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App maker Locqus goes on hiring spree after raising $2M

Everything was lining up nicely for Sandy Kronenberg when he launched his latest tech startup, Locqus.

Kronenberg liked the tech hub under development at the M@dison Block in downtown Detroit, especially the talent that was flocking there. Having worked as either a principal or CTO at Netarx, Yottabyte, and Logicalis, Kronenberg had a few nice exits under his belt. He also knew he had enough cash to get Locqus off the ground.

"I wasn't looking for outside capital at all," Kronenberg says.

In fact he had turned down funding offers from local venture capitalists. They were only bringing money to the table. Then Moneris came calling and it was too hard to say no to one of the largest electronic payments firms in North America.

"They do 40 percent of all digital transactions in Canada," Kronenberg says. "It's kind of a big deal."

Locqus is developing Field Manage, a mobile app that helps small businesses in the service industry (think skilled trades people or mom-and-pop ventures) handle the back end of the business. The app manages time clocks, scheduling, inventory, etc, and it synchronizes many aspects of the business between employees on everyone’s personal mobile device or computer.

"At the end of the day we're a mobile solution for the service industry," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has also formed a strategic partnership with Samsung, which will recommend Locqus as an must-have app with some of its mobile devices. That effort will work hand in hand with the $2 million is has raised.

"For the most part it (the $2 million) is for hiring more folks and raising awareness through marketing," Kronenberg says.

Locqus has expanded its staff to 16 employees and an intern since it launched last year. The company is also looking to hired four more people in software development or customer service. Kronenberg expects the employee count to be closing in at 25 people by the end of the year.

For now the staff is working at the co-working space of Bizdom at 1528 Woodward. Kronenberg expects he will move Locqus into its own space within the next few months, but he is trying to maintain his startup’s presence in Bizdom's home for as long as he can.

"We're going to hold out as long as we can because it's a great group of people," Kronenberg says. "It's a collaborative environment. It's a great culture. It's a natural fit."

Source: Sandy Kronenberg, CEO of Locqus
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arborís re:group makes 6 hires in 6 months

Downtown Ann Arbor-based re:group scored a bigger home and larger staff in 2014.

The digital marketing agency has hired six people in the last six months, expanding its staff to 33 employees and the occasional intern. The new jobs include an art director, copy director, and social media professionals, among others. It's also looking to hire another three people now.

To accommodate that staff growth, re:group has expanded its space in the Schlenker Building on Liberty Street. It now occupies in excess of 10,000 square feet in the structure.

"We took another floor in our building," says Carey Jernigan, vice president of development for re:group.

She adds that re:group is growing so fast that it’s writing a new work proposal each work. It has landed new clients, such as Molly Maid and Pet Supplies Plus. Jernigan believes it is landing all of this new work because it offers a comprehensive marketing package that includes both new and traditional aspects of marketing.

"We do all of it under one roof," Jernigan says. "We always offer an integrated plan that includes traditional because it works better."

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

Birdhouse app for autism shares focus with caregivers

Birdhouse for Autism is looking to set itself apart from other autism technologies by not only helping the person living with the condition but the loved ones taking care of them.

"Unfortunately there isn't much focus on the family involvement," says Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism. "The parent is the center of the child’s development."

The downtown Detroit-based startup -- it graduated from Bizdom in September -- has created a mobile app that helps track the behavior of autistic children so the people taking care of them can better manage the disorder.

The Birdhouse for Autism app is available in both laptop software and for mobile devices. Thousands of families have downloaded it as the startup works through its public beta and prepares for larger releases.

"I like to say we're outgrowing our prototype," Chutz says. "We're redesigning everything at the moment."

Birdhouse for Autism has landed a $250,000 angel round this spring, using the funds to grow its team to three full-time people (Chutz plus co-founders Dani Gillman and Adam Milgrom) and seven part-timers.

Source: Ben Chutz, co-founder of Birdhouse for Autism
Writer: Jon Zemke

HealthRise hires 15 people, looks to add 6 more

David Farbman knows a business opportunity when he sees one. For him and his new company, HealthRise, that opportunity is improving the healthcare industry.

Farbman says he was looking for a market with lots of churn and change taking place. That is healthcare in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. Farbman saw a big marketplace in need of improvement in many different areas.

"I believe the patient experience today has holes," Farbman says. "I believe the patient experience causes a lot of problems at hospitals."

The Southfield-based firm helps local healthcare systems create solutions by staying ahead of the curve of the latest regulatory requirements, insurance payment and denial patterns, and business processes. It also helps hospitals improve their patient-care systems. It got its start providing services to Oakwood Healthcare last year, and is now looking to expand into Botsford and Beaumont Health Systems over the next year.

"I want us to scale into at least five hospital systems," Farbman says.

HealthRise has hired 15 people over the last year, and is looking to add another six right now. It currently has 30 employees.

Source: David Farbman, founder & CEO of HealthRise
Writer: Jon Zemke

Reconsider launches pilot for local biz investing awareness

Reconsider is starting a big to help channel more local investment dollars into local small businesses.

The Ypsilanti-based firm is teaming up with the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development to launch the venture LOCAL, an initiative to raise awareness that people can invest in local companies and see comparable returns to more traditional investment vehicles, like stocks and bonds.

"It's a local investing awareness and education campaign," says Angela Barbash, founder of Reconsider. "The idea is to get some companies to do some fundraising online."

The venture LOCAL campaign aims to accelerate investment in Washtenaw County-based businesses by highlighting more of those opportunities. For instance, the effort by the Tecumseh Brewing Co to raise $120,000 in seed capital.

"What would Ann Arbor look like in five years if there was an infusion of local capital?" Barbash says.

Reconsider specializes in research and education about community capital and social entrepreneurship. Barbash, a veteran financial advisor, works with a team of six independent contractors. She is currently interviewing two Shifting Gears program participants as potential interns.

Barbash is optimistic that the venture LOCAL campaign will be successful in Washtenaw County over the next few months, opening the door for its expansion across Michigan.

"It could be a turnkey solution for other communities to use," Barbash says.

Source: Angela Barbash, founder of Reconsider
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hopeful Harvest offers space to grow for food startups

Forgotten Harvest is going entrepreneurial with its own subsidiary that is aimed at growing the local food economy.

Hopeful Harvest, a C corporation, will provide work space, mentoring services, and a commercial kitchen to local food startups looking to grow. The idea is to use the revenue generated from Hopeful Harvest to support the operations of the Forgotten Harvest, the nation's largest fresh-food rescue operation.

"This is an additional way for us to support our operation," says Chris Nemeth, senior director of social enterprise for Forgotten Harvest. "Every penny of profit from Hopeful Harvest will be donated to Forgotten Harvest."

The Oak Park-based operation will be based out of Forgotten Harvest's main facility. It will provided space for full-service food processing, packaging, and a 750-square-foot commercial kitchen. Marketing and consulting services will also be available.

Hopeful Harvest, which is starting off with a staff of six people, has already lined up six local food startups to take advantage of its services, including McClary Bros Vinegars, Slow Jams Jam, and Beau Bien Fine Foods. Five more are also ready to join the Hopeful Harvest operations.

"Realistically, by the end of our first full year we hope to have between 25-30 clients,” Nemeth says.

Source: Chris Nemeth, senior director of social enterprise for Forgotten Harvest
Writer: Jon Zemke

PublicCity PR leverages PRConsultantsGroup for future growth

PublicCity PR recently scored membership in an organization the boutique public relations agency expects will lead to growth beyond its normal metro Detroit stomping grounds.

PRConsultantsGroup recently choose the Southfield-based firm as its Michigan representative after its previous rep folded up shop. The 14-year-old organization is composed of senior-level public relations and marketing consultants in every major market in the U.S. Members often work together on projects with each member acting as the expert for their region.

"You don't always have the time to learn a new city," says Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR. "Who are the people to speak to in St. Louis or Chicago? Now we have the resources on the ground in those places."

PRConsultantsGroup members have worked with some big corporate names, including 7-Eleven, Procter & Gamble, and Wal-Mart. PublicCity PR has grown steadily since it was launched in 2008. It now employs four people and Brown expects the firm to grow even more in the next few years as PRConsultantsGroup members look to do more work with his firm.

"The business has grown as it always has, through word of mouth," Brown says.

Now it looks like those words can travel much further and faster than ever before.

Source: Jason Brown, co-founder of PublicCity PR
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor-based Stratos develops one card to bind them all

We've covered Stratos big investment scores in a recent issue of Concentrate but it looks like TechCrunch just caught wind of the A2 company developing an all-in-one, inter-connected credit card.

Excerpt:

"The startup raised $5.8 million from Midwest and West Coast investors. San Francisco-based Toba Capital led the round with Western Technology Investment, Hyde Park Venture Partners, and Michigan-based Resonant Venture Partners also participating.

Stratos is one of the latest companies to come out of Ann Arbor. Olson was born in Michigan, and its CTO co-founded Detroit Labs. Stratos operates out of the same building that houses the hot security startup, Duo Security."

Read the rest here.
 

Atwater in the Park named one of nation's 10 best new beer halls

The beer tasters at Jetsetter.com are drinking the suds and the ambience at Atwater Brewery's new beer hall.

Excerpt:

"The most traditional beer hall of the list,  Atwater in the Park  opened in former Grosse Pointe Park church. Brew barrels now stand where the altar once sat, and long, communal tables have been fashioned out of reclaimed church pews. The menu skews German — think fresh kielbasa, pretzel baskets and smoked knockwurst — but the 40 drafts are from all over. The bulk or them are brewed in house (the bar also has a distillery license in the works), but about 15 of them are secured exclusively for to the Atwater in the Park taps."

More here

Hygienic Dress League art project goes public with IPO

The Hygienic Dress League is blurring the lines between business and art with its latest art project, going public.

The Eastern Market-based street-art collective is soliciting 36 investors to purchase stock in the Hygienic Dress League corporation with the idea of eventually going for an initial public offering.

The husband-wife duo behind Hygienic Dress League, Steve and Dorota Coy, launched the organization as a corporation in 2007 so it can be used as a medium of art commenting on advertising with its art installations. They are all public art installations, so there is no gallery or operations or even a consumer product created. New work that will be part of the initial public offering includes "projects inspired by corporate processes such as interactive 1-800 numbers and augmented reality videos broadcast onto billboards," write the Coys in their investor pitch.

"We're trying to do something that has never been done before," says Steve Coy. "It rides the line between serious and satire."

The solicitation of investor money is serious. The Coys will have five Class A shares in Hygienic Dress League. They will sell 100,000 Class B shares as part of the investor solicitation. They are looking for up to 36 investors because that is the maximum allowed by SEC rules. Those shares will be able to sold on the open market when the Hygienic Dress League offers an initial public offering either in a marketplace it has created or a low-barrier stock exchange.

"This is really a big experiment," Steve Coy says. "We don't know how much money we're going to raise."

Don't expect this transaction to be completely 21st century. The Hygienic Dress League will give out gold papered stock certificates. Think of it like a deed to a house. The certificates will be made in the same way they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for stockholders. These certificates will serve as both legal documents of ownership and pieces of art from the Hygienic Dress League. The Coys like to describe the certificates as their conceptual commentary on art value.

"It gets to the idea of how value can be arbitrarily assigned to art," Steve Coy says.

Check out examples of Hygienic Dress League’s public art installations here, here, and here. For information on investing in Hygienic Dress League, send an email to investor.relations@hdlcorporation.com.

Source: Steve and Dorota Coy, co-founders of Hygienic Dress League.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Liberty Title adds jobs as real-estate market rebounds

This last winter with its polar vortexes forced real-estate companies like Liberty Title to go into hibernation for a few months to deal with what became a literally frozen real-estate market. Things were so slow during December, January, and February that it was almost like the company took the quarter off.

"We had a big hole in the first quarter to dig out of," says Tom Richardson, general counsel of Liberty Title.

That hasn't stopped the Ann Arbor-based company from realizing some solid gains this year. It helps that the local real-estate market has heated up and property values have risen with it. Richardson points out that houses that sold for $60,000 a year or two ago are not selling for $100,000, and he sees price gains continuing.

"I don't see any slowdown," Richardson says. "Interest rates seem like they will stay flat in 2015 and the economy in southeast Michigan is strong."

That has allowed Liberty Title to consolidate some gains across Metro Detroit and add staff. The company has moved its Brighton office into a new building near the heart of the city's downtown. It has hired six people, expanding its staff to 98 employees. Those new hires include new office managers in Birmingham and Novi.

"We picked up some highly experienced people," Richardson says.

Source: Tom Richardson, general counsel of Liberty Title
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit firm Quikly seeks to disrupt online marketing industry

Quikly is casting a wide net to find its niche in the digital world.

The downtown Detroit-based startup (it calls fourth floor of 1528 Woodward home) has been expanding into a number of new verticals, such as casino gaming, professional sports, and retail.

"It's been a large-scale effort to reach into these verticals," says Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly. "We're really trying to figure out where we fit best at this point."

Quikly helps brands attract new customers with online deals. It delivers randomly released promotions which reward customers who act quickly to seize the opportunity. It moved to Detroit a little more than a year ago and became one of the portfolio companies of Detroit Venture Partners after raising a $900,000 seed round.

It has since gone to work for a number of different companies in the Quicken Loans family of companies and other large corporations including Domino's Pizza, Moose Jaw, Pet Supplies Plus, and Greektown Casino.

"That industry (casino gaming) is ready for disruption," Geller says.

Quikly has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 14 employees and three interns. The startup is set to clock $500,000 in revenue this year and is aiming to hit $3 million to $5 million and 20-30 employees in revenue in 2015.

Source: Shawn Geller, CEO of Quikly
Writer: Jon Zemke

Expetec grows for 5th straight year, adds data-sharing product

Expetec is growing the old fashioned way, through improved services to its customers and client recommendations.

The Rochester Hills-based IT company has been hiring more staff, including a position in network administration support work, and is in the process of hiring a sales person. It now has 10 employees, with an eye for adding more at its current pace of expansion.

"We're on pace to grow for the fifth straight year at 20 percent," says Michael St. John, vice president of marketing and sales for Expetec. "We have been adding new clients and looking into new products in the market place."

Expetec offers network-managed services, telecommunication systems, servers, firewalls, computers, and a 24/7 help desk. It recently added a new product called E-Lockr. Think of it as a more secure version of Dropbox that enables businesses to share and sync important data anywhere on any device with continuous, real-time backup and comprehensive usage reports. More importantly, St. John believes it’s a more secure option than rival products.

"It allows us to control what's going on with our clients in regards to the user," St. John says, adding their clients can determine who can see what documents, when, and for how long with E-Lockr.

St. John is optimistic that Expetec's current growth streak will continue, and not just because the economy is picking up speed.

"We have been consistently getting a lot of referrals from our clients," St. John says. "They trust us and the work we do."

Source: Michael St. John, vice president of marketing & sales for Expetec
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brogan & Partners adds 5 jobs in downtown Birmingham

New jobs and promotions have been cropping up at Brogan & Partners this year.

The advertising and digital marketing agency recently promoted three account managers (Kristin Morris, Katie Rehrauer and Morgan Eberle) to account directors. It has also hired five people over the last year, including another account director. The company currently employs 42 people, including 27 employees at its downtown Birmingham headquarters.

"We're hoping to get a really good intern that can become a permanent position," says Ellyn Davidson, managing partner of Brogan & Partners.

The 30-year-old firm has enjoyed 12-percent revenue growth over the last year. That makes for its best year since 2008. It’s also looking to increase revenue by 20 percent in 2014. The firm has more work with existing clients like HoneyBaked Ham and has attracted new clients, like ComForcare, Frankenmuth Insurance, and Michigan First Credit Union.

Brogan & Partners hopes to turn each of those new clients into a long-term business relationship. Davidson is optimistic that will happen thanks to the company’s track record of staying ahead of what’s coming up in the digital marketing world.

"We're heavily invested in research in what's new in marketing and what's next," Davidson says. "We stay on top of how communications are changing."

Source: Ellyn Davidson, managing partner of Brogan & Partners
Writer: Jon Zemke

Coherix growth continues on strength of global work

Talk to Dwight Carlson about manufacturing for any length of time and he will tell you about how it has become a global venture. The founder & CEO of Coherix, which makes software for advanced manufacturing, knows because so much of the revenue for his Ann Arbor-based business comes from well-outside of its hometown's borders.

"We are truly global," Carlson says. "More than 75 percent of our advanced manufacturing technology is shipped outside of the U.S., and that is only going to increase."

Coherix's principal technology provides high-speed, high-definition 3D measurement and inspection services to manufacturers. The software is designed to streamline a manufacturer’s production capability by finding efficiencies through high-tech, optical-based measurement and inspection of the manufacturers assembly processes.

The 10-year-old company has operations in China and Japan. It also has subsidiaries in Singapore and Europe, all of which have consistently grown in recent years.

"Europe is starting to take off with sales to Opel and Ford," Carlson says.

Coherix has hired five people in the U.S. over the last year. It currently has a staff of 40 employees and the occasional intern in Ann Arbor. To Carlson, there is no better place to do the white collar side of the business.

"It's an excellent place to do high-tech R&D," Carlson says. "There is a reason why Toyota has $100 million invested in R&D here."

Source: Dwight Carlson, founder, chairman & CEO of Coherix
Writer: Jon Zemke
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