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BUILD partners with Etsy to offer craft entrepreneurship classes in Detroit

Etsy is coming to Detroit thanks to a partnership with a local nonprofit.

BUILD Institute, which teaches the basic building blocks of business to Detroit entrepreneurs, will offer Etsy’s Craft Entrepreneurship Program in Detroit this spring, providing micro-business training for underemployed, low-income adults with creative skills.

Etsy is an online marketplace for crafts and homemade goods. Its Craft Entrepreneurship Program will not only help people harness their creative skills to earn extra income, but will teach them how best to market and sell their goods and connect with local entrepreneurial resources. The five-week course costs $75 for BUILD graduates and $100 per person for the general public.

"We're assessing the program as we go through it," says April Boyle, executive director of BUILD Institute. "If this pilot goes well, we will run it again."

The BUILD Institute got its start in 2012 as a program of D:hive, a multi-faceted welcome center that connected Detroiters and visitors with various opportunities in the city. BUILD specializes in helping aspiring entrepreneurs learn the basics of starting their own businesses and has grown into an independent organization since it spun off of D:Hive earlier this year. It has graduated 460 people since its inception. It graduated 160 people last year and is currently running six classes of about 60 people. Most of them are from Detroit, but some come from suburbs as close as Ferndale or as far away as Ann Arbor.

"There is a waiting list," Boyle says. "We can't keep up with demand."

Source: April Boyle, executive director of BUILD Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

Singlethreadís software connects dealership mechanics with customers

Mechanics specialize in fixing cars. Motorists excel at breaking them. More times than not, neither party is good at communication. Singlethread believes it can bridge that divide.

The 1-year-old startup makes a software platform that helps mechanics at car dealerships and their customers better communicate via text messages. That way mechanics can send status updates to customers and car owners can quickly give approval to fixes.

"One of the biggest problems in automotive dealerships is poor communication between the mechanics and their customers while the car is being fixed," says Will Mapes, founder of Singlethread. "They end up being ships that pass in the night."

Singlethread's team of five people developed the technology with Atomic Object's downtown Detroit office, splitting time between the central business district and Royal Oak. They launched the platform six months ago and now has deployed it in 10 automotive dealerships in Michigan, Florida, and Texas. Singlethread is now looking to expand to more dealerships across North America.

"We will be growing as fast as possible," Mapes says. "Our mandate is to just meet demand right now."

Source: Will Mapes, founder of Singlethread
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit startup Slope makes cut for prestigious Microsoft Venture Accelerator

Slope, a startup creating a video production platform for everyday people, made the cut for the newest class in the Microsoft Venture Accelerator program. The 1-year-old company is one of 14 startups from across North America to earn an invitation to the accelerator (more than 500 applied) and the only Detroit-based startup.

This is the second class for the Microsoft Venture Accelerator. The residency begins this week and takes place over four months in Seattle. Each startup receives $25,000 in seed capital without giving up any equity. Check out a Fast Company story about the newest class for the Microsoft Venture Accelerator here.

Most importantly for the Slope team, it receives a front-row seat on how to build and launch an enterprise-level software platform from the corporation best known for it.

"It was really a no-brainer for us to go for this accelerator," says Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of Slope.

Slope, formerly TernPro, is creating a video-creation platform so simple and accessible that everyday people can produce online videos and track the public's interaction with them. The platform also allows the user to store their photos, graphics, and videos so they are available to create more online content. The startup's platform is currently in private Beta.

"We hope to have a public launch at the end of the accelerator," Bosche says.

Bosche co-founded Slope with Dan Bloom shortly after the pair completed their fellowship with Venture For America, a program similar to Teach For America that pairs talented young people with startups in economically challenged cities. The two recent college grads were part of the first class of VFA fellows in Detroit in 2012.

Bosche worked at the Bizdom accelerator in downtown Detroit, helping startups in the incubator tell their stories through short videos. That work served as the inspiration for the Slope, which has grown its staff to seven people. Bosche (who lives in the tax foreclosure house in Virginia Park that VFA fellows are renovating) and Bloom plan to return to Detroit after the accelerator program is finished and continue building out Slope in the Motor City.

Source: Brian Bosche, co-founder & CEO of Slope.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Court Innovations aims to streamline court experience

Ever been stuck in a courthouse wading through the mundane and time-consuming process of challenging a traffic ticket? Court Innovations thinks it has an answer for that soul-crushing experience.

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has created a software platform that enables litigants to navigate the local court system online for things like civil infractions. The idea is to eliminate the need to stand in line at a court house when an issue can be resolved with the click of a mouse pad?

"We are moving from weeks and months (of time spent on small legal matters) to days," says MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations.

The fledgling startup spun out of the University of Michigan Law School a little more than a year ago with the help of $3 million in seed capital from the university's Third Century Initiative. It has since launched in three district courts in Ypsilanti, Highland Park and Bay City where it has been used by hundreds of litigants. Bay City started off using it for traffic court and civil infractions, but has since moved it to more areas.

"That's where they has the highest volumes of traffic," Cartwright says. "In Bay City we were able to expand it to the warrants, like failure to pay or show for a warrant."

The Court Innovations team (seven employees and five interns) is aiming to expand that even further to include people who are pleading down from low misdemeanors to civil infractions. It is also working to establish itself in more courtrooms across Michigan and the Midwest, a task Cartwright plans to begin fundraising for later this year.

"We'd like to be in a dozen courts in Michigan and hopefully one outside of Michigan," Cartwright says.

Source: MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations
Writer: Jon Zemke

IncWell invests in automotive cyber security startup TowerSec

Cyber-security startup TowerSec has landed an investment from venture capital firm IncWell, helping bring its technology to the automotive industry.

"It's something we see scaling very quickly," Sophia Kahn, project manager for IncWell.

The Ann Arbor-based startup specializes in beefing up cyber security for automobiles. The idea is that as cars are becoming bigger targets for hackers now with the advent of infotainment and driverless automotive technologies. So not only could hackers steal a motorist’s identity while driving but even take control of the car.

"It's a growing concern with cars becoming more connected," Kahn says.

IncWell is a Birmingham-based venture capital firm that invests in technology startups. Some of its other investments include CureLauncher (a Bloomfield Hills-based startup that refers to itself as the Wikipedia of clinical trials) and iRule, a downtown Detroit-based home entertainment startup.

IncWell's investment in TowerSec was part of seed round for the startup. Kahn declined to say who led the seed round, who else participated in it, the total amount raised in the round, or the size of IncWell's investment.

Kahn also declined to detail much about TowerSec’s platform besides that it is designed as a business-to-business play aimed at commercial and fleet vehicles. She adds that TowerSec's platform is "integration ready" in its development but wouldn't explain further what that specifically meant.

Source: Sophia Kahn, project manager for IncWell
Writer: Jon Zemke

TLS Productions grows beyond core auto show biz

TLS Productions has been around 60 years, spending most of that time making a name for itself as the go-to firm for auto show lighting. Today it's working to be more than just that.

"We want to continue to serve the auto industry but we want to do more corporate events," says Carl Kedzierski, marketing manager for TLS Productions. "We recently did a gig with ESPN."

The Ann Arbor-based firm provides sales, rental, and production for the stage part of special events. It does this for all of the major auto shows, such as the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit, and smaller events, such as theater productions.

An ownership change two years ago moved TLS Production's focus from auto show all the time to an effort to diversifying its clientele. The lion’s share of the company’s revenue still comes from auto shows, but its non-auto-show work has grown significantly over the last two years. It’s a trend the company hopes to expand over the next year.

"If lighting and audio can be applied to the event then we’re going for it," Kedzierski says.

TLS Production's employs a core staff of 17 employees and the occasional intern. It also has a stable of 30-45 freelancers it consistently leans on during its busy times. It is currently looking to hire 10 account executives across the U.S., including one in each the Ann Arbor-area and Metro Detroit markets.

Source: Carl Kedzierski, marketing manager for TLS Productions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Trilogy Health Ventures expands into Oakland County

Trilogy Health Ventures continues to expand in Michigan's home healthcare market, but this time the growth is taking place a little closer to home.

The Ann Arbor-based firm owns a handful of franchises for the Right at Home In-Home Healthcare & Assistance brand, which provides home healthcare services for the elderly and injured people who need help but want to stay in their homes. It recently bought the franchise that covers western Oakland County.

"It's a huge opportunity with the aging demographic there," says Barry Paxton, president of Trilogy Health Ventures. "That is an affluent area where people would like to stay home for their finals years."

Trilogy Health Ventures has three other franchises across Michigan, including on in Mid Michigan (Bay City, Mt. Pleasant and Flint), the Ann Arbor-Jackson area, and the greater Grand Rapids region. The businesses have taken off over the last two years. It has quadrupled its revenue over the last year alone.

Trilogy Venture now employs 145 people, including 80 hires over the last year. Some of those hires are due to normal turnover in the workforce and a majority of the jobs created as for nurses and caregivers. Paxton expects his staff to hit 250 people by next year.

Source: Barry Paxton, president of Trilogy Health Ventures
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brownrigg Companies grows by bringing clarity to insurance policies

Brownrigg Companies is an insurance agency that prides itself on knowing what it's selling, as well as letting its customers know what they are buying.

Ever read the first page of insurance policy and feel lost? Ever look at the stack of pages that come after it and feel even worse about your chances or ever really understanding what you just bought? Brownrigg Companies is making sure its customers don't ever feel that way.

"We really study the policies," says Nancy Brownrigg, CEO of Brownrigg Companies. "We want to make sure customers understand what they are buying. We don't pay our sales team on a commission. They are educators."

The Troy-based company sells commercial insurance policies, including products for industries that require unique and large insurance programs such manufacturers of plastics, chemicals, and automotive components.

The 26-year-old business has grown about 10 percent annually over the last five years. That has allowed it to hire three people in underwriting and customer service. It currently employs 15 people and is looking to hire one more.

Brownrigg Companies has also been recently recognized as among the top 10 percent of all agencies representing Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance Company. The award is based on a number of factors including production, outstanding customer service, and business retention.

"It lets us know we are meeting their goals and objections," Brownrigg says. "And that we are making products companies want to purchase."

Source: Nancy Brownrigg, CEO of Brownrigg Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Eagle Thread Verifer aims to diversify client base

The five-person team behind the Eagle Thread Verifer has some big plans to diversify what has primarily been an automotive industry company.

The Sterling Heights-based firm's principal product is a patented automatic thread gauge that catches 99 percent of all thread problems in any manufacturing process, such as removing weld spatter in projected welded nuts. It is designed to operate in the rigorous production environment of automotive industry plants, preventing improperly tapped parts from reaching final assembly.

But the company wants to market its product to customers beyond the automotive industry.

"It can apply to all industries that drill or use tap holes," says Gordon Taylor, president of Eagle Thread Verifer.

Eagle Thread Verifier got its start in 1990 when the father-son team of Alphonso and Thomas Peplinski started tinkering with the idea of an automatic thread gauge verification system in their engineering design shop, Eagle Design. It came to the market just before Alphonso Peplinski's death in 2004 when it was installed at American Axle & Manufacturing.

Taylor, a long time sales engineer for the company, succeeded Alphonso Peplinski. Taylor and his team are looking to begin selling this tool’s services more thoroughly to Tier 1 auto suppliers and into more industries, such as oil-and-gas and wind energy.

"There is no end to the use of this tool," Taylor says. "It used to be just about autos."

Source: Gordon Taylor, president of Eagle Thread Verifer
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fred Astaire Dance Studio hires as it adds wheelchair dance classes

The Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bloomfield Hills is adding to its staff by offering classes tailored to disabled dancers.

The Bloomfield Hills-based business recently hired a new dance instructor to lead an effort to start a wheelchair dance workshop. The dance-instruction business has made a name for itself over the last decade teaching traditional ballroom dancing, and the new wheelchair dance workshop is expected to help bring the joy of dancing to a whole new group of people. Wheelchair dancers use special wheelchairs with slanted wheels that allow for more agile mobility.

"They can experience something they thought they might never do," says Evan Mountain, owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bloomfield Hills.

Clinton Township resident Cheryl Angelelli is one of the first people to take advantage of the wheelchair dance workshop at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bloomfield Hills. Angelelli broke her neck in a swimming accident at 14. She is working with dance instructor Sergio Sanchez thanks to a grant from the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan Foundation that is subsidizing the workshop set to begin on May 2.

Wheelchair dancing was pioneered in Sweden in 1968 and has grown in popularity with participants in 29 countries. It became a Paralympic sport in 1998. Today, the IPC Wheelchair Dance World Championships are held every two years.

"In Europe, it's a very big sport," Mountain says.

Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bloomfield Hills employs a staff of 10 and is looking for interns. It has hired five people over the last year, including two newly created jobs. It has grown its business over the last few years as the economy has rebounded, but also as it does more community outreach efforts, such as the wheelchair dancing workshop.

"It's part of our business model," Mountain says. "If we can use the skills we have to help the community or someone in it, we do it."

Source: Evan Mountain, owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bloomfield Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Harley Ellis Devereaux hires 10 as it expands architecture work

In 2014, national architecture firm Harley Ellis Devereaux experienced solid growth in Michigan.

The Southfield office of the company has grown its revenue by 10 percent over the last year, allowing it to hire 10 people. Its staff now stands at 120 employees and three interns. The new jobs include architects, engineers, and technical staff. Harley Ellis Devereaux is also looking to hire a mechanical engineer and an electrical engineer.

The company's leadership expects to grow at that pace again in 2015 by focusing on its core competencies. "We continue to be focused on the areas where we can best leverage our expertise," says Michael Cooper, managing principal of Harley Ellis Devereaux.

The 106-year-old firm and offers a wide variety of services, including planning, architecture, and engineering. It services clients in a number of different industries, from healthcare to advanced manufacturing to higher education.

"Those markets have been doing well here," Cooper says. "As a result our opportunities for new work have also been doing well."

Source: Michael Cooper, managing principal of Harley Ellis Devereaux
Writer: Jon Zemke

5 'tech titans' have strong ties to Michigan

Of the 23 "titans" listed in this compendium of tech giants, more than 20 percent have strong ties to the Mitten. And more than a couple are U-M grads.

Excerpt:

"... we've profiled 23 tech titans with Midwest roots, whether they earned their degrees here or were born-and-bred. Yes, each founder and executive eventully left for the coast, but if the region continues to build out its individual tech hubs, the surrounding states will start to retain the game-changing innovators - like Marc Andreesen, Larry Page, Jack Dorsey, and more - that it's consistenly seeding. "

Read the list here.

Saline-based Flatout purchased for $92 million

Columbus, Ohio-based T. Marzetti Co. bought the Saline-grown rolled sandwich franchise Flatout for a not-too-shabby $92 million.

Excerpt:

"Flatout reported $42 million in net sales in 2014. The company has about 150 employees at its factory in a Saline industrial park. The company, one of Washtenaw County's most successful food start-ups, was partially sold in 2010 to private equity firm North Castle Partners and Glencoe Capital."

Read the rest here.
 

Knight Arts Challenge launches for third year


What's your best idea for the arts in Detroit?
 
It's a simple question, and your simple answer could land you some money to help make your idea a reality.



On March 16, the application period for the third annual Knight Arts Challenge opened. In this round of the challenge, Detroiters have until April 13 to apply for a share of $3 million. To date, the Knight Arts Challenge has award 114 winners in Detroit about $5 million.
 
Knight Foundation will host a launch party and a series of community Q&A sessions throughout Detroit to answer applicants' questions. The launch party will be held at Bert’s Marketplace in Eastern Market on Tuesday, March 24 at 6 p.m. At the launch event, applicants can get to know Knight staff and past winners. The community Q&As will offer tips to applicants on creating standout applications and provide information on the challenge timeline and more.
 
The following are the dates and times of upcoming community Q&A sessions:
 
-March 23, 6 p.m. at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn
-March 24, noon at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (light lunch provided)
-March 25, 6 p.m. at the Mexicantown Mercado in Southwest Detroit
 
For more information about the Knight Arts Challenge in Detroit, click here.

Jones Day, the lawfirm that guided Detroit through bankruptcy, to open downtown office

The law firm that guided the city of Detroit in and out of bankruptcy is staking a claim in the Motor City. Cleveland-based Jones Day plans to open a satellite office in downtown Detroit later this summer.

"Part of being invested in Detroit is being in Detroit," says Tim Melton, partner in charge of Jones Day's Detroit office. "There was never a question we would be in downtown Detroit."

Melton is a graduate of Wayne State University Law School and a former clerk to Judge Richard F. Suhrheinrich when he served as a District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit. Melton has been with Jones Day since 1980 and will move to Detroit from Chicago to open the new office.

The location of Jones Day's new office has yet to be selected, but Melton says that decision will be made in the next few weeks and the office will open by July. Melton expects the Detroit office to grow to six attorneys and as many support staff.

"The beauty of being a part of a 2,400 person law firm is there isn't a specific skillset I need in my office in Detroit that we don’t already have in Cleveland or elsewhere," Melton says. "Our hiring in Detroit will be more opportunistic."

Source: Tim Melton, partner in charge of the Detroit office for Jones Day
Writer: Jon Zemke
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