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Billhighway focuses on employee career development to fuel growth

Billhighway is a tech company that knows it can't just hire its way to a steeper growth curve. It has to look inside, too.

The Troy-based firm, which provides software for member-based associations and nonprofits, is hiring, but not with just an eye for putting bodies behind desks. It's looking to find people who can grow their careers along with the company.

"We focus on career development for our entire organization," says Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway. "It's a tough market out there, and we want to be engaged."

Billhighway got its start in 1999, providing software that helped people divvy up expenses, such as dues or dinner costs. Today it specializes in cloud-based automation software for nonprofits and other similar organizations. That software platform integrates payment processing, banking, and accounting with existing systems and provides a transparent, holistic view of an organization’s finances so it can work more efficiently.

Over the years, Billhighway has added more and more staff, and it is consistently hiring people today. Gallick says that the company's team now numbers in the "high double digits" and is growing. Billhighway now utilizes an employee career development program with a goal of promoting from within. Often people who are hired as a member of the client care team end up working in other areas of the business. Over the last year, five people working in client care transitioned to other parts of the business after receiving technical training and other opportunities to grow their skill set.

"When we recruit people we look for people with skill sets who would fit in other areas," Gallick says.

Software developers have become a hot commodity in today’s economy, a reality Billhighway is acknowledging by hiring more young developers fresh out of college or a few years removed. The hope is as these employees grow professionally they will help grow the company in a number of ways.

"As we bring in new talent we provide them with training and opportunities to grow into other parts of the business," Gallick says. "We want them to bring fresh perspective and ideas."

Source: Brenda Gallick, director of team member services for Billhighway
Writer: Jon Zemke

DeepField doubles staff, revenue, and bike house space

Doubling is a popular word at DeepField this year. The IT startup has doubled its customer base, revenue, and staff over the last year. And its doing that by doubling down in downtown Ann Arbor.

The 4-year-old startup recently moved to its new downtown home to accommodate its growing staff. DeepField currently has 40 employees after hiring a cool 20 over the last year... and it's still hiring.

"We'll be at 45 by the end of the year," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField. "Most of them will be in Ann Arbor."

DeepField's software helps big companies keep up with the constant changes that come with Internet's back-end IT infrastructure. That platform leverages big-data analytics that correlates telemetry from routers, switches, DNS, and more, decoding that morass of information. The user ends up with a better view of their IT network.

"We're about to launch our second and third products this year," Groe says.

Hence the growing staff to keep up with demand and to continue innovating new products.

However, while the company is filling out its new office space with new hires it has to come up with new ways to help get them to the office. Deepfield has reserved several spots in the newly opened bikehouse in the Ann Ashley Parking Structure. Its employees already had a couple of spots reserved in the sold-out Maynard Street Parking Structure bike house.

"We have a lot of young people who tend to bike to work," Groe says. "The average age of our employees is in the late 20s. Our current space wouldn’t allow us to have bikes in the office. It's also not the best place to have bikes."

Source: Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField
Writer: Jon Zemke

EMU gets $3.26 million gift for special ed, music therapy programs

Eastern Michigan University was handed a $3.26 million gift from long-time supporters William and Delores Brehm. The philanthropic couple are dedicated to growing the university's special education programs and have, over the years, donated more than $8 million to the school.


"Dee Brehm, herself a graduate of EMU’s special education program, says that their objective is to help train special education professionals and researchers who will lead the way in supporting people with disabilities as well as those who can benefit from music therapy."

Read the rest here

Grizzly Peak celebrates 20 years by refreshing with renovations

Grizzly Peak Brewing Co is hitting a stage of development most other restaurants only dream about. It has been in downtown Ann Arbor long enough that it has become a fixture of the local brewpub scene. However, that longevity comes with a price paid through renovations. The popular brewpub is spending a significant part of August renovating its interior with an eye on the future.

"The idea is to do something of a facelift," says Stacy Baird, general manager of Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. "The restaurant has been around 20 years. It’s a local favorite. But obviously 20 years is a long time. The idea is to make us a little more current."

The work included new light fixtures at the tables and fans in the dinning rooms. Workers are also rebuilding the entrance area to make it more open and hospitable to merchandise sales. While construction is going on the kitchen is also refreshing the menu with a few new items with new ingredients, such as beet pesto and goat cheese pizza.

"They are simpler things with more flavor," Baird says.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Co was closed for three days last week, and has had certain parts closed here and there for the rest of the month. Work is expected to wrap up in the next week or two so the entire restaurant can be open to commemorate its 20th anniversary in September.

Source: Stacy Baird, general manager of Grizzly Peak Brewing Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Growing demand leads to second bike house in downtown Ann Arbor

Downtown Ann Arbor is set to cut the ribbon on its second bike house tomorrow, and the first spots in it are reserved for employees working in city's center.

A bike house is a small, secure facility where users can store and access their bicycles, sort of like a locker room for bikes. Renters pay an annual or monthly fee to rent a space in the bike house.

Local high-growth tech startups Duo Security and DeepField helped inspire the construction, offering to prepay for reserved spots in the new Ann Ashely Bike House for their employees. Both companies call downtown Ann Arbor home and have been hiring dozens of new employees, mostly young people, over the last year.

"We have a lot of young people who tend to bike to work," says Lorne Groe, CFO & COO of DeepField. "The average age of our employees is in the late 20s. Our current space wouldn’t allow us to have bikes in the office. It's also not the best place to have bikes."

Other local businesses have jumped on the bandwagon, reserving spaces in the new bike house.

"It's not just the tech companies," says Nancy Shore, business services director for getdowntown program. "We also have people who reserve spaces who work at Mighty Good Coffee Roasting Coffee and Workantile."

Employees from Thermo Fisher Scientific, Olark and WATS have also signed on to take over spots.

The Ann Ashley Bike House is downtown Ann Arbor's second bike house. It is occupying a formerly dead space in the Ann Ashley Parking Structure. Construction was paid for by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The first one was built in the Maynard Parking Structure.

Source: Nancy Shore, business services director for getdowntown
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Original Moxie's growth leads to cramped space in new Depot Town home

Original Moxie is 4 years old but it’s this last year that has really taken the Ypsilanti-based business on a ride. A year ago it was a home-based business operating out of Rachel Blistein's basement. A steady rise in demand lead Original Moxie to find its own brick-and-mortar home in Depot Town last fall. A new partnership made that growth go even faster.

"In the last six months we have gone from opening a storefront to almost growing out of our space," Blistein says.

Original Moxie makes a full line of hair care products (shampoos, conditioners, stylers) for both straight and curly hair. All of its products are made of natural, organic products. All of its hair products are sulfate-free, paraben-free, artificial-fragrance-free, and cruelty-free. The idea is to enable its users to feel good about looking good.

Blistein started toying with the idea of making her own hair-care products a few years ago while she was working as a landscape architect. Blistein started working with a local stylist to develop the line and the next thing she knew she had a winner of a product on her hands ...and a new career.

"Through a series of accidents it turned into a bunch of different products for different types of hair," Blistein says.

A few months ago Original Moxie was approached by Sephora, a French-based chain of cosmetics stores. One of the Sephora's employees had become a fan of Original Moxie. The next thing Blistein knew Original Moxie was a featured brand in the Sephora lineup. More business came with it.

"The growth just jumped exponentially," Blistein says.

Which has allowed Original Moxie to expand its staff. It hired its fourth employees recently and more additions are possible in the not-too-distant future.

Source: Rachel Blistein, founder & CEO of Original Moxie
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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

A2B Bikeshare aims to become Uber/Lyft of bike sharing

Pivots and partnerships. Those are two words that start with P that A2B Bikeshare hopes will add up to yet another P word: profit.

The Ann Arbor-based startup, homed in Menlo Innovations' Startup Garage, recently executed a pivot in its business plan and struck a partnership that helps move its new bikesharing technology forward. It's in the midst of launching its technology in a couple U.S. cities with more plans in the works.

"We're looking to launch a couple of hundred bikes before the end of year," says Ansgar Strother, founder & CEO of A2B Bikeshare.

The 1-year-old startup wants to become the Uber or Lyft (popular car-sharing startups) for bicycles. A2B Bikeshare originally got its start with the idea of launching bike-sharing programs for cities with fleets outfitted with touch screens and credit card swipes for users to navigate and pay on.

"It ended up being too expensive and not durable enough," Strother says. "We switched to a low-energy bluetooth technology."

The general idea of launching a bike sharing program for a city is still the same now but use a mobile app for patrons to reserve and pay for their bike.

"When you're all done you just push it back into the rack," Strother says.

A2B Bikeshare also struck a partnership with a bicycle supplier that provides bicycle fleets for large corporations. A2B Bikeshare plans to leverage those fleets of bikes for its own customers.

Today A2B Bikeshare is working to launch a bike-sharing fleet in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Marfa, Texas. It is also working to launch in other cities before the end of the year and lay the groundwork for a national network of bicycles its patrons can use across the country.

Source: Ansgar Strother, founder & CEO of A2B Bikeshare
Writer: Jon Zemke

Go! Ice Cream targets opening own shop in downtown Ypsilanti

Rob Hess has a dream, a dream that includes opening up a new ice cream store in downtown Ypsilanti. And he would like your help to make it happen.

The Ypsilanti resident has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help him finance the opening of the first permanent home of Go! Ice Cream. Today the fledgling business that makes craft ice cream is sold from the cooler of his tricycle and at the events he caters. Hess aspires to open an ice cream store at 10 N Washington, activating a vacant storefront and deserted alley in downtown Ypsilanti.

"I searched high and low for the right place," Hess says. He adds he spoke to local developer Stewart Beal and other local stakeholders to find the right spot. "I really want a space in downtown Ypsilanti. When you walk through downtown you can see a lot of vacant storefronts."

And that means opportunity for Hess. He has raised a little more than $6,000 of his $30,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon. If Hess raises the money he plans to have the kitchen ready by early next year and the storefront open to the public by May.

Hess got started making ice cream as a hobby a few years ago. Check out a previous feature on Go! Ice Cream from Concentrate here. The videographer at the University of Michigan quickly got sucked into the craft of making ice cream.

"I got interested in the chemistry behind it," Hess says. "You can do a lot of subtle things to tweak the texture and flavor."

Soon he had a freezer full of his homemade ice cream and no room for any of his vegetables. So he started giving it away to friends and family. They started offering to pay him for it and the entrepreneurial light went off over his head. He started working with Zingerman's, which agreed to pasteurize the ice cream for him, and he had a real business on his hands.

"Once I figured that out I thought, 'Let's see if people will respond to $9 a pint ice cream?'" Hess says.

They responded well. Hess, an avid bicyclists, bought a tricycle to sell Go! Ice Cream's flavors across the city. He now sells ice cream to about 700 people per month and growing. He hopes to grow that number even faster when he has his own store where people can come to him.

Source: Rob Hess, owner of Go! Ice Cream
Writer: Jon Zemke

HistoSonics raises $3.5M as it pushes clinical trails forward

HistoSonics has closed on seven figures worth of seed capital over the last year as the Ann Arbor-based startup pushes forward the clinical trails of its biotechnology that treats prostate disease.

The 5-year-old company raised an $11 million Series A in 2009 and is in the process of raising a Series B. It raised $3.5 million in a couple of interim fundraising rounds over the last year as it preps to land an even bigger Series B.

"We're looking to do a much larger round next year," says Christine Gibbons, president & CEO of HistoSonics. "We're thinking the first quarter of 2016."

The University of Michigan spinout got its name by combining histo (meaning tissue) and sonics (meaning sound waves). The firm’s primary platform is a medical device that uses tightly focused ultrasound pulses to treat prostate disease in a non-invasive manner with robotic precision.

HistoSonics and its team of 15 people (four more than last year) is currently in the midst of its clinical trails, which it has completed enrollment in. It plans to expand that clinical trail in the next year and wrap it up by 2016. HistoSonics is also looking to add more applications for its platform over the next year, which it is looking for partners in the medical device world.

"This next round of financing we are looking for strategic partners and investors," Gibbons says.

Source: Christine Gibbons, president & CEO of HistoSonics
Writer: Jon Zemke

How Beezy's, Beal made the numbers work to grow in downtown Ypsilanti

News that a local entrepreneur (Bee Roll) and developer (Stewart Beal) are partnering to expand a popular business in downtown Ypsilanti (Beezy's Cafe) is rightly being celebrated. It's the type of move that passersby would say, "That makes so much sense. Why didn't it happen earlier?"

Normally, the problem of filling empty storefront A with growing local business B is a lot easier said than done. Roll and Beal figured out a way to make the numbers add up.

"This is what I would call Ypsilanti hustle," Beal says. "We are both going to work really hard to make this work."

Beezy's Cafe has become an Ypsilanti institution in the seven years since its opening, serving soups, sandwiches and other delicious food to a growing clientele. Despite its success, finding capital to grow has proven difficult, to put it nicely. (You can read more in-depth writing about those challenges here. Roll recently signed Beezy's Cafe up as one of the early adopters to ZipCap to leverage a $10,000 loan. More on that here.)

Last week Beal purchased the former Club Devine building at 21 N Washington St. The vacant structure also happens to be across the street from Beezy's Cafe current home. Beal and Roll plan to expand Beezy's Cafe into 3,000-square-foot of the former Club Devine space later this year or early next year. That space includes a 800-square-foot commercial kitchen, which is four times the size of Beezy's Cafe's current kitchen. It should give Roll ample room to keep up with demand for both her eatery's breakfast, lunch and dinner items, and its catering service.

"I just hope to have the kitchen operational so that I can produce food in a little more space," Roll wrote in an email. "That will potentially raise enough revenue to feed the rest of the growth and keep up with existing bills."

Roll is paying $2,500 a month for the new space of Beezy's Cafe, which include $30,000 worth of improvements Beal is making to the space and rolling into the rent. That comes to a price per square foot that Beal describes as the minimum a commercial property can charge a business and still maintain its status as a functional property that can make further improvements. Beal adds that he has been talking to Roll for years about her business and knows she was looking at expanding into an adjacent property that required at least $150,000 buildings updates. The problem so many retailers like Roll run into is they see empty storefronts in a dynamic downtown like Ypsilanti and then realize they need tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades that the landlords have no interest in making.

"In Ypsilanti the reason buildings are vacant in because the the owners of the buildings don't want to invest in the building to land a tenant," Beal says.

The former Club Devine building was move-in ready. Beal says his development team only needs to put down a new floor in an otherwise pristine space. Which is part of the reason why Beal wanted to move a tenant into 21 N Washington right away. For him it makes sense to bring in an popular business like Beezy's Cafe at an affordable price to anchor his new commercial development.

Beal is now working to fill the second floor and basement of the 22,000 square foot building. He is considering turning the second floor into either an office space or residential lofts, and hopes to fill it within six months. He knows filling the basement will be more of a challenge and hopes to find the right tenant for it in the not-too-distant future.

"She (Roll) brings the fan base and we get the space ready for her to make it work," Beal says.

Source: Stewart Beal, owner of Beal Properties; Bee Roll, owner of Beezy's Cafe
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

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

Write a House, Detroit's permanent writer's residency, announces 10 finalists

Last year, Write a House renovated a vacant house it had purchased at the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction, then gave it away to poet Casey Rocheteau -- for free. This year, Write a House will give a second formerly vacant house away to another worthy writer.
According to the organization's website, "Write a House is a twist on the 'Writer's Residency.' In this case, the writer is simply given the house, forever." The idea is to contribute to the neighborhood just north of Hamtramck (known to some as Banglatown) and strengthen the literary culture of Detroit.
This year, Write a House received 220 applications in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from all over the United States and abroad, as well as right here in Detroit.
The finalists for this year's Write a House residency are:
Liana Aghajanian
Tujunga, CA
Liana Aghajanian is an independent, Armenian-American journalist whose work explores the issues, people and places that remain hidden and on the fringes of society. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, BBC, Al Jazeera America, GOOD and The Atlantic among other publications. Reporting from Kenya, the UK, Germany, the South Caucasus and across the West Coast of the U.S., she covers issues at the intersection of culture, immigration, social justice, displacement and identity. She edits Ianyan Magazine, an independent-online journal on Armenia and its diaspora and authors a column for L.A. Times Community News on under-reported issues. Her work has received support from the Metlife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, the California Health Journalism Fellowship and the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University.
Selected by dream hampton.
Glendaliz Camacho
New York, NY

Glendaliz Camacho is a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee, 2014 Jentel Foundation Artist in Residence, and 2015 Caldera Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Hedgebrook Artist in Residence. Glendaliz is an alum of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Fiction Workshops. Her work appears in All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (University of Wisconsin Press), The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015), The Butter, and Kweli Journal, among others. Glendaliz is currently working on a short story collection, fantasy novel, and essay collection.
“This piece surprised me the most of any of the submissions—it quickly drew rounded portraits of its characters and pulled me into their sure-to-be-tense relationship. More than any of the other pieces, I would have happily kept reading more.” Sean MacDonald

Katie Chase
Portland, OR

Katie Chase's short fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, Five Chapters, Narrative, Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, Mississippi Review, and the Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she was the recipient of a Teaching-Writing Fellowship, a Provost’s Postgraduate Writing Fellowship, and a Michener-Copernicus Award. She has also been a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University. Born and raised outside Detroit, she lives currently in Portland, Oregon. Her first book is forthcoming from A Strange Object in 2016.

“Devil’s Night is an oft-explored theme, and yet this felt fresh, compelling, and true. Wasn’t really sure what to make of the last paragraph, but it held me nonetheless.” Toby Barlow

Allison Hedge Coke
Arcadia, OK
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke's authored books include Dog Road Woman, Off-Season City Pipe, Blood Run, Streaming, and Rock Ghost, Willow, Deer (memoir), and anthologies she edited, including: Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas, Effigies and Effigies II. She also performs with the band Rd Kla. Hedge Coke came of age working fields, factories, and waters, and serves as an alternative field mentor. Awards for her work include an American Book Award, a Paterson Prize, a Sioux Falls Mayor’s Award, and residencies with MacDowell, Black Earth Institute, Hawthornden Castle, Weymouth Center, Center for the Great Plains, and Lannan at Marfa. Hedge Coke directs the annual Literary Sandhill Crane Retreat and is currently at work on an environmental documentary film, “Red Dust: resiliency in the dirty thirties.”

“(In her work), there is seriousness and ambition and scope for growth. It is densely packed and is mostly story-telling, anchored in a myth of blue-collar world. This is worth exploring.”  Michael Stone-Richards
Nandi Comer
Detroit, MI

Nandi Comer is the lead writer for Techno Poetics, a collaboration between Detroit music makers and writers. She has received fellowships from Indiana University, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Cave Canem, Callaloo, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in To Light a Fire: 20 Years with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project (Wayne State University Press, 2014), A Detroit Anthology (Belt Publishing, 2014), Another and Another: An Anthology From the Grind Daily Writing Series (Bull City Press, 2012), Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Southern Indiana Review, and Sycamore Review. She lives and works in Detroit.

“This poet plays with poetic form and verbal music in such a way that art amplifies social consciousness, violence, and cultural inheritance. This is the hallmark of literature that aims high, a kind of redemption song … I admire the maturity evident in this poets' work.”  Major Jackson
Jaquira Díaz
Miami, FL
Jaquira Díaz is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, the Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, a Bread Loaf waitership, and an NEA Fellowship to the Hambidge Center for the Arts. She's been awarded fellowships or scholarships from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, The MacDowell Colony, Summer Literary Seminars, and the Tin House Writers' Workshop. A finalist for the Richard J. Margolis Award in journalism, her work is noted in Best American Essays 2012 and 2014, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014, anthologized in Pushcart Prize XXXVII: Best of the Small Presses, and appears in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Sun, The Southern Review, Salon, Five Chapters, TriQuarterly, The Rumpus, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications.   
“The author has a strong sense of voice and language that drives these three short pieces. Even in the single paragraph that is ‘December’, the language has a natural cadence and sense of urgency that propels the narrative in two lyrical sentences. ‘Seasons of Risks’ captures the adolescent appetite for danger.” Tamara Warren
Matthew Fogarty
Columbia, SC

Born and raised in the square-mile suburbs of Detroit, Matthew Fogarty has an MFA from the University of South Carolina, where he was editor of Yemassee. He also edits Cartagena, a literary journal. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Passages North, Fourteen Hills, PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, and Midwestern Gothic. His short story collection, Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely, will be published in Fall 2016 by Stillhouse Press, a publisher based at George Mason University.

“The first two shorts in this packet were the most interesting, in part because they're so different. The first tells of a man obsessed with telling and retelling the story of Pope John Paul II being elected, but the story varies wildly depending on the day, and ‘depending on what we'd eaten and how much he'd had to drink.’ The second is a more absurd story about two con artists staging fake accidents for cash, while traveling under the names of characters from The Legend of Zelda. There's a lot of varied imagination here, and I appreciated the range.” Matt Bell

J.M. Leija
Detroit, MI

J.M. Leija is a Detroiter at heart and proud to claim all the accompanying trials, travails, and joys that accompany such a statement. By day she is a teacher/disguised superhero who tries to convince her students that reading is cool. On nights and weekends, she turns into a writer who tortures herself over whether writing about things that have really happened and people who really exist can ever be truly ethical. She then proceeds to write about them anyway. Her work has previously been featured in A Detroit Anthology, Motif's Seeking It's Own Level anthology, and Pithead Chapel Magazine, and she has work forthcoming in the 3288 Review.

“This is a person who has something interesting to say, and in saying it, she exercises complete command of the language. The words do exactly what she wants them to at all times. This is no mean feat. There’s an ease and authority here that was unmatched in any of the other submissions I read. … this #1 lady is a writer. There is an instinctive understanding of how words fit and rhythm and le mot juste. This is the thing that can’t be taught.” Nancy Kaffer

M. Sophia Newman
Homewood, IL

M. Sophia Newman is a writer whose work has been published in the US, UK, Bangladesh, and Japan. She writes a column on global health, Health Horizons, for Next City. She's reported on infectious disease in West Africa via a crowd-funded project for Pacific Standard Magazine and on violence in South Africa and America with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. She received a 2014 Shannon Fellowship from Bellarmine University’s International Thomas Merton Society to report on environmentalism, and continued this work with a 2015 retreat at Collegeville Institute for Cultural and Ecumenical Studies. Prior to journalism, she completed a Critical Language Scholarship in Bangla (2011), followed by a year of health research as a Fulbright fellow in Bangladesh (2012-2013). She holds a bachelor of science in cell and molecular biology (Tulane, 2009) and a master's degree in public health from University of Illinois (2012). Sophia is a Bangla speaker who hopes to attain fluency for journalism and to translate Bangla-language literature. She has also won admission to a short program on global mental health at Harvard, and intends to complete a nonfiction book expanding on the violence prevention she explored via the Pulitzer grant.

Selected by dream hampton.

Katie Nichol
Fayetteville, AR

Katie Nichol is a poet, educator, and activist based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Recent work has appeared in Cream City Review, St. Petersburg Review, and Cannibal. She is the Creative Writing Director for Prison Story Project, and was a 2014 finalist for the Wisconsin Institute Creative Writing Fellowships. Prior to receiving her MFA from the University of Arkansas, Katie worked as an advocate with homeless youth in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
“Like many of the manuscripts, this one deals with strong subject matter—notes from a rough life—but here the matter is balanced with literary grace and a knowledgeable sense of form.  The manuscript includes a ghazal and a rather amazing poem that reads forwards and backwards.” Billy Collins
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