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Atwater Brewery adds liquor to its adult beverage lineup

Atwater Brewery has specialized in craft beer ever since it opened in Detroit's Rivertown district in 1997. This summer, it is expanding its product line to include craft spirits.

The Detroit-based firm, the third largest brewery in Michigan, is now selling craft spirits at its biergarten in Grosse Pointe Park, including rum, vodka, gin, and whiskey. The whiskey is an 8-year-old whiskey Atwater Brewery purchased in bulk from a distiller in Tennessee and bottled itself.

Atwater Brewery has also purchased a 250L Reflux Distilling System to produce its own spirits and begin selling them at its biergarten, Atwater in the Park, later this year under its own brand. Its first release will be an Atwater Dirty Blond vodka. Gin, rum and whiskey drinks will follow later on.

"We want to get into whiskey and further on down the road some bourbons," says Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery.

Atwater Brewery acquired a state permit to allow it to make both beer and liquor. However, state regulations say the brewery can only make one at a time, so one shift at its facility will make beer and then the next will work on liquor before the next shift goes back to making beer.

Atwater Brewery has hired 15 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 52 people. Most of those new hires include production and sales employees. The company is currently looking to fill six more positions. Rieth expects to hire more as the brewery begins making and selling spirits en masse.

"We think it's a normal extension of our brand," Rieth says. "The laws now allows to make some unique products."

Source: Mark Rieth, owner of Atwater Brewery
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ellis Infinity Beverage Co grows 300%, expands presence across Midwest

Seven years ago, Nailah Ellis-Brown was selling tea made from a family recipe out of the trunk of her car. Today, her Ellis Island Tea can be found in Whole Foods supermarkets across the Midwest.

"There are only 22 (Whole Foods) stores in the Midwest region that we are not in," Ellis-Brown says. "They want to put us in all of those stores."

Ellis-Brown launched Ellis Infinity Beverage Co. shortly after leaving college. She took an old family recipe for herbal tea made with hibiscus passed down from her great grandfather, Cyril Byron. The Jamaican immigrant came to the U.S. through Ellis Island in the early 20th Century and worked as a master chef on the Black Star Line, a shipping line started by Marcus Garvey.

At first, Ellis-Brown started selling bottles out of her parent's home and eventually found a way to get them into local stores. She caught the attention of Whole Foods a little more than a year ago. Supplying Whole Foods store shelves helped her grow her Ellis Infinity Beverage Co by 300 percent last year, selling 150 cases per month.

"Our goal is to quadruple that," Ellis-Brown says.

And it's possible. Ellis Infinity Beverage Co. moved into its own production space near the Russell Industrial Center last year and has add three people to keep up with production. Ellis-Brown is now looking to hire a handful more people to be brand ambassadors and work in production.

Ellis Infinity Beverage Co. is also working on adding some new flavors to its line of teas. Ellis-Brown's team is currently working on branding and packaging for those items. She hopes to launch them either later this year or early next year.

Source: Nailah Ellis-Brown, owner of Ellis Infinity Beverage Co.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Huron Capital Partners goes on acquisition tear

Huron Capital Partners recently announced one of its portfolio companies, Albireo Energy, had acquired GxP Automation, a small provider of building automation solutions predominately for the life sciences industry. It is the latest in a long string of acquisitions that has made this a newsworthy year for the downtown Detroit-based private equity firm.

Huron Capital Partners and its portfolio companies have made a dozen acquisition so far this year. Last year the number of acquisition hit 20.

"We really are on a tear," says Gretchen Perkins, partner with Huron Capital Partners. "We have a couple of platforms that lend themselves to this."

Those two portfolio firms, also known as platforms, are Jensen Hughes and Albireo Energy. Albireo Energy specializes in making commercial and institutional buildings more energy efficient and streamlined. Jensen Hughes provides fire protection engineering services.

Jensen Hughes and Albireo Energy have been acquiring small companies, a practice often called add-ons, to build a larger, more efficient business operating on a national level. The team at Huron Capital Partners looks for fragmented industries and then rounds up a number of small but significant players in the space to create larger businesses that can be sold at significant profit.

"We're doing it the hard way," Perkins says. "It's hard to do 12 add-on acquisitions. They're small companies with less sophisticated systems."

Huron Capital Partners has become more sophisticated itself, expanding its team to 22 employees. It is about to welcome three new people, including two analysts and one administrative assistant. Those new team members are expected to continue to help Huron Capital Partners keep expanding its company portfolio at a rapid pace.

"We seek to continue this pace," Perkins says. "There should be more add-ons for other platforms."

Source: Gretchen Perkins, partner with Huron Capital Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

NEIdeas makes final push to solicit applicants for $100K prize before June 25 deadline

The New Economy Initiative is making one final push to attract applicants to NEIdeas, a competition that will award two Detroit-, Hamtramck-, or Highland Park-based businesses $100,000 each in prize money. The winners will also receive a suite of business services.

Now in its second year, NEIdeas aims to provide longstanding businesses in inner city neighborhoods capital to help them grow and create more jobs. Last year's winners include everything from an urban farm to a cleaning company to a pallet maker. The competition is industry agnostic with the only requirements being that the company is poised to grow.

"We're looking for the best opportunities that are innovative and can lead to accelerated growth," says Jim Boyle, senior program officer for New Economy Initiative. "We don't pretend to know people's businesses."

The deadline for the competition's $10,000 challenge has already passed, but applications for the $100,000 challenge are still open until June 25. Businesses based in Detroit, Hamtramck, or Highland Park grossing $750,000 to $5 million are eligible to apply. The NEIdeas competition received 80 applications for the $100,000 Challenge last year, and has already collected a few dozen so far. But the New Economy Initiative is still looking for more applicants to help broaden its impact on the local inner city economy.

"The more companies that apply, the more we can circle back with after the competition and offer further assistance," Boyle says.

For more information on applying, click here.

Source: Jim Boyle, senior program officer for New Economy Initiative
Writer: Jon Zemke

3 metro Detroit companies collaborate to launch freight logistics app, Badger Freight Tracking

Badger, a Troy logistics firm, is releasing a logistics management mobile app meant for both freight companies and third-party logistics management firms.

The Badger Freight Tracking app promotes itself as a reliable, timely and hassle-free platform to track freight moving from Point A to Point B and back again. Badger also says its mobile app offers services at a fraction of the price of traditional GPS systems.

"Most trucking companies have many ways to track their trucks," says Parker Stallard, founder & CEO of Badger. He adds that when moving freight, "no one uses just on trucking company."

Badger is meant to bring some uniformity to that. The app features an open shipment dashboard for users to monitor the overall shipping process. Its simple and responsive user interface allows clients to easily view their supply chain in transit in real time, including everything from a shipment’s origin, destination, and completion to its schedule, delays, and automatically updated delivery ETAs.

"We wanted to make it extremely cheap at $99 a month," Stallard says. "It doesn't matter how big your company is or how much you ship."

Badger developed the Badger Freight Tracking app with Detroit-based Detroit Labs and Royal Oak-based iWerk. BMK Solutions managed the business intelligence and integration. Badger currently employs a team of six people to run the app and has 78 companies on board. It's aiming to hit 1,100 customers by the end of the year.

Source: Parker Stallard, founder & CEO of Badger
Writer: Jon Zemke

Entrepreneurial engineers score $5K in #hack4detroit

Lots of people like to bike through Detroit, taking in everything from the city's historic neighborhoods to its vast expanses of urban prairie. Now a mobile app exists to aid cyclists discover new routes through the city.

That app came to fruition last weekend during Automation Alley's #hack4detroit hackathon at Grand Circus in downtown Detroit. A couple of tech engineers won $5,000 for creating Ride4Detroit, a mobile app that helps people discover, create, and share bike routes in the city.

Hackathons are usually 1-to-2-day events where techies gather to create new technology from scratch. The #hack4detroit hackathon challenged participants to build a mobile application using the city of Detroit’s new Open Data Portal.

"It was a fun and intense 24 hours that really got our brains working to come up with a solution that would help the city of Detroit," says Abdul Miah, co-founder and principal engineer at rankedHiRe.

Miah and Imran Raja, senior software engineers at MB Financial, created the app that integrates information on existing bike paths in Detroit.

Second place winners included PishPosh.TV founders Ben Duell Fraser and Michael Evans, who is also a senior developer at Loveland Technologies. The third place winner was Jonathan Werber, a developer at Nexient.

Source: Automation Alley
Writer: Jon Zemke

Booming craft beer industry means growth for Lake Orion's Craftwerk Brewing Systems

Craftwerk Brewing Systems got its start four years ago with the idea of supplying the equipment for the rapidly growing craft brewing movement in Michigan. Since then, the Lake Orion-based business has grown into a national brand.

"We have equipment in something like 20 states," says Tark Heine, managing director of Craftwerk Brewing Systems.

Heine got his start in craft brewing in mid-Michigan in 1989 when he began working for the Frankenmuth Brewery. He worked in management there until 2006 and struck out on his own in the industry a few years later.

"What really got me into fabrication was building the Frankenmuth Brewery," Heine says.

Craftwerk Brewing Systems manufactures high-quality, Michigan-made brewing equipment that now can be found in breweries throughout the state, including Motor City Brewing Works, Short's Brewing Co, and Founders Brewing Co., as well around the country. The company offers design, engineering, fabrication, and installation services for brewers from coast to coast.

"We can do a turn-key brewery for you," Heine says. Locally, Craftwerk built Birmingham's Griffin Claw Brewing Co. from the ground up.

The company has doubled its revenue over the last year, allowing it to grow its team to 95 people, including eight hires over the last year. Of its current staff, 88 are fabricators.

"The biggest problem we have is finding and training the fabricators," Heine says.

The rapid expansion of craft breweries and similar outfits (distillers and meade makers), both in Michigan and across the U.S., has left Heine bullish about his company’s prospects.

"The market is not slowing down," Heine says.

Source: Tark Heine, managing director of Craftwerk Brewing Systems
Writer: Jon Zemke

G2 Consulting Group executes first acquisition, Schleede-Hampton

G2 Consulting Group acquired Schleede-Hampton Associates, a fellow construction engineering firm it has worked with for a few decades.

"I have known Schleede-Hampton forever," says Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group. "Jim Berry, who runs the Birmingham office that we purchased, I met him 30 years ago...I am very familiar with that firm."

Troy-based G2 Consulting Group specializes in construction engineering, including environmental and geotechnical engineering services. That work, such as soil testing or tracking vibration next to freeways, usually takes place below the ground. Schleede-Hampton Associates, which is based in Birmingham, provides similar geotechnical engineering services to the construction industry.

G2 Consulting Group has been focusing on integrating more and more technology into its everyday work, such as outfitting its workers with mobile devices. Hargrave-Thomas sees bringing Schleede-Hampton Associates up to speed with its own technology use as a good opportunity for growth.

"It (the merger) is a nice fit," Hargrave-Thomas says.

G2 Consulting Group has been growing rapidly in recent years, hiring 19 people over the last year alone, growing its staff to 63. Schleede-Hampton Associates' staff of eight people will be integrated into G2 Consulting Group's staff this summer.

"We are continuously adding people," Hargrave-Thomas says.

Source: Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor Seed Co begins to bear fruit in third year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DesignHub wins digital marketing race with steady growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groovy Hopster Farm starts farming for brewers in Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mighty Good Coffee grows bigger, stronger with 3rd location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MyFab5 hits 1 million photo milestone this spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit Horse Power teaches teens life skills by having them care for horses

It stands to reason that if someone can handle riding and taking care of a horse, that person can manage the unexpected ups and downs of life.

That is the thought process behind Detroit Horse Power, a New Center-based nonprofit specializing in teaching life skills to teens in Detroit through learning how to ride and care for horses.

"The idea is that this horse-person relationship serves as a springboard for interpersonal growth," says Paul Mack, board president for Detroit Horse Power. "Dealing with an animal that big teaches you how to deal with things you can’t control."

Mack is co-founder of Detroit Horse Power with David Silver, a Teach For America fellow who recently graduated from Build Social, a program that teaches the basics of running a socially-focused business or nonprofit.

"I started Detroit Horse Power after reflecting on my two years teaching elementary school in Detroit," Silver says. "I felt that I could work as hard as possible to create a supportive learning environment for my students, but all too often stresses from outside of school would spill over into the classroom and inhibit students’ abilities to learn.  The mission of Detroit Horse Power is to give Detroit's youth a safe and enriching space that furthers their future development. Horses taught me so much in my childhood - important lessons about confidence, responsibility, empathy, determination and much more."

Detroit Horse Power is launching its first week-long class with a group of about a dozen teenage girls. They are partnering with the Buffalo Soldiers, who are providing the horses and facilities. Silver and Mack would one day like Detroit Horse Power to acquire its own facilities.

"We're looking for the perfect property," Mack says.

Source: David Silver and Paul Mack, co-founders of Detroit Horse Power
Writer: Jon Zemke
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