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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

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

Ann Arbor-based AdAdapted raises $725,000 in seed round

AdAdapted has locked down $725,000 in seed capital to help it scale up its mobile advertising platform.

Among the investors were the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, Belle Michigan, and Start Garden. The Ann Arbor-based startup plans to initially use part of the money to accelerate its hiring. The 2-year-old company currently employs six people after hiring three over the last year. It's currently looking to hire a software developer and sales professional. After that much of the money will be used to help get the word out about AdAdapted.

"We'll mostly be using it on sales and marketing after that," says Molly McFarland, co-founder & chief marketing officer of AdAdapted.

The startup's advertising platform connects advertisers with developers to create customized native ads in mobile apps. It strives to provide a simple interface so advertisers can find their best  audience. The idea is to do away with intrusive banner ads by replacing them with slicker native ads.

"We have clients right now," McFarland says. "The technology is up and running."

AdAdapted's technology is being used by some advertisers. The startup's staff is currently working to flesh out the platform and expand its client base.

Source: Molly McFarland, co-founder & chief marketing officer of AdAdapted
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

North Coast Banners eliminates debt to grow business

Many growing companies actively work to increase their debt load in order to expand their business. North Coast Banners works to eliminate its debt load to grow.

The Ann Arbor-based company has spent the last few years focused on eliminating its debt, while enjoying steady growth. It routinely aims for 10 percent revenue growth while making sure it owes as little to other people as possible.

"We have paid down every single nickel of corporate debt," says David A. Abramson, managing partner of North Coast Banners. "This is why we're here and a lot of people aren't."

He adds his company was inspired by Dave Ramsey, a financial author and radio host, and his emphasis on being debt free. That has allowed North Coast Banners to grow its staff to six employees and the occasional intern. It hired its last intern as a graphic designer, and it plans to hire another 1-2 people over the next year.

North Coast Banners has also added new work by making banners for concerts, festivals and events. Abramson says if you watch a local band in concert these days there is a good chance the banner hanging over it was made by North Coast Banners. That has allowed the company to add $250,000 in gross revenue and spike its revenue beyond the $1 million mark. Abramson credits that growth to the new business and his firm’s continued focus on remaining debt free.

"I'm really convinced it's the missing link in a lot of our businesses," Abramson says.

Source: David A. Abramson, managing partner of North Coast Banners
Writer: Jon Zemke

Aqaba Technologies moves growing client base toward mobile

Aqaba Technologies isn't just a company. It's its clientele.

The 10-year-old firm has grown its client base to 200 organizations, including the addition of 40 new customers over the last year. That enabled the Sterling Height-based business to add a new digital marketing professional, expanding its staff to six employees and an intern.

"We're still going strong," says Ramsey Sweis, CEO of Aqaba Technologies. "We had our bumps along the way because of the economy but we’re still strong because of our client base. We’re in growth mode now."

Aqaba Technologies is moving those customers toward mobile. Today about the two thirds of the digital marketing firm’s work revolves around mobile app, mobile web apps, and mobile marketing.

"The mobile part has just taken off," Sweis says.

Aqaba Technologies became a Google Certified Partner about two years ago. That training opened the door for it to perfect its mobile strategies for its clients across the spectrum, ranging from experience mobile users to mobile novices.

Source: Ramsey Sweis, CEO of Aqaba Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Selocial bridges photos, music, and social media

Music, photos, and social media are three of the hottest trends in tech today. Lots of startups make their way specializing in one of those things. Selocial is making a name for itself by connecting all three.

The Ann Arbor-based startup likens itself to when Instagram meets Spotify or Pandora. The 1-year-old company’s software allows users to make a "Selomix," which is a 15-minute visual playlist that combines the users preferred music with a photo.

"When any song is played on Selocial instant news about that artist is activated," says David Baird, co-founder & CEO of Selocial. "It's a more social experience than Instagram or Pandora."

Baird considers himself an artist with published work as a songwriter and author. His songs have appeared in the movie "White Chicks" and TV show "House of Lies" on Showtime. His career over the last 15 years led him to believe that there had to be a better way for independent artists to attract attention, which served as the inspiration for Selocial.

"I thought artists weren’t being discovered the way they should be," Baird says. "How can I help artists like myself get discovered?"

Selocial launched the public Beta version of its platform in May. The team of six behind the startup is working to grow its user base to 5,000 to 10,000 people by the end of the summer. In the mean time, the Selocial team is working to better link user accounts and introduce real-time chat.

"We want to improve our sharing," Baird says.

Source: David Baird, co-founder & CEO of Selocial
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Rockbridge Growth Equity fills Gas Station TV with new investment

In an e-world, consumers can now get their fill of TV at the gas station, all brought to them by Birmingham-based Gas Station TV.

Excerpt:

"Rockbridge Growth Equity pumped new capital into Gas Station TV, a company that provides pretty much exactly what you would think -television at gas pumps.

Consumers have likely seen Gas Station TV network without even realizing it. It’s currently in 42 states, and at more than 2,600 stations, featuring content from AccuWeather, Bloomberg TV, ESPN and CNN."

More here.

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.

U-M student startup Seelio gets acquired after just 3 years

From kitchen table to acquisition, a U-M social media startup see bright days ahead.

Excerpt:

"When Seelio launched, Lee envisioned it as an alternative to LinkedIn for the Millennial set—a place where students could showcase their talent, experience, and hobbies. For example, users could create a page that detailed a fictional company created for a business course complete with photos, videos, and information about the company’s business model."

Read the rest here.
 

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

All Media Network adds people to downtown Ann Arbor office

When All Media Network moved its Ann Arbor office from near the city's airport to a space above Cafe Felix on Main Street last fall it served both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes.

"We got a cool old space in an old building with high ceilings and big windows," says Zac Johnson, senior product manager of All Media Network.

The new office also worked out as the best commuting option for the startup’s Ann Arbor contingent. Of those five people (including two new hires in January), three of them live within walking or busing distance of the new office. The other two are driving distance but were able to snag convenient parking spaces. Most of the office utilizes Go Passes.

Cool factor, check. Utility factor, check.

"This is the place that fit us the best," Johnson says.

The Silicon Valley-based tech startup runs websites like AllMusic.com, which is a bit like the IMDB website for music. All Media Network’s Ann Arbor is currently working to launch an iOS mobile app for AllMusic.com. It is also working to help grow the company's website usership over the next year.

Source: Zac Johnson, senior product manager of All Media Network
Writer: Jon Zemke

MGCS, Duo Security headline Ann Arbor entrepreneurial roundup

It's been a busy week for Ann Arbor's new economy. Here is a quick roundup of stories that appeared recently and a big event about to come back to Washtenaw County.

The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium makes it return for its 32nd-annual conference. The event will be held at the Marriott Resort at Eaglecrest in Ypsilanti on June 17-18th. The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium is known as the best of the midwest conferences when it comes to showcasing startups with high-growth potential. The list of companies presenting this year was just released and can be found here.

Duo Security plans to move to 123 N Ashley St. The tech startup that specializes in duel-factor authentication got its start in the Tech Brewery in 2009 before moving to its current office in Kerrytown. The company has been hiring at such a steady clip (it currently has nine openings that can be found here) that is needs to find a bigger home to accommodate the growth. It plans to take 14,000 square feet in downtown to make that happen.

Seelio, a startup launched by University of Michigan students, has been acquired by PlattForm, which is based in Kansas City. Ann Arbor-based Seelio is a service-based student portfolio solution for higher education institutions while PlattForm specializes in marketing and enrollment management for institutions of higher learning. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ann Arbor SPARK, Washtenaw County, A2Y Chamber of Commerce, and New Zealand-based QLBS are launching the Virtual Business Advisor. The self-assessment tool assists entrepreneurs and early stage businesses work toward their next stage of growth. Virtual Business Advisor identifies the strengths and weakness of personal and company while benchmarking them against other companies in the region.

Writer: Jon Zemke

Rockbridge Growth Equity acquires Gas Station TV

Rockbridge Growth Equity has acquired GSTV, aka Gas Station TV, in a deal aimed at growing the downtown Birmingham-based startup rapidly.

GSTV got its start in 2006 by putting TVs on top of gas pumps showing news and advertisements. The idea is to catch drivers at a natural pause in the person’s day where their attention can easily be captured. It now has a network across North America with a monthly viewership of 50 million people.

"David (Leider, GSTV’s CEO) and his team developed a new industry that is growing very, very quickly," says Kevin Prokop, managing director of Rockbridge Growth Equity. "It's a very nascent industry. It has really developed over the last eight years."

The downtown Detroit-based private equity firm (part of the Quicken Loans family of companies) plans to keep GSTV at its home in downtown Birmingham while it focuses on growing the business. Prokop says a decision on a permanent home could be made within the next year, (many Quicken Loans-related businesses have moved to downtown Detroit in recent years) but he knows it will stay in Metro Detroit.

"We have a lease here," Leider says. "We're focused on working with Rockbridge on the business now."

GSTV employs a staff of 65 people, the bulk of which are based in downtown Birmingham. It has hired 10 people over the last year and has four open positions right now. More information on those here.

Source: David Leider, CEO of GSTV, and Kevin Prokop, managing director of Rockbridge Growth Equity
Writer: Jon Zemke
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