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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

Huron Valley Financial growth rapidly with new service offerings

Huron Valley Financial got its start selling mortgages to people in Washtenaw County in the mid 1990s. Today it's doing the same across the country and offering a whole lot more as it grows at its fastest clip to date.

"We have had some of our best months ever in 2015," says Casey Daniels, vice president of business development for Huron Valley Financial.

The Ann Arbor-based company can now sell mortgages in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. It is also in the process of getting approval to sell mortgages in South Carolina. To accommodate that growth the firm has hired 18 people in sales and operations over the last year and is looking to hire another six now. It currently has a staff of 90 people.

The bigger staff and geographic footprint helps with Huron Valley Financial's growth. But its biggest gains are coming from its larger portfolio of services it can offer. Huron Valley Financial has been approved to service loans (a function it formerly had to outsource to larger financial institutions) and sell loans to Fannie Mae.

"Us getting our Fannie Mae approval was pretty big," Daniels says. "It allows us to streamline a lot of our processes."

Huron Valley Financial also launched a wholesale division earlier this month. It can now sell its mortgages and other lending products, like construction loans, to community banks and credit unions. The mortgage lender is also planning to further broaden its product portfolio, but Daniels declined to elaborate on those plans.

"We are always looking at additional products to add," Daniels says.

Source: Casey Daniels, vice president of business development for Huron Valley Financial
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Venture Partners investment brings sneaker startup to Detroit

Camping is sort of a right of passage for sneaker collectors. These footwear fanatics, commonly known as sneakerheads, are known for camping out in front of stores to make sure they get the latest and the greatest in collectable shoes.

Sneakerheads are known to spends hours, even days, camping out in line in front of shoe stores to get the newest Jordans or Yeezyes. A new startup, Campless, wants to minimize the time sneakerheads camp out on sidewalks, and it's moving to Detroit.

"Our motto is 'know more, camp less,'" says Josh Luber, CEO of Campless. "The more information you have the less time you can spend camping outside of a store."

The 3-year-old startup's software platform serves as a Kelly Blue Book for the secondary sneaker market. It collects, analyzes and distributes data about the industry. It launched in Philadelphia while Luber worked for IBM and built up a following of consumers, businesses, and financial experts. Its current customer base includes the likes of Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

And Luber built that up while working full-time for IBM. He attracted attention from a variety of major corporate partners who wanted to help him scale the Campless business model. He choose to take an investment from Detroit Venture Partners, the venture capital arm of the Quicken Loans family of companies, this summer.

The investment prompted Luber to move Campless to the former Compuware Building in downtown Detroit. Today all of Campless’s eight employees have made the move and Luber has left his job at IBM to lead the company full-time.

"At some point it was obvious that we have something here and I needed to do this full-time," Luber says. "It all just really worked out well. It just made a lot of sense."

Source: Josh Luber, CEO of Campless
Writer: Jon Zemke

OST fills out downtown office as it launches IT staffing services

OST has come quite a ways since it opened a satellite office in downtown Detroit.

In two years, the Grand Rapids-based tech firm has doubled its staff in the Motor City to 15 people. That includes four hires (sales people and technical staff) over the last year. The firm now employs 190 people in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Ann Arbor. Most of its staff is based in Michigan.

The staff growth is accompanied by a significant expansion in services for OST. The new IT recruiting division, OST Recruiting Solutions, will focus on helping other companies find IT talent.

"It's a huge area of growth for us in Detroit and elsewhere," Mike Lomonaco, marketing manager for OST. "Southeast Michigan is where we see our greatest growth opportunity."

OST has made a name for itself providing tech services, such as IT, database security, and software development. It has also provided tech staffing services for its customers on a project-basis. The growing demand for the services got OST to expand even more.

"Our clients have been asking for it," says Beth VanSlyke, recruiting practice manager for OST. "We have been doing contract staffing for years, but after a lot of requests from our clients we are making a practice out of it."

Source: Mike Lomonaco, marketing manager for OST; and Beth VanSlyke, recruiting practice manager for OST
Writer: Jon Zemke

Delphinus Medical Technologies scores $39.5M in Series C funding

Delphinus Medical Technologies has landed a $39.5 million Series C funding round, the largest ever for a medical device startup in Michigan.

The Plymouth-based, breast-cancer detection startup has been growing quickly since it spun out of Wayne State University in 2010. It has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 40 people.

"We're adding people pretty rapidly," says Mark Forchette, president & CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies. "Soon we will be at 50-55 people."

Delphinus Medical Technologies principal technology is SoftVue, a whole breast ultrasound system that allows physicians to image the entire breast, including the chest wall. SoftVue incorporates a circular ultrasound transducer, presenting cross-sectional ultrasound slices through the entire volume of breast tissue. The multi-dimensional imaging captures not only reflected echoes in a 360-degree array, but also signals passing through the breast, depicting tissue characterization.

The expectation is the technology will do a number of things to help improve the detecting breast cancer process. Patients no longer have to go through a compression or other uncomfortable moments when using SoftVue. The platform is also expected to help doctors find breast cancer with more accuracy and eliminate more false positives.

"We will have the ability to help so many more women when they go in for a screening," Forchette says.

The $39.5 million Series C round was led by Farmington Hills-based Beringea. Other local investors include Ann Arbor-based Arboretum Ventures and North Coast Technology Investors. Venture Investors, Hopen Life Science Ventures, and Waycross Ventures also participated in the Series C.

Delphinus Medical Technologies will use the money to further the commercialization of SoftVue with a plan for launching it next year and doing a harder push in 2017.

It is planning to launch a large multi-site clinical study to support a PMA application for a supplemental screening indication for women with dense breasts later this year. Delphinus Medical Technologies will begin by prospectively imaging 10,000 women with SoftVue in eight centers across the country. The study will compare SoftVue to digital mammography, and demonstrate its effectiveness in finding cancers that are not seen with mammography, while reducing false positives, thereby reducing the need for follow-up testing

Source: Mark Forchette, president & CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Slows Bar B Q turns 10

Model D's not the only Detroit institution celebrating its 10th birthday this year. Corktown's Slows Bar B Q turns 10 on Wednesday, September 16, and you're invited to celebrate.

According to Susan Selasky of the Detroit Free Press, Slows will be "giving away 200 free limited edition commemorative 10-Year T-shirts from the Dirt Label, which is donating its fee to charity (while supplies last)"; "donating money from all purchases of The Reason sandwich and mac & cheese to D-Town Farms, the urban agriculture initiative of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network;" and "charging $2 for all Michigan draft beer."

Want to learn more about the Slows story? Check out this Model D special report about the growth of this iconic Detroit business and its impact on its neighborhood.

Slows' 10th anniversary party takes place this Wednesday, September 16, from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Read more: Detroit Free Press

Detroiter turns passion for cities into business, Human Scale Studio

Chad Rochkind has an interest in big cities, how they work, and what can be done to improve them. It's what motivated the Detroiter to launch his own company.

Human Scale Studio works with businesses, nonprofits, local governments, and community groups, providing consulting services that help them make community plans and conduct research. The common denominator is all of this work makes big cities better places to live.

"My passion is cities and making cities more livable for people," Rochkind says.

The 1-year-old company has worked with a variety of Detroit organizations, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Corktown Business Association. One of its projects included putting a temporary parklet in front of Astro Coffee in Corktown. The idea was to put the excessive width of Michigan Avenue into a human context.

Human Scale Studio is looking to expand its clientele across a variety of sectors. The idea is that spreading its work around will mean a greater impact on raising the quality of life in Detroit.

"I'd like to take on another government entity, like the city of Detroit," Rochkind says. "I think I have a lot to add."

Source: Chad Rochkind, founder & CEO of Human Scale Studio
Writer: Jon Zemke
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