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Slow Jams doubles production with move to Hopeful Harvest

Slow Jams isn't getting just a little help from its friends. The slow food startup is doubling its production thanks in large part to the help of a number of friendly entrepreneurial resources across metro Detroit.

The craft food maker has doubled the production of its jams over the last year by working with local institutions like Eastern Market Corp. and FoodLab Detroit. The biggest boost has come from moving to Forgotten Harvest’s food company incubator, Hopeful Harvest, in Oak Park.

"They are making it possible for small businesses like Slow Jams to grow our customer base and keep expanding," says Shannon Bryne, owner of Slow Jams.

Hopeful Harvest provides small food-based businesses with a wide variety of resources and services, such as full-service processing, manufacturing, and packaging. The commercial kitchen is a big plus for Slow Jams production efforts as it moves further and further into bulk production for larger customers, such as restaurants. Today it produces 500 cases of jams a month, double its production from a year ago.

"It provides the production capacity we need," Bryne says. "It's 10 times the size of our old space."

Slow Jams and its staff of six employees and the occasional summer intern from FoodLab Detroit also started working with a distributor from Chicago earlier this year. That relationship opened up new markets in the Windy City, northern Indiana, and west Michigan. Slow Jams is now focusing on fleshing out its sales in those areas along with the rest of Michigan to consolidate its recent gains.

"That takes some time," Bryne says. "It's what we're focused on right now."

Source: Shannon Bryne, owner of Slow Jams
Writer: Jon Zemke

Library of Congress work helps power re:group's growth

Soon web surfers will be able to go to the website for the Library of Congress and click on the retail catalog for its e-commerce platform. They'll be able look for the work of re:group, but perhaps can't find the products from the downtown Ann Arbor-based firm at first glance? They will be able to take a step back and look at the whole catalog. Then they can can see it.

The 12-year-old digital marketing agency recently created the online retail catalog for the Library of Congress, which should go live later this fall. Its part of a bump in work from some big names, which include Taubman, the global retail development firm based in metro Detroit. The Tilted Kilt, a national restaurant franchisee, also named re:group as its agency of record.

That work has added up to a 5 percent bump in revenues for re:group, which has allowed the company to hire four people in the last year, expanding its staff to 34 employees.

"We'd like to grow 10 percent," says Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group. "It's a little more than we did last year but we don't want to grow too rapidly. We don't want to disrupt the service we are giving our clients."

Much of that growth has come from referrals. It is also coming from re:group's work with franchise businesses. It has steadily grown its business bringing on more and more franchisee clients, like the Tilted Kilt. That is why it's continuing to host a quarterly conference, Franchise Business Update, for franchises in Ann Arbor with the next one happening next week in downtown.

Source: Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Q LTD transforms contractors to employees to fill out staff

Rounding out a creative team with independent contractors has been a popular strategy for boutique firms trying to find a balance between adapting to a flimsy economic recovery and staffing up for projects.

Q LTD is moving beyond that practice, hiring the last of its 1099 workers to become full-time team members this fall. The digital strategy firm has been growing incrementally for years now and making this last handful of hires was the right move for its growing amount of work.

"For us it's a nice, normal pace of growth," says Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD. Paul Koch, a creative strategist for Q LTD adds, "Our goal is controlled steady growth."

The downtown Ann Arbor-based firm has hired four people over the last year, including the two former independent contractors. It now has a staff of 14 employees and one intern.

"All of the people are working full-time," Golus says.

And working on a number of projects. Q LTD has helped human resources at the University of Michigan design a new website. It also put together conference programs from the American Dental Association. Currently, Q LTD is working on a website redesign for The Kresge Foundation.

"The work indicates we will need that many more people," Golus says. "It's why we are hiring them on."

Source: Christine Golus, managing director of Q LTD, and Paul Koch, a creative strategist for Q LTD
Writer: Jon Zemke

Varnum moves into new office in downtown Detroit

The Varnum law firm quietly opened its newest office in downtown Detroit over the weekend, bringing another 20 jobs to the Motor City.

The Grand Rapids-based law firm is taking over 10,000 square feet in the old Federal Reserve Building. It chose the space because of the unique aspects of the historic structure and the proximity to current and potential clients.

"We thought it was a very unique space, a very progressive space," says Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum. "It's a Dan Gilbert building. We hope to do some work with Gilbert in light of everything that is going on downtown."

Varnum is 128-years-old and bills itself as a full-service law firm for businesses and organizations of all sizes. Its largest client in Detroit is Henry Ford Health System.

Varnum plans to maintain its current metro Detroit office in Novi, however, that office will shrink a little to grow the downtown Detroit office, which will have eight permanent attorneys, six visiting attorneys, two paralegals, and another 10 people in support staff.

"A number of the attorneys from the Novi office are seeding our Detroit office," Hewlett says.

Source: Rich Hewlett, partner at Varnum
Writer: Jon Zemke

Woodbridge developer continues line of fable-themed rehabs with "Wonderland House"

Alex Pereira and Secure Realty, the team responsible for the "Lorax"- and "Up"-themed redevelopments in Woodbridge, are back at it, this time with an "Alice in Wonderland"-themed duplex on Commonwealth Street.

Consistent with his other rentals, the Wonderland house is a modern rehabilitation of a century-old building. Were he to stop there, Pereira's rentals would be simple attractive updates of classic homes; 21st century utility upgrades complement the refurbishment of early 20th century designs and hardware. Pereira, however, has opted for something with a little more panache. The front yard of his first Woodbridge rental is marked by a sculpture of and quotes from the title character of "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss. His second redevelopment is painted in the same pastel color scheme as the house from Disney animated film "Up."

The Wonderland house is a duplex. Each unit is roughly 2,000 sq. ft. with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Much work was done to restore the home, including a back wall that was bowing outward due to water damage. Pereira's crew disassembled the brick wall, shored up the infrastructure, and put it back together.

Sculptures of Alice and the Queen of Hearts stand out front. A quote from the tale will line the large planter box where the sculptures rest. On the third floor, Pereira has commissioned four custom-made stained glass windows, each depicting a scene from "Alice in Wonderland." Bold reds, yellows, and blues highlight the building's eaves and frames.

"People have this misconception that historic colors are bland and drab and brown and all tones of beige. It's not true," Pereira says. "Historic colors used to be very, very bold. They were just limited in the pigmentation that they used to be able to get."

Pereira says he received some flak for the pastels of the Up house, so this time he consulted the National Historic Trust to find colors more suitable for the period in which the Wonderland house was built.

Of course, that's not the only blowback he's received. From past stories Model D has run on Pereira and his Woodbridge projects, the comments section has become a place to air grievances, with arguments breaking out over Pereira's properties and practices. And while he's certainly not the only person redeveloping properties in Woodbridge, Pereira is likely the most polarizing--something he doesn't seem to mind. But whether his are designs considered whimsical or tacky, acts of rehabilitation or gentrification, Pereira believes in what he's doing.

"There's a group of people that love what I do and encourage me to do it, and there's a group of people that wants me not to do it," Pereira says. "At the end of the day, I think you have to be a little bit light-hearted with these types of projects. They're here today and they may be gone tomorrow. Who knows? Things change. But I think what most individuals fear the most is change, in general. We are in a time in Detroit's history where everything is in flux--for the better, in my opinion, but there's a subset of people that don't like change."

He's already working on a fourth property, 4305 Trumbull Ave., a stately manor in a condition of serious disrepair and neglect. No word yet on that building's future theme.

The Wonderland House is located at 3947 Commonwealth St. 

Writer: MJ Galbraith

Artesian Farms' produce production ramps up as temps drop

October is the month urban farming in Detroit starts to wind down in earnest. The falling temperatures mean there are only a limited number of harvest days left as the growing season wraps up.

The exact opposite is happening at Artesian Farms Detroit in Brightmoor.

"We're just now getting to the point where we are getting these growing controls right," says Jeff Adams, owner of Artesian Farms Detroit. "We will be scaling up in the next couple of months."

Artesian Farms Detroit is a vertical farm that grows its crops indoors year-round. It uses a hydroponic system that uses significantly less water than traditional forms of farming.

Artesian Farms Detroit took over an old industrial building at 12843 Artesian last year and turned it into a facility that could support vertical farming. Adams and one worker are currently using 1,500 square feet of the 7,500-square-foot space. Adams hopes to expand to using 5,200 square feet by next year as he continues to scale production. Artesian Farms Detroit is currently growing a couple of small crops, including basil, kale, and a mix of three kinds of lettuces it's calling Motown Mix.

"It's lettuce you normally don't see in a grocery store," Adams says. "It has a unique color and flavor."

Artesian Farms Detroit currently harvests about 16 pounds of kale per week, 12 pounds of basil per week, and 70 pounds of Motown Mix every three weeks. It sells its crops at the Northwest Detroit Farmers Market and a couple of local restaurants. It is also making its first delivery to three Busch's supermarkets this week.

"We are harvesting that today," Adams says. "It should be on store shelves tomorrow."

Source: Jeff Adams, owner of Artesian Farms Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Stardock, a leader in the PC games industry, is on a hiring spree

Some video game companies are starting to pull out of the personal computer market. Stardock is running toward it as fast as it can.

The Plymouth-based video game firm develops PC games and desktop software. It has established itself as a leader in the industry since its founding in 1991.
"Stardock is investing more in these PC games," says Chris Kowal, vice president of business development for Stardock. "There are lots and lots of gamers in the PC world."

The company has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. It has hired 40 people in the last three years, expanding its staff to 100 people. Half of those work in Plymouth with the rest in offices in Baltimore and Austin. The growth prompted Stardock to move to a new headquarters in Plymouth last year.

Stardock has produced some applauded games over the years. Some of those include Sins of a Solar Empire, the Galactic Civilizations series, and Sorcerer King. Stardock is also gearing up to release Ashes of the Singularity early next year. The company is marketing Ashes of the Singularity as the most advanced real-time strategy game ever. The game consists of a future-based dystopia with warring factions. Players are generals of armies working to win battles.

"It's like nothing else that has been done in PCs before," Kowal says.

Source: Chris Kowal, vice president of business development for Stardock
Writer: Jon Zemke

Goldman Sachs invests $50M in Ann Arbor's LLamasoft

Goldman, Sachs & Co is placing a big bet on LLamasoft, a downtown Ann Arbor-based startup that has been growing rapidly for years. The New York City-based investment banking firm is sinking $50 million into LLamasoft as part of its Series B in exchange for a minority investment and a seat on LLamasoft's board.

Company leadership says it has been meeting with a who's who of private equity firms to further fund its growth and at the end of the day partnering with Goldman Sachs made sense because of the culture fit, the people working the deal, and access to large amounts of capital for future growth.

"We felt the most comfortable with Goldman Sachs in the end," says Toby Brzoznowski, co-founder & executive vice president of LLamasoft.

The 12-year-old company specializes in supply chain software that help optimize logistics for large corporations and organizations. Its customers include multi-national corporations in a large variety of industries, ranging from aerospace to pharmaceuticals.

The $50 million from Goldman Sachs will help fund numerous technology development and growth initiatives, such as investing in supply chains analytics and developing new applications for its customers. All of that is expected to spike LLamasoft's growth in the near term.

"We have averaged 50 percent growth over each of the last five years," Brzoznowski says. "That's revenue growth but you can’t do it without the people. We're adding a good deal of people every month."

LLamasoft has hired 75 people over the last year, expanding its employee base to a little more than 300 people worldwide. Just under 200 of them are based in downtown Ann Arbor, and about 60 percent of its new hires work in Ann Arbor. Brzoznowski is optimistic those number will remain consistent, if not increase in the not-too-distant future.

"We continue to add people at a rapid pace," Brzoznowski says.

Source: Toby Brzoznowski, co-founder & executive vice president of LLamasoft
Writer: Jon Zemke

Municipal admin services power Carlisle/Wortman Associates growth

Carlisle/Wortman Associates got its start offering civic planning services, such as helping local municipalities figure out zoning issues or plan for community growth. It built a respected brand around that work over the years. Today the Ann Arbor-based firm is increasingly known for more than that.

Carlisle/Wortman Associates is generating more and more of its revenue from offering administrative services for local municipalities. Those typically include running community development departments or building departments. Last year it opened an office in Oakland to help facilitate such work. Today 40 percent of Carlisle/Wortman Associates' staff focuses on providing municipal administrative services, which is up from 30 percent last year.

"It's becoming a much bigger part of the business," says Dick Carlisle, president of Carlisle Wortman Associates.

The firm got its start offering municipal administrative services about 10-15 years ago at the specific request of its customers. The side business started out innocently enough but soon turned into something that needed to be paid attention to.

"The more we did it the more we realized this is something we need to purposely try to do," Carlisle says.

Today Carlisle/Wortman Associates employs a staff of 26 employees and an intern. It has hired two people over the last year, including a building inspector and a landscape architect. Carlisle expects those hires to continue as its municipal administrative service continues to grow.

"I think its highly possible (municipal administrative services could equal half of the firm's work in the near future)," Carlisle says. "That part of the company is growing at a much more rapid rate than our core business. But it's only growing because of our core business."

Source: Dick Carlisle, president of Carlisle Wortman Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

Nutshell lands Series A2 round, plans to move to bigger home

Nutshell is making a sizable impact on Ann Arbor in two ways this year. First, the tech startup has just finished raising millions of dollars to fuel its rapid growth. Second, its co-founders and CEO have recently purchased three buildings in downtown Ann Arbor with the idea of creating a tech hub.

"This is about creating a center of gravity for all things tech in downtown Ann Arbor," says Joe Malcoun, CEO of Nutshell.

Malcoun and three of Nutshell's co-founders purchased 202, 206 and 208 E Huron St through their Cahoots Capital holding company earlier this year. They plan to turn the 24,000 square feet between the three buildings into one tech hub that will house Nutshell and other tech firms, including Notion and Coolhouse Labs.

The group is in the process of choosing a general contractor for the renovation project. They hope to have the new space online and ready to go by summer of next year. Nutshell expects to move into the space not long after it becomes available.

"We really don't want to leave downtown Ann Arbor," Malcoun says. "It's an important part of our value proposition to our employees our company culture."

Nutshell makes customer relationship management software. The platform helps companies organize and automate its systems so its staff can work smarter and collaborate more with each other and their customers.

The 4-year-old startup has watched its revenue jump 60 percent over the last year, prompting it to double its staff to 25 employees and an intern thanks to 12 new hires. Malcoun is looking to hire another 10-12 people now that it has landed a new round of investment. The rest of the money will go toward ratcheting up its marketing efforts.

"The pure volume of marketing will increase," Malcoun says. "More importantly we are committing to an in-bound marketing campaign. We want to build a relationship with people before they purchase our product."

Malcoun describes Nutshell’s latest investment round as a Series A2 worth "several million dollars." He declined to specify how much it was worth but did add that Ann Arbor-based Plymouth Venture Partners is leading the round.

"It's a growth round, an extension of our Series A," Malcoun says. "We are calling it a Series A2 as a sort of homage to Ann Arbor."

Source: Joe Malcoun, CEO of Nutshell
Writer: Jon Zemke

Building Hugger: woman builder, home preserver, job creator

People who spot Amy Swift on a construction site are just as likely to see her wearing a pearl necklace as holding a hammer and nails.

The owner of Building Hugger, a preservation-focused construction firm, is hands-on with her work. She puts in long hours in clothes that are more likely dirty than not. Like most construction workers, these sorts of days mean that showering isn’t an everyday occurrence. The pearls help her strike a balance between maintaining her femininity and working in construction.

"It's been a challenge and a half on some days," Swift says about being a woman in construction. "Other days it’s really rewarding."

The pearls are part of her identity -- a subtle reminder that she is a woman making her way in a male-dominated industry not known for its political correctness. The reminder is more for everyone else. A statement that Building Hugger is growing quickly because of its quality work while a woman is running the show.

"Once you prove yourself in the field you are accepted in the field," Swift says. "But there are still some social dogmas that make it hard to feel comfortable."

Comfort is becoming less and less of an issue for Swift, mainly because Building Hugger's business model is blowing up. Swift hired her first employee in January. She now has five full-time people, along with two part-timers.

"It would be more but I lost two people this month to other opportunities," Swift says. "We are starting our biggest month yet (for workload) and I need to add more people."

Which is quite the change for Swift. She had a bachelor's in architecture from Lawrence Technological University, a master's in historic preservation from Columbia University, and no job when she launched Building Hugger in 2012 in Detroit during the Great Recession. She initially hustled a variety of part-time jobs in the local built environment to make her way, such as teaching architecture at Lawrence Tech, writing for Curbed Detroit, and giving tours for The Detroit Bus Co entitled, "Paradise Paved: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Detroit Land Development."

Swift found a niche with window restoration in the last year or so. It led to more work in the lost arts of construction, like plaster repair and wood working. Window preservation, however, has turned into Building Hugger’s cash cow. Today it accounts for 90 percent of the firm's revenue. The company works across the city in neighborhoods like Rosedale Park, Woodbridge, Palmer Park, Boston-Edison, and Indian Village.

"We just pulled 22 sashes out of a house in Midtown," Swift says. "We used the whole crew and brought them back to the shop."

That shop is Building Hugger’s new home, which Swift affectionately calls the Hug Factory, in Islandview Village by Belle Isle. Swift moved Building Hugger into the 2,000-square-foot space this summer. The shop is big enough to help the business keep growing and allow Swift to perfect her business model. She wants her window restoration work to be competitive with other local window options like Wallside Windows.

"I am focusing on the process," Swift says. "I want us to be very good at what we do."

Souce: Amy Swift, founder & principal of Building Hugger
Writer: Jon Zemke

- Photo of Amy Swift courtesy of Francis' Fotos.

Reclaimed blight powers End Grain Woodworking Co's growth

Chris Behm entered a contest in early 2012 that led him to launch a business and changed his life.

Behm won the Detroit Renailed competition, which challenged participants to make a consumer good out of materials reclaimed from blighted buildings in the Motor City. The $500 prize provided the seed funding for Behm and his friend Sam Constantine to start End Grain Woodworking Co.

"We bought some more wood and some tools," Behm says. "People seemed to like what we were doing."

End Grain Woodworking Co. makes a variety of different products from reclaimed wood, including picture frames, tables, lamps, and chess sets. They can be purchased over the Internet and at independent arts retailers across the region like Pewabic Pottery. One of End Grain Woodworking Co.'s latest ventures is making beer tap handles for Atwater Brewery from reclaimed materials.

Demand for these products has spiked over the last year, so much so that Behm and Constantine quit their day jobs and moved into their own maker space to do this full-time. They are looking to make their first hire this fall to make sure production keeps up with demand.

Behm and Constantine know they aren't alone in this industry, but they aren't intimidated by the growing number of businesses turning reclaimed wood into consumer products in Detroit.

"We welcome it because it finds uses for the wood," Behm says. "We don't want it to end up in a landfill."

Souce: Chris Behm, co-owner of End Grain Woodworking Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor Sparks grows its Liberty St. space

Ann Arbor Spark, the incubator space for early-stage companies, just finished the build out of 6600 additional sqaure feet to its space dedicated to entrepreneurial development. 


“The challenge in Ann Arbor is the real estate market is really tough. There’s very little inventory, and people are asking for long leases for what is available, so it’s really put a damper on the ability of our incubated companies to grow.”

Read the rest here.

Coherix scores $12M to grow manufacturing software in China

Coherix recently landed $12 million to help rapidly grow sales of its manufacturing software around the world. But the Ann Arbor-based startup nearly perished before getting to this point.

The company launched in 2004, making software that help streamline the advanced manufacturing process. Business grew quickly and the startup’s leadership had visions of going public. Then the Great Recession hit. The company's investors, never losing faith in Coherix's potential spent $9.6 million between 2008 and 2010 to keep the company afloat through hard times.

"We have a tremendous group of investors," says Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix.

When the economy turned around and Coherix extinguished its cash burn, Carlson had high hopes to raising a lot more money to fuel its growth.

"I thought they would be throwing money at me because we survived (the Great Recession)," Carlson says.

It didn't turn out that way. Investors saw that Coherix specialized in manufacturing, strike one. It is based in Michigan, strike two. Carlson cut his loses and went back to growing Coherix organically and further developing its technology.

Today its principal technology provides high-speed, high-definition 3D measurement and inspection services for manufacturers that streamlines their production capability. It creates efficiencies through high-tech, optical-based measurement and inspection of the assembly processes.

Coherix has found most of its success deploying this technology in China where 40 percent of that country’s gross domestic product is created through manufacturing. It employs 50 people globally, including 35 in Ann Arbor. It has hired two marketing people in Ann Arbor over the last year now that it has landed its latest investment round.

Carlson expects to hire a lot more people as he starts to put the $12 million in new seed capital to work. One third of that money will go toward building out Coherix's operations in China. The rest of it will be spent building the business in Ann Arbor. Taking Coherix public in the next few years is a dream again.

"Now we're pedal to the metal," Carlson says. "We are going from survival mode to rapid growth mode. We will be hiring an awful lot of people."

Source: Dwight Carlson, CEO of Coherix
Writer: Jon Zemke

DTE opens huge solar farm next to Domino's Farms

The largest solar farm in Michigan is generating clean energy next to Domino's Farms this fall.

DTE Energy and Domino's Farms flipped the switch on the 1.1 megawatt solar array on Ann Arbor's northeast side earlier this month. Motorist driving past Domino’s Farms at the M-14/US 23 intersection will notice the 4,000 panels on the north side of M-14. DTE Energy owns the solar farm and will operate it for 20 years. It is leasing the land from Domino's Farms.

"We were identified (as a potential home for the solar farm) because we are one of the larger landowners in the Ann Arbor area," says John Petz, director of real-estate and public affairs for Domino's Farms. "We also have a lot of freeway frontage."

The solar farm is putting the undeveloped and underutilized land to use as part of DTE Energy's initiative to generate 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources as mandated by state law. The Domino’s Farms solar array will generate enough electricity for 200 homes at any given time and is part of the 11 megawatts of solar farms run by DTE Energy at 23 sites across Michigan.

The electricity generated at the Domino's Farms solar array will be enough to offset one quarter of its electrical needs, although the power will be sent directly to DTE Energy's grid. The solar array is part of Domino’s Farms overall effort to become more energy efficient, such as switching the green lights that make up the main building's outline to LED lights. Today Domino's Farms uses as much electricity as it did before it added 200,000 square feet of space several years ago.

"We have been doing those sorts of things for a number of years," Petz says.

Source: John Petz, director of real-estate and public affairs for Domino’s Farms
Writer: Jon Zemke
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