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Brownrigg Companies grows by bringing clarity to insurance policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle Thread Verifer aims to diversify client base

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Astaire Dance Studio hires as it adds wheelchair dance classes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harley Ellis Devereaux hires 10 as it expands architecture work

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 'tech titans' have strong ties to Michigan

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

Excerpt:

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

Read the list here.

Knight Arts Challenge launches for third year


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



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

Saline-based Flatout purchased for $92 million

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

Excerpt:

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

Read the rest here.
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann Arborís picoSpray locks down $1M Series A

PicoSpray, a startup creating technology to make small engines more energy efficient, has locked down a Series A worth $1 million, money the company plans to reinvest into its tech development.

"We are going to continue working with customers so we can adopt the technology to their needs and expand into new markets," says Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray.

The Ann Arbor-based start-up's technology aims to replace the carburetor in small engines with a low-cost electronic fuel injection system. Small engines for things like motorcycles, mopeds, and generators have a lot of room to create energy efficiency gains and cut pollution.

Automotive engines have already done this with fuel-injection technology but bringing that to small engines has proven cost-prohibitive. PicoSpray is completely redesign this part of the small engine with a fuel-injection system that can reduce fuel consumption by 10-15 percent and be installed at half the cost of current options. Check out a video on the technology here.

Nong declined to name the investors in the Series A but said the money is going toward the final development of the technology. It has also enabled picoSpray to hire two people (a technician and an engineer), expanding its staff to six employees. That team is currently testing its technology out with engine and motorcycle manufacturers.

"We're looking at how we can mass produce it," Nong says.

Source: Lihang Nong, CEO and CTO of picoSpray
Writer: Jon Zemke

NewFoundry hits $1M in revenue as it adds more staff

NewFoundry's first two years have been anything but boring as the Ann Arbor-based software firm hits some significant revenue milestones and hires more staff.

"It's been pretty crazy," says Richard Chang, CEO of NewFoundry. "We have been working with a lot of organizations from big corporations to startups."

NewFoundry, which calls the north side of the city overlooking the Huron River home, hit $1 million in revenues in its second year. That enabled it to hire three people over the last year, expanding its staff to 15 employees and two summer interns. it is currently looking to hire six people in project management, mobile app development, and web development.

"We've just been completely swamped," Chang says. "We have more work than we need, which is why we are on a big hiring spree."

Prior to launching NewFoundry, Chang worked at Mobiata, a software startup that made travel apps before it was acquired by Expedia. He founded NewFoundry with an idea of making custom mobile apps and other software applications for clients along with its own apps. Last year it launched Ramblehook, a mobile app that helps better organize meetings by listing agenda items, presenters, and time allotted for each topic.

Chang would like to continue to diversify NewFoundry's revenue stream by creating more equity projects and apps to sell to consumers. He believes this will enable NewFoundry to continue on its current growth trend.

"Our goal is to double our revenue each year," Chang says.

Source: Richard Chang, CEO of NewFoundry
Writer: Jon Zemke

G2 Consulting Group hires 10, looks to hire 10 more

When the Great Recession hit, G2 Consulting Group adapted by integrating more technology into its business model. It was a successful strategy and the firm grew significantly in the years that followed. Today it’s using that same philosophy to keep growing.

The Troy-based construction firm specializes in environmental and geotechnical engineering services. (Think of it as doing the construction work that takes place below the ground, such as soil testing.) The addition of technology, such as remote monitoring of solar panels or sensors at the I-94/I-69 interchange that track vibration, has become an integral part of the company's work.

"We're just using more technology to get the data," says Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group.

The firm opened a satellite office in Ann Arbor last year and now has a staff of 46 employees and five interns. It has hired 10 people over the last year.

"We're looking to hire 10 more," Hargrave-Thomas says.

The driving force behind those new hires is revenue growth. G2 Consulting Group's revenue spiked 43 percent in 2014, which is up from 31 percent growth in 2013 and 20 percent growth the year before.

"We're on pace to continue that growth," Hargrave-Thomas says.

Source: Noel Hargrave-Thomas, principal of G2 Consulting Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Stkr.it finds unexpected customers, expands

Stkr.it launched as a startup looking to leverage the emerging new economy. Today it's generating revenue from an unlikely source: quilters.

"They have taken to our technology to label their quilts," says Mike Newman, president of stkr.it. "There are 16 million quilters in the U.S., and two million of them spend $3,000 a year on it."

The 4-year-old startup, which calls both Ann Arbor and New York City home, launched as software platform that helped people capture digital memories on their mobile devices, such as text messages. It pivoted a few years ago to helping people create and connect new messages to items like greeting cards and scrapbooks.

Meeting with business owners in the greeting card and gift store industries led to introductions to the quilting world. Scrapbookers have also flocked to the service.

"It wasn’t part of the original business plan," Newman says.

But it's a welcome addition. Stkr.it has grown its team to five people and is looking at expanding its reach in these new revenue streams. It is also aiming to create a few more over the next year.

Source: Mike Newman, president of stkr.it
Writer: Jon Zemke

Fathead adds 44 people, staff hits triple digits

Fathead got its start by selling kids life-size decals of the athletes they idolize. Today the 9-year-old firm is finding some of its biggest gains from business-to-business sales.

Business-to-business work helped lead Fathead's growth spurt in 2014. It is now a $50 million company.

"That continues to be a very big area of focus for us," says Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead.

Business-to-business work included custom work for large companies and institutions. Among that subset is work for universities, such as the University of Michigan, which use Fathead’s custom decals for athletic and other events.

"Universities are really finding that we can transform their spaces," Cline says.

Fathead makes poster-size decals of everything from famous athletes to major brands. Dan Gilbert acquired the firm eight years ago, making it a member of the Quicken Loans family of companies.

Fathead has expanded its business by licensing major brands, such as Martha Stewart and John Deere. It is also getting ready to launch a new venture called Studio F, which allows artists to sell their work online as a fathead decal poster while Fathead keeps a percentage of each sale.

That work has enabled the downtown Detroit-based firm to add significantly to its staff. It has hired 44 people, bumping its staff size to just over 100 workers. It is currently looking to hire two software engineers. More info on those openings here.

Source: Joanna Cline, chief marketing officer for Fathead
Writer: Jon Zemke

Atomic Object looks for bigger space in downtown Detroit

Atomic Object is adding positions to its office in downtown Detroit and keeping an eye out for more space to house its new hires.

"We are looking for a new space that will give us some room to grow," says Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object.

The Grand Rapids-based software firm opened an office in Harmonie Park a couple of years ago and has since grown to a staff of six people. It has hired three people over the last year, including two young women who recently graduated from Michigan State University and Wayne State University. It's also looking to hire a couple of software developers.

"We are always open to hiring high-quality people," Erickson says.

The company is looking at moving to a bigger office in Detroit later this year, but a new space hasn’t been picked out yet. Erickson plans to keep the company downtown.

Atomic Object's work with large and small companies in Detroit has helped fuel its growth. One of the firm's clients is a startup called SingleThread, a company that helps car dealership service managers better communicate with customers to let them know the status of car repairs.

"It's getting some excellent traction," Erickson says.

Source: Carl Erickson, CEO of Atomic Object
Writer: Jon Zemke

Corktown co-working space Saint Vincent fills up fast


A graphic design firm, an old school arcade, and a CPA are among the businesses that have helped to fill up the available space at Saint Vincent in Corktown. The Catholic school-turned-boutique office building welcomed its first tenant in Oct. 2014, and all of its available units were rented out by the end of that year. Work has already begun on the second floor of the building and it's estimated that the offices could be available by mid- to late summer of 2015.

Ryan Schirmang, managing partner of Saint Vincent, sees no shortage of businesses wanting to be located in the city. Once financing is lined up to complete renovations of the second floor, the interest he's received in renting space indicates that the remaining offices should fill up as quickly as the first floor did.

Schirmang purchased the building in 2012 and renovations began in earnest in July 2014. Saint Vincent was the recipient of an Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy grant, receiving $50,000 from the organization for spending $200,000 of its own money. That grant, says Schirmang, helped ensure that they would have money to cover operational costs once renovations were completed.

"It's cool to see how those grants benefit Corktown," he says. "It's spreading into the businesses in the neighborhood beyond Michigan Avenue."

Schirmang says that the space is best suited for small businesses that are more on the design side of things, not so much the light industrial and production-minded businesses that characterize nearby Ponyride. He does, however, hope to cultivate a close working relationship between the two co-working spaces.

Before the second floor is completed and open for rent, look for a lounge and events space that could open to the public by May. 

Source: Ryan Schirmang, Managing Partner of Saint Vincent
Writer: MJ Galbraith
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