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Slingshot Cloud Services opens data center in Royal Oak

IT company Slingshot Cloud Services is opening in Royal Oak this month with two guiding principals: simplicity and affordability.

"We offer (IT) infrastructure as a service," says Vincent Barrett, CEO of Birmingham Capital. "We believe IT doesn’t have to be hard."

Birmingham Capital is launching Slingshot Cloud Services after buying the cloud-computing assets from Munger Capital. Those assets are now part of its newly re-launched class-3 data center in Royal Oak where about a dozen people work on any given day.

"It's probably one of the top five nicest data centers in Oakland County," Barrett says. "We have a group of the best engineers helping us out here."

Slingshot Cloud Services offers private or hybrid cloud software solutions to growing businesses, specifically targeting companies in the manufacturing, financial, and healthcare sectors. Barrett is optimistic about hitting its goal of generating more than $1 million in revenue in its first year because it acquired the cloud-computing infrastructure so cheaply that it can undercut its competitors prices significantly.

"Every dollar we make is profit," Barrett says. "There is nobody’s price I can't beat."

Source: Vincent Barrett, CEO of Birmingham Capital
Writer: Jon Zemke

The ascendance of metro Detroit's family foundations

It's hard to believe, but just 30 years ago, metro Detroit had no endowed family foundations. In recent years, however, names like Erb, Fisher, Davidson, Taubman, and Wilson have become well known to the people of metro Detroit—and for not how members of those families made their fortunes, but for how they are giving them away.
"The patriarchs of several major philanthropic Metro Detroit families have died in the last two years, leaving survivors, younger generations and foundation employees to carry on their legacies," writes Jennifer Chambers in a recent feature in the Detroit News on the increasing economic and social impacts  family foundations are making on metro Detroit.
"The impact of family foundations will be felt far and wide in the next decade, with billions of dollars coming into Detroit and the region, said Mariam Noland, president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan."
Read more in the Detroit News.

Akervall Technologies' mouthguard sales spike, staff grows

Akervall Technologies won the advanced materials category at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition earlier this week for the second year running. But that's the least of what the startup is excited about these days.

The Saline-based mouthguard manufacturer has spiked its sales by 60 percent over the last year and it’s on pace for similar growth in 2016. It is also looking at launching a handful of new products to help it grow even more.

"We think we can sustain our growth rate," says Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies. "We are the bottom of the hockey stick and it (the company's growth) is about to take off."

The 6-year-old company’s primary product is the SISU Mouth Guard, which is marketed toward athletes as a stronger alternative that is both lighter and less obstructive that traditional mouth guards. SISU is a popular word in Finland that roughly translates to "determination, strength, resilience." Other products include the SOVA mouth guard which is designed for people who grind their teeth in their sleep.

Akervall Technologies has been based out of Sassa Akervall's basement in Ann Arbor until about a year ago when it took over a light-industrial space in Saline. It now employs a staff of 17 people and a summer intern. It has hired five people over the last year, including research scientists and marketing professionals.

Akervall Technologies made the finals of this year's Accelerate Michigan, the state’s largest business plan competition for startups. Winning the advanced materials category comes with a $25,000 cash prize, which Akervall Technologies plans to use to help purchase production equipment.

"It just sharpens your mind," Akervall says of Accelerate Michigan. "If helps you figure out how other companies think."

Akervall Technologies plans to launch its next-generation version of the SISU Mouth Guard that is stronger than the current version in the first quarter of next year. It is also planning to launch some other products later in the year.

Source: Sassa Akervall, CEO of Akervall Technologies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor-based LLamasoft grows business and jobs

How do we know that LLamasoft is burning economic rubber? Well, first, it was named to the Deloitte 2015 Technology
Fast 500 for the fourth consecutive year. Second, it's currently looking to add 20 new employees.


LLamasoft has been on a relatively fast growth track, according to company officials. It added 75 employees last year and expects to do the same by the end of this year. In each of the last three years, LLamasoft has ranked as the fastest-growing supply chain software company in the Deloitte Fast 500 list of North American technology companies.

Read the rest here.

The company will hold a career fair from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 19  at its headquarters at 201 S. Main St.

Arborlight shines a light forward as it ramps up revenues

When Michael Forbis thinks about sales he doesn't have to worry about setting sales goals at his startup, Arborlight.

"We have shipped more than $100,000 in product in the last four months," Forbis says. "We have a pipeline of $1.3 million in sales opportunities right now. It just keeps growing every single day."

Arborlight, which spun out of the University of Michigan, makes a LED light that emits a sun-like light. What the company is branding as a "daylight emulation system" can be used in both residential and commercial settings, imitating sunlight in both color, temperature and even exposure based on the weather or time of day.

"Our clients really care about the health and well being of their workers because it impacts their productivity," Forbis says.

The 5-year-old startup has hired six people in production, accounting and marketing, among other fields in the last year to help it meet rising demand for its products.

"We have tripled in (staff) size over the last year," Forbis says.

Arborlight closed on a $1.7 million seed round last spring. It also won the alternative energy category at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, the state's largest business plan competition for startups. The $25,000 in cash prize for winning will go toward Arborlight's efforts to raise a Series A late next year.

"We have seen a lot of demand for our product," Forbis says. "We want to take advantage of that opportunity."

Arborlight has enjoyed most of its growth with orders from large businesses, including a couple of Fortune 500 companies. It plans to target institutions in the education sector (K-12 schools and universities) in 2016 as it continues to grow.

"We think we can hit $4 million in sales," Forbis says.

Source: Michael Forbis, CEO of Arborlight
Writer: Jon Zemke

The Whole Brain Group grows through customer service, added services

The Whole Brain Group has been adding clients by focusing on itself over the last year. The Ann Arbor-based digital marketing agency has moved into a bigger home, beefed up its technical expertise, added staff, and expanded its services. That cleared the way for it to grow its revenue by 20 percent in 2015 and aim for 30 percent growth in 2016.

"We are trying to offer a well-rounded set of services," says Marisa Smith, head brainiac at The Whole Brain Group. "A lot of our clients are growing companies that are looking to scale their growth."

The Whole Brain Group has added a number of new clients, including a RV dealership in upstate New York, Arborlight (an Ann Arbor-based lighting startup), and Great Lakes Scrip out of Grand Rapids. That new work has allowed The Whole Brain Group to add two new jobs, expanding its staff to 14 people. The firm moved to a new office near Briarwood Mall and plans to stay put for the next few years.

"We are going to stay in our same space because there is room to grow," Smith says.

The Whole Brain Group also recently achieved platinum partner status with HubSpot, a digital marketing platform used by businesses around the world. The status is the second to top tier for HubSpot, making The Whole Brain Group only one of two in Michigan to achieve it.

"We have attained a certain level of expertise and a number of clients who use that software," Smith says.

Source: Marisa Smith, head brainiac at The Whole Brain Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ash & Anvil makes big bet on making clothing for shorter men

Steven Mazur and Eric Huang’s big idea was to make everyday clothing for shorter men. The Venture For America fellows capitalized on it by launching Ash & Anvil last spring. This week they are set to ship the first articles of clothing to their first customers.

The downtown Detroit-based startup specializes in making clothing for men 5 feet 8 inches or shorter. Its target customers are young people in their 20s and 30s. The idea is to capitalize on a market segment that is largely overlooked by mainstream clothiers, leaving millions of men with clothing that doesn't fit comfortably. Ash & Anvil is starting out by selling casual button-down shirts.

"For the spring and summer we are looking at some knits, t-shirts, and polos," says Mazur, co-founder & CEO of Ash & Anvil. "For the fall we’re looking at doing jeans and chinos."

Mazur and Haung are members of the second-annual class of fellows from Venture For America, a program that pairs promising college graduates with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit. It drew its inspiration from Teach For America, which pairs college graduates with teaching positions in big city school districts. Venture For America tries to provide a fast-track to entrepreneurship for recent college grads who want to work with startups.

Mazur and Haung completed their two-year fellowship with Venture For America earlier this year. They launched Ash & Anvil shortly thereafter and participated in the Venture For America accelerator program in Philadelphia last summer. They returned to Detroit this fall planning to roll out their clothing line in 2016.

"A lot of the focus and time was spent on the back end of the business," Mazur says.

They started with a crowdfunding campaign that raised $26,461. That let them place Ash & Anvil's first order for 1,000 casual button-down shirts, which arrived earlier this month. The first 250 recipients of the shirts will go to the crowdfunding backers. Another 100 people have placed pre-orders, and those total 350 orders will be shipped on Thursday.

Mazur and Haung plan to sell the rest of those shirts by the end of this year through online orders. Ash & Anvil offers free shipping, returns, and exchanges as part of its effort to focus on customer service in its first months of operations. It's a modest-yet-important goal in what they consider a big opportunity.

Source: Steven Mazur, co-founder & CEO of Ash & Anvil
Writer: Jon Zemke

Bike share program for greater downtown on track for 2016

Detroit has more than 170 miles of bike lanes and greenways, a number that continues to grow. If all goes according to plan, soon a bike share program will complement that infrastructure.

Wayne State University's Office of Economic Development started the feasibility study and helped raise awareness and funds for the proposed bike share before transitioning the program to the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) in July 2015. .

The DDP since has announced a partnership with Henry Ford Health System/Health Alliance Plan and the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT). Henry Ford/HAP has pledged a full three-year financial commitment to launch and operate the bike share, while DDOT is assisting DDP in acquiring federal grant funding as well as finding an equipment provider and operator for the bike share. The city and DDOT will issue an RFP later this month. The bike share is also receiving support from the Michigan Department of Transportation, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, Hudson Webber Foundation, and Kresge Foundation.

Officials say roughly 350 bikes and 35 bike stations will be scattered throughout greater downtown following the first phase of implementation.

"We are super excited that a public bike share program is coming to Detroit," writes Todd Scott, executive director of Detroit Greenways Coalition, a greenways and bike lane advocacy group in the city, in an email to Model D. "This will be a great opportunity to get more people interested in biking throughout the greater downtown. We appreciate that the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP), Henry Ford Health System/HAP, and the city of Detroit have the vision and commitment to make this happen."

According to the League of American Bicyclists, Detroit is the fastest growing city in the country for commuter bicyclists. The group utilized census data to determine that instances of bike commuting in Detroit grew over 400 percent between the years 2000 and 2014.

More than 70 U.S. cities offer bike share programs. Should all go according to plan, Detroit's own will debut in 2016.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Build, DC3 focus on raising revenue for fledgling businesses

Build Institute and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center have made names for themselves by helping aspiring entrepreneurs realize their dreams. This fall they are helping dozens of small business they played a role in launching keep the dream alive.

Build Institute and Detroit Creative Corridor Center are launching new programs or emphasizing existing programs that help these new businesses generate revenue and establish themselves as long-term staples in their communities.

"We think of it as incubation/proof of concept," April Boyle, executive director of Build Institute, wrote in an email. "It allows new businesses to interface with customers, build their brand, make mistakes and pivots with low overhead, and make some money."

Build Institute provides support and training for aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs so they can build small businesses in Detroit. It has produced more than 600 alumni in its first few years. This year it started hosting its Build Bazaars, events that feature Build Institute graduates selling their products.

This fall Build Institute is announcing a holiday shop local initiative that highlights local small businesses and entrepreneurs with a handful events centered around its Build Bazaars. There are 173 vendors at all of the five Build Bazaars. About 90 are grads of Build Institute programs. The next two bazaars are on Nov. 28 at One Campus Martius for Small Business Saturday and on Dec. 5 during Noel Night at the Majestic Theater.

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center, a nonprofit focused on building up Detroit’s creative economy, is launching a new program for creative firms and freelancers in Michigan called Creative Co.

"It connects freelancers with one another and the larger creative community," says Ellie Schneider, interim executive director of Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

The new program provides design firms and freelancers the with business development opportunities, community, and networks they need to thrive. Among the benefits are:

- Access to exclusive request for proposals from the Creative Co. Services Fund.
- Quarterly workshops, speaker series, and social events.
- Promotional opportunities and exposure through Detroit Creative Corridor Center channels.
- A private, online forum for Creative Co. members to share experiences and speak with mentors/advisory board.
- Discounts at local businesses and service providers

Applications for the new Creative Co program are open through Friday. For information, click here.

Source: April Boyle, executive director of Build Institute, and Ellie Schneider, interim executive director of Detroit Creative Corridor Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor startups score big wins at Accelerate Michigan

When Steve Schwartz went up to collect the ceremonial $100,000 check for taking second place at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week, he was surprised but not shocked. The CTO of Genomenon didn’t expect to win big, but he knew the Ann Arbor-based startup’s team has a lot of potential when it comes to the fight against cancer.

"We all know someone in our lives who has been impacted by cancer," Schwartz says. "We're all passionate about it."

Genomenon is a life sciences company developing a technology platform focused on personalized medicine with simplified genome interpretation software. It has an office in the Tech Brewery and at the University of Michigan. The U-M spinout's platform tackles the challenges of analyzing DNA sequencing data, including gathering, organizing and interpreting the results. This is process is called tertiary analysis and typically requires extensive manual review that can be frustratingly inefficient and error-prone. Genomenon’s software accelerates tertiary analysis so it can treat patients and publish findings faster.

The 1-year-old startup’s team of seven has built out the product and has begun introducing it to its first paying customers. A larger product roll-out is planned for next year.

"We are now in the process of raising a seed round," Schwartz says. "This (the Accelerate Michigan win for $100,000) is a nice little bump for our seed round."

Five other Ann Arbor-based startups, all of which receive help from Ann Arbor SPARK, also walked away from Accelerate Michigan with $25,000 in prize money. Those include Akervall Technologies (winning the advanced materials category), Arborlight (alternative energy), FlexDex (medical device), Workit Health (IT), and PicoSpray (Advanced manufacturing).

Accelerate Michigan is Michigan's biggest business plan competition. It awards more than $1 million in prizes each year. Ann Arbor-based startups normally dominate the winners circle each year.

Source: Steve Schwartz, CTO of Genomenon
Writer: Jon Zemke

Arbor Brewing Co puts on a new face after 20 years downtown

Big changes are coming to Arbor Brewing Co as the ownership plans to mark its 20th anniversary with a comprehensive face-lift of the brewpub.The microbrewery plans to revamp its bar, dining room seating, entryway, kitchen, and bathrooms in an effort to modernize the establishment and make it more accessible. The restaurant has also promoted one of its employees to executive chef and plans to launch a new menu when it reopens early next year.

"We're doing a lot," says Rene Greff, who co-founded Arbor Brewing Co with her husband Matt Greff.

When all the dust settles patrons will notice the changes right away, and throughout the eatery. The entryway will be reconfigured so the door is on the side of the entry vestibule. The bar will also be redesigned into a U shape by removing a faux wall behind the existing bar. The new bar will be able to accommodate more seating and make it easier for people to move through the dinning area.

"It's going to make it a more pleasant entrance," Greff says. "It's also going to make it a more pleasant experience for the people at the bar."

The connection between the main dinning room and game room will be enlarged by removing parts of the wall and a few booths. The downstairs bathrooms will also be renovated. The Greffs also plans to repaint the interior, tear out the old carpet, do some improvements to the kitchen, and upgrade the lighting.

The $200,000 renovation will keep the overall capacity (210 people) and seating (150 people) neutral because of the larger bar and loss of some booths. Work is expected to begin January 4th in the basement. The whole brewpub will shut down for two weeks on January 11th. The new menu will debut when it reopens, featuring vegetarian- and vegan-friendly fare made from scratch inspired by a recent menu revamp at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti, which the Greffs also own.

"I like to think of it as gastropub meets food truck," Greff says. "It's still pub fare but with more interesting ingredients."

Source: Rene Greff, co-founder of Arbor Brewing Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

HealPay spikes in revenues and clients, looks to expand

HealPay is locking down clients from a broad variety of industries, and the Ann Arbor-based startup has plans to pursue the biggest ones next year. The tech startup's platform helps bill collectors increase their accounts receiving by enabling users to pay what they owe faster and more efficiently. It started off by helping creditors collect debts owed through its Settlement mobile app. Now it is expanding to a broader range of billing agencies, such as landlords.

"We have widened our scope to include family law firms and bankruptcy attorneys," says Erick Bzovi, CEO of HealPay. "We have expanded more horizontally."

Which has allowed it to spike its revenue and number of clients. HealPay currently does about $10 million in transactions a month, which is double its amount from last year. It is also enjoying a consistent 10 percent bump in transaction per month. That growth has allowed the company to hire two software engineers, expanding its staff to six employees and a couple of independent contractors. HealPay is also looking for an intern.

Bzovi expects those numbers to spike even harder next year. HealPay is currently in talks with municipalities and utilities to handle billing for them as the startup continues to go after larger and larger clients.

"We are slowly getting into new verticals," Bzovi says. "Anybody who does billing would fit."

Source: Erick Bzovi, CEO of HealPay
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit Trading Co. opens large downtown Detroit office

A high-profile Oakland County tech company is expanding south of 8 Mile Road, opening up a new office in downtown Detroit.

Detroit Trading Co. has leased an over 10,000-square-foot space at 601 W. Fort St. that it is using as a call center. So far that space has been filled with 20 new employees, and the company still has plans to grow next year.

"We're renovating another 30,000 square feet," says Matt Clayson, vice president and general counsel for Detroit Trading Co. "It's available for future growth and leasing to compatible companies."

The Southfield-based company got its start creating technology platforms that gathered, analyzed, and organized Internet sales leads for car dealers a decade ago. It sold them on an exchange to automotive dealerships. It has since grown to a staff of 47 employees, including the 20 new hires in Detroit.

"A majority of the firm’s growth is happening in the city limits," Clayson says.

One of its most recent projects is creating what Clayson describes as experiential centers, which is being branded as a car show. That basically means Detroit Trading Co is building out an automotive showroom that features a combination of brands of vehicles.

Today auto buyers can only see different cars within the specific brands offered by an auto dealership. Detroit Trading Co. leverages its connections in the auto dealership world to bring all of those brands under one roof. Detroit Trading Co. recently debuted its first iteration of the concept as a pop-up in Eastern Market last weekend.

Source: Matt Clayson, vice president & general counsel for Detroit Trading Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Pasta startup Banza wins big prize at this year’s Accelerate Michigan

When they started handing out the big checks at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition last week, the biggest went to small food startup working out of an old tax foreclosure in Virginia Park.

Banza, which makes gluten-free pasta, won the grand prize worth $500,000 in seed capital at Accelerate Michigan, the most prestigious business plan competition in Michigan. The firm has come a long way, and it's done so a lot faster than most people thought it would, including its founders.

"We totally did not expect to win," says Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza. "From our perspective (Accelerate Michigan) was geared toward tech companies. We have some intellectual property, but we are not the gold standard for tech companies."

Brian Rudolph formed Banza with his brother, Scott Rudolph, in January of 2014. At the time Brian was a fellow with Venture For America, a Teach For America-style program that pairs promising college graduates with startups in economically challenged cities like Detroit.

The Rudolph brother’s big idea was making gluten-free pasta from chickpeas. They aspired to make Banza to pasta what Chobani (a popular brand of Greek yogurt) was to yogurt. By August of last year they were launching Banza and had boxes on store shelves by January 2015.

Banza is headquartered out of an century-old mansion renovated by members of the first class of Venture For America fellows based in Detroit. The group, working under the name Rebirth Realty, bought it at Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction in 2013. They spent the next year renovating it and moved in late last year. A couple of the startups co-founded by members of that first class are also based out of the house. Many of them spent months saving money eating free boxes of Banza that were edible but deemed not worthy for store shelves.

Banza is the startup taking off the fastest in that house. Its pasta can now be bought across the U.S. and its team has grown to eight people. Banza raised a $1.3-million seed round in March and is working with a Michigan-based manufacturer to pump up its production.

"We have been break-even or cash-flow positive since (landing the seed round)," Brian Rudolph says. "We plan to use it to increase our capacity."

Banza recently increased its production capacity by 60 percent. It is now working on plans that could double or even triple its capacity next year. Banza can currently be found in 1,700 stores across the U.S., mainly in regional retailers like Meijer, Jewel Osco (Chicago area), and Sprouts Farmers Market (California).

"It has been a good, quick start," Brian Rudolph says. "We're starting to build some density in the Northeast and we have some good density in the Detroit area. We also are building a lot of density in California."

Source: Brian Rudolph, co-founder of Banza
Writer: Jon Zemke

Retail Bootcamp complete, Detroit startups work to establish permanent locations

Five Detroit start-ups are receiving a financial push from their alma mater, TechTown's 2015 Retail Boot Camp program. Nearly $40,000 will be split among the five graduates of the entrepreneur training program in an effort to help them make the transition to brick-and-mortar locations.

The businesses include a music store, ice cream shop, handmade Indian crafts store, creamery, and resale/vintage clothing boutique. According to TechTown, each business is "on-the-verge." Each received a kickstart package that includes up to $7,500 in subsidies that can be used toward a permanent location, pop-up location, inventory, and/or a point-of-sale system.

Alana Rodriguez hopes to use the money to open Mama Coo's Boutique in her Southwest Detroit neighborhood. She has previously sold vintage/resale clothing as well as personally handmade jewelry and crafts at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Eastern Market.

Either West Village, East Jefferson, or West Rivertown will land an outdoor goods store as Sarah White looks to open her MOR & Co. on the city's east side. In a previous interview with Model D, White said that a lot of thought goes into selecting her inventory. "When I look at the design of something, it's not just what does it looks like, but how does it work? Where did it come from? Who made it and what's their story? How am I going to sell it, and what does someone do with it after it's done being used? All of those are important components," she says.

Third Wave Music, a 2014 Hatch finalist, is the recipient of one of the 2015 Kickstart Awards, which will be used toward opening the musical instrument store in the soon-to-be renovated Forest Arms apartment building in Midtown. Look for Third Wave to make its debut in April 2016.

Chris Reilly's Reilly Craft Creamery will use the money toward a pop-up in a yet-to-be disclosed location somewhere in the city in the summer of 2016. The creamery gets its products from Michigan organic farms.

Another Eastern Market vendor, Ojas Alkolkar, hopes to open Tribalfare in either downtown, Midtown, or Corktown. In addition to selling one-of-a-kind, handcrafted goods from her native India, Alkolkar will also offer Bollywood dance lessons, yoga, and other community events at her eventual location.

Writer: MJ Galbraith
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