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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

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

Rockstar Digital expands staff, work into LED signs

Ever want to use your big-screen TV as a tablet computer? Surf for information with a touch of a fingertip on a screen with plenty of space for information? A Sterling Heights-based company is making that happen.

Rockstar Digital is turning large, flatscreen TVs into interactive displays. That includes everything from use one to help customers navigate the car-buying maze in an automotive dealership or finding their favorite store in their mall.

"We're creating a 70-inch, 3-D map of the mall," says Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital.

Dhillon is a recent graduate of Kettering University in electrical and computer engineering. He saw the rise of LED technology in 2007 and worked to created a software point of sale platform for Lady Jane. A little more than a year ago he launched Rockstar Digital with the idea of combing different sectors of cutting-edge technology.

"I wanted to do something that wasn't just software but software and hardware," Dhillon says.

Today the company has a staff of 12 employees and an intern. That team is working on turning 70-inch flatscreen panel into way-finding machines for everything from businesses to city streetscapes. Check out a video of how it works here.

Source: Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital
Writer: Jon Zemke

SimuQuest aims to double revenue within 2 years

SimuQuest spent 2014 laying the groundwork for 2015, inspiring The Ann Arbor-based software firm’s leadership to be optimistic about the coming year.

"We have goals to double our revenue over the next two years," John Mills, founder, president, and CEO of SimuQuest. "We have lots of good reasons to believe we can do that."

The 13-year-old firm specializes in software and data management services. It spend this last year launching two new platforms. It launched UniPhi for Ford earlier this year. The model-based development tool centralizes data management, moving everything to the cloud and streamlining the data management and analysis process for the user.

SimuQuest also launched QuantiPhi this year. The chip configuration and driver integration tool provides a full complement of configurable low-level drivers that guides the user through the intricacies of successfully configuring the chip and driver settings.

Mills and his leadership team are speaking to investors about the prospects to raise a seed round. That capital would help SimuQuest market and sell UniPhi and QuantiPhi, which Mills expects to help spike the company's revenue in 2015.

SimuQuest has also expanded its staff this year. The company has hired one person earlier this year and is looking to hire five people between sales and technical professionals. That expanded team is expected to help push sales and improve the company’s existing technologies and develop the next generations.

"It's pretty amazing," Mills says. "We are doing some things that could change the controls in software products and how they are developed."

Source: John Mills, founder, president, and CEO of SimuQuest
Writer: Jon Zemke

Carbon Media Group adds 15 jobs, signs bull riding partnership

Carbon Media Group has inked a new partnership with the Professional Bull Riders, a deal that the online media startup hopes will bring its viewership together.

The Bingham Farms-based company helps coordinate advertising and content creation for more than 600 websites for fans of the outdoors, agriculture and action sports/events/activities. It has an extensive network of outdoor-related YouTube channels and its own CarbonTV outlet for online videos about the outdoors. The startup’s two primary audiences consist of fans of outdoors and rural activities along with fans of action sports like hunting, fishing, and skying.

"The Professional Bull Riders is a very elegant bridge between the two types of content we have," says Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group.

YouTube made the introduction between the two organizations because Carbon Media Group is the second largest global sports network on YouTube. The Professional Bull Riders, which has roughly 20 million fans, was in the process of figuring out how best to develop its digital audience.

Carbon Media Group is on track to grow 35 percent in 2014, and Chaudhry expects to do that again next year. "That's roughly on track with our annual growth rate," he says.

The 7-year-old company has hired 15 people over the last year, including professionals in design, sales, account management, and executive leadership. It now has a staff of 62 employees and plans to bring on two interns this summer. It is looking to hire five people now, including staff accountants and marketers.

"We're always looking for good digital media sales people," Chaudhry says.

Source: Hyaat Chaudhry, CEO of Carbon Media Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Brooklyn's famed Galapagos Art Space to move into nine Detroit buildings

Detroit will get a new center for burlesque, visual, and other performing arts when a (soon to be former) Brooklyn institution, Galapagos Art Space, moves into rehabbed buildings, including an old power plant, in Corktown. (The new lake planned for the property should make a big splash.)

Excerpt:

"The Galapagos Art Space, a performance center and cultural staple in Brooklyn for nearly 20 years, will close this month, another casualty of rising rental prices that its founder says are making it difficult for independent arts organizations to survive in New York...

Although the last night of programming is likely to be Dec. 18, the center will have a second life — more than 600 miles away, in Detroit. Over the past year, Mr. Elmes and his wife, Philippa Kaye, have bought nine buildings totaling about 600,000 square feet in that city’s Corktown neighborhood and in neighboring Highland Park, paying what he described as the price of “a small apartment in New York City” for the properties....

One of the places where “young artists and thinkers” appeared to be gravitating, he said, was Detroit."

More here.

That being said, while luxury Detroit apartment rents are nowhere near those in NYC, is the Brooklynization of Detroit coming? Check out this report in the Detroit Free Press

 

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
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