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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

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

MagicBook creates app that makes paper books come alive

Enjoying paper books and participating in the digital revolution doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. That's what the team behind MagicBook is thinking.

The Ann Arbor-based startup is developing a mobile app that helps make reading physical books fun for kids.

"We were thinking of things we could do to connect technology with physical books," says Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook. "All of us grew up enjoying physical books. That really spoke to us."

The four-person team found that kids are reading less and less for fun, a practice that could potentially negatively impact intellectual development. To counter that, MagicBook is combing 21st Century technology with traditional books. Kids using MagicBook can hold a mobile device using the app to a book they are reading. The app will play music, animations, and even interactive characters to engage the user.

MagicBook won the People's Choice at the most recent Detroit Startup Weekend. The team is currently working on taking off the rough edges of the app so it can be ready for the general public.

"We're hoping to have it ready within the next six months," Knepp says.

Source: Marjie Knepp, co-founder of MagicBook
Writer: Jon Zemke

Wayne State grad/musician starts music production firm, J IV Media

Alton James has long dreamed of working in music. So much so that he even recently worked as an independent contractor for larger firms on the coast, providing musical scores for a variety of broadcast productions.

Now the Wayne State University graduate is doing it on his own with his new company, J IV Media.

"Why should I just be a subcontractor?" James says. "Why not start my own business?"

James worked with the Blackstone LaunchPad program at Wayne State to set up the basics of his business. He recently got engaged and opened his own studio in his new house in Chesterfield Township.

"We love the homes and the community out here," James says.

J IV Media is currently working on providing musical work for two documentaries. One has a Detroit-rebound focus and is locally based. The second is out of New York City and focuses on the for-profit prison system. James is also working with a number of University of Michigan film students on their projects.

"I would love to do some commercials for local businesses," James says.

Source: Alton James, owner of J IV Media
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Edmunds acquires Tech Brewery’s Carcode SMS

Automotive website Edmunds has acquired Ann Arbor-based Carcode SMS, making the mobile startup the firm's first acquisition.

Carcode SMS created a website plugin that allows consumers to text automotive dealership staff and inquire about a specific car. The software assigns local cell phone numbers to dealerships so mobile shoppers can text them and provides the dealership with an app that allows staff to respond and manage conversations in a compliant environment. Edmunds plans to launch this technology across its dealership network, providing CarCode SMS for free to both dealers and consumers.

"More and more traffic is going through the dealerships mobile websites," says Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS.

The Tech Brewery-based got its starts a couple of years ago creating mobile technology for automotive dealerships that leveraged QR codes. The three-person team pivoted a year ago to focus on the text-message conversations platform. It won the 2014 Edmund Hackomotive contest last spring.

That was the first contact Carcode SMS had with Edmunds, which led to an invitation to participate in the company’s newly formed startup accelerator program last summer. It also led to a spike in the startup’s revenues thanks to dozens of new dealerships signing up for its .

"We ended up generating revenue very quickly after the hackomotive competition," Schwartz says.

It ended with the acquisition. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Schwartz and one of the other co-founders are leaving the company while Carcode SMS' CEO takes on a role with Edmunds.

Source: Steve Schwartz, co-founder of Carcode SMS
Writer: Jon Zemke

Siren PR doubles staffing on record revenue increase

Siren PR, the little public relations firm that could, is doing exactly that these days. And by that we mean adding staff.

The Royal Oak-based PR agency is looking to hire an account executive. More info on the opening here. That hire will mean the boutique public relations agency will have doubled the size of its staff over the last year with two new hires.

"We feel that this is the time for us to grow," says Adela Piper, co-founder of Siren PR. "We are growing. We have clients in the pipeline and we need more personnel to better serve them."

Piper and Lindsey Walenga launched Siren PR two years ago from their homes in Oakland County. Their first clients consisted mainly of nonprofits, such as OLSHA. Today the firm handles work for a broader range of organizations, businesses like Detroit Bikes, and schools like Pontiac Academy for Excellence. The company is projecting 36-percent revenue growth this year.

"We have already made more (revenue) this year than we did last year," Piper says. "We're right on track."

Source: Adela Piper, co-founder of Siren PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

Universal Marketing Group hires 75, looks to hire 100 more

Universal Marketing Group announced the opening of a new call center in Ann Arbor last year with lots of fanfare. The Toledo-based firm promised to creates dozens of jobs and invest millions in Tree Town.

One year later it has accomplished a lot of those things. The 11-year-old company has grown the Ann Arbor office (its second location) to 75 people, and it’s in the process of hiring 100 more people.

"It's going pretty well," says Kirk Schimmoeller, general manager of Universal Marketing Group. "We are taking on more clients as well as servicing our existing client. We have the new office up and running now."

Universal Marketing Group is occupying a large section of the former Border headquarters. It received a $600,000 incentive from the state to open the location with the promise of creating 400 new jobs by 2016.

The company currently employs 300 people overall, and plans to have 150-200 employees in Ann Arbor by the end of next year. That hiring is ramping up now because its the beginning of the company’s busy season handling work for retailers and gyms.

"Our busy season continue through the first quarter," Schimmoeller says.

Source: Kirk Schimmoeller, general manager of Universal Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Axis CrossMedia revenue growth prompts studio expansion

AxisCross Media got its start 15 years ago when another firm (C3 Communications) went under. Today the company has grown its staff and its space as it sprints to keep up with the rapidly changing digital landscape.

"Evolution is constant," says Matt Madill, director of web development for Axis CrossMedia. "We are constantly changing. ... Over the last three years we have done a lot more video work and incorporated it with e-publications."

Madill started working at the company a dozen years ago. He became a full partner in the company in 2009. He helped lead its current evolution to digital video production and e-publication work. As a result, the company grew nearly 10 percent over the last year.

"We have become more diverse in our customer base," Madill says, adding it has been doing more work with advertising agencies; before, its workload was dominated by manufacturing and automotive firms.

That prompted the Troy-based company to double the size of its photo studio. It is now 1,500 square feet, which is helping the company facilitate an increased workload more efficiently.

"It makes doing a lot of the stuff more convenient," Madill says.

Source: Matt Madill, director of web development for Axis CrossMedia
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor "Hackomotive" winner sell stake in mobile app

Ann Arborite Steve Schwartz is one third of a trio of entrepreneurs (one in Lansing, one in Seattle) who developed an app called Carcode, that connects customers and auto dealerships via text message. Success took less than a year.

Excerpt:

"Berkowitz would not disclose financial terms of the deal. But Gorton and his team said the transaction was “life-changing.” The group also declined to accept investment offers while launching Carcode, which allowed each of them to keep a larger ownership share."

Read the rest here.
 

Core3 IT merges with Enlighten Technologies to form Detroit IT

Core3 IT is merging with Enlighten Technologies and forming a new company called Detroit IT.

Troy-based Core3 IT has specialized in providing hands-on work, such as a help desk. Enlighten Technologies, which was based in Birmingham, has carved out a niche for itself for IT consulting work. The two firms merged because their products complemented each other and enabled them to offer a more comprehensive package to their customers under the Detroit IT brand.

"Both teams bring a lot to the table," says Paul Chambers, CEO of Detroit IT.

Core3 Solutions also offered digital marketing and web development services. It is spinning out that side of the company into its own entity called Element5 Digital, which will employ nine people after the split.

Detroit IT will have a staff of eight people, including three from Enlighten. Chambers plans to continue expanding the range of  services and products the new company can offer.

"We're going to continue to grow our team and enhance our offerings," Chambers says. "It will really be unmatched not only in the Detroit area but in the Midwest."

Source: Paul Chambers, CEO of Detroit IT
Writer: Jon Zemke

Spry Publishing almost doubles staff with acquisition

Ann Arbor-based Spry Publishing has acquired Farmington Hills-based The Word Baron, a move that nearly doubles Spry Publishing's staff.

Spry Publishing is a health-and-wellness publisher and a member of the Edwards Brothers Malloy family of businesses. Most of Spry Publishing’s work is focused on the pharmaceutical industry. The Word Baron specializes in digital marketing, ranging from graphic design to building training manuals.

"It (acquiring The Word Baron) expands our creative services that we can offer our clients," says Jeremy Sterling, director of sales & marketing for Spry Publishing.

He adds the two firms have partnered on projects before and there is a good synergy between them thanks to how the services they provide complement each other so well. The Word Baron's three employees have moved into Spry Publishing’s offices in Ann Arbor, expanding the staff to eight employees.

The Word Baron has a number of clients in the automotive industry. Sterling expects the combination of the two firms will allow them to offer a more comprehensive publishing and marketing package to their respective clients.

"We should grow well across both of our businesses," Sterling says.

Source: Jeremy Sterling, director of sales & marketing for Spry Publishing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington Hills-based ReapSo launches 2.0 version of app

Mobile startup ReapSo is launching the 2.0 version of its brand-advocacy app this fall.

The Farmington Hills-based company’s platform connects fans with the brands. It encourages its users to "WIN. VOTE. SAVE." so they can win prizes, voice their opinion and save money. Check out a video on it here.

The new version is focused on making those connections on broadcast mediums.

"We have expanded the 2.0 version to go after TV and radio channels with enhanced digital strategies," says Bill Wildern, co-founder & CEO of ReapSo. He adds, "You can get audience pulse with immediate feedback. They can send that out via social media."

ReapSo has grown its staff to seven employees. It is focusing on establishing the 2.0 version of its app across the U.S. this year and next.

"We want to grow the value proposition," Wildern says.

Source: Bill Wildern, co-founder & CEO of ReapSo
Writer: Jon Zemke

Simons Michelson Zieve moves into dynamic new space

Simons Michelson Zieve's new home is light years away from its old space in regards to openness and feel. Its old and new homes are also just a few blocks away from each other in Troy.

The 85-year-old advertising agency just moved into its new office at 1200 Kirts Boulevard, which measures out to 12,000 square feet. The space is actually a little smaller than its previous office but it doesn’t feel that way, with wraparound windows bringing in more natural light and multiple floor-to-ceiling, glass-walled meeting spaces.

"It just feels bigger," says Jamie Michelson, president of Simons Michelson Zieve.

The new office is much more open, conforming to the modern creative class demands of connecting people by breaking them out of the physical office silos. Michelson's team worked in several individual offices at the old office but wanted a more collegial atmosphere in its new one.

"People would say you have all of these wonderful people here but I can't see them," Michelson says.

Simons Michelson Zieve has a staff of 47 employees and a couple of interns. It has hired three people over the last year and is looking to hire another three right now. The open jobs include junior-level account coordinators. More info on the openings here

Source: Jamie Michelson, president of Simons Michelson Zieve
Writer: Jon Zemke

PublicCity PR leverages PRConsultantsGroup for future growth

PublicCity PR recently scored membership in an organization the boutique public relations agency expects will lead to growth beyond its normal metro Detroit stomping grounds.

PRConsultantsGroup recently choose the Southfield-based firm as its Michigan representative after its previous rep folded up shop. The 14-year-old organization is composed of senior-level public relations and marketing consultants in every major market in the U.S. Members often work together on projects with each member acting as the expert for their region.

"You don't always have the time to learn a new city," says Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR. "Who are the people to speak to in St. Louis or Chicago? Now we have the resources on the ground in those places."

PRConsultantsGroup members have worked with some big corporate names, including 7-Eleven, Procter & Gamble, and Wal-Mart. PublicCity PR has grown steadily since it was launched in 2008. It now employs four people and Brown expects the firm to grow even more in the next few years as PRConsultantsGroup members look to do more work with his firm.

"The business has grown as it always has, through word of mouth," Brown says.

Now it looks like those words can travel much further and faster than ever before.

Source: Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR
Writer: Jon Zemke
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