says.

Source: Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Joseph Wesley Black Tea leverages new partnership for growth

Joseph Wesley Black Tea and Anthology Coffee, a Detroit-based specialty coffee roaster, are partnering with Rip van Wafels in a move that should get the Detroit-based craft beverage companies some expanded exposure across the U.S.

San Francisco-based Rip van Wafels makes small wafels designed to sit atop your coffee or teacup so that while the coffee or tea cools, the steam heats the filling and infuses the aroma of the coffee or tea into the wafel. It started a monthly subscription box earlier this year where it pairs its wafels with a different craft coffee and tea selection. Joseph Wesley Black Tea and Anthology Coffee are the selections for a Detroit-themed month of July.

"We'll see where it takes us," says Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea. "We're happy that they recognize what we’re doing."

The partnership got its start in when Anthology Coffee founder Josh Longsdorf met Rip van Wafels' Marketing Manager Ruth La Roux at the 2014 Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Annual Exposition. They recognized each other's committment to the slow food movement and decided to create a partnership. Longsdorf brought in Joseph Wesley Black Tea to complete the partnership.

"We have been working with Josh," Uhl says. "I have a similar outlook on beverages as he does."

Joseph Wesley Black Tea and its team of three people celebrated its first year in business this summer. The slow-tea company specializes in selling high-end, hand-harvested teas. Joseph Wesley Black Tea just released a product line of hand-made teas in teabags. It is also aiming to begin bottling pre-made tea drinks later this year.

Source: Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Endless Crowds raises money for military veterans, first responders

Roger Mensah and his team aren’t trying to reinvent the crowdfunding wheel with their latest start-up, Endless Crowds. They're trying to carve out a niche for a group of public servants that is too often overlooked.

"We're opening up a niche for military veterans and first responders," says Mensah, who co-founded Endless Crowds with two partners.

The team of three launched the company at the end of the January, creating a crowd-funding portal specifically for military veterans, first responders, and their families. The idea is to help them make a space for their own projects where they don’t have to compete for attention with the rest of the world.

Mensah was inspired to create the site a few years ago when President Obama was speaking about the draw down of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mensah knew they would be coming home to the deepest recession in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

"It occurred to me that the economy was so bad then, especially for the guys and girls coming back, that I thought they should have a (crowd funding) site just for them," Mensah says.

Mensah and his team built Endless Crowds at Bamboo Detroit in downtown Detroit. Among the projects that have gone through the website are an effort to build a home for homeless women veterans and projects with the Detroit Public Safety Foundation. Mensah hopes to do work with Detroit Police Department and the Detroit Fire Department over the rest of the year and establish the website as a presence in Metro Detroit.

Source: Roger Mensah, founder of Endless Crowds
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Stik aims to hire 10 as it debuts SocialProof

Stik is looking to hire 10 new employees now that it is publicly launching SocialProof, a new version of its marketing platform designed for large clients.

"This is aimed at bigger companies, whereas Stik is focused on smaller companies," says Nathan Labenz, CEO of Stik. "It does all the same things, like help companies tell their success stories."

Those success stories range from online reviews to customer testimonials. It's a new form of marketing Labenz and his team are branding as "customer success marketing." SocialProof is a more robust version of Stik's customer success marketing platform that already is being used by Quicken Loans and General Motors.

"We would love to be known as the leader in this new form of marketing that we are sort of pioneering," Labenz says. "When people think about customer success marketing, we want them to think about us."

Stik recently won a $100,000 investment from Steve Case, the former CEO of America Online, during Case's Rise of the Rest Road Tour in late June. That money will accelerate Stik’s hiring for its 10 openings. The company already has a staff of 25 employees and a summer intern after hiring 15 people over the last year.

Labenz and Stik co-founder Jay Gierak went to Harvard together and were housemates with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Labenz and Gierak launched Stik in 2010 in Silicon Valley. The pair moved it to downtown Detroit (it's a Detroit Venture Partners portfolio startup) in 2012, landing in the  M@dison Building.

Source: Nathan Labenz, CEO of Stik
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Refinement Group blends parties with grassroots

The Refinement Group describes itself as "a lifestyle branding company with strong efforts geared toward philanthropy, event production, social awareness, positive influence, music, film, entrepreneurship, mentoring and more. A refined culture."

Put simply, it's a collective group of creatives that are looking to do good by combining events with grassroots causes. The end result is money raised and awareness created for good causes.

"We wanted to give people a purpose for their celebration," says Darren Brown, co-founder of The Refinement Group. "It's celebration with a purpose."

Since Brown and Darius Mitchell started the Refinement Group, the company has grown to a team of 17 people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, ranging from actors to philanthropists. Brown is a filmmaker.

The organization has thrown parties for the Big Brothers Big Sisters and Lupus Walk. It is currently throwing a party on Sunday at the Post Bar in Dearborn called the Summer Fling.

"In the last year, I want to say we have raised about $8,000 for numerous charities," Brown says.

Source: Darren Brown, co-founder of The Refinement Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Clark Hill adds a dozen attorneys in downtown Detroit

Go to the Clark Hill website, click on the "About" tab, and the first thing that appears is an option called “Our DNA” that details the law firm’s core values.

They are summarized in a few bullet points, such as "Count on More," which describes the firm’s attitude toward embracing change, and "Don't Call Me Mr./Ms.," which details the practice’s open door mentality. Those bullet points are the key to the firm's growth, which includes the recent addition of a dozen new attorneys in downtown Detroit.

"Our secret sauce is we -- as a team -- built a strategic plan around our DNA," says Don Lee, chief marketing officer for Clark Hill.

Clark Hill's addition of 12 employees to its Detroit office marks an 11 percent increase in the firm's downtown workforce in just one year. It now employs 120 people in downtown Detroit. The firm's total number of employees has grown from 100 a decade ago to 300 today.

"We're striving to be a great place to work," Lee says. "We want to be a great place to work for everyone, not just lawyers."

Clark Hill got its start in 1890 and made its name serving the manufacturing sector in Michigan. Its oldest customer, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, has been with the law firm for more than a century. Today the law firm has 12 offices in seven states and the District of Columbia.

Source: Don Lee, chief marketing officer for Clark Hill
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Challenge Detroit welcomes third cohort of 33 new fellows

Challenge Detroit is welcoming its third cohort of fellows this month, which includes a few more fellows than previous classes.

Challenge Detroit fellows, predominately recent college graduates, participate in a year-long program where they are paired with local companies to live, work, and play in Detroit. The fellows are given a living stipend and opportunities to volunteer and sink roots in the Motor City. The hope is that the talented young people turn their fellowships into longterm commitments to the city. This year 33 fellows will take part in program, which is up two from previous years.

"We have seen a lot of interest in companies that want to participate in our program," says Shelley Danner, program director for Challenge Detroit. "They have seen a lot of our participating companies have a lot of success with our fellows."

Among the new companies participating in the Challenge Detroit program are Campus Commandos, Penske, and Clark Hill. Fellows will also join firms that have been participating in the program throughout its first three years, such as DTE Energy, Hello World, and Team Detroit.

Challenge Detroit fellows take part in six community engagement projects over the course of the program.

"We're really focused on connecting our fellows with the community," Danner says.

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

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

Detroit startups dominate Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Detroit-based startups took the lion’s share of prizes at this year's Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The business plan competition, organized by Michigan Corps, recognizes up-and-coming social entrepreneurs. It awards a total of $60,000 in prizes to 11 companies. Detroit-based companies took four of the top siz prizes in the competition. The fifth went to a Flint-based firm, and the sixth to a Pontiac-focused social enterprise. Several companies in the competition focused on helping youth find work and tackling longterm unemployment.

"The chronic unemployment issue is something we definitely (targeted for this competition)," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps. "The youth piece was a pleasant surprise."

Among the Detroit winners are:

- Wheels for Workers, which teaches volunteer mechanics in their teens and twenties how to be mechanics and auto body repair professionals. It won the Michigan Social Entrepreneur of the Year Prize.

- Welding Artisan Center, which provides career-ready training to returning veterans, job-
shifting adults, former inmates, and at-risk teens. It won the Community Transformation Prize.

- On The Rise, a business sponsored by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which is a bakery that employs men who have recently been released from prison or have completed a substance abuse treatment program and desire to truly change their lives. It won the PNC Social Innovation Prize.

- City Girl Soap, which manufactures hand-crafted body soap, lotion, and laundry flakes from goats milk. It won the Women Rock Prize.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

ExperienceIT aims to bring more people into new economy

ExperienceIT, formerly IT in the D, has been redesigned as a way to give aspiring computer engineers an inside track to careers in IT and software development. It accomplishes that by training them in a classroom setting with real-world IT projects. The program also provides mentorship and on-the-job training.

"It's really a new program," says Ryan Hoyle, vice president of talent acquisition and business development for GalaxE.Solutions. "We have become a formal jobs-training program. Successful graduates of the program will receive employment of some type with our corporate sponsors."

The program sponsors include Quicken Loans, GalaxE.Solutions, Title Source, Fathead, and Marketing Associates. The first class of 45 students is starting off at the Grand Circus space in the Broderick Tower in downtown Detroit. About 200 people applied to be a part of the program. Organizers hope to hold a few more of these classes over the next year.

"We're treating this as a pilot case," Hoyle says.

Source: Ryan Hoyle, vice president of talent acquisition and business development for GalaxE.Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DIYAutoFTW aims to centralize auto data for gear heads

Steve Balistreri knows a lot about cars, but the auto engineer and car wonk had a problem: there was no centralized place to find particular information about a variety of vehicles.

For instance, if he wanted to find out how to change the spark plugs in a 1969 Mustang, he knew he could find it if he putzed around on a search engine long enough. Same thing if he wanted to know the bumps specs on a 1976 Ford F-150.

"It would take 20 minutes clicking on sites, shifting through conflicting data," Balistreri says.

That's what motivated him to create DIYautoFTW, a website that catalogues the details about vehicles  and centralizes that data.

Think of it as a sort of Wikipedia of car information. Today car enthusiasts have donated information to 400 different vehicles, and the list is growing as Balistreri cultivates his online car community.

"Our goal is to cover all vehicles," Balistreri says.

To make that possible, Balistreri participated in BUILD, D:hive’s entrepreneurial class, last fall. Now he is launching a crowd funding campaign so he can further build out his site to host all of the data. Balistreri wants to raise $40,000 by early July. Check out the campaign here.

"[The improved website] will be easier to manager and a more collaborative environment," Balistreri says.

Source: Steve Balistreri, president of DIYuutoFTW
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Fresh Corner Cafe expands with workplace cafe service

Fresh Corner Cafe can now be found in commercial retail spots and office spaces across Metro Detroit.

The Midtown-based business (it calls the Green Garage home) recently launched a workplace cafe service where it installs a cooler at a workplace where patrons can swipe a credit card and take the food when they want. The pilot program can be found in five offices across the region, including St. John's Hospital in Clinton Township and the Franklin Athletic Club.

"We're bringing the corner store model to employers," says Noam Kimelman, co-founder of Fresh Corner Cafe.

The three-year-old business has made a name for itself as a supplier of healthy, organic foods to corner store bodegas across the Motor City. Its sandwiches and wraps can be found in 20 party stores in Detroit. The company has grown to a staff of seven employees after hiring another delivery person over the last year.

Kimelman would like to see both the corner store service and the work place cafe grow to a point where they can each support themselves. The Fresh Corner Cafe team is working to grow to 50 corner store accounts and 50 work place cafe accounts by the summer of 2015. The company is targeting both business offices for work place cafe locations, as well as community centers, where it hopes customers will be able to pay with Bridge cards.

"We're going for 20 work place cafes right now," Kimelman says.

Source: Noam Kimelman, co-founder of Fresh Corner Cafe
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

BUILD grad launches Alegria Pops in SW Detroit

During the work day, Ofelia Saenz toils away as a copywriter and freelance publicist. During events, you can find her selling paletas from her young business Alegria Pops.

Paletas are Mexican ice pops made from a variety of flavors. Alegria Pops advertises its paletas as "small-batch, artisanal ice pops [that] are made from scratch using a blend of traditional Mexican flavors and the freshest available ingredients, often combined in unconventional and surprising ways."

Saenz completed the BUILD entrepreneurial class at D:hive last spring and used that experience as the launchpad for starting Alegria Pops in Southwest Detroit last summer.

"I knew I wanted to do something with food," Saenz says. "Coming up with the recipes for ice pops seemed like a challenge, but an interesting challenge."

Today she has 15 recipes and sells her products by popping-up at local festivals, events, and restaurants like Green Dot Stables. She is also going to be working at the series of BUILD Bazaar events across the city this month.

"My goal is to build the business so it can be sold out of a brick-and-mortar location, preferably in the Southwest or Corktown areas." Saenz says.

Source: Ofelia Saenz, owner of Alegria Pops
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Southwest Rides bridges bicycles and business in Springwells

Southwest Rides is opening its first bike/skateboard shop in the heart of the Springwells neighborhood this week, but the founders behind the new venture are looking at making a bigger impact than just sales.

"We see this as more than just a bike shop and a skateboard shop," says Isaac Gilman, board member of Southwest Rides. "We want to provide options for kids."

The low-profit limited liability company (L3C) began as a youth program that focused on teaching inner city kids life skills like entrepreneurship. The idea is to teach kids the ins and outs of working in retail, holding down a job, and running a business by working at the retail store.

"Our big thing is making a big impact on young people's lives in a sustainable way," Gilman says.

The new shop is set to open in a former cyber cafe at 1824 Springwells on Thursday. The cyber cafe is moving to the second floor of the building. The shop will feature repair services for bicycles and skateboards, while also selling bikes, skateboards, and other assorted paraphernalia. It also aims to sells goods from local businesses.

Southwest Rides currently is looking for a seventh member of its advisory board. It also has two employees and one young person serving as an apprentice. The organization is looking for young people from the Springwells neighborhood in their mid-to-late teens to early 20s  to serve in the positions it offers.

"We are looking to bring on two more young people as apprentices to the shop," Gilman says.

Source: Isaac Gilman, board member of Southwest Rides
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

PishPosh expands studio downtown to make room for new shows

PishPosh is growing its presence in the virtual world and the real world.

The 3-year-old podcasting and video production startup is growing its portfolio of shows and expanding its office space in downtown Detroit. Its studio space in the Department of Alternatives (the downtown Detroit-based entrepreneurial collective) will grow from a few hundred to more than 1,000 square feet.

The new space includes a moveable light grid system and a cyc wall, which is shadowless because it has no corners, to enable better green screen work. The increase in space enables the PishPosh team of three people (all co-founders) to tackle a broader diversity of projects.

"We might be building out beyond that if we need it," says Ben Duell Fraser, co-founder of PishPosh.

PishPosh is also expanding its portfolio of shows. Over the last year, the company made its name with "Slash Detroit," a video roundup of the local news with the sharpest sense of humor in local media right now. Viewers will recognize Duell Fraser as the main anchor from the broadcast that comes out each Friday.

PishPosh is also experimenting with new shows, such as "Detroit Media Zone" (also known as DMZ), which Duell Fraser describes as friendly paparazzi focused on finding fun with local celebrities, politicos, and everyday people. Check out the pilot broadcast of DMZ here.

"If we can find enough celebrities and politicians, we'll keep doing it," Duell Fraser says.

He and his team are also looking at creating round table shows for the service industry ("The 86 List") and a "Real Time with Bill Maher"-style politics show that focuses on Detroit issues, both local and national.

"Detroit is the epicenter and it radiates out from there," Duell Fraser says.

PishPosh is also working to create some sponsored content, such as creating niche shows promoting civic hacking (making public information easier to access through new technology). The idea is to build on the success of Slash Detroit (which will stay an independent-minded pet project) with a broader range of sponsored content production.

You can sign up for Slash Detroit and the rest of PishPosh's productions here. Check out more about Slash Detroit's shenanigans here.

Source: Ben Duell Fraser, co-founder of PishPosh
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Model Behavior Hair Salon expands in Mexicantown

Four years ago, Helen Shaw turned a layoff from her factory job into an opportunity to start her own business, Model Behavior Hair Salon. Today, she is moving her company into a bigger space, adding staff, and working to launch a product line.

Shaw worked at a Budd Co plant as a press operator and a hi-low driver, leveraging the company's perks to further her education into cosmetology school. Not long after Shaw was laid off, she opened Model Behavior Hair Salon on West Vernor Avenue.

She is now building out a larger space at 7721 W. Vernor Hwy. thanks in part to an entrepreneurial education course and a $25,000 loan from ProsperUS Detroit. The new location is nearly 50 percent larger than her old one and has space for an office above the salon. The new home, which is set to open by the end of the month, is in the center of the business district on that section of West Vernor.

"I like southwest Detroit because it's a central location for east side, west side, and downtown," Shaw says. "It's easy to get to, and my clientele has tripled since I started four years ago."

She plans to hire four stylists when Model Behavior Hair Salon opens. She is also applying for an NEIdeas $10,000 grant so she can launch her own hair-care products line. Model Behavior Hair Salon specializes in African-American hair, but Shaw says she counts women of all races and ages as her customers.

"I can do all hair," Shaw says. "I welcome all."

Source: Helen Shaw, owner & operator of Model Behavior Hair Salon
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Homes Eyewear turns reclaimed wood into sunglasses

Reclaimed wood is making its way into more and more facets of Detroiters' lives these days. Homes Eyewear, which manufactures wooden sunglass frames, is one of the latest businesses to make use of this resource in its product line.

The Eastern Market-based company uses wood harvested from blighted homes that have been dismantled by Reclaim Detroit. The Homes Eyeware also makes a line of wooden sunglasses that are made from non-reclaimed wood, but the glasses made from hardwood recycled from old houses are the firm's distinctive products.

"I needed something that would set my company apart from other wood sunglass manufacturers," says Achille Bianchi, founder of Homes Eyewear.

Bianchi, who graduated with a journalism degree from Wayne State University, worked for several years as a copy editor for The Michigan Citizen and as a community manager for Mode Shift before launching Homes Eyewear.

"I just like working with my hands," Bianchi says. "We have a laser cutter in our shop and I wanted to be my own boss."

Bianchi operates Homes Eyewear from the OmniCorpDetroit hacker space. He was inspired to start the business after a friend showed him the wealth of heartwood that Reclaim Detroit has collected. Bianchi has since sold 50 pairs of the sunglasses, which retail for $150 to $200. He hopes to scale those production numbers with more online sales and establish the company's presence in local retail stores this year.

"I want to keep making the product better and build the product's online presence," Bianchi says.

Source: Achille Bianchi, founder of Homes Eyewear
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Social Entrepreneurship Showcase highlights impact investors

Business competitions are becoming increasingly common in Detroit. Three are making their way through the Motor City this summer.

Former AOL CEO Steve Case recently announced that Detroit will be the first stop on his Rise of the Rest bus tour and pitch competition on June 24. The tour highlights up-and-coming entrepreneurial hot spots, showcasing their business accelerators and startups. Each stop will host a pitch competition with a top prize of a $100,000 investment from Case.

Project Startup Live held its business plan competition at TechTown last week. Of the three finalist (Banza, Swaddle-mi-Bili, and Social Sushi), Banza walked away with the top prize of $5,000. The two runners-up each received $2,500. Banza is marketing a pasta made from chickpeas. Swaddle-mi-Bili is developing a wearable fabric that helps babies fight jaundice. Social Sushi works to connect people and ideas through high-quality sushi.

The Social Entrepreneurship Showcase is gearing up to hold an afternoon event on June 20 to promote the participants and winners of this year's Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The challenge looks to help grow the local socially focused entrepreneurial community. This year, 280 entrepreneurs and companies are participating from across the state.

"I think more than half of our participants hail from southeast Michigan," says Elizabeth Garlow,  executive director of Michigan Corps, which is organizing the Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.

She adds that this year's conference will focus on helping grow angel investors and investment funds looking to blend their portfolio with ventures that are socially entrepreneurial. This new class of investor is being branded as an "impact investor" who aims to make a difference while making a profit.

For information on the Social Entrepreneurship Showcase, click here.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow,  executive director of the Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Steel startup Detroit Materials spins out of Wayne State

A new startup spinning out of Wayne State University believes it can make a stronger steel that will have applications in a broad range of industries, including defense, infrastructure, and automotive.

Detroit Materials technology promises to create a high-quality steel that is both lighter and stronger than current options. The steel alloy is expected to help create efficiencies in areas like energy sustainability, pollution reduction, increased safety, and lower production costs.

"We're in the process of revalidating the technology so we can show that everything we say can happen in a lab can happen in a production facility," says Pedro Guillen, CEO of Detroit Materials.

The technology was developed by a research team led by Wayne State University Engineering Profesor Susil Putatunda. The team focused on creating advanced materials with high-yield strength, fracture toughness, and ductility. A $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and $25,000 from the Michigan Emerging Technologies Fund got the technology to the point where it could be considered for commercialization.

Detroit Materials is also partaking in the New Economy Initiative's Technology Development Incubator Program, which opened the door for a licensing agreement and the creation of the startup last September. Detroit Materials is currently working from the Invest Detroit offices in the Renaissance Center while it looks for a permanent office in the greater downtown Detroit area.

Detroit Materials currently has a staff of two, including its CEO. Guillen worked as an entrepreneur-in-residence for the Detroit Technology Exchange. The company is also looking to hire two part-time engineers while it works to secure three pilot programs for its steel technology by the end of this year. It is also preparing to raise a Series A round of seed capital.

"Our goal is to raise a Series A within the next six months," Guillen says.

Source: Pedro Guillen, CEO of Detroit Materials
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Stevens Worldwide Van Lines opens downtown Detroit office

A moving company is moving into downtown Detroit. Stevens Worldwide Van Lines has opened an office at 1528 Woodward, bringing half a dozen more jobs with it.

"We're really excited about it," says Ed Melton, vice president of moving and storage for Stevens Worldwide Van Lines. "It's going to be a great move for us."

The Saginaw-based firm is a full-service moving company that got its start in 1905. It now employs 275 people in a number of offices across Michigan. This is the company's first office in downtown Detroit.

Stevens Worldwide Van Lines’ new Detroit office employs six people. The company is currently looking to hire a sales person, along with a handful of drivers and movers. The firm got the idea to open the downtown Detroit office after speaking to the folks at Bedrock Real Estate Services, which manages the real estate holdings of the Quicken Loans family of businesses.

"It became clear that if you want to get business in downtown Detroit, you need to contribute to it," Melton says. "Bedrock is a strong believer in that."

Source: Ed Melton, vice president of moving & storage for Stevens Worldwide Van Lines
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Urban Partnership Bank expands staff as it grows lending

Urban Partnership Bank (UPB) is expanding its lending staff in Detroit as the Chicago-based financial institutions looks to grow its business portfolio in the Motor City.

"We're aggressively seeking community borrowers to build businesses and revitalize business districts in Detroit’s neighborhoods," says Brian Berg, director of communications for Urban Partnership Bank.

UPB has set a goal of lending $10 million to small business, nonprofits, and real-estate investors for this year. It has already loaned millions of dollars to Detroit-based businesses since opening its Midtown office in 2012.

Among the recipients of Urban Partnership Banks loans is the Parkside-Five. The 138-unit apartment building at 23740 Fenkell St received a $1.3 million loan for a renovate. Urban Partnership Bank also gave three loans worth $3.3 million, in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corp and Invest Detroit, to Grandpapa's, a Detroit-based business that manufactures cheese balls, pork rinds, and other snack foods. The loan helped the business purchase and renovate an abandoned 139,000-square-foot production facility on East Davison Avenue.

"The company plans to add 50 new employees," Berg says.

Urban Partnership Bank recently introduced new lending options, including fixed-rate mortgages, home-equity loans, CD-secured loans, and secured lines of credit. It also added two new positions to its Midtown office to help it meet its goal of lending $10 million this year.

Source: Brian Berg, director of communications for Urban Partnership Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hype takes center stage at Techweek Detroit

Matt Burns, the senior editor at TechCrunch, was about to take the stage at Techweek Detroit when the minute-long, Kid Rock-inspired video for Opportunity Detroit blared across the big screens behind him. For a moment, it seemed like the coastal technology reporter forgot he was about to interview Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert.

"That's quite the opening," Burns said. "It's like we're at a wrestling match."

Techweek Detroit was pure Detroit 2.0. Big on tech with equal parts grit and glitz. Heavy on the hype. And that's a good thing.

Building tech communities in Michigan often relies heavily on playing the Midwest nice card. Think lots of nerds doing cool things in polite, quiet little enclaves like Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids -- all of them nudging the tech world forward at their own speeds.

Techweek Detroit, and most of the events that revolve around the Quicken Loans family of companies, always have more of a fast-paced feel to them. They are tackling big things, whether its renovating large sections of downtown, building/funding cutting-edge technology, or working to eradicating blight. When presenters at the Techweek Detroit say they are working to make the world a better place, it comes across as far more sincere than the techie cliche the TV show Silicon Valley likes to make fun of.

Techweek Detroit isn't the place where startups secure seed capital for startups or investors score exits. It's the type of event that is meant to get people excited about doing those things in Detroit. It’s about showing off the city's cool factor in a half-renovated building where construction resumes as soon as the conference ends. It's about showcasing momentum whether its millions invested in buildings, or maturing startups like Are You A Human, or up-and-coming entrepreneurs like UpTo CEO Greg Schwartz.

Midwestern tech startups are stereotypically light years behind their costal counterparts when it comes to marketing themselves and whipping up hype about their products (and their valuations) -- too reliant on being quietly cool. That's not the case with downtown Detroit's tech scene. While the loud colors and (at times) forced quirkiness that have become synonymous with the Quicken Loans family of companies, it works for those firms because they own it. It's who they are. They're proud of it. They want the world to know about it.

Like it or not, this sort of hype creates real momentum. Excitement even. The type that attracts idealistic young people and enterprising angel investors. It makes Gilbert’s proclamations of eradicating blight in Detroit within five years seem plausible when so many leaders have made similar promises previously, and always come up short. So while the Quicken Loans hype machine might be a little more pro wrestling-like than some are comfortable with, it’s good to have a local organization that knows how work a hype machine.

Writer: Jon Zemke

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

LevelEleven doubles client base, triples revenue, hires 13

LevelEleven is 18 months old and starting to do what so many tech startups should concentrate on, generating revenue.

The downtown Detroit-based startup, a HelloWorld (formerly ePrize) spinoff, is hawking an enterprise gamification app that is native to the salesforce platform. The mobile app helps motivate sales professionals and track their progress. LevelEleven has doubled its customer base over the last year, taking on big-name clients like PayPal, Tifany & Co, and Quantcast.

"It's a combination of continually evolving the product (and some hiring)," says Bob Marsh, founder & CEO of LevelEleven. "The product is strong and solves a need. We also hired some strong sales people."

That growth in clientele has enabled LevelEleven to triple its revenue over the last year. That in turn prompted the company to hire 13 people (sales, marketing, engineering, and customer service professionals), expanding its staff to 20 employees and two interns. It currently has two open positions for an engineer and a sales professional.

LevelEleven is focused on further growing its client base and refining its business model to maximize revenue and profitability. It is also aiming to fundraise for a Series A later this year.

"We're just going to continue growing at the same pace," Marsh says.

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

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

Single mom builds crime scene cleanup biz, Pure Decontamination

The real-life version of Sunshine Cleaning is playing out in Detroit's Cody Rouge neighborhood.

For those who haven't seen the 2008 comedy-drama, the gist is a young single-mom (Amy Adams) starts a crime-scene cleanup business to support her family. Check out the trailer here. In the real-world Detroit-version, Shena Penn is the entrepreneurial hero who helps people during the most profound and often saddest experiences of their lives.

Penn graduated from Wayne State University with a journalism degree in 2010 and landed a job with a medical research firm in Ann Arbor. She had to get up at 3 a.m. to be at work by 5 a.m. each day. Raising a young child by herself, Penn lasted about eight months on the job before she knew she had to find a different way.

"The hours really weren’t conducive to family life," Penn says. "I wanted to find a way to make money and spend more time with my family."

That's when she started Pure Decontamination, a crime scene cleanup company, from her home in Cody Rouge in 2012. Penn enjoyed cleaning and the barriers of entry to the business were low. It was a good fit for an ambitious young woman who didn’t have an overabundance of family resources to rally.

Pure Decontamination started as a side gig while Penn got a new day job working at Quicken Loans. She also leveraged the entrepreneurial training resources at ProsperUS Detroit to help build her fledgling business. Penn quit her Quicken Loans job a month ago to pursue building Pure Decontamination on a full-time basis.

"You have to choose either (your day job or building your own business) or get no sleep," Penn says.

Today Penn is working toward her MBA and has a staff of 10 independent contractors working under her. She is focused on building Pure Decontamination in the tri-county area, securing contracts with local municipalities, and getting the word out about her business.

"We would really like to push ourselves at this point to make sure people know we are available," Penn says.

Source: Shena Penn, owner of Pure Decontamination
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Huron Capital Partners invest $20M in Valentus Specialty Chemicals

Valentus Specialty Chemicals isn’t the first specialty chemicals business Huron Capital Partners has backed in the last decade. It's not the second, third, or fourth. The new specialty coatings platform, led by industry veteran Ray Chlodney, is the ninth in 10 years.

Huron Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in downtown Detroit, got its start in the specialty chemicals industry with a company called Quest Specialty Chemicals, which specialized in coatings, films, and adhesives. Huron Capital Partners sold its principal position in Quest in 2011, but still retains a piece of the successful investment.

"We founded Valentus to do something like what we did with Quest," says Mike Beauregard, senior partner with Huron Capital Partners.

Valentus Specialty Chemicals plans to spend about $20 million acquiring regional specialty coatings producers to build a company with technically advanced and environmentally friendly reactive coating solutions. Huron Capital Partners expects it will take a significant bite out of an $18 billion industry by serving a variety of end markets and geographies.

"There are lots of applications," Beauregard says.

Huron Capital Partners launched in 1999 and has raised more than $1.1 billion in investment capital through four funds since then. Its portfolio companies have employed over 7,500 people throughout North America. Its current roster of portfolio firms employs 2,000 people in North America.

Huron Capital Partners currently employs a staff of 23 employees and a handful of interns from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. It has hired five people over the last year, including a vice president of business development, a controller, a transactions vice president, and two analysts.

"We plan to hire as many as 4-5 people over the next 12 months," Beauregard says.

Source: Mike Beauregard, senior partner with Huron Capital Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MSquared brings finance, accounting tools to startups

Marcus Perez and Maxim Ermakov both went into consulting after graduating from Notre Dame and Wayne State Universities. Working with small businesses and helping them figure out how to best do their books inspired them to start their own company, MSquared.

"At the end of the day, a lot of their basic financial services and processes were subpar at best," Perez says.

The 1-year-old startup and its staff of three people help outfit small businesses with tools to balance their books and figure out the general nuts and bolts of running a company. For instance, MSquared helps client firms appreciate the importance of real revenues, expenses, comprehensive financial analysis, and accurate accounting.

The company got its start when Ermakov was recruited to be the chief financial officer at a Florida company. He and Perez helped get that firm off the ground and developed a platform to do the same for other companies, which is now the core competency of MSquared.

"If we can launch this down in Florida, we can do this in Detroit," Perez says. "There is a great startup community in Detroit and we want to concentrate on this area."

MSquared has been working with Wayne State University's Blackstone LaunchPad program, which helps everyday students chase their entrepreneurial dreams by teaching them the basics of launching a business. MSquared also landed a few thousand dollars in seed capital from the program's Warrior Fund.

"It has been pretty instrumental at helping us get organized," Perez says.

Source: Marcus Perez, co-founder of MSquared
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

1xRUN expands staff with 9 new hires to keep up with growth

Some might have questioned the reasoning behind 1xRUN's move from downtown Royal Oak to Eastern Market a year and a half ago. The team at the online artwork startup can't hear those critics anymore over all the hiring it has been doing over the last year.

The 4-year-old firm, which was founded by the team behind the Inner State Gallery, has expanded its staff to 15 employees thanks to nine hires over the last year. The startup has also expanded its service offerings, moving into digital printing and book publishing -- all from its new home at 1410 Gratiot Ave.

"Moving downtown has been such a great experience for us," says Jesse Cory, CEO of 1xRUN. "There is just tremendous support for local businesses and the arts."

1xRUN sells limited-edition prints and other pieces by contemporary artists online. The idea is to create scarcity for cutting edge artwork while also making it easily accessible and affordable. 1xRUN recently wrapped up a show in Honolulu with Pow Wow Hawaii, a large mural festival. It is also looking at doing similar events in Taiwan and Israel later this year.

"We're definitely busy," Cory says. "We have a lot of cool projects going on."

1xRUN also is expanding into publishing and is working on books of artists that have inspired the company’s team. It is currently working on six titles and is set to release its first book in L.A. this weekend. 1xRUN made the jump into the printing world, too, adding that service at its headquarters in Eastern Market.

"We're doing all digital printing in-house," Cory says. "We hope to open that up as a retail operation later this year."

Source: Jesse Cory, CEO of 1xRUN
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Inner State Gallery brings international artists to Eastern Market

When Jesse Cory and his team from 1xRUN moved their e-commerce art startup to Eastern Market, they also brought a retail component with it from downtown Royal Oak.

Inner State Gallery opened at 1410 Gratiot Ave. a year ago and has since hosted a number of contemporary artists, both national and international. It's part of the gallery's visitng artist program, although its founders don’t necessarily refer to it as that.

"It's not really a program," says Jesse Cory, partner with Inner State Gallery. "We have a loft for the artist to live here and make artwork."

The artist will live at the gallery for a month, giving them a home base to practice their craft in Detroit and host an exhibition. Shark Tooth, a Los Angeles graffiti artist, will host "I'm Shark Tooth, Who The Hell Are You?" at Inner State Gallery this weekend.

Inner State Gallery hosted Jerry Vile last month and will host Meggs, an Australian-based artist, later this summer. Most of the artists participating in the program are muralists.

"You'll see more murals popping up in Eastern Market," Cory says.

Source: Jesse Cory, partner with Inner State Gallery
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Liquid Events Detroit brings the party to Woodward corridor

Jason Dritsan got his start in the world of self-employment like so many others before him. While working for others, he realized he could work just as well on his own, if not better.

"I saw a void in the market to have a turn-key event service," Dritsan says.

That epiphany led to the creation of Liquid Events Detroit, which provides event services for parties and festivals along the Woodward corridor from downtown Detroit to downtown Royal Oak. One of its signature events is Cocktail Culture. Dritsan is working to create one large event per month along the Woodward corridor for the remainder of the year.

"Our motto is, 'Good drinks, good food, good time, good will,'" Dritsan says. "We try to bring that to every event we do."

Dritsan worked on events in the beverage industry for years before starting Liquid Events Detroit, which keeps Dritsan employed on a full-time basis. At any given time, Liquid Events Detroit employs between a dozen service industry professionals to as many as 150 people on a part-time basis.

Source: Jason Dritsan, owner of Liquid Events Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Microsoft Ventures opens office in Madison Building

Microsoft Ventures is opening an office in the M@dison Building, but not just for the opportunity to invest in downtown Detroit’s most promising startups. Microsoft hopes to get those startups to use the software giant's technology.

The Madison Building quickly made a name for itself as the Motor City's premier tech hub when it opened its doors in late 2011. Since then, the newly renovated building has served as the home to a number of tech startups, venture capitalists, and angel investors. So many new economy entrepreneurs flocked to the structure that it expanded to include several adjacent buildings and rebranded itself as the Madison Block.

That activity got the attention of Microsoft.

"Our goal is to work with every single startup in the Madison," says Drew Costakis, director of the Microsoft Technology Center in Southfield. "Our plan is to meet with every single startup and see what their needs are."

Microsoft has an office in Southfield off the Lodge Freeway that employs 200 people. As part of its plan to work at the Madison Block, Microsoft Ventures will make its tech talent, coaching, and cloud computing/software services available to the entrepreneurs whose companies are housed there. To date, Microsoft has established 200 partnerships like this one in 100 cities around the world, assisting 85,000 startups in the last six years.

Microsoft Ventures' work in the M@dison Block will revolve around its partnership with Detroit Venture Partners. Dan Gilbert, chairman of the Quicken Loans, is one of the founding partners of Detroit Venture Partners, which has proven to be one of the most aggressive venture capital firms in Michigan. Microsoft Ventures plans to invest in startups from downtown Detroit as part of investments led by Detroit Venture Partners.

"We're using them as a partner," Costakis says. “They're doing all the hard work and evaluating the startups."

Source: Drew Costakis, director of Microsoft Technology Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Paxahau aims to return downtown, bigger and more Detroit-focused

It's May and that means it's Movement month for the team at Paxahau.

The Movement Electronic Music Festival, Paxahau's flagship downtown music event, features world-class electronic music acts and attracts tens of thousands of people to Detroit each year. This year Paxahau will grow its staff from a dozen permanent employees (it hired two of its interns to the permanent staff over the last year) to a team of 250 people to pull off the festival over Memorial Day weekend.
What's different this year is that Paxahau is no longer based in Detroit’s central business district, where it was founded nearly two decades ago. In 2012, the electronic music/music festival production company moved to Ferndale from an office in the third floor of Greektown's Cornice & Slate Co. building.

"We had no intention of moving for five years," says Jason Huvaere, president of Paxahau.

But it didn't work out that way. Huvaere got a call from the Cornice & Slate Co. Building's new owner a day after last year's Movement Electronic Music Festival and was told that Paxahau had to find a new home. It moved back to its old office in Ferndale by last fall (the company has moved back and forth between Detroit and Ferndale several times since its founding). Huvaere and his team have been searching for a new home in downtown Detroit ever since, and they are optimistic they will be able to find it by the end of this year.

"Any time we're out of the city we feel like we’re not at home," Huvaere says. He adds, "we're definitely moving back downtown."

Paxahau didn't miss a beat. It hosted 17 shows since last year's Movement. It has focused on small shows (with the exception of Detroit Jazz Festival) in the city. It also organized the Moogfest event in Asheville, North Carolina, last year.

"We brought about 50 people from Detroit to Asheville to do production management," Huvaere says. "It went very, very well."

Source: Jason Huvaere, president of Paxahau
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

McConnell Communications celebrates 10 years in downtown

Things like digital marketing were just hitting the mainstream and social media wasn't even close to ubiquitous when McConnell Communications launched a decade ago. Today the downtown Detroit-based firm is going strong because it bridged that divide.

"The key is being able to marry old media with new media," says Darci McConnell, president of McConnell Communications.

McConnell worked as a reporter at both the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News before launching her own boutique public relations firm at the encouragement of the late Don Barden. Today McConnell Communications employs a staff of three people at its offices in Greektown.

McConnell Communications' core clientele includes a number of the large labor unions in Detroit, such as Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan, along with the likes of the Fort-Shelby Hotel. McConnell Communications is also one of the 32 local firms participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative.

"We want to continue our growth in the city," McConnell says.

Source: Darci McConnell, president of McConnell Communications
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Stik expands staff to 25 as it preps for new product launch

A little more than a year ago, social media-startup Stik moved to downtown Detroit from Silicon Valley with a team of four people. Today it employs 25 after making the move from its initial office in the M@dison Building as a Detroit Venture Partners portfolio company to its own space a few doors down at 1528 Woodward.

"The downtown business culture is a great place to be," says Nathan Labenz, co-founder of Stik. "Moving to Detroit was the right thing for us."

Labenz co-founded Stik with Jay Gierak in 2010. The partners are Harvard graduates, classmates, and former housemates of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's other co-founders.

Stik started out helping small companies build their business through online testimonials while also enabling consumers to find professionals they can trust when making big purchases, like mortgages and insurance policies, directly through social media channels.

Stik made a name for itself by generating tens of thousands of these sort of online reviews. At one point it was generating a comparable number of online reviews as Angieslist. It has since backed changed its focus from review generation to finding new ways to generate revenue from them.

"We started 2013 with only a few thousand dollars a month in recurring revenue," Labenz says. "We have grown our revenue by a factor of 10 or so. That's still small, but we’re still testing it."

Labenz and Gierak plan to announce the release of a new version of Stik's technology later this spring. The company is also planning on raising another round of seed capital this spring and summer.

"This year is going to be about real revenue growth," Labenz says. "Then we can become a business with some real staying power."

Source: Nathan Labenz, co-founder of Stik
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MEDCís Invest Michigan plans to open downtown office

Invest Michigan, the new firm in charge of the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, is opening its first office in downtown Detroit.

Invest Michigan won the request for proposals from the Michigan Economic Development Corp earlier this year to manage the next investment round of the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund. The state-supported investment vehicle supports tech startups working toward commercialization with early stage capital infusions in the form of a convertible note equivalent to about $250,000. The new investment vehicle amounts to $5.8 million in state funds that will be invested in Detroit over the next two years, along with another $1 million for the University Commercialization Fund.

Startups eligible for the funding must have less than $1 million in revenue, less than $1 millon in third-party funding, and 100 percent matching funds from a third party source. Startups must also be based in Michigan and be beyond the concept development and analysis phase of developing their technologies.

Invest Michigan currently employs two full-time employees and one part-time person. It will occupy 1,400 square feet in the Guardian Building next week. Before it had been working virtually from its founding members laptops.

"We want to be in downtown Detroit and part of the renaissance here," says Charles Moret, president & CEO of Invest Michigan. He adds that "there is more and more interest from startups to be in Detroit" when explaining why it choose downtown Detroit over the likes of downtown Ann Arbor. Moret maintains that Invest Michigan will maintain its state-wide investment focus.

Source: Charles Moret, president & CEO of Invest Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Highland Park pastor builds biz with homemade BBQ pits

Drive down Hamilton Avenue in Highland Park and you’ll find Alfred Thomason's little slice of heaven, Rejoice Temple BarBQ Pits.

The 81-year-old Highland Park resident makes barbecue pits from refashioned metal barrels. It's an enterprise that has helped sustain Thomason and his ministry (he is a retired pastor) for several decades now.

"That way I can keep things going," says Thomason. "I don't ask anything from anybody. I do it all myself."

Rejoice Temple BarBQ Pits got its start in 1972 when Thomason's mailman asked if he would sell any of the barbecue pits he had previously made for himself. Thomason's poduct turned out to be a hit. "If I sold one I sold 50 of them," Thomason says. "They sold like hotcakes."

Rejoice Temple BarBQ Pits are fashioned from cleaned and processed 15-, 30-, and 55-gallon metal drums sourced from C-Mar Products located on 22nd Street just south of Michigan Ave in Southwest Detroit. Thomason, whose son and daughter occasionaly lend him a hand, turns each barrel into a custom-made barbecue pit, which sells for between $35 to $85, depending on its size.

Thomason sells about a half dozen barbecue pits each week.

"I used to make as many as 15 a week but I am too old for that now," Thomason says.

People interested in buying a custom barbecue pit can stop by Rejoice Temple BarBQ Pits' well-worn storefront at 16011 Hamilton or call Thomason at (313) 243-4803.

Source: Alfred Thomason, owner of Rejoice Temple BarBQ Pits
Writer: Jon Zemke
Photo: Matthew Bihun

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

Fresh Cut Detroit starts to blossom in Woodbridge

Opening a flower farm is not a common career path, but launching Fresh Cut Detroit just made sense for Sarah Pappas.

Pappas has been working in urban agriculture since 2006 when she served as an Americorps member at a non-profit in New York.

"That was my introduction to urban gardening and farming," Pappas says. "I have been farming ever since."

Pappas moved to Detroit to take an urban farming job a Greening of Detroit in 2011, which led to another gig at Keep Growing Detroit.

Eventually, Pappas decided to start her own business based on her interests in urban agriculture. She completed the D:hive BUILD program and launched Fresh Cut Detroit from her home in Woodbridge six months ago with the idea of providing fresh-cut flowers to restaurants, events, and weddings.

"It felt like the right time because the local food interest is so strong here," Pappas says. "Plus, the local flower movement has been building over the last 5-10 years."

Starting in May, Fresh Cut Detroit will operate a flower stand at the corner of W. Forest Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard every Thursday between 4-8 p.m. It also offers a weekly bouquet service, which is currently sold out, though a new session is set to begin in July and run through October. Pappas hopes it will sell out, too, as demand for Fresh Cut Detroit’s flowers continues to grow.

"I'd like to have the same sort of demand that I have today, but more land for production," Pappas says.

Source: Sarah Pappas, farmer & owner of Fresh Cut Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MammothReach leverages DC3 Creative Ventures for 1st hire

MammothReach spent its first few years building itself into the typical digital marketing firm, handling website design and other
Internet marketing tasks from its offices in the Elevator Building overlooking the Detroit RiverWalk. Then it joined the Creative
Ventures program at the Detroit Creative Corridor Center last year.

"They have had their hands on how we run our business and they have connected us with a number of projects around the city," says Jesse Green, co-founder of MammothReach. "Our revenue in 2013 is double what it was in 2012."

The Creative Ventures program helped MammothReach zero in on its ideal customers and work out how best to serve them. It also helped the 3-year-old company, which is graduating from the year-long program this spring, put a higher value on collaboration.

"We have really honed in on what we're good at," Green says. "We have spread out parts of our projects to people who are really good at them."

Spreading around work over the last year brought in even more work to MammothReach, enabling the company to make its first hire, which expanded its permanent staff to three employees and a handful of independent contractors.

"We have grown to the point where we can’t handle all of our work in-house," Green says.

Source: Jesse Green, co-founder of MammothReach
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Peck Produce eyes farm expansion near Boston-Edison

Peck Produce, an urban farm in the Boston-Edison area, is looking to expand this year in terms of the food it sells and the land it farms.

The 3-year-old urban farm occupies close to one square block in the 1600 block of Lawrence Street on the former site of Peck Elementary School. The Michigan Land Bank sold the four acres of vacant land to Noah Link and Alex Bryan not long after the school was torn down. Now Peck Produce is working to expand to a couple of abandoned vacant lots across the street later this growing season.

Peck Produce, also known as Food Field, was able to tough out this last winter despite losing a number of fruit trees and all of its bees.

"There are a number of other things we need to restock this year," Link says.

That doesn't mean the urban farm is just trying to regroup after one of the hardest winters on record. Peck Produce plans to begin harvesting fish from its newly installed aquaponics operation. It's also putting up a new hoop house and plans to finish installing solar panels that will take the farm off the electric grid later this spring.

Peck Produce has joined the City Commons CSA to help sell more of its produce faster. Peck Produce will also erect a vegetable stand on its grounds this summer to encourage more community involvement.

"We're also going to do more pop-up dinners to get more people out to the farm," Link says.

All of this new activity has allowed Peck Produce to hire its first employee. It plans to bring two part-time seasonal people on this summer to help handle the increased workload.

Source: Noah Link co-owner of Peck Produce
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Thing Thing moves to Detroit as part of DC3 Creative Ventures

Three graduates of the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and a professor recently launched a design firm called Thing Thing and moved it Detroit.

Simon Anton, Rachel Mulder, Thom Moran, and Eiji Jimbo met each other in Ann Arbor. After working in a U-M design studio for a few years, the foursome knew they had something special, which turned into Thing Thing.

"It was a shared interest and a really good working dynamic that inspired us to start an design practice," says Simon Anton, co-founder of Thing Thing.

The four partners describe Thing Thing as an "experimental design practice" because it takes industrial technology and recycled materials and finds new ways to turn them into cool new products. It's currently developing a series of lights it wants to release as its first product later this year.

"It (Thing Thing's way of doing business) allows us to find new uses for things that we can make our own," Anton says.

Thing Thing made the move to Detroit last August and has spent that time immersing itself in the Motor City. The group currently lives in Boston-Edison and has a work space at 1252 Edison St in the North End. Thing Thing's team is also working in the Detroit Creative Corridor Center’s Creative Ventures program to build out its business and become more engrained in Detroit’s emerging creative community.

Source: Simon Anton, co-founder of Thing Thing
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

AskSupportNow pilot projects attract startup's first customers

A year ago, the startup AskSupportNow had just landed $5,000 worth of seed capital to build out its IT platform. Today the Blackstone LaunchPad-based company is running a number of pilot projects with paying customers and aims to begin marketing its software later this year.

"As we started sending out our software, we found more and more bugs, but we have been solving them," says Brian Royster, CEO of AskSupportNow. "It's a lot of work."

The 1-year-old startup is developing a software platform that provides IT services to small- and medium-sized businesses. The platform focuses on pinpointing and solving IT problems before they happen by monitoring hard-drive temperature and the condition of the system's RAM. Check out a video about it here.

There are now three people on the AskSupportNow’s team working out the bugs in the software. They have 13 pilot projects for the software, including a handful of businesses. They plan on wrapping up development of the software later this year and beginning a marketing push in the fall.

All of this was made possible by a few thousand dollars they received from Wayne State University Blackstone LaunchPad’s Warrior Fund.

"The Warrior Fund gave us a pretty good head start," Royster says.

Source: Brian Royster, CEO of AskSupportNow
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

McClure's Pickles fills out production space with new sales

McClure's Pickles had more than enough elbow room in its new production facility on the Detroit/Hamtramck border two years ago. Today the slow-food business can barely squeeze its operations into the place.

"We have it filled," says Joe McClure, co-owner of McClure’s Pickles, who adds that the firm is looking to add an auxiliary warehouse within the next year or two. "It's filled to the gills. The whole warehouse and production areas are jam packed."

It makes sense. The 7-year-old pickle company has grown its revenue an average of 30 percent over the last few years. It’s aiming to hit 50 percent revenue growth in 2014. The firm hired a new production person over the last year, expanding its staff to 22 people.

One reason behind the growth is the company's distribution footprint. McClure's Pickles expanded into the Denver metro market and a few new markets in Ohio over the last year. It's also adding to its production portfolio, bringing in a sweet-and-spicy pickle and more potato chip flavors. McClure’s Pickles is also aiming to become licensed to sell its own alcoholic drinks (a combination of its blood mary mix and a high-end alcohol) by the end of this summer.

"We're going to start with a white whiskey," McClure says. "We want to be a little bit different."

Source: Joe McClure, co-owner of McClure's Pickles
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Savorfull's products makes gains into grocery store market

The team behind Savorfull was thinking big last year when it struck a deal with Sherwood Food Distributors.

Detroit-based Sherwood Food Distributors got its start distributing meats, but now distributes a variety of foods for supermarkets. As part its deal with Sherwood Food Distributors, Savorfull will serve as a nutritional matchmaker, consulting with Sherwood to help it decide which healthy foods it should distribute.

"We knew we had to move into bigger industries, like the grocery industry," says Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull.

The New Center-based startup helps connect businesses with healthy eating options, ranging from locally sourced foods to identifying which foods work best for people with food allergies. Savorfull had been working with a number of arenas, stadiums, and cafeterias before landing the contract with Sherwood Food Distributors.

"We're focused on volume," Goldberg says. "That's why we partnered with Sherwood Food Distributors."

Savorfull now has a staff of six employees after hiring four new workers in the last year. It also is bringing on six interns this summer.

Source: Stacy Goldberg, founder & CEO of Savorfull
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

City Commons CSA gains footing with growing membership

A group of six young people got jobs working in urban agriculture for the Greening of Detroit via the Americorps program a few years ago. Today that group has launched the first CSA (community supported agriculture) in Detroit and turned their urban farms and City Commons CSA into their jobs.

"We were all interested in agriculture," says Minehaha Forman, co-founder of City Commons CSA. "We all had backgrounds in agriculture. We thought if we compiled our land and our resources we could make more money. If we did a CSA model we would have more time to farm."

Community supported agriculture, also known as community shared agriculture, programs are a confederation of local farmers who support each other by assuming the risks and benefits of combined food production. City Commons CSA consists of Buffalo Street Farm, Singing Tree Garden, Food Field, Vinewood Knoll, Farnsworth, and Fields of Plenty.

City Commons CSA has added a new farm and co-owner in the last year, growing its team to seven people. It also expanded the number of shareholders who buy produce from the CSA to about 50 full members.

"Last year we made more money than we ever had," Forman says. "Some of us are focused on expanding our farms and some of us are focused on growing the CSA."

Source: Minehaha Forman, co-founder of City Commons CSA
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Girls With Guts creates following, gains traction

The three young women behind Girls With Guts showed they have what it takes to get a business off the ground in its first year.

The Midtown-based business serves as platform for women battling Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

"We have grown significantly," says Jackie Zimmerman, president of Girls With Guts. "We have a fanbase of more than 7,000 people on Facebook now. A year ago we had 2,000."

Zimmerman, a recent Wayne State University graduate, launched the 1-year-old business with the help of Blackstone Launch Pad. The idea was to create a safe place for women suffering from the disease to find help, information, and new ideas on how to live a healthier life.

Girls With Guts and its team of five people accomplishes that with its online presence and by leading retreats. It held its first retreat last fall in Michigan. It’s planning one to Texas for 70 attendees later this year.

"We are hoping to get as many people down there as possible and help change some lives," Zimmerman says. She adds, "We would like to do two retreats a year."

Girls With Guts now has support groups in five major metro areas, including Detroit, Philadelphia, Nashville, Dallas, and Chicago. Zimmerman and her co-founders hope to add more cities to their network as this year goes on.

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

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

UpTo relaunches calendar app with richer content offerings

UpTo is relaunching its mobile calendar app with more built-in content that won't drown users.

UpTo's team is working to turn its new mobile app into a replacement for smartphone calendars. The app combines a users existing calendar and adds in extra information about things they like based on their location, such as concerts, friends' parties, and athletic events.

"It's truly innovative," says Greg Schwartz, co-founder & CEO of UpTo. "It's never been done before. We feel calendars will be the next place for disruption and we want to be that disruptor."

The top-layer of the app is filled with a user's normal calendar. The user can pinch or tap a time block and another layer of upcoming events will appear. Users can also connect privately with friends to share upcoming events to the back layer of a friend’s UpTo calendar. Check out a video about the app here.

UpTo got its start two years ago by launching a software platform that opens up its users' calendars to social media. The idea was to connect the user with friends and family by alerting them where the user expects to be in the near future. The 3-year-old startup abandoned that concept to go with its current version this spring.

"This is the first time UpTo is a total calendar replacement," Schwartz says. He adds that "it's really hard to grow with one foot in both (social and calendar) worlds."

UpTo has raised $3 million in venture capital since its launch in 2011. It has grown its team to 15 employees after hiring five people in the last year. Those new hires include software developers and one marketing professional. UpT also plans to add three interns this summer.

Source: Greg Schwartz, co-founder & CEO of UpTo
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Creative Corridor Center looks for new cohort of fellows

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center is taking applications for its next cohort of aspiring entrepreneurs in theMotor City. This year's opportunity comes with some significant changes.

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center’s Creative Ventures Residency program helps people who want to launch their own creative-type business (everything from design agencies to tech startups) learn the ropes of running a business, generating revenue, and attracting customers. The program ran for 12 months for the last three years, but is being shortened this year in order to be more accommodating to participants.

"We condensed the residence to six months, so they can apply twice a year," says Matthew Clayson, executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center. "That way we can reach more startups at the times that make more sense for them. It will also keep the class sizes small."

Clayson expects to serve between 12 and 20 companies this year at the Detroit Creative Corridor Center’s home in New Center. It will also offer night workshops for those interested in learning about managing clients and generating more revenue.

"That way we can cultivate that next generation of ventures," Clayson says.

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center is about to graduate its current class of fellows, 45 people in total. Over its first three years, the Center graduated 41 firms that have generated $2 million revenue and created 90 jobs. For information about applying for the Detroit Creative Corridor Center’s Creative Ventures Residency program, click here.

Source: Matthew Clayson, executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Farm and Garden grows in time for spring planting season

Detroit Farm and Garden is entering its third planting season this spring, and the Southwest Detroit-based business is still figuring out what it wants to be.

"We're still a young business," says Jeff Klein, co-founder of Detroit Farm and Garden. "We still have a lot of growing to do to get to where we want to be as a business. We're still figuring out the permanent products for our business."

And that's a good thing. The landscaping supply company has adjusted its stock to fit its customers needs since it opened at a former police station on West Vernor Highway in the shadow of the Michigan Central Station.

Detroit Farm and Garden
still offers staples like topsoil, gravel, and 50-50 mix of topsoil and compost for urban gardening. It also has a broad range of gardening and landscaping tools, including planters made of reclaimed wood. This year it's going to offer more classes on everything from landscape design to urban gardening. It will offer warm composting and worms for vermicompost. And there will be a wider selection of seeds for bulk purchase.

"Those are organic as well, of course," Klein says.

Detroit Farm and Garden recently hired a new person for the warm season, bringing its staff to six people. The company plans to do more outreach into the local Hispanic community with ads on Spanish-language radio.

"We find that for as many people who know about us, there are people two blocks away who don't know about us," Klein says.

Source: Jeff Klein, co-founder of Detroit Farm and Garden
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Beautifully Wrapped aims to link cultures across the region

One Detroiter sees head wrapping (think turbans and African-style head wraps) as a way to build bridges between cultures and an opportunity to start a business.

"I have always been fascinated with the global art of head wrapping," says Zarinah El-Amin Naeem, founder of Beautifully Wrapped.

Naeem has taught head wrapping for several years now. She created a head wrapping calendar to raise money for 10,000 Girls, a non-profit that promotes education and employment opportunities for 10,000 girls in rural Senegal.

That inspired Naeem, a D:hive BUILD program graduate, to start Beautifully Wrapped from her Cody-Rouge home. Beautifully Wrapped promotes education, classes, and events around the art of head wrapping. It also hosts the annual Headwrap Expo on June 8th at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn dedicated to head wrapping styles from cultures around the world, such as Sikh, Pakistani, and West African, among many others.

"My goal is to have 1,000 people at this expo this year," Naeem says. "Last year we had 350 during a day when we had a tornado warning."

She adds Metro Detroit has such a diverse population that it's pretty easy to find head wrapping enthusiasts of all colors and creeds. The challenge that Beautifully Wrapped tackles is bridging those cultures through a shared art form.

"Metro Detroit is very diverse but very segregated," Naeem says.

Source: Zarinah El-Amin Naeem, founder of Beautifully Wrapped
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

YumVillage streamlines startup process for aspiring chefs

The sharing economy is creeping into another facet of Detroit’s everyday life: pop-up retail.

YumVillage is working to make it easier for aspiring chefs to find a temporary space to open a pop-up restaurant and create a following.

"We would like to be the AirBnB for the food industry," says Godwin Ihentuge, chief villager at YumVillage.

The mortgage banker at Quicken Loans ran his own pop-up restaurant last year, specializing in gluten-free and vegan foods. He worked a number of events in Detroit, such as Dally in the Alley in Midtown.

The challenge for Ihentuge, who recently graduated from D:hive's BUILD program, wasn’t finding customers. It was finding space to temporarily set up shop. There was no beaten path that aspiring foodpreneurs could follow to find space for their pop-up besides word of mouth and more than a little luck.

"YumVillage was the brainchild to streamline the process," Ihentuge says.

He and a team of four other people launched YumVillage out of Bamboo Detroit last October. It is now working with 25 chefs and 10 locations lined up with easy steps for pop-ups to set up shop. One of the locations is a rotating pop-up restaurant at the Junction440 co-working space in TechTown that is open between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Source: Godwin Ihentuge, chief villager at YumVillage
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

C/D/H moves from Royal Oak to downtown Detroit

Tech-consulting firm C/D/H’s Metro Detroit office has become increasingly urban in recent years, capping the journey with a move to downtown Detroit this spring.

The Grand Rapids-based company opened its Metro Detroit office in Southfield in 2005. Not long after that it made the move to downtown Royal Oak, and now it’s moving to the Wright Kay building in downtown Detroit. The reason: to be closer to more clients in the region’s emerging tech hub.

"We like being in the middle of the action," says Sarah Woodruff, sales and marketing manager with C/D/H.

C/D/H provides consulting services that specialize in collaboration, infrastructure, unified communications, mobility, and project management in the software sector. It is a Microsoft-certified Gold Partner, a VMware Professional Partner, and has earned top certification with Novell, Citrix, and Cisco Systems.

C/D/H's move to downtown Detroit puts it closer to about 40 percent of its clients, 20 percent of which are also based in the Motor City’s Central Business District. The move will bring 10 more employees to downtown Detroit. The firm employs 30 people and the occasional intern. It has hired two people for the downtown Detroit office in the last week and it currently has four open positions in sales, user interface, sharepoint, and infrastructure.

C/D/H will occupy 3,200 square feet on the fourth floor of the Wright Kay building, which is located at 1500 Woodward Ave. (a block south of Grand Circus Park). The six-story structure, built in 1891, was originally known as the Schwankovsky Temple of Music, but was renamed for the Wright-Kay jewelry company, which occupied it for most of the 20th century. The building exhibits both Queen Anne- and Romanesque-style architecture, typical of the late 19th century. Its corner turret overlooks Woodward and John R.

"People know where the Wright Kay building is," Woodruff says. "We do a lot of events, so it's nice to have a landmark building."

Source: Sarah Woodruff, sales & marketing manager with C/D/H
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

The Floyd Leg leverages $256K in crowdfunding to start biz

We all encounter ideas that are so simple and intuitive we can't help but say, 'Why didn't I think of that?' The Floyd Leg has come up with one of those ideas.

The Floyd Leg's namesake product consists of four steel table legs that can attach to just about any flat surface of the user’s desire. Each leg, which is fabricated in Metro Detroit at a local manufacturer, comes with a clamp that allows it to firmly attach to a flat surface and form a table for light-to-medium use -- think makeshift coffee tables, end tables, desks, and the like. Check out a video on it here.

"It allows you to go out and find the surface you want, whether it’s an old door or reclaimed wood," says Kyle Hoff, who co-founded The Floyd Leg with Alex O’Dell.

A wildly successful crowdfunding campaign has helped this accelerate the start of this 3-month-old company. Hoff and O’Dell launched the campaign with a goal of raising $18,000. They raised $256,273 from 1,395 backers.

"It was amazing," Hoff says. "We were blown away."

The Floyd Leg is based in North Corktown at Practice Space (2801 14th Street). It is working with Reclaim Detroit and Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit to help pair reclaimed materials with its table legs. The partners behind The Floyd Leg plan to spend this spring and summer working on new products and filling orders.

"We're looking to produce more inventory so people can purchase it online and we can ship it that day," Hoff says.

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

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

Slows aims to fill up to 50 jobs at hiring fair

The Slows empire wants you to come work for it, and it's hoping you take the first step by coming to its hiring fair on Monday, April 7.

The Corktown-based restaurant and its Midtown-based catering service, Slows To Go, are looking to fill up to 50 positions. The leadership team behind Slows hopes the hiring fair will serve as the right kickoff to fill those positions this spring/summer as the company enters catering season.

"It's more the season we're entering that necessitates it," says Terry Perrone, managing partner of Slows and Slows To Go. "Plus we need the occasional labor for banquet and festival work."

The hiring fair will start at 2 p.m. on Monday, April 7 at Slows' main restaurant, 2138 Michigan Ave., in the shadow of the Michigan Central Station. Types of open jobs include line cook, server, bartender, social media coordinator and catering operator, among others. You can check out the whole list for Slows here and for Slows To Go here.

Slows and Slows To Go currently employ more than 200 people. "I could see an increase of 50-60 people over the summer, including occasional workers," Perrone says.

Source: Terry Perrone, managing partner of Slows and Slows To Go
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

DetroitFlags turns city of Detroit flags into growing biz

Necessity is the mother of invention. It's also often the inspiration for new businesses. That's the case with DetroitFlags.

Woodbridge resident and IT professional Jon Franchi started the company a year ago when he noticed how difficult it was to find a copy of the official flag of the city of Detroit.

"You really didn't see it anywhere," Franchi says. "It was really prevalent (on downtown buildings and hotels) and I kept looking and looking (for a company that sold them). I got fed up and thought, 'I will go ahead and make these myself.'"

This proved to be about as difficult as finding a seller. The city's flag is detailed and has several colors. It’s far more intricate than the flags of other cities, such as Chicago’s, which features two stripes and four stars.

Franchi did eventually find a local source for the flags, but they were expensive, costing close to $100. Franchi commissioned a flag maker to produce a cheaper nylon version that would work as a simple porch flag. Users can now order a 18-inch-by-30-inch nylon flag for $20 or a 3-foot-by-5-foot nylon flag for $35. Franchi even offers bicycle delivery to local customers, weather permitting.

"I cancel the shipping fees and just take it over there on my bike," Franchi says.

Franchi says much of his clientele is based outside of the city limits. He often gets orders from the suburbs. About a third of his orders come from former Detroiters living out of state.

"There are a lot of ex-patriots who want to have a piece of Detroit history," Franchi says.

Source: Jon Franchi, owner of DetroitFlags
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Canvas Watch Co launches crowdfunding campaign

Shaun Reinhold found himself working as a buyer of interior parts for Tesla Motors as his second job out of college. He was ready for a different challenge, which turned into Canvas Watch Co.

"I wanted to move back to Michigan and start a business," Reinhold says. "That was the start of it."

Canvas Watch Co
is now one of the startups working out of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center’s Creative Ventures program in New Center. The firm uses premium components to create watches with unique aesthetics. Each watch is illustrated by an independent designer and made-to-order in the U.S.

"There isn't one right watch for everyone," Reinhold says. "I was fascinated by the idea that I wouldn’t have to make one right watch to sell to everyone."

Canvas Watch Co is launching a 30-day crowdfunding campaign this week with the hopes of raising $40,000 in startup funds. Check out the crowdfunding campaign here.

Source: Shaun Reinhold, founder of Canvas Watch Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit Labs adds a dozen people for apprentice program

Hiring software developers, especially those that specialize in mobile apps, is such a competitive task that Detroit Labs is looking to fill its talent needs in a new way. It's going to make its own mobile app developers.

The downtown Detroit-based mobile app firm has launched an apprentice program that will train new mobile app developers over a three-month period. During that time the apprentices will serve as full-time employees of the company and have the opportunity to become full-fledged members of the firm at the end of the program. Detroit Labs has a dozen members in its first class right now.

"At the end of three months, I expect most of them to be ready to be promoted and attached to a client team," says Nathan Hughes, co-founder of Detroit Labs.

The first month of the program is spent on classroom learning about writing software and mobile app development. The second month allows the apprentices to focus on internal projects. The last month pairs the apprentice with an mobile app developer at the firm immersed in the developer’s day-to-day.

The Detroit Labs' apprentice program aims to give real-world experience to its participants. It also will become a talent pipeline for the company. The program is open to anyone interested in pursuing mobile app development as a career.

"We have a lawyer who wants to drastically change his career," Hughes says. "We have folks right out of school."

The Detroit Labs' apprentice program will focus on iPhone mobile development this spring and focus on Android mobile development during the fall session. The training will take place at Grand Circus' space in the Broderick Tower overlooking Grand Circus Park. The program is funded by a grant from Automation Alley. For information, click here.

Detroit Labs launched out of the M@dison Building three years ago in May as the first investment of Detroit Venture Partners. It has grown to 54 people and established its own offices a few doors down on Woodward Avenue in what is now being branded as the M@dison Block. Detroit Labs has hired 18 people over the last year, not including the 12 people in its apprentice program.

Source: Nathan Hughes, co-founder of Detroit Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Downtown-based Exxodus Pictures premiers new film, Jinn

Exxodus Pictures is releasing its first full-length feature film April 4, and the downtown Detroit-based film plans to use it launch its business model that will generate multiple revenue streams.

Jinn is a adventure film about an elite class of warriors/monsters (Jinn) who are ancient, supernatural and made of fire. Set in present day Metro Detroit, the Jinn are hunting an automotive designer and his wife who are unknowlingly part of a bigger struggle between men and Jinn. Check out the trailer for the film here.

Exxodus Pictures shot the movie in southeast Michigan and produced it in its offices in the M@dison Building. The movie will be released in theaters across North America in all major markets.

"Everyone is excited to work for movies when we have them here," says Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-founder of Exxodus Pictures. "When Batman and Superman come here everybody wants to work on them. I tell these people its better to own Batman and Superman than just work on them."

Ahmad and his partners chose Jinn as the firm's first movie because the storyline (famous is Islamic folklore) is widely known around the world, except in North America. That serves the dual purpose of being easily accepted to billions of people around world and a fresh storyline for American audiences at time when Hollywood increasingly recycles movies with sequel after sequel.

"This is the right idea for our company at this stage," Ahmad says.

Exxodus Pictures is also planning to merchandise its film in a non-traditional way. People will be able to buy replicas of the car in the movie, a specially designed Camaro called FireBreather, at car dealerships across the country for $95,000. Ahmad says 16 have been sold so far. Ahmad hopes the success of Jinn and car sales will help build up enough buzz for a sequel and eventually a trilogy of films.

"We have a bunch of movies in development," Ahmad says. "Even if we have a modest success with Jinn we hope to start making Jinn 2 soon."

Exxodus Pictures is five years old and employs 20 people. It has hired 14 people over the last year.

Source: Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad, co-founder of Exxodus Pictures
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Motor City Muckraker carves out niche in Detroit media landscape

These times are strange ones for news organizations. The type of days where venture-backed online news aggregators cut back and passion-play news sites expand. Motor City Muckraker is a member of the latter.

What started as a news blog by former Detroit Free Press reporter Steve Neavling two years ago this summer is now an online news site that employs Neavling and his girlfriend, Abigail Shah, and gives work to six contributors that write about Detroit all day everyday.

"I write between 2-4 stories a day," Neavling says. "We just started paying contributors a month ago."

Motor City Muckraker
has made a name for itself breaking big stories in a highly competitive news market, going toe-to-toe with some big media players and winning more than anyone expected. Among its editorial highlights is breaking the story about Grosse Pointe Park Police Department officers making racially charged videos last year. That work led to an investigation of the department and the officers implicate in the incident ordered to undergo sensitivity training.

Motor City Muckraker
is produced from Neavling and Shah's apartment in Midtown, employing lean-startup techniques out of necessity that comes with budget constraints. Neavling and Shah provided the little startup capital to get the website up and going while Neavling freelanced for the likes of Reuters and Tickle The Wire. Motor City Muckraker now harvests revenue from Adsense, advertising from local businesses, and crowdfunding campaigns. It recently worked to sell 50 t-shirts with the website's logo on them. They sold 65 and raised $1,300.

"We're using that money as seed money for freelance work," Neavling says. "We want a broad range of stories in different fields."

It's part of Neavling and Shah's vision to turn Motor City Muckracker into something more than just Neavling with a blog. They want Motor City Muckracker to become a central spot for conversations about the city of Detroit and where it is going.

"We want to get to know the city and understand the city," Neavling says.

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

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

Applications for D:hive's BUILD program triple number of spots

Demand for D:hive's BUILD program is outstripping supply for the entrepreneurial education course.

BUILD is a weekly class that teaches the basics about business building and project management for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to stake a claim in Detroit. The 2-year-old program hosts four of these classes annually. Its most recent class received applications for triple the number of spots available, and has a waiting list of more than 100 people. That's up 20 percent from the last round of applications.

"The amount of applications is continuously growing," says April Jones-Boyle, director of small business initiatives for D:hive.

D:hive also recently launched a socially entrepreneurial-version of BUILD called BUILD Social, which focuses on double- and triple-bottom-line entrepreneurship. It's most recent class of 12 people are in the early stages of the nine-week program.

D:hive's Pilot program, which focuses on giving aspiring retailers a place to open a pop-up shop in downtown Detroit, is also welcoming its latest winner, Trish's Garage, a fashion startup. The owner has applied for the spot several times.

"She is a very driven, passionate person," Jones-Boyle says. "It just made sense."

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.

Parjana's technology accelerates Earth's water filtration

Parjana Distribution's clean-water technology isn't trying to reinvent the way cleaning H2O is done in nature. It just wants to accelerate the process.

The downtown Detroit-based startup is commercializing a filtration technology that cleans contaminated water through the earth’s natural ground filtration system. Water in underground aquifers ends up there after gravity takes it through the different layers of ground. The dirt filters out contaminates and creates potable water, similar to how a Brita filter works.

"We're just using mother nature," says Gregory McPartlin, co-founder & managing partner with Parjana Distribution. "Our technology is not doing the work. Our technology is the key that allows us to use the earth as Mother Nature intended but faster."

Parjana Distribution technology, Energy-Passive Groundwater Recharge Parjana, speeds the rate of infiltration by first utilizing waters properties of adhesion and cohesion to attract the water into the pumps chambers, filling the chambers.

"All currently drainage is done through positive pressure," McPartlin says. "We want to do it through negative pressure."

Parjana Distribution's technology was first developed by Andrew Niemczyk, a mechanical engineer from Hamtranck, in 2004. This technology is now employed at 150 sites around the world, including Detroit, Ohio, New York, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Parjana Distribution was one of the first investments for Oakland Energy and Water Ventures, a Farmington Hills-based investment firm. Parjana Distribution currently has a staff of 10 employees, 10 independent contractors and two interns. It has hired five people in the last year. It recently moved into bigger office (1,000-square-feet to 4,000-square-feet) in downtown Detroit.

"We want to be part of the rebirth of Detroit," McPartlin says.

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

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

Click Click Car creates marketing software for auto leasing

The techies behind Click Click Car think they have built a better software platform to make leasing a new car as simple as a few taps on a computer and delivery to the customer’s home.

The East English Village-based startup, formerly uNetworked, is in the final stages of developing an online marketing platform for automotive dealers. The idea is to streamline the automotive leasing process so online consumers can pick the vehicle they want and get the best price as quickly as possible.

"It allows a potential car lease to shop for a car, find the car they like and get the lease price accurate to the penny," says Terry Bean, chief networking officer at Click Click Car. "It gives them all the forms then need. We will bring the car to them for a test drive or deliver it if they intend to lease it."

Click Click Car and its team of five people, and the occasional intern, are putting the finishing touches on the platform and expect to launch it before the end of the month. They are currently working with an automotive dealership that carries the Buick, GMC, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands. Bean declined to name the dealership beyond saying its based on the east side until after the software launches.

Click Click Car is also the software firm behind the 313DLove event earlier this month at Charles H. Wright Museum for African-American History. The event focused on the positive buzz the Motor City generates online, highlighting it with the #313DLove hashtag.

"We're trying to bring that lovefest from online to the real world," Bean says

Source: Terry Bean, chief networking officer at Click Click Car
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Beringea investment opens doors at Detroit Institute of Music Education possible

On the surface, Beringea's investment in the Detroit Institute of Music Education can be head scratching.

The Farmington Hills-based venture capital firm is Michigan’s largest, specializing in the later stages of investment. VCs are known for investing in startups with scalable technology that can lead to big exits. The Detroit Institute of Music Education doesn’t exactly fit that stereotype.

The music college for contemporary musicians is launching its U.S. operations from one of Bedrock Real Estate Services buildings in downtown Detroit this fall. The company will offer lessons in playing instrument and musical entrepreneurship. To Beringea's brass, the market for that sort of education is so underserved it makes sinking $3 million into the business an easy choice.

"It's really more about the size of the market that exists and whether it's being served or not," says Charlie Rothstein, founder & senior managing director of Beringea.

Beringea's employees first came into contact with the co-founders behind Detroit Institute of Music Education, commonly known as DIME, through its London office. Sarah Clayman, Bruce Dickinson and Kevin Nixon launched Brighton Institute of Modern Music in Brighton, England, in 2001. They sold the business in 2010 and were recruited by Rothstein and his colleagues at Beringea to open a U.S. version in Detroit.

The trio considered other major cities but were wowed by Detroit. A combination of the Motor City’s musical heritage, buzz about the city’s forward momentum, and hospitality from its business leaders like Rothstein and Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert made it an easy decision.

"There wasn't a city that extended this sort of hospitality to them," Rothstein says.

The Detroit Institute of Music Education will open its doors to a projected 150 students in September. It will occupy 15,000 square feet in downtown, which Rothstein expects will be able to support up to 1,000 students one day. The company is currently looking to hire 20-30 instructors and support staff for the firm.

Source: Charlie Rothstein, founder & senior managing director of Beringea
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Security firm ATMC moves HQ to Guardian Building

ATMC, a security firm, has staked its headquarters claim in downtown Detroit, taking office space in the Guardian Building.

ATMC is the holding company for Actron Systems and Tricon Security Group, a couple of security and surveillance companies that recently merged. The bulk of their operations are remaining in the suburbs, Allen Park and Taylor, but the ATMC corporate staff is setting up shop in the heart of the Motor City.

"There is definitely opportunity down here," says Michael Whittaker, president & CEO of ATMC. "I think we're seeing a change of the landscape of doing things better, faster and cheaper."

ATMC's two companies currently employ 300 people nationwide. It has 10 people in the Guardian Building. The firm is looking at expanding its office by 1,000 square feet this summer to accommodate its growing staff.

"We're always looking for sales professionals, which are based in downtown Detroit," Whittaker says.

Source: Michael Whittaker, president & CEO of ATMC
Writer: Jon Zemke

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