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North Coast Banners eliminates debt to grow business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Wesley Black Tea leverages new partnership for growth

Joseph Wesley Black Tea and Anthology Coffee, a Detroit-based specialty coffee roaster, are partnering with Rip van Wafels in a move that should get the Detroit-based craft beverage companies some expanded exposure across the U.S.

San Francisco-based Rip van Wafels makes small wafels designed to sit atop your coffee or teacup so that while the coffee or tea cools, the steam heats the filling and infuses the aroma of the coffee or tea into the wafel. It started a monthly subscription box earlier this year where it pairs its wafels with a different craft coffee and tea selection. Joseph Wesley Black Tea and Anthology Coffee are the selections for a Detroit-themed month of July.

"We'll see where it takes us," says Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea. "We're happy that they recognize what we’re doing."

The partnership got its start in when Anthology Coffee founder Josh Longsdorf met Rip van Wafels' Marketing Manager Ruth La Roux at the 2014 Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Annual Exposition. They recognized each other's committment to the slow food movement and decided to create a partnership. Longsdorf brought in Joseph Wesley Black Tea to complete the partnership.

"We have been working with Josh," Uhl says. "I have a similar outlook on beverages as he does."

Joseph Wesley Black Tea and its team of three people celebrated its first year in business this summer. The slow-tea company specializes in selling high-end, hand-harvested teas. Joseph Wesley Black Tea just released a product line of hand-made teas in teabags. It is also aiming to begin bottling pre-made tea drinks later this year.

Source: Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ornicept shifts into sales mode, plans to close on Series A

Ornicept has a new brand for its product, a few new customers, and is making way to raise even more money later this year.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has rebranded its field data collection software (formerly called GeoTraverse) to Specteo. It has gone beyond its Beta launch and started lining up customers as it fleshes out its mobile platform.

"We have been hitting sales mode pretty quickly and heavily," says Justin Otani, co-founder of Ornicept. "We also have been adding features and improving functionality."

Otani co-founded Ornicept with Russell Conard two years ago, originally developing bird monitoring technology for airports and wind farms. Last year it pivoted to creating a mobile software platform that helps researchers and inspectors collect data in the field. It started on Andriod tablets and is expanding beyond that.
"We have an iOS version coming out later this year," Conard says.

Ornicept raised a $600,000 angel round last year that helped get its product to market. It is aiming to raise a Series A round of investment later this year. The company has hired four people over the last year (two marketing professionals and another two sales professionals), expanding its staff to 14 people.

Source: Justin Otani and Russell Conard, co-founders of Ornicept
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Refinement Group blends parties with grassroots

The Refinement Group describes itself as "a lifestyle branding company with strong efforts geared toward philanthropy, event production, social awareness, positive influence, music, film, entrepreneurship, mentoring and more. A refined culture."

Put simply, it's a collective group of creatives that are looking to do good by combining events with grassroots causes. The end result is money raised and awareness created for good causes.

"We wanted to give people a purpose for their celebration," says Darren Brown, co-founder of The Refinement Group. "It's celebration with a purpose."

Since Brown and Darius Mitchell started the Refinement Group, the company has grown to a team of 17 people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, ranging from actors to philanthropists. Brown is a filmmaker.

The organization has thrown parties for the Big Brothers Big Sisters and Lupus Walk. It is currently throwing a party on Sunday at the Post Bar in Dearborn called the Summer Fling.

"In the last year, I want to say we have raised about $8,000 for numerous charities," Brown says.

Source: Darren Brown, co-founder of The Refinement Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

ACS opens office in Troy to leverage growing auto sector

The three letters that announce ACS imay not be well known in Metro Detroit but the company hopes to become increasingly visible over the next year or two.

The testing company opened a new office in Troy, ACS Michigan, to attract more clientele from the automotive industry. The two-person office has already landed some work with Tier 1 automotive suppliers and is looking to expand on that.

ACS services the engine- and vehicle-testing markets, making its mark in the heavy industrial and diesel markets. It specializes in the design, construction management, integration, and commissioning of development and production test facilities for engine, vehicle manufacturers. Some of its primary customers are Caterpillar, Cummins, John Deere, and MTU America.

"That space has given us enough space for some significant growth," says Chris Arnold, managing director of ACS Michigan.

ACS Michigan hopes to replicate that success with the automotive industry. It is currently doing work with the likes of Daimler, MAHLE and Umicore.

"We want to take the same delivery methods we used for diesel and use it with automotive," Arnold says.

Source: Chris Arnold, managing director of ACS Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Stik aims to hire 10 as it debuts SocialProof

Stik is looking to hire 10 new employees now that it is publicly launching SocialProof, a new version of its marketing platform designed for large clients.

"This is aimed at bigger companies, whereas Stik is focused on smaller companies," says Nathan Labenz, CEO of Stik. "It does all the same things, like help companies tell their success stories."

Those success stories range from online reviews to customer testimonials. It's a new form of marketing Labenz and his team are branding as "customer success marketing." SocialProof is a more robust version of Stik's customer success marketing platform that already is being used by Quicken Loans and General Motors.

"We would love to be known as the leader in this new form of marketing that we are sort of pioneering," Labenz says. "When people think about customer success marketing, we want them to think about us."

Stik recently won a $100,000 investment from Steve Case, the former CEO of America Online, during Case's Rise of the Rest Road Tour in late June. That money will accelerate Stik’s hiring for its 10 openings. The company already has a staff of 25 employees and a summer intern after hiring 15 people over the last year.

Labenz and Stik co-founder Jay Gierak went to Harvard together and were housemates with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Labenz and Gierak launched Stik in 2010 in Silicon Valley. The pair moved it to downtown Detroit (it's a Detroit Venture Partners portfolio startup) in 2012, landing in the  M@dison Building.

Source: Nathan Labenz, CEO of Stik
Writer: Jon Zemke

Resident Reach creates service that checks in on seniors

James Abraham and Steven Pikor are launching their third business together this summer, Resident Reach.

The serial entrepreneurs started and sold a marketing company and Christian social network. Resident Reach is a senior-oriented business that periodically checks in with senior citizens on behalf of family to make sure they are fine. The idea is to help busy young people close the gaps so the health of their older loved ones doesn’t fall through the cracks.

"I saw a lot of gaps with the people I worked with," says James Abraham, managing partner of Resident Reach. "Steven and I both grew up with grandparents living with us."

The two person operation is based in Sterling Heights and got its start at the Blackstone LaunchPad at Walsh College. It is looking to build up its clientele in Metro Detroit this year to establish itself. Abraham and Pikor expect Resident Reach will take hold as more and more families have to deal with aging loved ones who want to grow old in place.

"Our services are designed to create independence," Abraham says. "Hopefully, the longer we serve them the longer they can stay in their homes."

Source: James Abraham, managing partner of Resident Reach
Writer: Jon Zemke

Movellus Circuits launches fresh microprocessor technology

A lot of startups struggle to raise money to build prototypes of their technology. Movellus Circuits is flipping the script: it already has its prototypes in hand before any money has been raised.

"We have four working prototypes that prove the technology works," says Muhammad Faisal, CEO of Movellus Circuits.

Faisal graduated from the University of Michigan in April with a PhD in electrical engineering. He is commercializing his research at the university. That technology is a patent-pending clock generator for the microprocessor market. The 1-year-old startup is working to make sure its generators are quicker to design, smaller than competitors, offer higher performance, use lower power, provide more flexible, and while only being for sale at a fraction of the cost of existing solutions.

Movellus Circuits is currently working to line up its first customer to license the technology to. It is also looking at establishing a strategic partnership while gearing up to raise a seed capital round of $1 million later this fall.

"That will give us 18 months of runway," Faisal says.

Source: Muhammad Faisal, CEO of Movellus Circuits
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brooks Kushman expands office, staff in Southfield

Hiring is becoming an increasingly important word at Brooks Kushman this year. The boutique intellectual property law firm has hired 20 people so far this year, filling out new office space it acquired last year.

"We've been getting more work and hiring more people," says Mark Cantor, president of Brooks Kushman. "We need space for all the extra people."

The Southfield-based law practice currently employs 175 people and a handful of interns from a variety of local organizations, such as Challenge Detroit and Detroit's Cristo Rey High School. The 31-year-old firm took on an extra 8,000 square feet to its main office in Southfield last year, It now occupies more than 50,000 square feet.

"We took a whole second floor," Cantor says. "We have two continuous floors in the building."

Brooks Kushman specializes in intellectual property law, such as filing for patents that cover new technology. Cantor says the company is projecting a revenue spike of as much as 20 percent this year. That's up from 3 percent revenue growth the year before. Work from a number of different sectors, ranging from software to automotive, is prompting the current spate of growth.

"We have had growth in many areas," Cantor says.

Source: Mark Cantor, president of Brooks Kushman
Writer: Jon Zemke

Endless Crowds raises money for military veterans, first responders

Roger Mensah and his team aren’t trying to reinvent the crowdfunding wheel with their latest start-up, Endless Crowds. They're trying to carve out a niche for a group of public servants that is too often overlooked.

"We're opening up a niche for military veterans and first responders," says Mensah, who co-founded Endless Crowds with two partners.

The team of three launched the company at the end of the January, creating a crowd-funding portal specifically for military veterans, first responders, and their families. The idea is to help them make a space for their own projects where they don’t have to compete for attention with the rest of the world.

Mensah was inspired to create the site a few years ago when President Obama was speaking about the draw down of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mensah knew they would be coming home to the deepest recession in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

"It occurred to me that the economy was so bad then, especially for the guys and girls coming back, that I thought they should have a (crowd funding) site just for them," Mensah says.

Mensah and his team built Endless Crowds at Bamboo Detroit in downtown Detroit. Among the projects that have gone through the website are an effort to build a home for homeless women veterans and projects with the Detroit Public Safety Foundation. Mensah hopes to do work with Detroit Police Department and the Detroit Fire Department over the rest of the year and establish the website as a presence in Metro Detroit.

Source: Roger Mensah, founder of Endless Crowds
Writer: Jon Zemke

Clark Hill expands Birmingham office with 4 new hires

About a year ago, New Republic magazine ran an issue entitled "The End of Big Law" that basically said the days of huge corporate law offices were numbered in an industry that had too many lawyers. One could forgive the partners at Clark Hill if they didn’t bother to read it.

The Detroit-based law firm has grown its practice exponentially in the last decade. It went from 100 attorneys to 300 today. It recently added 16 new attorneys in Metro Detroit over the last year, including four in its Birmingham office. All of that new talent is helping facilitate a growing practice.

"We have been able to grow our client work because we have been able to add more expertise to the services we offer," says Don Lee, chief marketing officer of Clark Hill.

Clark Hill has been in Michigan since its founding in the late 19th Century. It grew up serving the rapid ascent of manufacturing in the Midwest in the 20th Century. Its recent growth has come from added work in the manufacturing sector, along with more clients in the finance and banking sectors.

That allowed it to add staff not only in Birmingham, which has 47 attorneys, but also downtown Detroit. It’s Motor City location has added 12 attorneys, expanding its staff there to 120 people.

Source: Don Lee, chief marketing officer of Clark Hill
Writer: Jon Zemke

Delphinus expands staff as it preps to commercialize tech

Delphinus Medical Technologies is aiming to hit a trifecta of growth for a bio-tech startup this year. The Plymouth-based firm has added a new board member, hired a few new employees and is making preparations to raise more venture capital as it closes in on commercializing its technology.

The Wayne State University spin-out’s principal technology is being branded as SoftVue, a platform that helps detect breast cancer by submerging the patient in a tub so as to get a more complete picture of the breast. Delphinus Medical Technologies refers to it as a "whole breast ultrasound tomography system." The company received its first FDA clearance last December is is aiming to come to market in the first quarter of next year.

"We're in the final stages," says Mark Morsefield, CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies.

To help get it there, the company has hired four people over the last year. It now has a staff of 30 employees and five interns. It's currently looking to hire seven more people, primarily technicians and clinical managers.

Delphinus Medical Technologies is also starting to prepare to raise a Series C round of venture capital. The exact amount hasn't been determined but Morsefield did indicate it would be in the millions of dollars. Delphinus Medical Technologies raised $11 million in a Series B last year and $12 million in a Series A round in 2010.

Delphinus Medical Technologies has also added Ronald Ho to its board of advisors. Ho served as president and CEO of U-Systems, developer of the somo•V automated whole breast ultrasound system. U-Systems achieved the first and only FDA approval for a breast ultrasound screening indication and was subsequently acquired by GE Healthcare. Ho will play an active advisory and consulting role in the company.

Source: Mark Morsefield, CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Selocial bridges photos, music, and social media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit startups dominate Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Detroit-based startups took the lion’s share of prizes at this year's Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The business plan competition, organized by Michigan Corps, recognizes up-and-coming social entrepreneurs. It awards a total of $60,000 in prizes to 11 companies. Detroit-based companies took four of the top siz prizes in the competition. The fifth went to a Flint-based firm, and the sixth to a Pontiac-focused social enterprise. Several companies in the competition focused on helping youth find work and tackling longterm unemployment.

"The chronic unemployment issue is something we definitely (targeted for this competition)," says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps. "The youth piece was a pleasant surprise."

Among the Detroit winners are:

- Wheels for Workers, which teaches volunteer mechanics in their teens and twenties how to be mechanics and auto body repair professionals. It won the Michigan Social Entrepreneur of the Year Prize.

- Welding Artisan Center, which provides career-ready training to returning veterans, job-
shifting adults, former inmates, and at-risk teens. It won the Community Transformation Prize.

- On The Rise, a business sponsored by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which is a bakery that employs men who have recently been released from prison or have completed a substance abuse treatment program and desire to truly change their lives. It won the PNC Social Innovation Prize.

- City Girls Soap, which manufactures hand-crafted body soap, lotion, and laundry flakes from goats milk. It won the Women Rock Prize.

Source: Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps
Writer: Jon Zemke
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