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Online Tech hires 15, opens fifth data center

Online Tech is opening its fifth data center this fall. The newly refurbished facility is the company's fourth in Michigan.

This is Online Tech's first data center in metro Detroit and part of its expansion plan across the Midwest. The Ann Arbor-based company took an old telecom data center and refurbished over six months to handle cloud computing demands as well.

"That is two we have opened this year," says Yan Ness, co-CEO of Online Tech.

The other data center is another beefed-up facility that can handle cloud computing demands in Indianapolis. That one opened last spring, and was Online Tech's first outside of Michigan. The 20-year-old company also has three data centers in the Ann Arbor area.

Online Tech is embarking on a multi-year expansion plan across the Midwest. It is taking on other Midwestern markets as opportunities present themselves. The company is open to the idea of launching another data center next year but doesn’t have an immediate plans to do so.

"It's up in the air," Ness says. "We're certainly excited about Metro Detroit and Indianapolis."

Online Tech has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 55 people. It is also looking to hire another six people in sales, network administration and support staff.

Source: Yan Ness, co-CEO of Online Tech
Writer: Jon Zemke

Digital Inclusion bridges digital job skills divide in Ypsilanti

Eastern Michigan University is developing a new way to help bridge the digital divide in Ypsilanti's low-income communities and enhance the city's downtown retail scene.

The university's The Business Side of Youth program, also known as the the B. Side, is debuting Digital Inclusion this fall. The social enterprise teaches local at-risk youth how to repair and refurbish computers. It has opened a pop-up store in downtown Ypsilanti where the students sell their services and reconditioned electronics.

"It gives them a viable skill," says Jack Bidlack, director of The Business Side of Youth. "It's giving them unique knowledge and skills to fix computers. It also bridges the digital divide in low-income communities."

Working class communities have long struggled to keep up with technology advancements. That often means they are at a disadvantage in the job market, especially in the technology-dominant Information Age of the 21st Century.

The Business Side of Youth launched six years ago out of EMU with the idea of giving local young people born into working class communities a chance to make inroads in technology careers. The program has facilitated 137 at-risk young people over the years. Each semester is takes on about a cohort of about a dozen of them to teach them skills in both technology and entrepreneurship.

"There are plenty of people who work in automotive design because they learned how to change oil," Bidlack says.

Digital Inclusion is the latest iteration of that initiative. It is operating a pop-up store where these young people work on computers and mobile devices at competitive prices. The pop-up is located at 10 N Washington St and is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Tuesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The pop-up will run through Dec. 17, and Bidlack is evaluating whether it could become a permanent part of the program.

Source: Jack Bidlack, director of The Business Side of Youth
Writer: Jon Zemke

Automation Alley aims at advanced manufacturing with 7Cs Program

Automation Alley is going for the low-hanging job creation fruit in Metro Detroit with its new program.

The Troy-based small business accelerator is launching the 7Cs program this week. The new initiative is focused on advanced manufacturing, specifically accelerating the growth of small businesses looking to leverage or improve advanced manufacturing.

"We want to focus on those businesses that can have the biggest impact on southeast Michigan," says Tom Kelly, director of entrepreneurship at Automation Alley.

Kelly took over as Automation Alley’s director of entrepreneurship last spring after working as a small business coach for the state of Michigan stationed in Automation Alley. He has seen companies come and go from Metro Detroit, but knows that any company that wants to work in manufacturing will come to Michigan. Why not exploit that strength?

"We think the ecosystem is ripe for this sort of focus," Kelly says. "If you think about it, we should have been doing this a long time ago because we’re really good at it."

Automation Alley's 7Cs program will guide entrepreneurs through a customized seven-step process that starts with the conception of their technology and leads to commercialization. The program includes intense coaching and a commitment from Automation Alley to invest resources and capital.

Kelly hopes to facilitate 10 companies in the program’s first year, and to grow that number incrementally in the following years.

Source: Tom Kelly, director of entrepreneurship at Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting expands to 29 states

BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting isn't known as a company that is big on hiring.

The life sciences consulting firm hasn't hired or fired anyone over the last year, and doesn't plan to in the near future. It just stays steady at seven employees. In fact, when it moved to a new office last summer it went to a smaller space.

"That building was bigger than what we needed all along so we sold it," says Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting.

What it is doing is growing its footprint. The Ann Arbor-based firm is now doing work in 29 states, up about five from its mark last year. That means it is helping life sciences startups snare non-dilutive government funding to develop their technologies. Kurek hopes to expand the firm's reputation and prowess even more in 2015.

"I'd like to see us in 39 states next year," Kurek says.

BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting has built up a steadfast reputation as one of a boutique consulting firm with a deep expertise in helping startups capture six figures or more in government research funding. If you’re a region looking to build a life sciences startup scene, you want a BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting in your backyard, or for it at least to have a presence there. More and more states are coming around to that idea, bringing BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting into their regions.

"We're in a very niche area of expertise," Kurek says. "It (the firm's growth) is a combination of referrals and presence at national conferences. Our web and social media presence helps, too."

Source: Lisa Kurek, managing partner of BBC Entrepreneurial Training & Consulting
Writer: Jon Zemke

Birmingham's Griffin Claw Brewing adds bottle spirit sales

Griffin Claw Brewing Company is now in the business of selling bottled vodka, gin and rum from its taproom in Birmingham.

Earlier this year the brewery, which has made its name in craft beer, added liquors to the menu. Bottled sales were the next step.

The lineup: Griffin Claw Grain Vodka, Griffin Claw Potato Vodka, Griffin Claw Botanical Gin and Griffin Claw Black Strap Rum sell for $20 each and can be purchased inside the taproom. The brewery will also be releasing KRUPNIK, a polish style honey liqueur in a 750ml bottle, for $20, for the holiday season as well as its popular Oblivious Wheat Wine in a 22-oz. wax-dipped bomber bottle for $17.

Griffin Claw biergarten and taproom are at 575 S. Eton St. The 12,000-square-foot operation in the city's Rail District includes a brewing system, distillery, and distribution operation.

Source, Jaclyn Robinson, JT Marketing Group
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oxford Companies aims at residential, commercial market expansion

Oxford Companies is positioning itself to become the property management company in Ann Arbor, strengthening its holdings in both residential and commercial areas.

The Ann Arbor-based company acquired the Northeast Corporate Center this year, a 220,000-square-foot commercial space near Plymouth and Green roads.

"It is the largest acquisition ever for our company," says Andrew Selinger, investment analyst for Oxford Companies. "It also made us the largest commercial property manager in Ann Arbor."

The 16-year-old, full-service real-estate firm also recently expanded into the residential market. It purchased the Arch Realty portfolio of off-campus student housing near the University of Michigan in 2012. It has since folded the properties into its operations, upgrading the buildings and improving relations with tenants. The Michigan Daily, U-M's student newspaper, named Oxford Management Services (Oxford Companies residential arm) the best landlord this year.

"It's going very well," says Deborah Pearson, marketing director of Oxford Companies. "We have integrated it into our company and opened up a whole new market. We have come a long away with our residential portfolio."

Oxford Companies currently has a staff of 50 employees and three interns. It has hired eight people over the last year, including maintenance workers, construction tradespeople, property managers, and a COO. The company is looking to hire two more people right now. The hiring is helping the firm keep up with its growth and prepare for more in 2015.

"We are still in a growth mode working on acquisitions," Pearson says. "We're working on an acquisition right now."

Source: Deborah Pearson, marketing director of Oxford Companies; and Andrew Selinger, investment analyst for Oxford Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Woodward Throwbacks sets up woodshop just west of Corktown

A fledgling business turning old, discarded building materials into new products is building out its new home on the western edge of Corktown.

"We're going to turn it into our new studio," says Kyle Dubay, co-founder of Woodward Throwbacks.

Dubay and his partner, Bo Shepherd, launched Woodward Throwbacks a little more than year ago, making consumer products from wood they found at illegal dumping sites around the city. The products ranged from bottle-opener signs to six-pack containers that resemble lunch boxes from the early 20th century.

"One thing led to another and soon we were selling them in Eastern Market," Dubay says. "I can't believe we have grown this much this quickly."

The growth prompted them to purchase a building on Michigan Avenue just west of I-75. The new space will expand the company’s production capabilities. The structure has been vacant for years, leaving it in need of significant renovations. Woodward Throwbacks is currently trying to raise $10,000 in a crowd funding campaign to pay for some of the upgrades.

"The building was ravaged by thieves before we got it," Dubay says.

Dubay and Shepherd hope to begin wholesaling their products once they move into the new space. They aspire to turn Woodward Throwbacks into a national brand with its products available at retail outlets across the U.S.

Source: Kyle Dubay, founder of Woodward Throwbacks
Writer: Jon Zemke

Design firm Elefant Design & Strategy looks to add 3 jobs

Elefant Design & Strategy has got the growth part down. Now it wants to focus on the work.

The Troy-based design firm made a name for itself in design for everything from website development to print. The 1-year-old company has grow by more than 100 percent.

"We are really focused on the design process," says Elena Kapintcheva, partner & designer with Elefant Design & Strategy. "Creating goals, conceptualizing, and execution."

The firm is currently comprised of two partners. However, it plans to hire three designers in January. It needs the extra help to aid in its growing workload coming from a broad range of customers, such as local restaurants and coastal non-profits.

"We definitely want to continue to grow," Kapintcheva says. "By hiring more talent we want to expand our design reach."

Source: Elena Kapintcheva, partner & designer with Elefant Design & Strategy
Writer: Jon Zemke

RightBrain Networks triples in size as it hits $1M in revenue

RightBrain Networks has experienced quite a growth spurt over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based IT firm has tripled in size, added several jobs, and is closing in on a major milestone.

"It has grown substantially," says Jamie Begin, CEO of RightBrain Networks. "This will be our first $1 million year."

Begin launched RightBrain Networks in 2009. He had been laid off from his position in IT when the recession hit in 2008.

"I couldn't fathom sending another resume and not getting a response back," Begin says.

RightBrain Networks grew slowly at first. It hit three employees about a year ago, and then really started to hit its growth streak. The company has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 13 employees. The new hires include IT professionals, marketeers, administrative folks, and project managers.

The Ann Arbor-based company is now a team of engineers providing IT and cloud-computing services for both large and small companies. Some of its customers include Intuit and the University of California, Berkley. Begin would like to expand its client roster even more and do so closer to home.

"In 2015, I would really like to grow our business in our backyard," Begin says.

Source: Jamie Begin, CEO of RightBrain Networks
Writer: Jon Zemke

Sweet Lorraine's Fabulous Mac n' Cheez! restaurant to occupy old Marwil Bookstore space in Midtown

Marwil Bookstore was a Detroit institution, serving Wayne State University students since 1948. That bookstore closed in 2013, thanks, in part, to competition from the Internet. Gary Sussman used to shop at that bookstore as a Wayne State student. Today, he and his wife and business partner Lorraine Platman are busy renovating that building, preparing it for the late-February target opening for their Sweet Lorraine's Fabulous Mac n' Cheez! restaurant. They're even leasing the space from the Marwils themselves.

The Midtown location will be the company's fifth Mac n' Cheez! restaurant. Their company's first franchise location opened in the Renaissance Center earlier this month. That franchise is owned by Randy Dickow, also owner of downtown's Lunchtime Global restaurant.

Platman and Sussman are also the team behind Sweet Lorraine's, the popular full-service restaurants in Livonia and Southfield. The Mac n' Cheez! concept is more of a fast-casual restaurant, featuring soups, salads, and sandwiches in addition to the macaroni and cheese at the heart of the menu. Platman, who develops the menu, has created 14 made-to-order macaroni and cheese dishes.

"The concept is fun but it's also about quality," says Sussman. "It's an interactive process that's unique to mac and cheese."

Sussman says that the Midtown location will open early in the day with a breakfast menu, free Wi-Fi, and a lounge space. The pair hopes to use locally-sourced ingredients, he says. They're looking at products from Corridor Sausage, Detroit Institute of Bagels, and local bakeries. A Michigan-only beer bar is planned.

Howard Ellman, Principal Architect of Birmingham's Dynamic Designs, and Patrick Thompson, creative director of Detroit's Patrick Thompson Design, have been hired to renovate the 3,000-sqare-foot space. Sussman says that they have already pulled away three layers of vinyl flooring to expose original terrazzo tile floors. The drop ceilings have come down, revealing wood beams above. The windows along Cass Avenue, long-filled in with cinder blocks, will also be opened back up.

The partners are also looking at spaces around Campus Martius for another location. Nothing is finalized, however, and that restaurant could end up franchise- or company-owned. Platman and Sussman hope to open their company-owned Midtown location by the end of February.

Source: Gary Sussman, co-owner of Sweet Lorraine's Fabulous Mac n' Cheez!
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Pillar Technology Group hires 30 software developers in Ann Arbor

Pillar Technology Group is about to become a company on the move. The software firm is in the process of moving its Ann Arbor office from the Tech Brewery to a new space in downtown Tree Town.

"They should be in there putting up drywall as we speak," says Charles Fry, executive vice president of global growth for Pillar Technology Group.

The 20-year-old company is moving to a 10,000-square-foot office at 301 E Liberty St in downtown Ann Arbor early next year. The company has called the Tech Brewery, a software entrepreneur collective located on the city’s north side, home for the last few years. However, a spate of rapid-fire hiring has prompted it to find a new space with more elbow room.

"We just outgrew it," Fry says. "It (Tech Brewery) is a great space. It has done great things for us. We have a holiday party next week and it will probably be standing-room only. We are just busting at the seams."

Pillar Technology Group provides software and consulting services for a broad range of industries in the Midwest, such as automotive, financial, insurance and telecommunications, among others. The company has hired 30 people (mostly software developers) in Ann Arbor in 2014, expanding its staff to 60 employees and two interns.

Pillar Technology Group is currently looking to hire as many as a dozen software engineers. It is looking for senior-level developers with a high-end skill set.

"We are always looking for the smartest software engineers we can find," Fry says.

Source: Charles Fry, executive vice president of global growth for Pillar Technology Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Labs hires 30, launches mobile app for Detroit Police Dept.

The Detroit Police Department is launching a new app today aimed at helping it better communicate and interact with the people living and working in the Motor City.

The DPD Connect app (available for Andriod and iPhone) will provide streamlined pathways for users to report tips to police, a phone directory for the city’s public safety agencies, links to the police departments social media channels, and news/crime statistics. Users will be able to leave anonymous tips (delivered through an independent third-party service to ensure anonymity) and also access local public safety numbers, such as community officers and neighborhood precincts.

"The whole theme is to better connect people to the police department," says Will McDowell, a business analyst with Detroit Labs, which built the app.

The Detroit Police Department approached the downtown Detroit-based software firm to create the mobile app earlier this year. McDowell oversaw the construction of the app, which was worked on by a large team from Detroit Labs including five of the company’s interns.

Detroit Labs has hired 30 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 75 people. It recently moved from the M@dison Building into a bigger office in the M@dison Building (1520 Woodward) earlier this year. Many of its new hires come from the company's apprentice program, which trains software developers and paves the way for full-time employment at the company. The firm is also looking to hire established software developers.

"We're always looking for good developers," says Bill Camp, who works in planning and development at Detroit Labs.

Source: Bill Camp and Will McDowell, Detroit Labs
Writer: Jon Zemke

Slow's Bar-B-Q to expand to downtown Pontiac

Detroit's celebrated Slows Bar-B-Q, which hit restaurant gold in Detroit years before today's restaurant boom rolled in, will open a location in downtown Pontiac, where reinvestment and rebirth are once again becoming part of the local lexicon.

The Pontiac Slows will be connected to the Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts, a $20-million redevelopment of a historic building that will bring national shows and live theater and stage acts back to the city.

With Slows as its exclusive partner, the theater will offer the unusual combo of arts and culture and barbecue joint.

Slows Pontiac, on Saginaw St., will be 6,500 square feet and have a street-side entrance for the public and a theater entrance for show-goers. Slows will also cater events at the theater, which will be run by the nonprofit Encore Performing Arts Center and Bill Lee, former vice president of Celebrity Events Group and vice president of sales and marketing at Olympia Entertainment, Inc.

Construction will begin in early 2015. Opening date will coincide with the theater opening in late 2015.

Slows has an exclusivity agreement with the theater so that it will be the only Slows location in Oakland County, says Kyle Westberg, CEO of West Construction Services, one of Pontiac's main developers with projects such as the at-capacity Lafayette Place Lofts and Lafayette Market.

Slow's owners want to be a part of a Pontiac's comeback. They see it, as they did their first restaurant in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, as a way to run a business and also help the community.

“We chose Pontiac as the site of our first metro Detroit expansion for the same reasons we chose Corktown. It’s an underserved community with a defined identity and potential for an exciting evolution,” Slows Bar-B-Q co-owner Phil Cooley says. “We are excited to become part of the neighborhood and serve up great tasting Slows Bar-B-Q to the folks who live, work in, and visit Pontiac.”

Westberg says Slows, along with numerous large and small projects, from the opening of small tech businesses to multi-million-dollar improvements by GM and St. Joseph's Hospital, may be the tipping point to making downtown Pontiac become a destination again.

"I've been watching Slows's business model for quite a few years, and what was fascinating to me was their thought processes on economic development and working with the community and helping the community prosper and move forward," Westberg says. "That philosophy meets right up with the philosophies we have here in Pontiac."

Source: Kyle Westberg, CEO, West Construction Services; Phil Cooley, Slows Bar-B-Q co-owner
Writer: Kim North Shine

Results at Hand Software doubles in size on demand for event apps

Results at Hand Software has made a name for itself in event-focused mobile apps during its first four years.

The Waterford-based startup has found a significant amount of success with its ConferenceBeat app. The event app is used by businesses or associations throwing events, providing them with a direct line of communication to attendees that enables them to strengthen their relationship.

"Everyone has come back and said, 'We love the app,'" says Kim Harwood, president of Results at Hand Software, and "'oh, by the way, can you provide more features and functionality?'"

Sales at the 4-year-old company are up 100 percent over the last year. That has enabled it to hire three people (a software developer and sales professionals) over the last year. It now has a staff of seven employees and one intern. It plans to add two more interns in January.

Results at Hand Software is preparing to have another big year in 2015. Harwood expects to hit triple-digit revenue growth again as her company continues to attract more customers.

"Every customer tends to turn into a longterm customer," Harwood says.

Source: Kim Harwood, president of Results at Hand Software
Writer: Jon Zemke

Spider9 creates 4 jobs, commercializes clean technology

Spider9 recently received a key certification that should help make installing its energy storage technology easier as it looks to ramp up sales in 2015.

The Northville-based startup recently received certification to UL 1741 standards for the company's advanced energy storage and controls technology. The certification, given by TÜV SÜD America, represents a first for a system featuring Spider9's technology.

"It's a great step forward," says Michelle Chitambar, chief technology featurist for Spider9. "Some people don't want to put systems in their building unless it’s certified."

The 3-year-old company is commercializing technology that helps make alternative energy generation and storage more efficient. Spider9 has deployed some of its first units over the last year and is setting the stage to do it much more often in 2015.

"We expect to ramp up considerably now that we have certification," Chitambar says.

Spider9 currently employs 14 people and is in the process of hiring another staffer specializing in sales and technology. It has hired three people over the last year.

Source: Michelle Chitambar, chief technology featurist for Spider9
Writer: Jon Zemke
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