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Furniture maker continues growth in Russell Industrial Center

Alan Kaniarz started working out of the Russell Industrial Center before it was cool...before it was even a destination for artisans and small businesses.

Kaniarz moved into the Russell Industrial Center in 1988. He and a handful of other woodworkers took over a few thousand square feet of the industrial space and created a wood shop. A few years later he took over his own space (6,000 square feet) and started to build his two business (AK Services and Mobel Link Modern Furniture) from there.

"I never thought I would be there this long," Kaniarz says. "When we moved in here the Russell Center was largely utilized by people in the printing business. Everything that had anything to do with printing was done there."

That ended in the early 2000s as many of the printing businesses left. A series of new owners came and went until Greektown-based real-estate investor Dennis Kefallinos bought the Russell in 2003. He saw a couple of local artisans like Kaniarz making a go of it in a few thousand square feet of cheap commercial space and used that as inspiration to make the Russell Industrial Center the entrepreneurial hub it is today.

"The Russell Center has way more of a neighborhood feel than it used to," Kaniarz says.

AK Services has been working in the Russell Industrial Center since the first day Kaniarz moved in, making custom doors, fixing stain-glass windows, and restoring vintage lights. Kaniarz launched Mobel Link Modern Furniture a few years ago and started selling custom furniture, too.

"The introduction of the furniture line has definitely added to the bottom line," Kaniarz says.

Revenues are up about five percent over the last year, and Kaniarz expects that number to keep growing. Today his two businesses have grown to employ three people and Kaniarz is optimistic that number will grow, too.

Source: Alan Kaniarz, president for life of AK Services and Mobel Link Modern Furniture
Writer: Jon Zemke

3D Biomatrix lands key patent for core technology

3D Biomatrix recently received a key patent for its research technology, a milestone that is setting the company up for more growth in 2015.

The patent is for the company's hangar system, which scientists use for life sciences research. The patent helps the company validate the uniqueness of its products and prevents knock offs from competitors.

"It's an important patent for us because it covers our core technology," says Laura Schrader, president & CEO of 3D Biomatrix.

The University of Michigan spin-out, it calls the Venture Accelerator home, makes 3D cell culture hanging drop plates for lab research in cancer treatments or stem cells. The plates allow cells to grow in 3 dimensions like they do in the body. Most current methods offer only flat surfaces.

The 96-well plates sell well for users using manual lab methods. The 384-well plates are growing in use as they work well with automated lab equipment. The company also makes transfer tools and assay kits.

Schrader says sales for 3D Biomatrix were up in 2014 but declined to say how much. It currently has 30 distributors and is looking to expand into new markets this year.

Source: Laura Schrader, president & CEO of 3D Biomatrix
Writer: Jon Zemke

Michigan needs more millennials

For any who reads this publication, statements like these should come as no surprise. We've been saying this since we started more than five years ago. But it's nice to see local editorialists catch up.


Of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country, only Cleveland has a smaller percentage of millennials than Detroit, said Kurt Metzger, a demographics expert who retired last year as head of Data Driven Detroit.

Meanwhile metro Detroit has the third-highest percentage of baby boomers to total population among the largest metro areas, he said.

Read the rest here.

American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute opens in Corktown

The American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute opened the doors of its new facility in Corktown last week, a move that promises to bring the 21st century manufacturing jobs to a city long famous for the things it builds.

The innovation acceleration center is partnering with major corporations and institutions of higher education to help bring new manufacturing technologies utilizing lightweight materials to market through its "Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow" program.

"This is industry-driven," says Lawrence Brown, executive director of the American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute. "They help identify the gaps and we as a team will come together and develop solutions for these gaps."

The new 100,000 square-foot facility required $148 million in investment so it could bring new manufacturing technology from the research lab to the production floor. It is partnering with the likes of the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, General Electric, Boeing, and Eaton Corp to push the envelope of advanced manufacturing.

The American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute currently employs three people and is looking to hire a couple more, all administrative positions. Brown expects to expand the staff to nearly 30 people over the next 18 months with the addition of engineering and R&D staff.

"We're trying to ramp up now," Brown says.

Source: Lawrence Brown, executive director of the American Lightweight Manufacturing Institute
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fidelis SecureCare hires dozens as it expands in Detroit market

In the age of Obamacare, healthcare company Fidelis SecureCare is streamlining operations, creating efficiencies, and ensuring better care of its customers. The company is also growing its business in Detroit by taking a slow-food approach to providing healthcare.

The California-based company's business plan focuses on providing high-quality healthcare to low-income and chronically ill Detroiters (and suburbanites) through a concierge model instead of the traditional mass production model of healthcare.

"A traditional medical practice has 3,000 patients," says Greg Bellware, chief marketing officer of Fidelis SecureCare. "A concierge office has 600 patients."

That sort of focused service (think everything from more time spent on solving patient problems to home doctor visits) enables healthcare providers to give better care to patients, helping turn chronic illnesses into manageable ones and savng money across the board. The extensive yet centralized nature of Metro Detroit's healthcare system allows Fidelis SeniorCare to maximize its efficiency in this regard.

"We grew quickly in Detroit," Bellware says. "Its urban setting is ideal for our model."

Fidelis SecureCare has grown quickly in Michigan over the last two years. The 15-year-old firm now employs a staff of 60 people in Michigan, about two thirds of which have been hired over the last year. The company's Michigan headquarters is in New Center.

"We expect to accelerate that growth in a huge way," Bellware says. "The company is expected to grow fivefold in the next year."

Source: Greg Bellware, chief marketing officer of Fidelis SecureCare
Writer: Jon Zemke

Merged firms become FireBolt Group, move to Wixom

Estrakon plus Tecart equals FireBolt Group and more jobs in Wixom.

Estrakon is an LED sign manufacturer. The Ann Arbor-based company made a name for itself making signs for businesses using more energy-efficient LED lights. It has been recognized as a FastTrack growth firm by Ann Arbor SPARK for three years running, and for clocking 20-percent revenue growth or more each year.

Estrakon acquired TecArt last March with the idea of expanding its product line to a number of new items, such as floor mats, counter stools, and neon clocks. The newly merged companies moved to a larger facility in Wixom last September and now have a new name.

"The companies are being merged into one as FireBolt Group," says Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group.

The newly created FireBolt Group has hired five people over the last year, expanding its staff to 34 employees. It is also looking to hire two sales people and an engineer right now.

"We expect that number (staff) to go up by more than 10 people this year, primarily by focusing on the production side of things," Ochtman says.

He adds the newly formed company expects to add more and bigger customers in 2015 thanks to its recent acquisition. He also wouldn’t be surprised if FireBolt Group makes another acquisition before the end of the year.

"We are aiming for it," Ochtman says. "We feel we have a good story to tell and we have proven we can do it."

Source: Philip Ochtman, president & CEO of FireBolt Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

IT firms Expetec Technology Services, BCL Computing merge into Expetec of Michigan

A couple of IT firms are merging together to form a bigger company with services that complement one another.

Expetec Technology Services of Rochester Hills and BCL Computing are combining to become of Expetec of Michigan. The new company will remain an Expetec franchise, expanding staff to 12 people and hiring six over the last year.

"We're probably going to add 2-3 more in the next 1-2 months," says Michael St. John, vice president of sales & marketing for Expetec of Michigan.

The newly formed company will offer a larger variety of IT services, such as managed IT, network development, , IT hardware, telecommunications, and IT security. St. John says the the companies focused on different areas, such as BCL Computing in IT hardware work and Expetec more in IT services. He adds that the new company is looking to launch a training program later this winter.

"We're going to kick off a new (military) veterans training program for IT and business management," St. John says.

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

Franco Public Relations Group grows staff to 20 as it celebrates 50th anniversary

Franco Public Relations Group is celebrating its 50th anniversary with its biggest growth spurt in a long time. The downtown Detroit-based firm hired four people in 2014 thanks to 20 percent revenue growth.

"It was better than we have done in year-over-year growth than we have done in about a decade," says Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group.

The boutique public relations firm has been a staple in downtown Detroit for decades. It moved its office to the Renaissance Center when the building opened in 1977 and has been there ever since. The company now has a staff of 20 employees and two interns. Its newest hires include an assistant account executive, a manager, and a director.

The newly expanded staff is now offering more than the traditional public relations services. It has expanded to include content generation, social media, and integrated marketing. Franco Public Relations Group has also expanded clientele, adding high-profile firms like Punch Bowl Social, which just opened a new location in downtown Detroit.

Kozak is optimistic her company will continue to grow at a similar rate this year, though she points out that Franco Public Relations Group is focusing on doing good business, not just more business. The current economic climate, however, is making growth easier today than it was just a few years ago.

"There is more work out there now," Kozak says. "Businesses we are working with now are loosening up their budgets a little bit."

Source: Tina Kozak, president of Franco Public Relations Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

MEDC pledges aid for N'Namdi-led arts district

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has launched another matching grant program for a successful crowdfunding campaign, this time by influential Detroit art dealer and developer George N'Namdi. If N'Namdi can raise $30,000 in 30 days, the MEDC will award N'Namdi another $30,000.

George N'Namdi is the owner of N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Midtown. His goal is to establish a new arts district around the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard. The crowdfunding campaign will help finance Quarter Pop on Grand River, an arts incubator and gallery and retail district that will rotate entrepreneurs in and out of renovated storefronts in three month increments. The 4200 block of Grand River Ave. is the focus of the project.

"The vision for the Quarter Pop is to create and activate a space where Detroit creatives can gain success for their businesses while strengthening the neighborhoods around them," says N'Namdi. "Quarter Pop will be a huge catalyst for creative cultural change in the Grand River Creative Corridor, Detroit, and beyond."

Quarter Pop occupants will receive marketing, accounting, and legal advice along with entrepreneurial mentorship. An emphasis will be put on creative retailers. Money raised will be put toward construction and business service costs.

This is not the first time the MEDC has pledged matching grant money toward crowdfunding campaigns. In November 2014, a campaign was announced to fund the construction of a skate park at the old Wigle Recreation Center. That campaign was soon aborted as it was discovered that the city of Detroit seeks to sell the property. In August 2014, the MEDC pledged matching grant money toward a new green alley in Midtown, which began construction in September of that year.

N'Namdi has until Feb. 13 to raise the $30,000. As of this reporting, the project has already received over $17,000 in pledges from just 6 donors. The campaign is being hosted by crowdfunding site Patronicity.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Writer: MJ Galbraith

iRule lands $2.5 million in venture capital with Series AA round

When the Quicken Loans family of companies launched the M@dison Building building a few years ago, it envisioned the building serving as a hub for high-growth tech startups. Startups like iRule, a M@dison Building-based company that just raised $2.5 million in venture capital.

The five-year-old company makes a cloud-based universal remote control system for entertainment centers that can be operated from the user's mobile device. The $2.5 million will go toward the further development of the company’s product line.

"It will continue to fuel our growth both in terms of products and manpower," says Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule.

The $2.5 million in seed capital comes from existing investors like Detroit Venture Partners and new investors like AOL co-founder Steve Case. Ben-Gal says this round of venture capital is a Series AA for his firm.

The tech startup has grown its revenue by 50 percent over the last year and Ben-Gal expects his company to do it again in 2015. That has allowed iRule to hire seven people over the last year, including four in the last quarter. It currently has a staff of 21 employees and two interns and is looking to hire several software developers.

"We're always interviewing for that position," Ben-Gal says. "We're constantly growing so if the right person walked through the door, we would find a way to bring him onboard."

Source: Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of iRule
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ink Detroit aims to take t-shirt/garment business national

T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen when it comes new business starts. There are low-barriers of entry and lots of people with ideas for clever garment designs.

Ink Detroit is the exception to that rule. The 10-year-old company has its t-shirt designs, such as its trademark "I Love Detroit" brand, in a stores across Michigan. It employs four people after hiring a sales manager last year. And now the company plans to hire a few more people later this year as it looks to take its business national.

So what's the secret to success in such a competitive industry? Experience, according to Ink Detroit's president & owner Steve Mansour. He and his partner have years of experience in fashion and garment industries, and Manour's family has been in the business for a long time. It's the type of inside track that often leaves newcomers in the dust.

"They don't have the network capabilities to get their product into distribution," Mansour says.

So the Royal Oak-based company has grown. Its revenue is up 30 percent over the last year after adding a few new retailers in 2014.

"We're curated in 25 stores locally," Mansour says.

One of those new stores is one in Metro Airport. Its parent company has 145 locations across the country. Mansour hopes to leverage those connections to launch his new Ink City brand later this year in major metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami. The new brand will be locally specific much like I Love Detroit is today.

"It's pretty much city themed merchandise geared toward those cities," Mansour says.

Ink Detroit is also looking at expanding locally, too. The company is aiming to open a retail location in downtown Detroit later this year.

"We'd like to have a full-time operation there," Mansour says.

Source: Steve Mansour, president & owner of Ink Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rockstar Digital expands staff, work into LED signs

Ever want to use your big-screen TV as a tablet computer? Surf for information with a touch of a fingertip on a screen with plenty of space for information? A Sterling Heights-based company is making that happen.

Rockstar Digital is turning large, flatscreen TVs into interactive displays. That includes everything from use one to help customers navigate the car-buying maze in an automotive dealership or finding their favorite store in their mall.

"We're creating a 70-inch, 3-D map of the mall," says Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital.

Dhillon is a recent graduate of Kettering University in electrical and computer engineering. He saw the rise of LED technology in 2007 and worked to created a software point of sale platform for Lady Jane. A little more than a year ago he launched Rockstar Digital with the idea of combing different sectors of cutting-edge technology.

"I wanted to do something that wasn't just software but software and hardware," Dhillon says.

Today the company has a staff of 12 employees and an intern. That team is working on turning 70-inch flatscreen panel into way-finding machines for everything from businesses to city streetscapes. Check out a video of how it works here.

Source: Robby Dhillon, president of Rockstar Digital
Writer: Jon Zemke

JPMorgan Chase, Invest Detroit, LISC among latest group to give millions of dollars to M-1 Rail

M-1 Rail has fit a big piece into its funding puzzle. The 3.3-mile-long streetcar line has agreed to a second round of funding though the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program. In addition to NMTCs received earlier in 2014, the recent agreement on a second phase of tax credit funding brings M-1 a grand total of $40 million. This is the first time a transit project has received NMTC funding since that program's creation in 2000.

NMTCs were designed to spur development, economic growth, and investment in low-income urban neighborhoods by offering tax credits to organizations contributing to qualifying projects. NMTC investors receive a tax credit equal to 39 percent of their total qualified investment. That tax credit is spread out over seven years; the first three years of the credit returns at five percent and the last four returns at six percent.

JPMorgan Chase, Invest Detroit, The Great Lakes Capital Fund, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and United Fund Advisors contributed to the NMTC fund. Major contributions include $18.4 million from Invest Detroit and $14 million from JPMorgan Chase.

Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Detroit LISC, says her organization is investing in M-1 Rail for various reasons. "All of the catalytic affordable housing and other development that will result as part of the project is really important to our 'Building Sustainable Communities' activities in the Grand Woodward neighborhood," she says. "We think this project ties into other opportunities for small businesses to come in and create new jobs available to local residents."

The approximately $40 million in funding through NMTCs covers just a portion of the M-1 Rail construction costs. M-1 Rail projects that it will cost $140 million to acquire the streetcars and build the streetcar line and vehicle maintenance facility. The rest of the money has been obtained from a combination of private and public entities, including a recent $12.2 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in September 2014.

Source: M-1 Rail press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Creative Many Michigan moves HQ to TechTown

Creative Many Michigan is moving its headquarters from Wixom to TechTown, bringing with it seven jobs to New Center.

The arts-based-economic-development nonprofit, formerly known as ArtServe Michigan, was renting space in the Detroit Public Television facility in Oakland County. It is now occupying about 1,400 square feet of space to be closer to the heart of the region’s arts scene and its major players, such as the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, which also calls New Center home.

"Clearly Detroit is a major hub for arts and creative industries," says Jennifer Goulet, president & CEO of Creative Many Michigan.

The nonprofit has added one new person to its team of seven people over the last year. It is also looking to add another person. That team plans to spend a large part of 2015 updating the non-profit's Creative State Michigan report, which details the economic impact of the arts and creative communities across the state.

"We are directly working with Detroit Creative Corridor Center for the second phase of our creative economy research," Goulet says.

Source: Jennifer Goulet, president & CEO of Creative Many Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor's Logic Quantum doubles staff, revenue in 2014

Logic Quantum spent 2014 nearly doubling its staff to keep with demand for its software services.

The 30-year-old firm has hired four people in data entry, sales and marketing. It now employs 10 people in Ann Arbor. It is also looking to hire a few sales people early this year.

Logic Quantum specializes in environmental health and science software. Its recent growth, which has allowed the company to double its revenue, has come from two primary sources. The company has been offering its software and services to small-and-medium-sized businesses to help to conform to OSHA regulations. It’s also helping firms convert chemical data sheets to a uniform format to meet regulations.

"We're trying to expand in that space," says Yiwei Chen, managing director of Logic Quantum.

That new work has allowed the firm to triple its customer base. Logic Quantum is gearing up to launch a new safety-and-risk software platform later this year that should allow it to grow even more.

"We're pretty confident we will be able to double our revenue again," Chen says.

Source: Yiwei Chen, managing director of Logic Quantum
Writer: Jon Zemke
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