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Qstride continues to hire, grow in downtown Detroit

Qstride at an interesting point on its growth curve. The tech company is successful, landing large customers and spiking its revenue; however, the company doesn’t have the resources it needs to scale itself.

Qstride, which has offices in Troy and downtown Detroit, has grown its revenue by 130 percent over the last year. It now clocks sales in excess of $2 million -- something it has achieved entirely through bootstrapping.

"We have a model that is proven," says Shane Gianino, founder & CEO of Qstride. "Of course, it's a marathon, not a sprint."

The 2.5-year-old firm specializes in business intelligence and analytics services that integrate with its customer's IT systems. It also provided staffing services for the technology sector. It currently employs 20-odd people, half of whom work in downtown Detroit.

"We're looking at potentially expanding our presence downtown," Gianino says. "We're trying to figure that out."

Qstride has hired three people three people in downtown Detroit and Gianino is optimistic that the number can grow quickly over the next year as he begins to entertain offers for venture capital investment in the company to help scale it.

"We have an opportunity to add a lot of jobs in Detroit," Gianino says.

Source: Shane Gianino, founder & CEO of Qstride
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Bikes expands staff as bike sales gain traction

People started to have their doubts about Detroit Bikes last year when the bicycle startup issued temporary layoffs at its production facility only a few months after starting to sell its first bikes.

Those doubts are gone this summer. The two-year-old company called back most of those workers this spring and is hiring new people this summer after debuting its second version of a classic, American-style bicycle.

"Sales are really strong," says Zak Pashak, founder & president of Detroit Bikes. "It's not exactly what I predicted, but we’re back-ordered right now. It's a good position to be in."

Pashak moved to Detroit from Calgary with the idea of building a simple, streamlined bicycle for riding in urban environments in the heart of America's manufacturing mecca. The result was the A-Type, a bicycle with thinner/smoother tires on larger wheels, a frame made of chromoly steel, and only three speeds. The idea: keep it simple.

So far that idea is working. Detroit Bikes has sold nearly 1,000 of the A-Type model, prompting it to release the B-Type last week. The B-Type features a step-through frame that's easier to mount and dismount. It also has a glossy white finish (the A-Type only came in black, a la Henry Ford's Model T). "We use a powdered coat, which is more environmentally friendly," Pashak says.

It's all part of Pashak's plan to start with a good product and harness some word of mouth buzz to drive sales. That materialized slower than Pashak expected, but Detroit Bikes has come out with a better marketing plan and expanded its distribution network across the continent.

"I think we have a shop in every state now," Pashak says.

And they are accepting product from Detroit Bikes’ 50,000-square-foot facility on Elmira Street near Schaefer Highway on the city's far west side. The company now employs 10 people at the facility and is looking to hire four more. Pashak expects to sell between 3,000 and 4,000 bikes by year’s end and 10,000 by the end of next year. He is also looking to add some international sales to the mix later this year.

"I want to sell bikes to anybody who will buy them," Pashak says. "I also like the idea of exporting them. Anything we can do to bring more money into the local economy."

Source: Zak Pashak, founder & president of Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

Accio Energy preps for demo alternative energy project, fundraising

Accio Energy has gone about as far as it can go in the lab, prompting the alternative energy startup to begin making plans to build out a demonstration project and raise a multi-million-dollar seed round to make it happen.

Accio Energy's name was inspired by a spell in the Harry Potter books. The 6-year-old firm's aerovoltaic technology harnesses the electrokinetic energy of the wind. No turbine blades. No moving parts. Think of it as harvesting static electricity from the atmosphere.

"We've taken the concept and proven it in a lab," says Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy. "We're now at a level where the lab results show we have a very cost-effective product."

She says Accio Energy's technology is cost-competitive with off-shore wind turbines. The competitive advantage is that its technology can be floated out beyond the sight of people on the shore. Because it can be used like a buoy it doesn't need to be built into the ocean floor and can generate electricity without disturbing people.

Accio Energy is making plans to build a demonstration project for its technology early next year, possibly on the Gulf of Mexico. In the meantime it's getting ready to raise a $5 million seed round to fund that work. That can be a bit of a challenge for a startup that is both pre-revenue and pushing disruptive technology.

"We're wind energy with no turbines," Baird says. "That is hard for people to wrap their heads around."

Accio Energy is in the midst of hiring two people (a modeler and engineer) right now. The company currently has nine employees and the occasional intern. Baird expects that number to spike after Accio Energy closes on its latest seed round later this year.

"That will cause us to expand the team substantially," Baird says.

Accio Energy has raised $6 million since its launch. Baird points out that it has developed a new technology that has been issued six patents. She adds bringing new alternative energy technology to market can often cost nine figures.

"When you think how much we have done on $10 million to $11 million, it's amazing," Baird says.

Source: Jen Baird, CEO of Accio Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cosmo Branding and Marketing launches out of Pony Ride

Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson launched Cosmo Branding and Marketing last fall to provide services to small businesses starting up in Detroit.

Today, the Corktown-based company -- it calls Pony Ride home -- has established itself as a firm that helps startups and entrepreneurs tell their stories.

"We saw the need was there for branding for startups, especially in downtown Detroit," Watson says.

Both Morman and Watson have backgrounds in creative and entrepreneurial ventures. They have been able to help their clients with everything from product designs to guerilla marketing to event planning. The whole idea is to help businesses build better brands by executing well-thought-out marketing strategies. Among its clients are Caledonia Capital Partners and Infinite Mile.

"We like to work with a variety of different businesses," Morman says. "It allows us to diversify and sharpen our skills."

Cosmo Branding and Marketing currently is composed of Watson and Morman, two independent contractors, and an intern. The team is now looking to take on clients outside of Michigan during its second year.

Source: Sabra Morman and Catherine Watson, co-founders of Cosmo Branding and Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Branch aims to reinvent social media with new app

When the team developing startup Branch decided it wanted to work in software, it didn't just try to create the next best thing in social media. The six young people from Ann Arbor are trying to reinvent the entire sector.

"We started from the ground up," says Ryan Wolande, co-founder & CEO of Branch. "We scrapped what we had been conditioned to from other social media outlets."

Branch is a mobile app that is meant to turn people's digital presence into a real-world interaction. The software finds individuals who share the same interests and are in close proximity to each other and connects them.

"It's about fostering real-world relationships," Wolande says. "It's about social media in the physical world."

The Ann Arbor-based startup and its team of six people is in the homestretch of developing the software platform. Branch plans to start Beta testing soon and make the technology public later this fall.

Source: Ryan Wolande, co-founder & CEO of Branch
Writer: Jon Zemke

Capture Caddie develops technology to analyze golf swing

Lots of people play golf and nearly as many struggle to improve their swing. A new startup based in Canton believes it has come up with technology to help them.

Capture Caddie is developing technology that creates a simple way to record a player's golf swing. The four-person team behind the 1-year-old startup notes the only way to currently capture a player's golf swing and analyze it is to hire a pro, have a friend record it on a mobile device, or set up a tripod and hit record. All of these options tend to be either clumsy or not cost-effective.

"There is just no easy way to do it," says Edward Thai, co-founder & manager of Capture Caddie. "So we made an easy-to-use kiosk."

Capture Caddie provides a kiosk at golf courses that records a players swing and sends that video to the player's computer or mobile device. The kiosk also tracts data, such as carry distance and ball flight. Check out a video on it here.

"It's data most people can't get unless they go through a pro," Thai says.

Capture Caddie is nearly done with the development of this technology and is working to demo it at some local golf courses. It is also working to gamify the technology to add a competitive element between users.

"It makes you hit shots under pressure," Thai says. "That's golf."

Source: Edward Thai, co-founder & manager of Capture Caddie
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shinola bikes for rent in downtown Birmingham



Shinola and The Townsend Hotel, two brands cementing reputations of luxury, are pairing up to offer Shinola bikes to hotel guests and to Birmingham residents.

The Shinola bike rental program at The Townsend launched about a month ago as a new amenity that offers an easy and stylish way to see downtown Birmingham.

The bikes are for rent by the half hour for $15, an hour for $25 and for a day for $125. Bike helmets and locks are also available.

Operators at The Townsend, a Euro-styled hotel in Birmingham, and Shinola, which promotes American- and Detroit-made products and operates a factory and retail store in Detroit, say Shinola's Runwell and Bixby models are a great way to see how walkable -- or rideable -- Birmingham can be.

"We've only had a few rentals so far, but we have a sign at the concierge desk in the main lobby announcing the offering, and we've had many inquiries," says Lynette Zebrowski, The Townsend's chief concierge. "So we are expecting to see this pick up."

Source: Hope Brown, principal PublicCity PR
, and Lynette Zebrowski, chief concierge, The Townsend Hotel
Writer: Kim North Shine

 

Everist Health manufactures in Michigan, organizing clinical trial

Everist Health, formerly Everist Genomics, is starting to hit its stride in sales of its cardiac-testing technology.

The Ann Arbor-based firm makes AngioDefender, which helps doctors measure the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. To put it simply, AngioDefender gives people medical information about their heart in an easy-to-understand way without the technical jargon. It will tell the user how old the heart is compared to its actual age. Check out a video on it here.

"You may be 45 but your heart age might be 55," says Randal Charlton, director of Everist Health.

Everist Health has hired six people around the world over the last year, bringing its staff to 12 full-time employees, 20 consultants, and the occasional intern. It is selling AngioDefender in India and is getting ready to penetrate the markets in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Canada.

"We are now in go-to market mode," Charlton says.

Everist Health is also working to get the green light in the U.S. from the FDA. It is in the midst of organizing a clinical trial and hopes to get approval from the FDA by next year.

"We expect to start it very soon," Charlton says. "Certainly before the end of the year."

Everist Health's original plan was to use contract manufacturers in India to produce AngioDefender. It has since changed its course and is now using a Michigan-based manufacturer it found with the help of MichBio.

"As we ramp up we will be creating more work for not only us but other Michigan companies," Charlton says.

Source: Randal Charlton, director of Everist Health
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brazilian immigrants launch pastry biz, Doce Brigadeiro

A couple of Brazilian immigrants are making a go of it in entrepreneurship, launching their own pastry business with the help of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College.

Doce Brigadeiro specializes in Brazilian handmade gourmet sweets. The main pastry is the popular treat called a brigadeiro. The main ingredients consist of condensed milk, cream and chocolate. Twenty-one flavors are on offer, including mint, toffee, lemon zest and sea salt caramel, as well as milk, dark and white chocolate.

"I love to do Brazilian desserts," says Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro. "It's something I would do every month."

Cecconi recently received her MBA from Walsh College where she leveraged the services of the Blackstone LaunchPad program, which teaches the basics of business to aspiring entrepreneurs. Cecconi and her friend, Marina Kapordelis, started selling brigadeiros to friends and family under the Doce Brigadeiro brand this spring.

The Royal Oak-based business is now looking for its own kitchen space to make its sweets, and eventually wants to open up a storefront in a local downtown like Ann Arbor or Birmingham in the not-too-distant future.

"We're hoping to get a lot of Christmas orders this year," Cecconi says.

Source: Danielle Cecconi, co-founder of Doce Brigadeiro
Writer: Jon Zemke

iVantage moves into bigger office to accommodate revenue growth

The iVantage Group is in the midst of some big changes and the Brighton-based staffing firm has a lot of growth to show for it.

The 10-year-old company specializes in staffing services for the IT, insurance and banking sectors. It helps its clients find IT, engineering, finance and executive talent in the tech world. The iVantage Group is in the midst of moving to a new home in Brighton, which is triple the size of its former space. The 4,500-square-foot office has room for better training and space for its current staff to stretch out.

"It's an amazing space in so many ways," says Juliet Shrader, president & CEO of iVantage Group. "We are growing so fast we were bursting at the seams."

The iVantage Group employs 12 people at its headquarters and another 100 in the field. It has hired four recruiters over the last year and is in the process of adding two more. That employee growth comes after several years of double-digit revenue gains, the smallest of which was 18 percent.

The firm also recently reorganized its leadership structure, adding more management positions. The idea is to help bring more leaders in to help grow the company, which has paid off handsomely so far.

"We now have a recruiter lead," Shrader says. "We never had that before. Creating that position has made our team not only bigger but stronger."

Source: Juliet Shrader, president & CEO of iVantage Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

U-M research pushes envelope of wearable technologies

Could monitoring chronic ailments be as simple as breathing? That seems like a distinct possibility thanks to new technology coming from the University of Michigan.

University researchers, working in conjunction with the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program, are developing a wearable sensor that could provide continuous disease monitoring of conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. The sensor, which is about the size of a finger nail, detects airborne chemicals either exhaled or released through the skin. It can be worn as a wired device.

Nitric oxide and oxygen are among the chemicals it can detect. Abnormal levels of either can serve as indicators for high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease. The sensor could also be used to detect hazardous chemical leaks, or provide data about air quality.

"This device has a broad range of applications," says Sherman Fan, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

The sensor is currently still a test subject in a U-M lab, but the team of researchers hope to commercialize the technology in the not-too-distant future. Fan is developing the sensor with Zhaohui Zhong, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Girish Kulkarni, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering.

"I would say (commercialization of the chip is) probably 3-5 years down the road," Fan says.

Source: Sherman Fan, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Park n Party's tailgating services start to go mainstream

Park n Party launched a couple of year’s ago with a novel idea, enabling tailgaters to reserve a parking spot online for University of Michigan home football games. The business has really started to gain traction since then.

"Last year what we saw is people definitely told their friends," says Jason Kapica, partner with Park n Party. "The pinnacle was last year’s Winter Classic hockey game. We sold 3,000 reservations. We sold every spot we had access to."

The big one-off events have proven as popular as the home football games. Park n Party has done well with annual events like Ann Arbor Art Fair and the Manchester United soccer game at Michigan Stadium. Park n Party has also been able to expand into South Bend, Indiana, for Notre Dame home football games and is eyeing Madison, Wisconsin, for University of Wisconsin football games.

"I'd really like to get to Columbus for Ohio State," Kapica says. "Madison is definitely something we're looking at for football."

Park n Party’s software allows people attending big events to reserve parking spots online, saving them the trouble of driving around searching for a place to park their car. The four-person team has refined the system so it covers more than 3,000 parking spots around Michigan Stadium. Those have proven popular with large groups of friends attending Michigan football games and corporate events.

"We get a lot of calls for large tailgate parties," Kapica says.

Source: Jason Kapica, partner of Park n Party
Writer: Jon Zemke

NVIDIA staffs up Ann Arbor office thanks to auto industry contracts

NVIDIA opened a technology center in Ann Arbor last year. The good news is the Silicon Valley-based tech firm has been hiring people (10 so far) for it. The better news is it still has plenty more hiring to do to hit its employment goal.

"It's designed to support up to 20 employees," says Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive for NVIDIA. "We're still staffing up. We’re about halfway there."

NVIDIA's Ann Arbor tech office specializes in making software for the automotive industry. Think navigation and infotainment applications. Ann Arbor turned out to be the perfect place for the company because of its proximity to Metro Detroit’s automotive base and Ann Arbor’s tech startup scene.

NVIDIA got its start making graphics for the video game industry in 1993. It eventually evolved into offering graphic solutions for a variety of sectors. It has been focused on automotive for about the last decade. It does work with the like of BMW, Audi, and Tesla. Shapiro estimated NVIDIA’s products are in 6.2 million cars today.

Source: Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive for NVIDIA
Writer: Jon Zemke

Coupon Wallet racks up customers as it emerges from Beta stage

Lots of software startups make it into Beta, one of the early stages where they get to test out their new idea in the real world. Few make it out.

Coupon Wallet appears to be one of those making it out of Beta and into the world of paying customers. The Sterling Heights-based startup that calls the Macomb-OU INCubator home converted its first users (a couple of bars) into customers earlier this summer.

"We have a couple other businesses in the pilot we’re trying to convert into customers as well," says Christopher Papa, CMO of Coupon Wallet.

Coupon Wallet’s software helps small businesses create digital coupons that in turn aid them in reaching a larger audience. The technology includes managed marketing services and point-of-sale integration. The firm is also looking to marry digital coupons and data analytics as part of its service package.

"Hopefully that will give the customer a rounded offering," Papa says.

Coupon Wallet was spun out of PocketCents Network a year ago. It currently has a team of four employees and two interns.

Source: Christopher Papa, CMO of Coupon Wallet
Writer: Jon Zemke

Banza turns chick peas into next big thing in pasta

Brian Rudolph ran into a something of a conundrum early in his adult life. The Detroiter is gluten free and loves to eat healthy, but he also loves to eat pasta. He reconciled these contradictions by creating his own gluten-free pasta and bulding a business, Banza, around it.

"I stopped buying pasta and started making my own," says Rudolph, a Venture for America fellow who co-founded Banza with his brother, Scott Rudolph. "The more I worked on it the more I realized this could be a $1 billion company."

Banza's pasta is made from chickpeas, so it is more akin to hummus and falafel than traditional pasta. It is gluten, grain, and soy free. While normal pasta lacks in providing nutritional value, Banza contains a load of nutrients. It has seven grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein in a serving.

"It's more (protein) than you get in a protein bar," Rudolph says.

The 8-month-old company and its team of three people are currently working to get their pasta-replacement food to market. It is currently in the Eatly fine food stores in the U.S. and should be on the shelves of the 200 Meijer stores by September. The Rudolphs also just participated in a taping of Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show for entrepreneurs on CNBC.

"Our goal is to do to pasta what Chobani did to yogurt," Rudolph says.

Source: Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza
Writer: Jon Zemke
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