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Secure Beginnings sees significant growth after 'Shark Tank' appearance

For its first five years, Secure Beginnings was a sleepy little company making breathable mattresses for infants with the intention of preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Then it went on TV.

Specifically, it went on "Shark Tank," a reality TV show on ABC that features entrepreneurs pitching the next great business idea to investors. Secure Beginnings appeared on the show in May and its visibility immediately took off.

"In the first day we had it up (a video describing its product), we had 2 million views," says Julie Andreae, founder and president of Secure Beginnings. "The growth just took off."

Detroit Riverfont-based company makes a mattress for babies that is more like a trampoline than a normal mattress. It is made of a porous frame and bedding material that allows greater air circulation for both infants and toddlers. It contains no fiber-fill. The fabric the child sleeps on enables airflow to prevent harmful levels of carbon dioxide from building up near a baby's head, even if the child is on its stomach.

Secure Beginnings is now three months behind on filling its orders thanks to the spike in demand from its turn on reality TV. The company went from making $40,000 a month selling its mattresses to $70,000 a month. It is now aiming for $80,000 a month and profitability.

Secure Beginnings is also now looking to add to its staff, which is has double to six people over the last year. It's also looking to hire three more people now to keep up with demand. The firm is also looking to expand its sales reach to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada this year.

"We have a lot of growing left to do," Andreae says.

Source: Julie Andreae, founder & president of Secure Beginnings
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown projects now the bulk of Kraemer Design Group's workload

Kraemer Design Group has played a pivotal role in transforming downtown Detroit over the last 20 years. Now downtown Detroit is playing an increasingly important role in the architecture firm's bottom line.

The downtown Detroit-based firm did a lot of marquee projects in its early years, including the Lofts of Merchants Row and Harmonie Park commercial buildings. When the Great Recession hit, more and more of Kraemer Design Group's workload came from outside of Michigan, so much so that only 20 percent of the company's workload came from Detroit four years ago.

That has changed in recent years with downtown Detroit’s rapid rebound. Kraemer Design Group has served as the architect for a number of marquee projects in recent years, including the Broderick Tower and the David Whitney Building renovations. That work pushed the share of its revenue from Detroit project past 50 percent two years ago. Today it's nearly 80 percent.

"Now it's coming back and coming back incredibly strong," says Robert Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group.

That has allowed Kraemer Design Group to hire seven people over the last year, expanding its staff to 29 employees and an intern. That team is working on a number of historic renovations in downtown Detroit, including 28 W. Grand River, 1201 Wooward (the new GSTV headquarters), and an expansion of the Lofts of Merchants Row.

That's going work for now but Kraemer expects the historic rehab work to start tailing off and turning into more new construction over the next few years.

"There are not too many of the big empty buildings left in downtown Detroit," Kraemer says.

Source: Robert Kraemer, principal of Kraemer Design Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor startups score seed capital from Innovation Fund

A couple of Ann Arbor-based startups have taken the lion's share of seed funding from the initial round of the Innovation Fund Macomb Community College, Powered by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

MyFab5 and TurtleCell received the top awards, $100,000 each, from the Innovation Fund. The $100,000 investments are focused on helping push those startups toward large-scale funding.

"We're laying the foundation to accelerate our growth," says Omeid Seirafi-Pour, co-founder & CEO of MyFab5.

MyFab5's platform works through Instagram, allowing its users to take pictures of their meals at restaurants and then rank their experience. The 2-year-old 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.

MyFab5 averages more than 300,000 users each month. That is more than double its user rate from last fall. It crossed the 1 million user mark earlier this year, and now employs a staff of four and three interns.

The platform also streamlines social media marketing for restaurants, providing a dashboard that enables creation of custom marketing plans, analyzing audience, generating leads, creating and publishing social media posts, tracking and engaging fans, and creating analytics reports.

TurtleCell makes a smartphone case with retractable headphones so users can avoid tangled, broken or lost headphones.

The Innovation Fund made five investments overall in startups based in Metro Detroit. The total investment package from the came to $275,000. The $2.7 million fund focuses on stimulating economic development and job growth among promising Metro Detroit entrepreneurs and next-stage businesses with high-growth potential. Investments range from $25,000 to $100,000.

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

Ingenex Digital Marketing adds to clientele, staff in downtown Ann Arbor

Ingenex Digital Marketing is practicing a common equation for growing a business in downtown Ann Arbor: New clients plus more work equals a bigger bottom line and larger staff.

The company has hired three people over the last year, including a graphic designer and content producer. It is also recruiting for two more content producer positions. Ingenex Digital Marketing now has a staff of 10 employees and five interns, filling out its new space above Arbor Brewing Co, which it moved into last year.

"The downtown space is so packed right now I am glad we have it," says Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing.

The 9-year-old firm has watched its overall business grow 20 percent over the last year. It has attracted new clients include the Ann Arbor franchise for TITLE Boxing Club and Spring Arbor University.

"We have definitely expanded our client portfolio," Mehraban says.

Source: Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital Marketing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Gerry Weinberg & Associates consolidates growing staff into larger office

Gerry Weinberg & Associates is consolidating its home office in Southfield, going from two suites in the office building at 29201 Telegraph Rd. to one larger one.

"Now we are all in one suite," says Alana Nicol, president of Gerry Weinberg & Associates. "It's a much better layout for our offices."

Gerry Weinberg & Associates, a Sandler Training Business company, provides executive sales, management, and leadership training. The 22-year-old firm employs a staff of five an intern. It is looking to hire a sales associate right now.

The company moved to the larger office because it offered a better layout without making a major move to a new home. It was also a time to refresh its surroundings by investing in its home environment.

"We are positioned for growth over the next few years," Nicol says. "Sometimes you need to make investments like this to make it work."

The company hopes to add to its growth curve over the next few years, expanding its bottom line and adding staff.

"I would like to see us grow 15 percent over the next two years," Nicol says.

Source: Alana Nicol, president of Gerry Weinberg & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland U's new dorm a study in energy efficiency

Oakland University's year-old student housing complex is a study in environmentally-conscious design and operation.

The university's achievements in preventing waste and lowering impact on the environment resulted in the $30-million Oak View Hall being awarded gold certification status in LEED - or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The U.S. Green Building Council certifies projects based on categories such as sustainability, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental quality, and others.

The nearly 165,000-square-foot, 500-bed residence was built to drastically lower the amount of waste typically generated during construction. Ninety-five percent of the construction waste was recoiled and 15 perencet of construction materials came from recycled products. In addition 20 percent of construction materials were made regionally, eliminating environmental damage from transportation.

The operation of the dorm includes dual-flush toilets, low-flow bathroom fixtures and shower heads, and 18-percent less energy use than typical dorm buildings.

Bike racks, preferred parking for low-emission vehicles, and shielded light fixtures helped the project secure gold LEED status.

Source: Eric Reikowski, spokesperson, Oakland University
Writer: Kim North Shine

Triune Specialty Trailers grows through client diversity

Triune Speciality Trailers relied on a select number of clients for revenue during most of its first decade in business. More recently, the Madison Heights-based firm made a conscious effort to expand its clientele, which has resulted in it tripling in size over the last three years.
 
"We have a much more diverse client base that we used to have," says Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers. "We also have a lot of business in Canada, which is exciting to us."

The 10-year-old company specializes in making state-of-the-art specialty trailers. It products now include designing and building trailers for mobile marketing, educational outreach, and custom trailers.

Triune Specialty Trailers' growth has allowed it to hire three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and an intern. Its new hires include a couple of office administration workers and a welder.

"We would hire more if we could find more welders," Kurtz says.

One of Triune Specialty Trailers’ biggest successes over the last year is its Fab Lab mobile education and training vehicle. The Fab Lab is a mobile training classroom for training students in high-tech machining careers, such as computer numerical controlled programmers. Triune Specialty Trailers designed and created the Fab Lab for the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance and North Central Michigan College to help create more skilled professionals to fill openings for skilled machinist positions.

"It's a big issue, especially in Michigan," Kurtz says.

Source: Harry Kurtz, president & CEO of Triune Specialty Trailers
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Bikes hopes to make leap to national brand with key hire

Zakary Pashak has been the face of Detroit Bikes since he moved to the Motor City and launched the bicycle manufacturer in 2011. He set up the firm's production plant on the west side of Detroit, served as its spokesman, and made sale after sale. That's starting to change this summer.

Detroit Bikes has hired former Electra Bicycle Company founder Justin Manthe as its director of sales with the idea of setting up a national sales network for its classic American bicycles. Manthe spent close to 15 years building Electra into a top leisure and lifestyle bicycle brand in the U.S. before coming becoming a part of the Detroit Bikes team.

He's already on the job.

"There are 160 million American who don't ride a bike but could," Manthe says. "We want to build a bike for them."

Detroit Bikes specializes in building accessible, quality bicycles for everyday cruising. It is leveraging Detroit's manufacturing heritage by producing thousands of bikes at its 50,000-square-foot facility. It also recently opened a flagship store in downtown Detroit at 1216 Griswold. The firm’s team of a couple dozen people can produce up to 100 bicycles a day.

"Our goal is fill this facility (with bicycle production) one day," Manthe says.

Source: Justin Manthe, director of sales for Detroit Bikes
Writer: Jon Zemke

In its 95th year, Kowalski Companies invests in Hamtramck home, aims to hire 200

Few things say Hamtramck as much the Kowalski sausage sign on Holbrook. It has been an iconic part of the inner-city enclave for generations. This year it's getting a new lease on life as the Kowalski Companies embarks on an ambitious expansion of its operations.

In addition to restoring its iconic sign, the sausage maker is celebrating its 95th anniversary by upgrading its production facilities and adding staff with the goal of expanding its market share.

"We have had many offers to sell the facility in Hamtramck, mostly from out-of-state companies," says Michael Kowalski, president and CEO of Kowalski Companies. "But we have declined these offers because we want to stay where our roots are and give employment opportunities to those who live in the area."

Michael Kowalski is the fourth generation of the Kowalski family to run the business started by his great-grandparents, Zygmund and Agnes. The Polish immigrants first owned a small grocery store on Chene Street in Detroit. They added a smokehouse to the store and began making Kielbasa and other sausages. Demand for those sausages prompted the family to open its factory on Holbrook in 1920.

Michael Kowalski and his sister, Linda Kowalski Jacob, now run Kowalski Companies. The firm has been acquiring other foods companies since 2002. It now has 55 varieties of prepared foods distributed in grocers throughout the Midwest. The brands in the Kowalski Companies' portfolio include Dudek, Tassos, Amhurst Kitchens, Just Sweet 'Nuff Chicken'n'Rib Sauce, Our Famous Sweet'n'Spicy Chicken'n'Rib Sauce, Yiayia's Famous Greek Salad Dressing, Consumer Guild Supreme, Home Style Foods, and The Original Hunters Sausage.

About 2,000 people have worked at the company over its history. It now employs a staff of 160 people after hiring 25 people in production, sales, and truck driving over the last year. It is looking to hire a handful more in production right now. Kowalski Companies is aiming to hire another 200 over the next five years as it expands its production capabilities and adds new equipment and renovates its facilities.

"We'll take a look at anybody who is good," Michael Kowalski says.

Part of the improvements include investing $1.5 million into the Homestyle Foods production facility in Hamtramck. Kowalski Companies is also looking to finish work on refurbishing the Kowalski sign that has stood vigil over Holbrook since the 1940s.

"Once it's done everyone is going to love it," Michael Kowalski says.

Source: Michael Kowalski, president and CEO of Kowalski Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor's robot city

The University of Michigan has opened Mcity, a $6.5 million, 32-acre simulated urban and suburban environment where self driving cars and mechanical pedestrians run wild.

Okay, maybe not run wild. But it does make you wonder when they'll open WestWorld.

Excerpt:

"The University of Michigan opened Mcity, the world's first controlled environment specifically designed to test the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies that will lead the way to mass-market driverless cars today."

Read the rest here.
 

Cool Tools Committee keeps Logic Solutions ahead of tech curve for 20 years

Logic Solutions is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, which makes it a veteran of the local software scene. This is no small feat in an industry where many startups flame out after a couple of years.

So how does the Ann Arbor-based company stay young and relevant in a world of constant change?

"It's about continuing to keep up with the next big thing," says Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions. "It means staying on top of trending technology, adopting it, and getting your customers to adopt it."

Which is a lot easier said than done. It's easy for entrepreneurs to talk about staying ahead of the technology curve by being able to pick the winners and losers of what's next. It's much harder to actually do it.

Logic Solutions has done it. The company, which develops software for everything from websites to mobile apps, has handled 5,000 projects for 2,000 clients in its two decades, creating 3,000 websites or web apps and another 100 mobile apps in that time. That has allowed it to grow to 200 employees in six offices around the world. It employs 45 in Ann Arbor, where it has hired a handful of people over the last year.

Logic Solutions is successful partly because it picks which technology trends to pay attention by committee. Its five-person Cool Tools Committee meets every other week to talk about technology trends and ideas. They debate the merits of what is brought to the table and occasionally pick a winner from that bunch.

"Anything that they think we should dive into or at least take a look at we make plans to do," says Matt Sarkesian, CTO of Logic Solutions.

It's how Logic Solutions got started with the Magento e-commerce platform. It took a year of research and toying with it before the company brought it onboard, but today it makes up a huge part of the firm's revenue.

"These decisions aren't something we make with a hair trigger," Kujava says. "At the same time we try to make and adopt them quickly."

Source: Matt Sarkesian, CTO of Logic Solutions, and Angela Kujava, director of innovation for Logic Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

From pop-up to restaurant, Central Provisions becomes Spencer

Dreams of opening a restaurant are the obvious inspiration for most pop-up eateries, but very few make the leap to a brick and mortar space.

Steven Hall and Abby Olitzky are on their way to sticking that landing. The young couple (they recent became engaged) plan to open a restaurant and cheese bar in downtown Ann Arbor called Spencer. In preparation, they spent a couple of years toiling as a pop-up restaurant and catering service called Central Provisions. They intended to open the restaurant under the same name but discovered there is already an eatery with the same moniker in Maine.

"We decided it's not worth the confusion," Hall says. "We saw the restaurant opening as a good opportunity to change the name."

Spencer is set to open this fall at 113 E Liberty. It will occupy 1,200 square feet and be able to seat about 50 people. The couple are leaving their day jobs at Zingerman's and Sweet Heather Anne (as well as the pop-up gig) to open Spencer.

"The goal had always been to have our own restaurant," Hall says. "The pop-up was an easy way to build up our name and reputation."

They do have some pointers for people looking to do the same:

- Take your time. Use the pop-up experience to perfect our cooking and management skills. The sharper those skills the easier the transition to a brick-and-mortar space. Also use that time to build out a support network of professionals in the space and find the best place to open shop. Hall and Olitzky thought they had found the perfect space a few times before locking down their current location.

- Don't settle. Take the time you are biding to search out a number of locations. Figure out which type will work best with what you're trying to do. Hall and Olitzky figured out a place that was ADA compliant and had built in kitchen equipment meant more to them than the character of a raw space that had never been a restaurant before.

- Hustle to make money. Pop-ups aren’t enough to support a comfortable adult lifestyle. Hall and Olitzky supplemented their income from pop-ups with day jobs in the food industry and after-hours catering gigs in their spare time.

"It's definitely all about the hustle," Hall says.

Source: Steven Hall, co-owner of Central Provisions and Spencer
Writer: Jon Zemke

Reveal Design Automation scores $50K from Zell Lurie Fund

Reveal Design Automation has scored a $50,000 investment from the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, a pre-seed investment fund from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

The money is the last infusion of seed capital the University of Michigan spin-out will received. The angel investments and federal grants total nearly $4 million that is going toward the development of the Reveal Design Automation's semiconductor chip design technology. The $50,000 will go toward helping the Ann Arbor-based company land more customers.

"We have a sales team now," says Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation. "They also provide customer support."

Reveal Design Automation specializes in developing electronic design automation software. The software helps simplify the complicated semiconductor chip design that shortens the verification timeline and lets makers bring it to market faster.

The firm has already finished the Version 1 of its platform and has deployed it to a couple of initial customers in industries like telecommunications and automotive. It now has a team of 12 people after adding a couple over the last year.

"I want to make sure we have more customers," Andraus says. "I'd like to have as many Tier 1 customers are we can support and 20-30 employees."

Source: Zaher Andraus, president & CEO of Reveal Design Automation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fresh Corner Cafe begins popping up in Detroit community centers

Fresh Corner Cafe has long been an innovator when it comes to improving the availability of healthy food in inner-city neighborhoods. Now the company is introducing a couple of new programs, including one that is bringing healthy-eating pop-ups to community centers across Detroit.

The Midtown-based startup has launched its Fresh Food Pop-up in a handful of Detroit's community centers, starting with one in Brightmoor (the Detroit Achievement Academy) this summer. The weekly pop-up eatery will feature its freshly made sandwiches, wraps, and other eatables.

"Every community center we partner with will have a weekly pop-up," says Noam Kimelman, founder & president of Fresh Corner Cafe.

The 5-year-old startup, which is based out of the Green Garage, got its start with the idea of bringing fruits and vegetables to inner city corner stores, where food choices are often unhealthy, prepared foods. The idea was bring more healthy-eating options to stores where working class people only had a few shelves of junk food to choose from.

Fresh Corner Cafe switched to selling its own sandwiches and wraps from those bodegas, and eventually went with selling them from their own coolers. The business also started its own catering service.

"Catering has become an important part of our business," Kimelman says.

The Fresh Food Pop-up program will start in half a dozen community centers this summer. Kimelman and his team of five people hope to grow it to 40 community centers by the end of the year.

"This model takes us directly to the consumer," Kimelman says. "We can sell it to the consumers at the wholesale price."

Fresh Corner Cafe also recently launched a new lunchbox catering website called "Small Batch that Box," which allows customers to add locally made foods to their lunch. The options include Detroit Friends' authentic farm-to-table potato chips and a dark chocolate peanut butter granola bite made by the Detroit Food Academy.

Source: Noam Kimelman, founder & president of Fresh Corner Cafe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Peck Produce aims to sell 20,000 pounds of vegetables from its urban farm

Peck Produce is growing a lot of vegetables this year. So much that the urban farm expects to sell 20,000 pounds of produce after everything is harvested this growing season.

"We're trying to do as much as we can with what we have right now," says Noah Link, co-owner of Peck Produce.

Link and Alex Bryan launched the urban farm in 2011 after purchasing a four-acre lot from the Michigan Land Bank. The one square block sits on the 1600 block of Lawrence Street. It previously served as the home Peck Elementary School before it was torn down.

Today Peck Produce, also known as Food Field, grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on the site, including leafy greens, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, ginger, artichokes, and parsnips. Last year the urban farm sold 16,000 pounds of produce.

Peck Produce also has chickens it uses to produce fresh eggs and turkeys for butchering later this year. It also has an aquaponics operation that is growing all sorts of native fish.

"We have 400-500 catfish and blue gill growing in the fish pond," Link says.

Peck Produce has a staff of four people, including two new team members it has brought on over the last year. Link and his team are starting to host community dinners this summer with food grown on the farm to help bring more people into urban agriculture as either practitioners or patrons.

Source: Noah Link, co-owner of Peck Produce
Writer: Jon Zemke

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