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Ann Arbor Seed Co begins to bear fruit in third year

When Eric Kampe launched Ann Arbor Seed Co with his wife, Meredith Kahn, three years ago he had visions of turning his passion for seed collecting into a full-time job. The Ann Arbor resident is just about there.

The Ann Arbor-based seed company now consumes enough hours of his day to qualify as a full-time gig. He also works two days a week at the Brinery to bring in extra cash to help grow his business. Kahn still has her day job at the University of Michigan but Ann Arbor Seed Co has grown to the point that Kampe and Kahn have brought on another friend to help keep up with demand.

"We're at the stage where she is employed here but we can't pay her what she deserves," Kampe says.

Ann Arbor Seed Co offers seeds for a growing variety of plants. It started out offering 10 varieties of the basics, like tomatoes and leafy greens. It grew its product portfolio to 27 varieties in 2014. This year it's at 38 different varieties that are for sale local farmers markets and stores.

Kampe has noticed that his customers have begun asking for more and more seed and more obscure seeds. To help meet that sort of demand he and his wife have bought a truck and built a second hoop house behind their home to keep up with production needs.

"It's about the journey, not the destination," Kampe says. "They day to day is great. It's great to be out here."

Source: Eric Kampe, co-founder of Ann Arbor Seed Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

DesignHub wins digital marketing race with steady growth

The good times are never too sweet for DesignHub, and the bad times are never too sour. It turns out both things are a recipe for steady-but-modest, year-to-year growth at the Saline-based digital marketing agency.

DesignHub has averaged high single-digit gains each of the last several years. It's not hockey stick growth spikes, but its the type of momentum that keeps the company consistently headed in the right direction.

"We work really hard and grind out the hours, and this is where we seem to land," says Chris Kochmanski, partner at DesignHub. "The three partners are all over 50, and by this stage in our lives, we're seeing how doing excellent work for a limited number of preferred clients can be much more satisfying than run, run, run all the time in pursuit of growth for the sake of growth."

The five-person company handles most creative and development work while relying on a stable of trusted freelancers when needed. It gets roughly half of its business through website design and development with the remainder coming from marketing strategy and planning, content development, advertising and publicity, and design and production of marketing materials for print and other media.

DesignHub has grown its work with existing clients like Dynamic Computer Corp, Advanced Photonix, Berry & Associates, Center for Automotive Research, Corner Health Center, Daycroft Montessori School, Dexter Research, Dimensional Engineering, and the City of Saline. It has also added several new clients like doing an advertising campaign for Huron Valley Financial, fundraising appeals for Evangelical Homes of Michigan, and new sales support materials for VolunteerHub.

"We have a lot of prospective clients we are dealing with right now," Kochmanski says.

Source: Chris Kochmanski, partner at DesignHub
Writer: Jon Zemke

Groovy Hopster Farm starts farming for brewers in Chelsea

Today a small team of people are working to establish one of Michigan's first hop farms in Chelsea, planting and caring for thousands of the plants at Groovy Hopster Farm.

"We might need some more help as we get into harvesting," says Louis Breskman, owner of Groovy Hopster Farm.

The Chelsea-based business is taking over 10 acres at 18833 M-52. The land used to serve as a dairy farm before it was abandoned and left to go wild. Breskman and his team have planted 4,000 hop plants on nearly half of the site's acreage.

"We have been steadily reclaiming it," Breskman says. "We have tilled the soil and raised some trellesses." The farm also has a couple of goats who's main job is to eat poison ivy. "We want to get rid of it in an all-natural way," Breskan says.

Groovy Hopster Farm specializes in producing organic hops, a key ingredient in beer making, for local breweries. Breskman expects the 4,000 hop vines his team planted this year to yield about 4,000-5,000 pounds of hops. That number should rise to 8,000 pounds over the next couple of years as the vines mature. The entire farm should produce about 20,000 pounds of hops when it reaches capacity.

Breskman, a University of Michigan graduate, is a big fan of the craft brewing movement. He is opening Groovy Hopster Farm to meet the demand for fresh, high-quality hops from the growing base of local brewers. Breskman points out he has watched four breweries open in Ann Arbor since moving here a few years ago, and almost all of the local brewers import their hops from the Pacific Northwest.

"If we has a local source of natural, fresh hops then we could take our beer to the next level," Breskman says.

Groovy Hopster Farm recently kicked off a crowdfunding campaign for $30,000 to help fund its expansion. It will be holding a launch party for it at Grizzly Peak from 6-9 p.m. on Monday. More info on it here.

Source: Louis Breskman, owner of Groovy Hopster Farms
Writer: Jon Zemke

Mighty Good Coffee grows bigger, stronger with 3rd location

Mighty Good Coffee is opening its third location in Arbor Hills. The Ann Arbor-based coffee shop plans to open its third location later this month at at Arbor Hills. It would occupy the former space of Glassbox Coffee, a local coffee shop that went out of business late last year. With this move Mighty Good Coffee will be taking over both of the former Glassbox Coffee locations.

"We called the landlords for both locations and did our due diligence and worked it out," says David Myers, chief coffee officer & managing partner of Mighty Good Coffee. "A lot of it was timing."

The 10-year-old business has hired seven people this year, expanding its staff to 15 people. The number of employees should rise to 22 people by the time it opens the third location in Arbor Hills. Myers plans to keep the Mighty Good Coffee expansion at three location for the time being. He only went after the two more recent spots because they presented plum opportunities to grow in places that needed them.

"For us our locations aren't in over-saturated locations," Myers says. "We're not opening up another location in downtown Ann Arbor."

Mighty Good Coffee has been able to carve out a niche for itself as a local coffee roaster that creates fresh, high-quality products by roasting its beans and making its own products.

"People seem to want to buy into the local food movement," Myers says. "That's where we put our efforts into our stores."

Source: David Myers, chief coffee officer & managing partner of Mighty Good Coffee
Writer: Jon Zemke

MyFab5 hits 1 million photo milestone this spring

MyFab5 is hitting a number of cool milestones this year. The social media startup's technology has now helped in the sharing of more than 1 million pictures and its getting ready to launch a designed mobile app later this month.

"We have redesigned every feature from head to toe," says Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5. "It's all the same features but much easier to use and looks much better."

The Ann Arbor-based startup allows its users to take pictures of their meals at restaurants and then rank their experience. The company got its start allowing users to rank their top five businesses in certain genres in local areas, but transitioned to a photo-based version when it noticed its users liked using it with Instagram.

The 2-year-old company now averages 250,000 users each month. Those users shared their 1 millionth photo earlier this year, helping MyFab5 reach a critical milestone.

"That was a pretty big one for us," Seirafi-Pour says.

MyFab5 has hired one person (an Andriod developer) to grow its staff to four employees and three interns over the last year. That team has relied on grass roots and viral marketing efforts to build the startup into what it is today. It's now looking at embarking at a national marketing campaign later this year.

Source: Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5
Writer: Jon Zemke

Quantum Signal's spike in client growth leads to more hires

Three or four years ago was not the best time to talk about Quantum Signal's growth prospects. The Saline-based tech firm was in a lull and trying to figure out what was next. Today the company's leadership just needs to open its email to find more work.
"Every time I go into my email we have more and more demand for our services," says Mitch Rohde, co-founder & CEO of Quantum Signal.

The 15-year-old firm specializes in math-based engineering and custom product development. That can encompass everything from robotics work to helping develop new products for other businesses to creating simulation software. Rohde has noticed a spike in demand for a broad range of industries - especially medical products, automated vehicles and forensic work.

That has allowed Quantum to hire four people over the last year, expanding its staff to 30 employees and four interns. It is now looking to hire another six people, including software programmers, engineers, and managers to keep up with the needs of the firm's customers.

"It just seems like there is a lot of demand these days," Rohde says. "It just seems to have exploded in the last six months. I don't expect demand to go down."

Source: Mitch Rohde, co-founder & CEO of Quantum Signal
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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

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

Small vineyard takes shape in old school on east side

Local land baron Dennis Kefallinos is getting back to his roots in his adopted home by planting a small vineyard deep in the Motor City’s east side.

The Bellevue Vineyard is rising in one of the playfields of an old Detroit Public Schools elementary school at 3100 Bellevue. The school had been closed and stripped several years ago before Kefallinos purchased it.

"This school has been pretty beaten up over the years," says Eric Novack, senior project manager of Boydell Development, which is owned by Kefallinos. "He said, 'We need to do something over there soon to activate it.'"

Kefallinos is one of the larger property owners in Detroit. He owns several downtown properties, such as the Michigan Theatre, and many others scattered throughout the city's neighborhoods like the Russell Industrial Center. He is known for owning several vacant commercial buildings across the city and redeveloping several others most people had given up on, turning them into lofts and affordable spaces for small businesses.

Kefallinos immigrated to America from Greece in the 1960s. He started off a dishwasher and worked his way into becoming one of the entrepreneurs behind the development in Greektown in the 1980s. The Bellevue Vineyard is a way for him to return to his ancestral roots.

"This is not foreign to him at all," Novack says. "He did this for a few years at farms before he came to the U.S."

Kefallinos and his team at Boydell Development planted 300 vines imported from Washington for Canadice, Reliance and Interlacken grapes. The vines are expected to take root over the next two years and be ready for harvesting by year three.

The Boydell Development team has tested the soil for toxins and found none. They tilled the soil and balanced its PH levels by adding compost.

"This is our test," Novack says. "We plan to do 300 vines. Dennis originally wanted to do more."

Source & Photos: Eric Novack, senior project manager of Boydell Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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

Damian Farrell Design Group grows thanks to diversified workload

It seems like Damian Farrell Design Group's client project cup runneth over. The Ann Arbor-based architecture firm is handling a lot of residential remodeling, designing a multi-family project in Saline, working on an adaptive reuse of a historic building in downtown Saline, designing a couple restaurants, and doing work for a shooting range in Ann Arbor.

"We have always had a pretty good variety of work," says Damian Farrell, owner of Damian Farrell Design Group. "This is just an extension of that."

He estimates his company’s revenue is up 10-15 percent over the last year. It's growth that has allowed him to hire an architect and two interns, expanding his staff to seven employees and two interns.

Farrell points out that the design and building industries are stronger now than they have been in years, and there is a shortage of skilled workers developing in them. He adds the market isn’t as good as it was before the Great Recession but its on its way there.

"We want to continue what we’re doing," Farrell says. "Every market we are working in we are noticing growth."

Source: Damian Farrell, owner of Damian Farrell Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

M Den's flagship State St store expands to XL size

M Den's flagship store, adjacent to the University of Michigan's campus, is taking over the retail space once occupied by La Mersa Meditterean Cuisine. The store already occupied most of the building at the 300 block of South State Street. Taking over the former restaurant space, 301 S State, will complete its occupation of the entire structure.

"The only thing we didn’t have is the downstairs of 301," says Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den.

The boutique retailer that specializes in University of Michigan apparel will turn 40 years old next year. It currently employs 125 people (which doubles in size during football season) after hiring 20-plus people over the last year. It currently has six brick-and-mortar stores after opening its sixth last August. It also has 12 retail locations inside University of Michigan athletic facilities during games, like Michigan Stadium.

M Den is currently working on the build out of the expansion of its flagship store, which it hopes to open in time for the Ann Arbor Art Fair later this summer.

"We are going to use it for an expanded women's and children's sections," Hirth says.

Source: Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den
Writer: Jon Zemke

Pour-over coffee bar, Black Diesel Coffee, opens in Ann Arbor

Black Diesel Coffee, a pour-over coffee bar, opened its first location on the east side of Ann Arbor this week.The new coffee shop is taking over a former Peet’s Coffee shop at 1423 E Stadium Blvd, at the corner of Stadium and Packard, with ambitions of bringing coffee drinks that are both high-end and small batch to Ann Arbor.

Blaclk Diesel will primarily do that by offering pour-over coffees, a trendy new way of making coffee where the hot water is hand poured over a filter that then drips directly into the customer's cup. It will also offer espresso drinks and traditionally drip brewed coffees.

"There are many ways to express the flavor profiles of a coffee bean," says Nick Ferris, proprietor of Black Diesel Coffee. "We will use different styles that will best fit each coffee."

They will also offer a variety of coffee flavors from a number of different brands.

"We are partnering with several small batch artisanal roasters from across the state," Ferris says.

Black Diesel employs a staff of 16 people, and Ferris has ambitions of growing the company relatively quickly. He is looking at opening a second location in the Ann Arbor area later this year and next year.

"We will spend the first six months working on our overall concept," Ferris says.

Source: Nick Ferris, proprietor of Black Diesel Coffee
Writer: Jon Zemke
3367 Articles | Page: | Show All
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